Children and sleep: Debunking common myths about their sleeping habits

Have conflicting pieces of advice about your child’s sleeping habits left you confused about what to believe? Here are a few common myths regarding sleep that are just plain false.

Cereal right before bed helps your baby sleep through the night

Wrong. There are a number of factors that can influence whether or not a child will sleep through the night, such as his or her temper, maturity or environment. However, no scientific study has demonstrated any link between infant feeding and the duration of nocturnal sleep.

Besides, giving cereals to a baby less than four months old isn’t recommended because the digestive system isn’t yet ready to process solid foods. Beware of introducing solids too early, as it could lead your child to develop conditions like diabetes and obesity.

During sleep, a child’s body is almost completely inactive

False. Several beneficial actions take place in a child’s body during sleep. Among other things, the metabolism stocks energy reserves, the body grows, the immune system regains its strength and organs regenerate.

Sleep is also a busy time for a child’s brain—that’s when it classifies the information it gathered during the day and regulates emotions and moods. Your baby’s brain is particularly active during REM sleep, the time when dreams occur.

Skipping the afternoon nap will make it easier to put your child to bed in the evening

Quite the opposite! Afternoon naps are even more important for children who have trouble falling asleep at night. A child who doesn’t sleep after eating won’t get a chance to recharge and will be exhausted by the end of the day. This kind of fatigue will cause your child to be overexcited, irritable and confrontational.

Instead of skipping the afternoon nap, try maintaining a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere before sleep. Establish a good routine and stick to it. Repeating the same actions night after night will help your child calm down before bedtime.

Physical activities before bedtime will help your child sleep

Not at all. While it’s true that physical activity helps your child expend energy and sleep more deeply, it’s best to do it at least three hours before bedtime, during the late afternoon or early evening. Too much activity right before bedtime will cause your child to be more excited, which could lead to a disturbed sleep.

To relax your child before sleep, you should encourage activities that will allow him or her to unwind, such as using Play-Doh, drawing, puzzles, books, yoga, etc. A relaxing bath is also an excellent way to get a child ready for bed.

Watching tv will help your child relax before bed

It won’t. Lying on the couch and watching television can seem like a good way to unwind—but while the body relaxes, the brain is being bombarded with information. The light diffused by some screens can also decrease the production of melatonin, the hormone that predisposes to sleep. For these reasons, all types of screens (TVs, cell phones, computers, video games, and tablets) should be avoided before bedtime.

Instead, try reading a story or looking at a photo album with your toddler before putting him or her to bed. It will be much more relaxing and will strengthen the affectionate bond between you and your child.

Playing music will help your child sleep more peacefully

Once again, this is another false myth. Even while your baby is unconscious, if a song is playing even softly, the brain will be triggered by the sounds and melodies, resulting in a restless sleep. In the long run, your child could show signs of fatigue during the day.

It also creates a bad habit that could be hard to shake. If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and is used to going to sleep with music, it could be difficult to get back to sleep without it.

That said music could still be part of your child’s bedtime ritual: soft music beforehand allows your child to mentally prepare for sleep. To allow the brain the deep sleep it needs, however, it’s best to hit stop when your child is ready to get into bed.

Sleeping more on weekends compensates for the lack of sleep accumulated during the week

Not true! Children under 16 usually need between 10–12 hours of sleep per night. Constant sleep deprivation can be very difficult for children to recover from, and recurring fatigue could affect their health or cause them to develop behavioral problems.

Setting a regular bedtime and wake-up time will stabilize your child’s biological clock and allow him or her to be fully rested. According to a recent study[1], children who have steady sleeping patterns and always go to bed at the same time have better memories. A regular sleeping schedule is particularly important for children around three years old because that’s when their cognitive development is in full flight.

It’s easy to get lost when you hear so many conflicting pieces of advice concerning your child’s sleeping habits. Always make sure to verify the accuracy of the info you’re being given. Remember to be attentive to the specific needs of your child and to use your judgment! 

[1] Santé log: La régularité du coucher fait la plasticité du cerveau

Laury Boisvert
Family and career coaching

 Since forever, Laurie has been fascinated with children and family relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychoeducation and specializes in interventions with people experiencing behavioural problems. She is also trained in family coaching, using the empowering approach. Laury has developed an expertise with children aged 0 to 12 years old. She worked in an early childhood center where she was mainly responsible for the integration of children with special needs. She also worked with individuals with intellectual disabilities, pervasive developmental disorders and mental health issues. Her work experience has allowed her to regularly work in collaboration with families. That’s where she decided to start her own company: Coaching familial La Lanterne. Through her articles, Laury hopes that parents will feel more confident and add tools to their “parental toolboxes”. You can also follow her on Facebook.    

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