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.
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:
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 46–48).
Because short sleep durations (Blog Post 6) are associated with many adverse outcomes, the questions are:
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 1–5) 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:
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:
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).
My name is Marc Weissbluth and I’ve been a pediatrician since 1973. This baby sleep blog will help you create a healthy sleep schedule for your child. My baby sleep advice and sleep training will teach you how to get a baby to sleep through the night. To stay updated with my latest baby and child sleep blog posts, be sure to subscribe today.
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