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Emotional Bonding and Infant Sleep

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 20 May 2013 | comments*Discuss
Baby Sleep Sleep Problems Insomnia

Do you have trouble getting your baby to go to sleep at night? This is a problem most parents face at some point, and managing it successfully can be important to helping your baby develop a healthy sleep cycle in later life. It can also help you to get a lot more sleep yourself! Research now suggests that the key to getting babies to sleep when it's bedtime is close emotional bonding.

When to Let Go

For generations a battle has raged between those who say the best way to get a baby to sleep is to soothe it and those who say it's better to let it cry, because it has to learn sometime that it can't endlessly demand attention. Now the evidence suggests that the effectiveness of either approach depends very much on the individual baby. What's more, it depends on the baby's mood at the time.

Babies are hard-wired to fight sleep because it feels like dying. They have to learn from experience that when they close their eyes at night they will wake up again in the morning. This can make bedtime frightening, and the realisation that it is falling asleep can make a baby panic. In other cases, feeling overtired can put a baby in a bad mood, so that its cries are a complaint rather than a desperate plea for help.

Learning to distinguish different types of cry is something that takes time with any baby, but it's this ability to identify and relate to the baby's moods that can tell parents when they should soothe and when they should go.

Sleep and Security

Aside from pain, the number one cause of insomnia in people of any age is anxiety. Babies are often predisposed to anxiety. This is because the world is strange to them and they have to be wary of new things until reassured that they're safe. Making your baby feel more secure can help resolve sleep problems, but it may not be as simple as you think.

For babies, the most important source of security is not cuddling or the presence of familiar things, it's communication. Babies sleep better when they feel that their concerns are understood. This means, again, that it's important to correctly interpret your baby's mood and demonstrate that you can relate to it. Showing sympathy can be more important than coming across as a strong protector.

The Importance of Infant Sleep

Helping a baby get to sleep properly at bedtime isn't just about solving an immediate problem, it's about teaching it a skill that it will need to cope with in later life. Problems sleeping in early childhood can often turn into problems in adulthood due to a poorly functioning body clock or an inability to deal with stress at bedtime.

Although most infant sleep studies have focused on mothers, fathers can also play an important role. Sometimes individual men will find it easier to relate to their children than mothers do, and post natal depression can be a problem for some mothers due to the two-way nature of emotional bonding. If a baby knows its carer is stressed, it will be more likely to suffer from anxiety and related sleep problems.

Sleep is an area where the family really needs to work together to get the best results. If you're feeling exhausted by your baby's demands, don't try to be bright and cheerful all the time. Letting your baby see your own sleepiness could be just what you need to get it nodding off peacefully.

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