The baby’s sleep becomes a central issue at the birth of a baby. For tired parents, of course, but also …
The baby’s sleep becomes a central issue at the birth of a baby. For tired parents, of course, but also for those around them. How to explain this?
There is a social pressure. It is linked to our educational culture and it happens from the first days of a child’s life. This is often one of the first questions family or friends ask: “Does he sleep all night?”
We idealize the toddler’s sleep. If we did not, if we did not compare it with the adult, the parents would live things better.
What does a toddler’s sleep look like?
It’s chaotic! The first peculiarity is that children have much shorter sleep cycles than ours. But between these cycles there are micro-awakenings, normal but inevitably more. Parents need to be reassured: The older the child, the longer the cycles and the fewer awakenings. Then you should know that before the age of 2 or 3 years, slow and deep sleep less exists. There are also parasomnias, e.g. night terrors, which are specific to early childhood.
When can we say that a child sleeps all night?
Staying overnight means everything and nothing. In research, we estimate that a child “sleeps” when it gets 6 to 8 hours of sleep. This is much less than what most parents think, who imagine their baby sleeping all night when he sleeps 12 hours in a row.
From what age does a child’s sleep resemble an adult’s sleep?
Some researchers estimate that it is about 10-13 years old. For others, it is before, about 6 or 7 years old. What is certain is that the older the child, the closer his sleep will be to that of an adult. But it takes a long time. When we know that the brain is not mature before the age of 25, we put sleep in perspective. Parents really need to be patient.
What is the worst misconception about sleep?
The one who says that babies should be allowed to cry. For a long time, pediatricians and researchers have recommended it because it actually works: If a child is left to cry alone, it deactivates its attachment signals and he is silent. After three or four days he “sleeps”.
However, studies show that when the child emits warning signals such as crying, the baby is programmed to find the adult’s proximity. For many reasons, and especially to create such an important bond between the child and the adult, we should therefore let a baby cry as little as possible. Of course, it can happen to be exceeded, and there it is also necessary to know how to put it down to breathe.
What do you think about co-sleeping?
For me, sleeping with your child is a no-brainer. It is a natural, universal action that is observed in most cultures. But in France, where one advocates early empowerment of the small and distal mother, it is the subject of controversy. I think above all that we should let the parents do as they please.
Are rituals really important?
Yes. Research has shown that the sequence of small exercises, in the same direction, at the same times, reduces the time it takes for the child to fall asleep, improves quality and sleep time.
Besides rituals, what can help a child sleep?
Parents should know the basics of chronobiology. For example, in order for a child to fall asleep, it is necessary to increase its level of melatonin, the sleep hormone: for this, thirty minutes before bedtime, one can create a less luminous environment. It is also necessary to reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. This can be done with massage, a moment of reading with a slow voice … Finally, it is important to reduce the child’s body temperature, not to cover it too much or overheat its room. These are simple things, they do not change lives, but can change nights.
And if you had any advice to give to young parents …