The Subtleties of Baby Sleep (4 Important Things To Know)

March 3, 2014

The Subtleties of Baby Sleep (4 Important Things To Know)

Posted by janet lansbury on Feb 13th, 2014 at Janet Lansbury

The word ‘sleep’ wakes up even the sleepiest baby.” – Magda Gerber, Your Self-Confident Baby
Magda Gerber’s assertion might seem far-fetched, but recent scientific studies (by Gopnik, Bloom, Spelke and others) are proving what Gerber understood more than half a century ago: our infants are astonishingly sharp and aware. They recognize repeated words, read our subtexts, sense our feelings and attitudes. Through my years observing infants and toddlers, I’ve noted that they are even inclined to resist anything they perceive to be our agenda, especially if they sense us selling it to them.

Magda recommended replacing ‘sleep’ with ‘rest’, partly because ‘rest’ is a little gentler, less demanding. Also, for many of us, ‘sleep’ can have a vaguely negative connotation, which we can end up inadvertently conveying to our children. Consider some of the phrasing we commonly use like “go to sleep”, which sounds a like a banishment, and “fall asleep”, which sounds precarious (and potentially painful).

Babies can become unsettled and resist sleep if our attitude towards bedtime is pitying, as in “poor baby has to go sleep”; when we’re anticipating a battle, “uh-oh, this is going to be trouble”; or even when they sense our impatience, “you’re tired, so hurry up and go to sleep already!”  These attitudes make it far more difficult for our baby to do his or her job, which is to relax and let go enough to let sleep happen.

The most important thing to know about sleep is the most important thing to know about parenting in general: Babies are aware and competent whole people. They are listening, noticing, absorbing, primed to learn about us and life through our every interaction, no matter how subtle, whether we want them to or not.

With this truth in mind, here are a few other important – albeit subtle — things to know about babies and sleep:

1. Babies are easily over-stimulated and overtired

It’s easy to underestimate the hyper-sensitivity of very young children, but remember – they haven’t developed the filters we have. Imagine your sensory volume switch cranked waaaayyy up all the time, and there’s nothing you can do to turn it down or tune anything out. While this hyper-awareness is what makes babies phenomenal information gatherers, it also means they become overstimulated in environments we’d consider quite manageable. And overstimulation and overtiredness can mean crankiness, whining, crying, difficulties both falling asleep and staying asleep.

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