Sleep is one of three core pillars of health along with physical activity and good nutrition. Yet according to the University of Adelaide’s 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults, 33-45% of us are not receiving adequate sleep and the problem appears to be growing. At a social and economic level this is having profound adverse impact on work performance, road safety and general health outcomes. On a personal level sleep deprivation leads to exhaustion, irritability, poor judgment, cognitive deficits (e.g. poor memory, reduced concentration), relationship issues, increased risk of mental health issues and the list goes on.
There are times in our lives when disruption to sleep is inevitable, especially in the early stages of parenthood. However, when sleep disruption starts to cause you worry or concern it is not to be trivialised or normalised. Sleep-deprived parents can be overwhelmed with feelings of exhaustion, lack of confidence, helplessness, anger and frustration which can get in the way of being the parent they want to be. Some people believe this goes hand in hand with parenting, but the good news is it doesn’t have to.
There are some common misconceptions about parenting and sleep:
#1: Sleep is innate
Sleep is an essential biological process but sleeping well is a skill. Like any other skill, some of us are good at it and others need support to get better.
#2: Sleep training has long term negative emotional consequences and impact on parent-child attachment
Research looking at mental health, stress regulation and a variety of measures of the parent-child relationship have shown no meaningful difference between babies who have undergone sleep training and those who did not undergo any training.
#3: I’m being selfish by sleep training my child
In fact it’s quite the opposite. Teaching your baby or child to sleep well enhances their growth and development, immune function, learning and attention. Not to mention a skill they will have for life as evidence suggests that sleep patterns in childhood tend to feed through to adulthood.
#4: I should be able to handle this, everyone else does
You are not alone, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute reports up to 35% of parents have reported infant sleep problems and that these are linked to increased risk of postnatal depression and anxiety.
#5: My child is a bad sleeper and always will be
In all my experience as a psychologist and sleep consultant I have never come across a child whose sleep patterns cannot be improved. We all have the ability to strengthen our skills, sleep is no different.
If you have concerns about your child’s sleeping patterns seek support from a qualified health professional. My approach starts with understanding individual circumstances by listening closely to parents’ concerns. I explore options and provide evidence-based advice and then work with you to implement a tailored and realistic strategy to improve sleep that accords with your parenting philosophy. You can start by talking to your general practitioner and or contacting me at www.daldconsulting.com.au.