A large study of over 32,000 Norwegian kids was studied with parents recording sleep characteristics at 18 months of age. The Child Behavior Checklist ( a routine questionnaire that asks about many child behaviors) was filled out at 18 months and at 5 years of age.
Researchers found that the 18 month-olds who:
- slept less than 10 hours in a day and
- awoke 3 or more times at night
were significantly more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems by 5 years of age!
Waking up several times at night seemed associated with emotional problems called internalizing problems, like anxiety, and possibly depression.
Having less than the 10 hours a day of sleep was associated with the internalizing problems, but also with externalizing problems like hurting others or destroying property (in other words, these kids don’t play well with others).
So, why do some babies wake up in the night a lot? We don’t know for sure. There may be a genetic reason. For example, some of us are much lighter sleepers than others. Some TSKs seem to get into a pattern very easily, so if they are sick, for example, and have to be fed in the middle of the night for several nights, they can get into the habit of waking up, even when they are well! It takes EXTRA work to get this TSK back on track!
Environmental issues, though, CAN make a difference, and this is where YOU can start good sleep habits in the first few months of life.
Check out these ideas for developing good sleep habits:
- Don’t have background noise, like TV or radio on when TSK is going to sleep, or after getting to sleep (in fact, it isn’t recommended to have the TV on especially for TSK to watch, until 2 years of age; we just don’t know how all that noise and flashing lights will affect TSK’s brain development).
- After 4 months of age, let TSK go to sleep in his/her own bed, without being rocked or going to sleep while eating.
- After 4 months of age, most term healthy TSKs can go at least 6 hours and sometimes 8 hours without eating.
- TSKs hopefully can learn to self-soothe themselves back to sleep when they awaken. If you have questions about this, call your doctor.
- Think about why your TSK is awakening;
- Is he/she really hungry? If so, change when food is given, to give a little more before going to sleep.
- Is it a habit, like being rocked or held to go to sleep, then after laying down TSK awakens? If so you may need to lay TSK down before he/she goes to sleep! This is HARD to do, because it is so SUCH FUN to watch TSK go to sleep…. BUT when you let TSK learn he/she needs you to go to sleep, you are actually teaching TSK to DEPEND on you, which won’t be good when he/she gets older (and as this article shows, “older” is only at 18 months of age).
- If TSK is older and still awaking at night, talk to your doctor.
Sleep isn’t just a luxury anymore; it is a true necessity for healthy child development… and for parent sanity! Give that kid a hug, Gene