The most common baby sleep myths
Very regularly we hear things in our work with families that are worryingly inaccurate! Some things are old wives' tales that have been disproved by modern science, other things are just (frustratingly!) downright, mass hype and hysteria.
In this article, we're going to debunk a few such “myths” around baby sleep for you...
MYTH: Your baby should sleep in a light room during the day so they know it isn’t night time.
FACT: Daytime and nighttime means very little to your baby and being in a light or a dark room won’t change that! If your baby is experiencing day and night confusion, the best way to combat this is by regulating their circadian rhythm. This is done by, for example, always waking them at the same time each morning and heading towards a consistent bedtime at night.
Babies actually find the dark extremely comforting and it will be a lot easier for your baby to settle and sleep well in a dark room - both day and night. This is especially true for babies over 8 weeks old, as the dark promotes the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is crucial to your baby settling and sleeping well.
MYTH: Babies don’t need much day sleep if they sleep well at night.
FACT: Your baby's day sleep and night sleep are intrinsically linked. The first 12 hours of your baby’s day, directly affects the next 12 hours (the night). A baby who naps well during the day, can and will sleep well at night, provided their total amount of day sleep doesn't exceed what is appropriate for their age.
For a baby who is sleeping well at night but napping poorly during the day, working towards better naps will not adversely affect their nights in the long-run. However, continued poor napping will definitely start to negatively impact their night sleep after a while, due to a build up of overtiredness.
MYTH: Babies younger than 6 months aren't capable of sleeping through the night.
FACT: A baby’s ability to sleep through the night depends on many factors – their weight, their daily milk and food intake, their sleep environment, whether they’re swaddled or not (for younger babies), the temperature in their room, how much day sleep they’ve had, whether they’re able to settle themselves to sleep (in babies older than 4 months) etc.
If all of these factors are lined up though, it is completely possible for a baby as young as 6 weeks to sleep through the night.
MYTH: You should teach your baby how to self-settle as soon as possible.
FACT: Babies under 12 weeks aren’t capable of consciously self-settling. Some babies might instinctively self-settle to sleep, if everything is lined up for them to do so, but this is the exception rather than the norm. Self-settling becomes more important around 3-4 months old, when your baby starts waking fully between sleep cycles. You can read more about this HERE.
To help prepare your baby for this change, it can help to put them in bed when they’re still awake, but drowsy, so that they can do the final bit of falling asleep on their own. If you’ve been following the sleep schedules in our Little Ones App, your baby will be perfectly ready for sleep, which will make it a lot easier for them to fall asleep without your assistance.
MYTH: If a baby wakes in the night it means they are hungry.
FACT: Babies do wake in the night hungry, for sure, but not every baby and not all the time. Until a baby is established on solids, 1-2 wakes overnight for feeds is considered quite normal, and during growth spurts your baby may wake for an additional feed on top of that.
There are many other factors that cause night waking in babies and toddlers, such as having too much or too little day sleep, being too hot or cold, being sick or uncomfortable, and not being able to self-settle (in older babies).
If your baby is waking frequently in the night and needs to be fed back to sleep each time, it could be that they've developed a feed-to-sleep association. In some cases, feeding your baby at each wake overnight can also cause them to start "reverse cycling". This is where they take the bulk of their milk feeds during the night, meaning they’ll take less in the day. We want the opposite to happen!
If your baby is waking more than twice a night, it's worth considering other factors that might be contributing to their wakes.
MYTH: Some babies don’t like being swaddled.
FACT: Swaddling babies younger than 4-5 months has been proven time and time again to assist them in settling to sleep and sleeping for longer stretches. This is because the swaddle helped to suppress their startle reflex.
Some babies can struggle or cry when being swaddled though and parents assume this means their baby doesn’t like being swaddled. Usually though, it is because the baby is already overtired, the swaddle is the wrong type for them (some prefer arms up, others arms down), or it’s too big.
If your baby is under than 4-5 months and not rolling yet, it's worth persevering to find a swaddle that works for them. If your baby is already rolling, try an arms-out baby sleeping bag or sleep sack instead.
MYTH: Sleep training is the only way to improve your baby's night sleep.
FACT: Sleep training a baby at night only, without considering their day sleep, can often set them up to fail. If they had too much day sleep, they are waking at night simply because they aren't tired enough for a more restorative night sleep, not because they need "sleep training".
Similarly, if a baby has too little day sleep, excessive night waking can usually be attributed to overtiredness. This is something that is outside your baby's control and something that no amount of sleep training will "fix".
We understand the holistic nature of baby sleep so we ALWAYS look at your baby's naps first. Many, many times, tweaking a baby's nap structure has the biggest, most positive influence on their night time sleep, without the need for actual sleep training.
