Welcome back to Sleep Better, our column answering your most pressing questions about sleep. Here, Shelly Ibach, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and President & CEO of Sleep Number, consults with other top sleep experts for the best tips on how to upgrade your sleep, and thus, your overall well-being. Submit your sleep questions for Shelly via Instagram; DM them to @shellyibach.
Q: “I’m a new mom, and sleep has been a big point of stress for me concerning my 14-month-old son, Hunter. I used to worry a lot if he didn’t nap enough, and I wondered whether he was getting enough sleep in general. Now we have him on a sleep schedule — both for his health and my mental health. It’s important to us as a family to stick to this schedule, but sometimes our extended family and friends don’t understand. They think of me and my husband, Brian, as “worriers” or over-planners. However, our family thrives with this sleep schedule. How can we help our relatives understand, especially when we visit them during the holidays, that his naps are important, so they respect that we’d like some quiet time and that we may miss some of the festivities? — Lindsey Benoit O’Connell, journalist/editor, New York, NY
A: I am delighted to hear that you are making your baby’s sleep a priority, Lindsey. It is so important for his development and health, now and in the years to come. By establishing a sleep routine, you are giving Hunter the best possible start in life. Society is finally beginning to understand the importance of sleep to overall health and wellness. This is a great opportunity for you to teach others and proudly communicate to your relatives that prioritizing Hunter’s sleep has made a difference for your family, and I am sure they will respect you. Set your expectations early on and don’t feel a need to overexplain. Logistically, make sure that wherever you are over the holidays, there is a restful room away from the lively festivities so that Hunter will be able to sleep peacefully. And remember that as parents, you need to sleep well too!
It is essential that your baby has enough quality sleep. There is scientific research showing that regular bedtimes (from night to night) and a bedtime earlier than 9 p.m. from an early age have significant benefits later on, when children reach school age. Both practices are associated with better academic performance, says Craig Canapari, M.D., associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine and Director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who backs me up on the importance of a “robust nighttime routine” for you and your family. “Helping your child to sleep well is not always easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, either,” says Dr. Canapari, author of It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train: The Low-Stress Way to High-Quality Sleep for Babies, Kids, and Parents. “Creating structured bedtimes and nap times is the cornerstone of high-quality sleep for parents and children.”
You should also know, Lindsey, that you are not alone. Many parents struggle with similar challenges, sometimes facing criticism from friends and family members concerning their child’s sleep habits. Dr. Canapari goes on to say, “I must confess that I was not always sympathetic about my friends’ insistence on honoring their child’s nap routines before I had kids of my own!” His advice: “Don’t sweat the criticism, as you know what is best for your child. It will be much more relaxing and fun for you and your partner if you are not stressing about the well-being of your child and can rest in the knowledge that everyone respects your decisions.”
As for missing out on certain festivities, one solution may be to suggest activities that will work around your child’s schedule. You could also consider including grandparents and other family members in your child’s routines. Making it possible for them to spend time with Hunter and enjoy their bonding is likely to make them less critical. They could, for example, help with bathtime, help to get Hunter ready for bed and get up in the morning so perhaps you and your husband could sleep in!
Keep in mind that it will all get easier for your family as Hunter gets older and they are all more used to your routine with him. You can also look for places to sometimes deviate from your routine or structure, but not around sleep. Show your flexibility in other areas and pick your shots on where you adhere to structure.
You are doing what’s best for your family, and that is the right approach for everyone to appreciate the spirit of the season.
Good luck, Lindsey, and Happy Holidays!