Whether you’re a new parent or not, your baby’s sleep patterns may leave you feeling concerned.
For tips on how to ensure that your baby sleeps steadily and safely as he/she grows, we reached out to W. Christopher Winter, MD. Dubbed “The Sleep Whisperer” by Arianna Huffington, Dr. Winter is a double board-certified sleep specialist, board-certified neurologist, and author of The Rested Child: Why Your Tired, Wired, or Irritable Child May Have a Sleep Disorder—and How to Help, released in August 2021.
Dr. Winter believes that regular sleep schedules are essential to promote quality shut-eye and healthy development for your baby.“
The sleep schedule is part of a bigger 24-hour schedule we are trying to establish in a child's brain,” he begins. He shares the analogy of why we have established timeframes for meals: “Like a routine sleep schedule, it informs our brain and circadian rhythm, which is a big boost to good health.”
Humans have an internal clock that produces circadian rhythms that help regulate various functions of the body, including but not limited to regulating body temperature, cognitive performance, and, of course, sleep. However, experts have found that “circadian misalignment” can result not only in poor sleep, but also greater health risks in both the short- and long-term.“
Brains like a schedule,” Dr. Winter explains. “Anticipating works better than reacting.” For that reason, a consistent sleep regimen will always serve to your baby’s benefit.
When you think of getting enough sleep for yourself and your baby alike, many of us may default to a certain bedtime. However, Dr. Winter urges parents to prioritize wake times first and foremost.
“If we keep wake times consistent, bedtimes tend to follow,” he shares. Essentially, even if your baby becomes agitated that day on account of losing sleep from the previous night, they have a better chance of tiring out once night falls. From there, they will better adhere to their regular sleep schedule than if they had slept in to accommodate sleep loss.
“These anchors in our schedule tend to create long-term sleep confidence and consistency,” he asserts.
With this final tip, Dr. Winter urges parents to rethink some preferred sleeping methods.
First, he doesn’t lend support to the “cry it out” method. “I think we need to be there to comfort our little ones and let them know we are there,” Dr. Winter explains. “There are lots of ways to be supportive and caring parents without feeling like we are powerless to a child who wields wailing like a weapon.”
Next, he warns against potential dangers of co-sleeping. “I have dealt with parents who have lost children this way; I just see it as an unnecessary risk,” he shares. “As I write in my book, all vowed to never do it again. There are lots of ways to love a kid outside of bringing them into bed with you, particularly when they are young.”
While Dr. Winter has developed these viewpoints resulting from his professional practice and personal experience as a father of three, he still wants parents to feel empowered to make the choices that work best for them. However, he still finds it essential for all parents to thoroughly understand the risks vs. rewards involved with specific sleep protocols and decide with an informed decision from there.
Of course, your baby’s sleep needs will vary as he/she matures, so you’ll have to revisit sleep schedules (timing, habits, etc.) with each transition.
But what scenarios may require a closer look from a pediatrician or sleep specialist?
“Any time there are issues related to your child’s mood, behavior, attention, growth, or school performance [when they reach that age], I would ask your child's doctor if the condition could be caused by or exacerbated by a sleep disorder,” he advises. Similarly, if your baby suddenly requires significantly more sleep than normal, a greater issue may be at play.
If your baby’s sleep patterns concern you, further investigation from a medical professional is always advisable.