5 Common Childhood Sleep Myths: Debunked

An adorable baby girl sleeping peacefully in her mother's arms at home.

5 Common Childhood Sleep Myths: Debunked

When you’re pregnant, you’re inundated with advice, suggestions, and opinions. From everyone. Your loved ones and the cashier at the grocery store. While I’m sure everyone has the best intentions, this barrage of information can be overwhelming. It’s a whirlwind of, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You just have to.” Childhood sleep myths, must-have products, hard and fast parenting rules. The advice adds up, and it’s easy to get bogged down.

Motherhood is a full-time gig. There is no “part-time” in this role. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or somewhere in between, your kids are on your mind 24/7, no matter what else is going on. Therefore, new moms tend to do a lot of research, and with access to unlimited data via the internet, Barnes & Noble, or your mother-in-law (the latter having the most to say by a mile) it’s inevitable you’ll be faced with conflicting information.

So today I want to focus on my area of expertise – SLEEP! And I’m here to try to dispel some of the more popular childhood sleep myths I’ve seen in parenting forums, heard in mom’s groups, or had angrily shouted at me in all caps in my Instagram DMs.

Childhood Sleep Myths: Debunked

1. Sleeping Too Much During the Day Will Keep Baby Up At Night

This is highly unlikely, except in very extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to focus too much on limiting their daytime naps. Young infants especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2-2.5 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour.

What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is over-tiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to conk out for a full night of sleep than one who slept much of the day, but it’s actually just the opposite. The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear which keeps them from falling and staying asleep. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day will be less likely to miss this sleep window and their body will not emit the stimulating hormones that are produced when we are overtired.

2. Sleep is Natural & Can’t Be Taught

Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Everyone wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times per night regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a baby to be sleepy or to be wide awake. What can be taught, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently.

The typical baby who is a “bad sleeper” isn’t in less need of sleep or more prone to waking up. I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: Your “bad sleeper” is not waking up any more often than your sister’s “great sleeper.” Babies labeled as “bad sleepers” have just learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, they start stringing together sleep cycles effortlessly which is the secret to “sleeping through the night” as most parents understand it.

3. Babies Will Dictate Their Own Sleep Schedules

The idea that infant physiology is so flawless and naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is a bit comical. Nothing against Mother Nature, but she doesn’t provide us with a ready-to-run baby like she does with other animals. Humans are complex mammals and therefore have the longest childhood of any other creature.

Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as 15 minutes, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy and things can quickly spiral out of control. As much as I wish babies could just fall asleep easily when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say you shouldn’t rely at all on their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.

4. Sleep Training is Stressful for Baby and Can Affect the Parent-Child Attachment

To be honest, this one makes me very sad. And it’s one of the more popular childhood sleep myths. I have spent my life studying and working in the fields of child development and infant mental health and promoting a positive, healthy relationship between child and caregiver. I would never knowingly recommend anything that has the potential to harm this bond. But this isn’t just my opinion. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study in 2016 showing that behavioral intervention (aka “sleep training”) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits . . . yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” Not a whole lot of grey area there!

In fact, I think if you asked any of the well-rested parents I’ve worked with, they would tell you that their relationship with their child is that much better because they are no longer sleep deprived. When everyone is sleeping well, we have more patience, can be more present in our relationships, and have a happier disposition compared to when we are exhausted.

5. Babies Are Not Designed to Sleep Through The Night

Here again, trusting your child’s newborn physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a recipe for disaster.

Is your toddler designed to eat a pound of gummy bears in one sitting? Definitely not. Will they if you don’t intervene? 100% yes. Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years (and for decades after that. I know I call my parents at least once a week with an issue I need support with!) Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers, for sure, but don’t rely on the advice of those who tell you that babies should dictate their own sleep schedules. You’re in charge because you know best, even if it may not feel like it sometimes.

There are obviously plenty more childhood sleep myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits. But these are some of the most common ones I hear and some of the most important ones to get the facts straight on.

Remember, there are endless posts on social media and websites that portray themselves as factual. But there’s nothing – literally nothing – stopping them from making that claim, regardless of their accuracy or basis in scientific evidence. It can be hard to sift through reputable sources, which is why I’m here. Sleep well!

About the Author /

Jamie is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Coach and owner of Oh Baby Consulting where she offers personalized, gentle sleep solutions to exhausted families nationwide. With a background in child development and infant mental health, she keeps up to date on the latest evolutions in the field which allows her to blend technical knowledge with empathy and compassion to tailor the support she provides.

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1️⃣ For night feedings. When mom wakes up in the middle of the night, you get up and ask if she needs any help or water. The truth is most of the time she will say no but just the fact that you offered will go far.⁠
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5️⃣ Paternity leave! If you have it TAKE IT. The early stages of a child's life are not just for moms to enjoy. I know as men making the money especially after having a baby it's hard, but trust me. You can always make money but there are no instant replays in life. It doesn't make you more of a man to not take the leave. It's equally as important that you as a Dad get to be a part of the early development of your child. ⁠
If someone needs this info tag them ❤️⁠
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Potty Training Tips! A step-by-step guide 🚽⁠ Potty Training Tips! A step-by-step guide 🚽⁠
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1️⃣ Look for signs of readiness:⁠
- Diaper dry for at least 1-2 hours.⁠
- Pulling at their diaper when its wet or soiled.⁠
- Hiding or fidgeting when going pee or poo in diaper.⁠
- Interest in others using the potty.⁠
- Waking up with a dry diaper after naps.⁠
- Telling you when they have gone pee or poo.⁠
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Potty training is much quicker if your child is showing the above signs, but you can start before this.⁠
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2️⃣ What you will need to buy:⁠
- Toilet seat insert to place on your toilet⁠
- Steps⁠
- Underwear (at least 10 pairs)⁠
- Foldable toilet seat (for when you are out of the house)⁠
- Piddle pad (for car journeys)⁠
- Waterproof shoes such as crocs, sliders, etc. (they can be rinsed and dried)⁠
- Not necessary but helpful: flushable wipes⁠
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3️⃣ Getting yourself and your child prepared:⁠
- Talk to your child about using the potty, maybe take them into the bathroom when you go and talk them through the process (e.g. wiping, flushing, and washing hands, etc.)⁠
- Practice pulling pants or shorts up and down.⁠
- Look on YouTube with your child at some potty training stories (e.g. 'I Want My Potty' and 'Pirate Pete's Potty')⁠
- Involve your child in choosing and buying everything you need - choosing character-themed underwear is usually very exciting!⁠
- Sit your child on the potty at every diaper change, first thing in the morning and just before bed to get them used to sitting on the toilet.⁠
- Teach your child the correct vocabulary or signs needed to communicate when they need to go potty.⁠
- Make sure you have plenty of spare clothes.⁠
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4️⃣ Let's get toilet trained:⁠
- Get your child to choose a pair of underwear and put them on.⁠
- Talk to them about using the toilet and communicating when they need to pee or poo. You can sit them on the toilet at this point if you wish.⁠
- Take your child to the toilet every 15/20 minutes. Say "let's go to the potty" rather than asking "do you want to go to the toilet" - if you ask, they are likely to say no! Also, look for signs like moving from side-to-side or hiding. These are normal signs that they might need to go potty.⁠
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(Continue reading in the comments!)