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Better Sleep Makes Better Parents

3 Things by Kathleen Berchelmann, Children's Mom Docs

3 Things by Kathleen Berchelmann, Children’s Mom Docs

Truth

Depriving myself of sleep to take care of my kids made me a bad parent, not a dedicated parent.

I’m an expert in sleep deprivation — I’ve worked night shifts for almost a decade while watching my four (soon to be five) kids during the day.

Three of those years, I worked 80+ hours per week as a pediatric resident. I’m convinced now that sleep-deprived parenting does not make me any kind of a martyr — but only a bad parent. I was a research subject in the Harvard Work Hours study and I’ve followed the medical research on sleep deprivation for many years, trying to figure out how best to manage my circadian rhythms and clear my brain of what seemed like constant fog.

I worked nights out of necessity, first because it was a requirement of residency and later because it was the only way my husband I could balance our two careers and growing family. For years, I thought giving up sleep to take care of my children was what made me a dedicated mother. If I could work 30-hour shifts in the hospital, surely I could take care of kids in an equally sleep-deprived state.

Not so.

It’s much harder to be a sleep-deprived mom than a sleep-deprived doctor.

Sleep deprivation steals your patience towards your children. And without patience, apathy and anger easily replace love and gentleness. It also makes it hard to be attuned to kids, to provide them with the attention and positive parenting they need, especially in stressful situations.

The bottom line: If it’s hard to sleep, it’s hard to enjoy parenting — and that doesn’t help anybody.

See more of my writing on sleep deprived parenting.

Tip

It’s really OK to sleep train your kids. (Really!) You won’t scar them for life.

Our best pediatric research shows that that sleep trained babies grow into healthy children. As for those who believe that sleep-training harms infants, we have no research evidence that babies who are sleep-trained are at higher risk of behavioral and psychiatric disorders later in life.

However, I am not an advocate of just letting babies cry in their cribs until they fall asleep. This isn’t fair to the baby, who may not understand that parents will come back and are not gone forever. What I am a fan of are the Ferber method of sleep training and the “camping out method” (click on the links for more information about these approaches).

A few tips to remember:

1. Put babies in their cribs when they are drowsy but not yet asleep.  Only then can babies learn to fall asleep.
2. Never try to sleep-train an infant under four months of age. In fact, it’s probably best to wait until at least six months.
3. Please use safe-sleep techniques such as a bedside infant bassinet or “co-sleeper,” rather than sleeping with your infant in bed with you, as co-sleeping has been associated with SIDS and infant suffocation.
4. If your baby is sick, teething, out of his or her routine, or in a new environment, it’s not a good time for sleep training.
5. Always respond to the physical needs of your baby, such as clearing their nose of mucus when they awake with a cold.
6. Sleep training works for naps, too, but most people start with night-time.

Find

My home blog is not-for-profit and I don’t normally endorse products, but I’ll honestly tell you that the most important baby-related item I’ve ever owned is my Arm’s Reach Bedside Cosleeper.  Finally, we have an invention that puts the infant bed sharing debate to rest.

A co-sleeper is a 3-sided crib abuts the edge of an adult bed.  This way my baby can sleep only 6-8 inches away from me, yet I know she is safe from adult bedding, suffocation, and SIDS risks.

She is still close enough to see me even with her newborn vision, and I can reach out, pick her up, and nurse her without ever getting out of bed. And we both sleep well.

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Contributor: Kathleen from Children’s Mom Docs
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