Some older babies will need to be guided towards self-settling to enable them to sleep for longer stretches overnight but again, we would focus on the day first. Once your baby is self-settling to sleep at the start of their naps and at bedtime, this puts them in a really good position to be able to resettle themselves in between sleep cycles overnight too.
MYTH: Babies are scared of the dark.
FACT: Babies are not scared of the dark. They have nothing to base that fear on, since their imagination doesn't develop until around 2 years of age. In the womb it is dark (and noisy) and so, like other mammals, babies actually find the dark comforting, safe and calming.
If you have a young baby who is overstimulated or overtired, putting them in a pitch black room (with white noise) will be very calming for them. Babies do not need night-lights, as any light will be stimulating for them and can prevent them from falling asleep or staying asleep.
MYTH: Teething causes babies to sleep poorly.
FACT: Despite all the drooling and excessive chomping on anything in sight, a baby is really only affected by teething for the day or two that the tooth is actually breaking through the gum. Teething shouldn’t cause disruption to their sleep for weeks, or months, on end!
In fact, when your baby is lying down, their blood pressure is actually lowered, so the pain in their gums will be LESS at night than when they're awake and upright in the day! If your baby is teething they will be unsettled during the day too, not just at night.
If you think your baby is teething but you can't see any teeth bulging and they’ve started sleeping much much worse, it could be that they are sick rather than teething. THIS article can help you to figure out if your baby is sick or teething.
MYTH: You should never wake a sleeping baby.
FACT: If your baby is a great daytime napper, they might actually be having too much day sleep, which would then mean they don’t sleep as much overnight. In this case, you should definitely wake your baby from their naps. Some babies would quite happily sleep all day then stay awake all night and we absolutely don’t want it that way around!
Waking your baby at a consistent time each morning, or waking them from their naps, means you are able to regulate your baby's day sleep, which enables them to sleep well at night.
MYTH: Babies will just fall asleep when they’re tired.
FACT: Some babies will fall asleep when they’re tired, but this doesn't mean they will sleep well (which we'll explain in more detail shortly!). The vast majority of babies though will simply stay awake until they are really overtired, making it impossible for them to settle easily or sleep well.
We need to help our babies learn HOW to sleep by making sure they have the right amount of awake time and the right conditions for sleep. Find out more in THIS article.
MYTH: You should be guided completely by a baby’s tired signs.
FACT: Unfortunately not all babies display reliable tired signs. Babies older than 6 weeks also do hit a natural dip in energy levels after 1-1.5 hours of awake time and may display “tired signs” here. They are starting to get tired, but are not actually tired enough to go to sleep yet, or to sleep for very long.
Many parents see these tired signs and whisk their baby off to bed, then wonder why they struggle to get their baby to fall asleep or why their baby only has a 20 minute nap. They then assume the settling difficulties and the short nap were due to OVER tiredness, when it was actually UNDER tiredness all along!
Watching the clock and keeping your baby awake for an amount of time that is age-appropriate, is the best way to ensure they are napping well. Our Little Ones App takes all the guesswork out for you, with evolving, age-appropriate, daily sleep and feed schedules to follow.
MYTH: Giving babies lots of solids at dinner will help them sleep through the night.
FACT: The balance of milk vs solids is really important. Giving your baby lots of solids at dinner isn’t the solution to night waking. In fact, it could even make your baby's night sleep worse. If a baby younger than 10 months has too much protein at dinner, it can cause wakefulness in the night as their body struggles to digest the protein.
We recommend offering solids at the lunch meal first, then once that is established, offer dinner, then lastly introduce breakfast. Lunch is the most important meal of the day because protein at this meal is stored by the baby’s liver in a way that will help them feel full through the night.
MYTH: Babies should sleep in a quiet room.
FACT: Babies, especially very young babies, actually sleep better when it’s noisy. In the womb it can be louder than a vacuum cleaner and this is all your baby has known!
Using white noise in their room for all their day sleeps and overnight will definitely help your baby settle better and sleep for longer. It also helps block out any other household or environmental sounds that might wake a sleeping baby.
The white noise should ideally be played louder than a baby’s cries (if they are crying) or as loud as a shower while you are settling them to sleep. If you have a decibel reader (you can get an app on your phone for free) we'd recommend the white noise be played around 65 dB.
White noise is also extremely effective for adults who suffer from insomnia too! We have an excellent collection of white noise tracks available HERE.
We hope this helps clear up some of your sleep concerns and sets you on a clearer path to better sleep. For more comprehensive advice and support, check out our Little Ones App. Our Sleep Programs have all the information and tools you need to improve your baby's sleep.