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Understanding Family Sleep

August 22, 2022

A Conversation with Jess, our Sleep Consultant

We had the pleasure of speaking with Jessica White about her work as a sleep consultant. She has many tips and insights about achieving a good night’s sleep for the baby and the family as a whole.

BRIA: Why is sleep important?
Jess: Sleep is important for our health and wellbeing because it is the foundation for many other aspects of our health. If we are not getting our recommended sleep hours or if we are not prioritising sleep, then our ability to connect with people and make good choices about our health are compromised. This could mean that as a result of not getting enough sleep, you can’t make healthy food choices, lack the motivation to exercise, or are distracted or irritable around family, friends or colleagues.
The normal functioning of our brain and body can be disrupted when we are deprived of sleep. This can have a negative impact on our moods and prevent us from being able to focus or handle the stresses of life. Poor sleep can even impact our memory and worsen underlying disorders such as depression and possibly psychosis, for those who have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Sleep is important for children as it supports healthy growth and development and helps to regulate emotions. There is so much emphasis on sleep during the first few months after birth because neurosensory development occurs at this time. Prioritising sleep is important at all stages and ages as it promotes cognitive development, provides the foundation for our daily habits and decisions, and is fundamental to our health and well-being.

BRIA: What are the basic foundations of healthy sleep for babies?
Jess: Healthy sleep foundations for babies include proper sleep timing, sleep environment, paying attention to light and dark cycles and having realistic expectations. It is helpful for parents to understand age appropriate sleep timing and the importance of sleep cycles. A baby’s sleep cycle is 40 -50 minutes, whereas an adult’s cycle is between 90 – 100 minutes. This means that it is normal for an infant in the first few months of life to be awake every hour or so for a feed. Babies also split their sleep time between active REM sleep and lighter NREM sleep, which can cause them to wake more frequently, especially if they are hungry. Parents should also become familiar with age appropriate wake windows and the importance of having a consistent sleep routine. Light and dark cycles are also important— when it’s time to sleep, the environment should be dark, and when the baby is awake, they need to be exposed to light. This will help strengthen a baby’s circadian clock, improving their ability to fall asleep easily and sleep for an age appropriate amount of time. It’s also really important for parents to not be hard on themselves, understand that every baby is different, and know that there isn’t one right way to achieve better sleep. It’s key for new moms who are getting information from social media, parenting books, as well as advice from family and friends, to recognize how every family is different. What works for one family may not work for another, and tuning into what feels right for their child and their family is the more helpful step to take.

BRIA: What are your thoughts on “sleep training”?
Jess: Too often families are led to believe that sleep training is a necessary part of the parenting journey. I believe that we all know how to sleep, including babies. Traditional sleep training, or cry it out, as it is often referred to, is a behavioural method used to help children learn to sleep independently. Sleep training is extremely difficult when there is a lot of stress in a family or if parents are unable to maintain consistency. My approach focuses more on the emotional wellbeing of the whole family, taking into consideration family dynamics, parenting styles, and a baby’s temperament. Overall, I aim to take the pressure off parents about what they “should” be doing and instead support them in understanding infant sleep foundations and the things they can be doing to help their babies get better sleep.

BRIA: What is your approach to helping families get better sleep?
Jess: I focus on contextualising the expectations around infant sleep. When someone has a better understanding of normal infant sleep, the pressure of second-guessing oneself, and making use of information shared by friends and family or found on the internet, can be diminished for new moms. I start by helping moms understand what “normal” sleep is. I then validate what new moms are already doing to get healthy sleep and emphasize how there is no single way to approach infant sleep, as every family does things differently. I use an approach that helps families examine their own needs and develop their own approach to getting better rest. My main goal is to find a healthy balance between prioritising the infant’s sleep and the mom’s sleep. The first priority is ensuring the mom is getting uninterrupted hours of sleep, and that may mean looking at co-sleeping options, getting a co-parent involved, or finding outside support.

Written By:

Jess White

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