Babies and Sleep Safety: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Giving advice on how to raise children is always a touchy subject. It’s personal, and nobody wants to be told they are a bad parent if they happen do things differently than the person offering the  advice. But ultimately, the goal is to have a healthy, happy child and sleep is a key ingredient for the health and happiness of both the parent and the child.

     

    So, how do you get your child on a sleep schedule without doing emotional damage? 

     

    Is sleep training safe and effective?

     

    A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics looked at certain sleep training methods for infants and found that they are safe for babies, improve their sleep and lower symptoms of maternal depression in the short-term.

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    Sleep training techniques such as “controlled comforting” and “camping out” were studied. Controlled comforting involves increasing the length of time intervals between responding to a child’s cries. The purpose is to give the child an opportunity to settle down on their own. “Camping out” means the parents sit  with the child as they learn to fall asleep on their own, with the parents gradually removing themselves from the baby’s room.

     

    Doctors and parents had some concerns about whether this type of training was harmful to a child’s emotional development and their ability to deal with stress as they grow up. But researchers found that the training actually improved the child’s and the mother’s sleep and mental health when the child was 2 years old.

     

    However, the improvements wore off by the time the child was 6 years old. This shows that despite early improvements, there is no long-lasting effect positive or negative. Essentially, this means it’s up to you on whether you want to try these sleep techniques or employ a technique with more immediate attention, as any positive impact has faded by the time the child is 6 years old.

     

                [SLIDESHOW: 5 Health Issues that Arise from Sleep Deprivation]

     

    How do dads factor into baby’s sleep?

     

    It turns out that  dads who sleep in the same bed as their baby experience dips in testosterone levels. And this is a good thing, according to researchers who published a study in the journal PLoS ONE.

     

    Researchers looked at 362 Filipino fathers of the same age, and took testosterone samples in 2005 and 2009. They found that the men who slept in the same bed as their child had a third less testosterone than before, compared to men who slept alone. The researchers noted that they aren’t sure if sleeping next to the baby caused the decline, or if men with lower testosterone preferred to cuddle more with their child. But, either way, they said less testosterone is better for the baby, because it makes men better parents.  High levels of testosterone are linked to aggression, risk-taking and less sympathy towards infant cries. Researchers also noted that disruptions in a man’s sleep, such as a baby crying, cut testosterone production.

     

    Does that mean it’s safe to sleep with your baby?

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    Actually, according to the recently revised Back to Sleep Campaign from the National Institutes of Health, placing a baby to sleep in their own crib without quilts, soft bedding or blankets, and not in an adult bed, is an important step to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

     

    Other ways to create a safe sleep environment include putting the infant to sleep on their back, breast-feeding and eliminating risks such as overheating, exposure to tobacco smoke and a mother’s use of alcohol or drugs.

     

    Unfortunately, 4,500 infants die unexpectedly during sleep every year in the United States. One recent study analyzed data of 3,000 infant deaths in nine states from the National Child Death Review Case Reporting System. They found that 70 percent of SIDS victims were sleeping on surfaces not meant for infants, such as adult beds or couches, and 64 percent of the babies were sharing beds, often with adults.

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                [SLIDESHOW: 5 Tips for Creating a Good Sleep Environment]

     

    Can I get good information about sleep safety online?

     

    With 59 percent of people in the U.S. looking to the Internet for health information in 2010, it’s important that the right information be easy to find. But that’s not the case when it comes to children’s sleep safety, according to a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

     

    Researchers used Google to search 13 key phrases that closely aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for sleep safety in infants to prevent SIDS. They closely analyzed the first 100 search engine websites that popped up for each phrase to see how accurate the site and information was compared to the AAP recommendations. After analyzing 1,300 sites, researchers found that 43.5 percent contained accurate information, 28.1 contained inaccurate information and 28.4 percent contained information not relevant to sleep safety.

     

    The highest level of inaccurate information appeared with the phrases, “infant co-sleeping,” “pacifier infant” and “infant home monitor.” Researchers said that companies, interest groups, education websites and retail product reviews were the most common types of sites to come up for those search phrases. The most accurate information was found on organization (72.5 percent) and government sites (80.1 percent), and news sites were only accurate half of the time.

     

    The authors suggest getting a list of reputable websites from the doctor’s office.

     

    Does fighting between parents disrupt a baby’s sleep?

     

    Bickering is not good for you or your child. One 2011 study found that marital instability has an effect on a child getting to sleep or staying asleep, and that instability in parents’ relationship when a baby is nine months old still affected the child at 18 months.

     

    Researchers used a sample of more than 300 children and caregivers in the U.S., with all of the children adopted at birth to eliminate genetic influences between parent and child. They found that how parents relate to each other and their relationship quality influences the child’s early development.

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    Is lack of sleep linked to obesity in kids?

     

    A 2010 study found a link between young children and infants who did not get enough nighttime sleep and a higher risk of obesity later in life. Napping during the day did not reduce the risk.

     

    Researchers looked at survey data of 1,930 children up to the age of 13, and followed up in 1997 and 2002.  They found that 33 percent of the younger children and 36 percent of the older children were overweight or obese. Those in the younger group that had short-lasting nighttime sleep had a higher risk of obesity or being overweight later in life, while the older children’s baseline sleep was not linked to being overweight or obese. Meaning, lack of sleep is not a factor in obesity when children are older.  

     

    Sources:

    n.p. (2012, September 10). "Infant Sleep Training Methods Are Safe And Effective." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/250049.php.

     

    Intagliata, Christopher. (2012, September 6). “Testosterone Dips for Baby-Snoozing Dads.” Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=testosterone-dips-for-baby-snoozing-12-09-06

     

    University of Missouri-Columbia. (2012, April 23). "Back To Sleep: Safe Sleep Environments Key To Preventing Many Infant Deaths." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/244379.php

     

    Bock, Robert. (2012, September 12). “NIH expands safe infant sleep outreach effort.” National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.nih.gov/news/health/sep2012/nichd-12.htm

     

    n.p. (2012, August 2). "Infant Sleep Safety Info Is Not Always Accurate Online." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248580.php

     

    Child Development. (2011, May 10). "Bickering Couples Disrupt Infants' Sleep Patterns And Affect Child Development - New Study." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/224757.php

     

    Christian Nordqvist. (2010, September 6). "Infants And Young Children Who Don't Sleep Enough At Night Have Higher Risk Of Obesity Later On." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/200151.php

     

Published On: September 17, 2012