Some babies are easy sleepers, while others are born with a different set of nighttime needs.  Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician for more than 50 years and father of eight children, coined the phrase when his daughter Hayden would not sleep through the night. He and his wife had to work at a “nighttime parenting” style that gave them all the best night’s sleep.  What is a good night’s sleep with a newborn? In fact, the medical definition of sleeping through the night is a five-hour stretch, at least during the first year. 

Dr. Sears began using the term “nighttime parenting” not just “how to get your baby to sleep.”  His goal was to put together the tools to help parents develop their own individual style of nighttime parenting that helps baby and parents sleep better.  And, really, parenting in a nutshell is giving your child the tools to succeed in life.  One of those tools is: help your baby develop a healthy sleep attitude. 

Sleep is not a state you can force a baby into.  A better way  is to develop a more sensitive approach to create a sleep-inducing environment that allows sleep to naturally overtake the baby – both in going to sleep and staying asleep. 

Quality sleep builds smarter baby brains. 

A baby’s brain grows the fastest during the first two years, tripling in size.  Guess when during the 24-hour day baby’s brain grows the most?  During quality sleep.  While the body rests at night, a busy nightshift comes into baby’s brain and helps it grow larger and smarter. 

During sleep is when new brain cells grow the most and more connections are made between new brain cells. Building a smarter brain means building the right connections.  During quality sleep the baby’s immune system gets stronger, the baby makes more growth hormones for body and brain, stress hormones go down, “happy hormones” go up, the brain’s garbage-disposal system gets larger, and the brain’s sanitation system does sort of a nighttime cleanse.  What is even more fascinating is that during sleep the lymphatic system, the rivers of the brain, widen.  Picture a street getting wider at night to allow more garbage trucks to clean up the daily mess. 

Also, a baby’s sleep cycles are shorter than adults with more light sleep than deep sleep.  So, babies have more vulnerable periods for night waking than adults, and they have more difficulty getting back to sleep. 

Further, new research reveals that prolonged infant stress in the first two years of life can decrease their ability to manage stress as adults.

American Academy of Pediatrics and Safe Infant Sleep

As of 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies not sleep in a separate room, but rather sleep in the same room with their parents or caregivers.  Ideally, babies should sleep within arm’s reach of the mother or primary caregiver.  Keep in mind three factors: safety, security, and science – the three S’s of safe and quality infant sleep.  

Co-Sleeping Gains in Popularity

Co-sleeping means that baby sleeps within arm’s reach of mother or a familiar and responsive nurturer.  This is especially important for breastfeeding mothers. Some babies and parents seem to have a critical sleeping distance: too far or too close increases their night waking.

A great product is the Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper which provides a way to safely and securely attach a bassinet to the parents’ bed.  This promotes good and safe sleep for baby.  This bedside co-sleeper bassinet allows parents and baby to have their own sleeping space yet enables mom to be within arm’s reach of her baby for easier nighttime nursing and comforting.  The high walls on three sides protect baby and the lowered rail is a similar height to the adult mattress, which facilitates easy access to baby.  This year, Arm’s Reach is celebrating its 25th anniversary… testament to its effectiveness, popularity with parents, and perfect safety record.

Should Parents Let Babies Cry it Out?

According to Dr. Sears, letting babies “cry it out” is insensitive, unscientific, and can drive a distance between mother and baby.  He says to remember, safety, security, and science – the three musts of nighttime parenting.  It is not safe because a baby’s cry is a baby’s language.  They cry for a reason.  So instead of teaching the cry-it-out method of baby-training there is a long list of other tools that parents can use to help their baby and themselves sleep better at night.