Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
57
Start Early to Help Your Child Sleep Well
December 13, 2021

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Blog 57Start Early to Help Your Child Sleep Well

Start Early to Help Your Child Sleep Well

Here is a 2021 research paper to illustrate why I think parents should put forth an effort to help their child sleep better as early as possible

The title is “Persistent Short Sleep from Childhood to Adolescence: Child, Parent, and Peer Predictors” and the primary author is Professor Bror Ranum. 

They defined ‘Temperamental Negative Affectivity’ as the tendency to experience negative emotions (sadness, fear, anger, and discomfort) more often, more intensely, and for a longer duration than others. Temperament is viewed as primarily a within-the-child trait or a part of the child’s nature.

They refer to Parental Emotional Availability (Blog Post 17) as “the ability of parents to demonstrate warmth, consistency, understanding, and positive communication.” “Typically, parents are children’s most salient and important regulatory scaffold and thus constitute the environmental factor which impacts children’s sleep the most.” This is part of parent’s nurturing. They cite the following factors that comprise parental emotional availability:

  1. Sensitivity: Parent’s ability to develop and maintain a positive and healthy emotional connection with the child-promoting engaging, joyous, and creative play.
  2. Structuring: Parent’s contribution in structuring activities and how effectively the parent limits unwanted behavior in the child that may reduce the emotional connection.
  3. Nonintrusiveness: Parent’s ability to facilitate child autonomy by not taking too much control, helping too much, or overprotecting the child.
  4. Nonhostility: Not displaying behavior that can be frightening or threatening to the child, such as showing dissatisfaction, impatience, boredom, anger, or raising one’s voice.

They studied 800 children and made assessments every 2 years between 6 and 14 years. Sleep duration was measured objectively with hip-strapped devices and Parent Emotional Availability was measured by coding video recordings of parents (82% mothers) and children during 4 consecutive structured sequences: free play, child led play, parent led play, and a clean-up task. 

A subgroup of children (20%) was identified as having persistent short sleep between 6-14 years. “Temperament negative affectivity and low parental emotional availability predicted membership to that group.” In support of this finding, they cited my 1981 paper that showed an association between a ‘difficult temperament’ and short sleep durations at 4 months of age (Blog Posts 4648).

Because short sleep durations (Blog Post 6) are associated with many adverse outcomes, the questions are:

  • What are the causal relationships (direction of effects) between short sleep durations, difficult temperament (or temperamental negative affectivity) and maternal emotional availability? 
  • What are the roles of genetics (nature) and parenting (nurture)?

My opinion is that genetics do play a role regarding child temperament and parenting but genetics are not destiny.  Temperament characteristics appear to show individual stability after the age of about 3 years of age, but not before. However, at any particular age, younger children, older children, and even adults (Blog Posts 15) feel better, behave better, and think better with more sleep. Furthermore, when parents are able to put forth the effort, in infancy, more sleep over time might help create an easier temperament (Blog post 48). It is never too early to help your child sleep well and it is never too late to help your child sleep well.

For your child, there are two main reasons why you should try to start early to help your child sleep well. Start with your newborn, or as early as possible, to help your child sleep well because:

  1. Keeping the intervals of wakefulness between naps brief and protecting early bedtimes avoids the overtired state which makes it easier for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. Your soothing efforts and bedtime routines (Blog Post 16) help your baby transition from wakefulness to sleep. As time passes, because your child is well-rested, your child is more able to learn self-soothing and develop healthy sleep habits. Learning good habits early is easier than breaking bad habits later. The benefits of healthy sleep accrue, and sleep problems are prevented.
  2. Healthy sleep may enhance the neurodevelopment of the brain just as healthy food builds strong bones. Sleep is food for the brain according to the United States of America Department of the Army (Blog Posts 15). Brain development is extremely rapid during infancy and the first few years of life and the brain continues to develop during the first two decades. Starting early with healthy sleep optimizes healthy brain development and may prevent brain damage (Blog Posts 51 and 52) and a difficult temperament (or temperamental negative affectivity).

Another reason to start early to help your child sleep well is that the transition to parenthood, by itself, may stress a parent or the marriage. The additional stress of parental sleep deprivation, caused by a child with unhealthy sleep habits, may act as a trigger causing turmoil within a parent, the marriage, or both.

So staring early to help your child sleep well benefits your child concurrently and perhaps in the future, benefits the parents and also benefits the marriage. This statement might be true in general but there might be qualifications that limit its generalizability. For example: 

  • A mother’s ability to be emotionally available and to start early to help her child sleep well might be influenced by maternal anxiety, depression, or cognitive biases (Blog Posts 3942).
  • Father’s may help or hinder the attempt to starting early to help his child sleep better (Blog Posts 17 and 18)
  • Genetic individuality of the child (trait differences regarding sleep and/or temperament and differential susceptibility to insensitive mothers (Blog post 14)) may be important.
  • Infant colic (Blog Posts 43 and 44) might postpone attempts to help your child sleep well until 2-4 months of age.
  • Cultural and family concerns (Blog Post 14) might interfere with attempts to start early to help your child sleep well.

Because healthy sleep is so important for everyone in the family, and starting early to help your child sleep well is desirable, if you see speedbumps or roadblocks ahead, seek help from your child’s caregiver, a professional, or a community sleep consultant (Blog Post 27).

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