We were watching Finding Nemo the other day, and I yawned…about 500 million times. As I stared at Marlin doing everything in his power to find his little Nemo, I started thinking about what I do when I am desperate for parenting answers in my own life. I sat back and wished that life would just emulate Pixar magic, and we could all live happily ever after as clownfish in our sea anemone homes. Yet, this is not the case, especially for parents searching for sleep advice that will give their children the rest they need for normal and healthy development, while simultaneously providing a needed extension of their own REM sleep.
We All Need Our Zzz’s
While we may have many personal reasons for wanting to figure out ways to ensure the right amount of sleep for our kids, the most important reasons center around the wellbeing of our children. Listed below are a few key reminders for why sleep is so important for children:
- The appropriate amount of sleep is critical for healthy growth and development (physically, mentally, emotionally).
- Children need sleep to be actively engaged and ready to learn at school
- Establishing good sleep habits early in life can impact those important routines in adulthood
- Babies need sleep for healthy brain development
- Quality sleep is associated with heart health, while insufficient sleep is linked to children struggling with a variety of poor health outcomes including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity
The Apparent Contradiction of Parenting Advice
In parenting, there comes a time when you are faced with the stark realization that you may not have all the answers. This moment typically occurs after a few sleepless nights with a newborn, when your head is spinning, and the only thing that you find remotely comforting is the warm glow of Google’s homepage lighting up as you frantically type into the search bar “How to get a 3 month old to sleep more than 4 hours at a time.” You quickly realize that this is NOT comforting at all, as you attempt to decipher multiple websites, blog posts, and parent-discussion forums online. After scouring an overwhelming number of search results, you are typically faced with the following sound and totally reliable advice:
If your baby is not sleeping through the night, it might be because you are putting him to bed too late causing him to be overtired (and messing with an already imperfect sleep schedule). Or, it could be that you are putting your baby to bed too early, and maybe she isn’t tired (I mean, really, what were you thinking trying to catch up on that Netflix series that you stopped watching, ohhh approximately three months ago).
Well folks, these are the options we face according to Dr. Google: a baby that is overtired and needs to go to bed a wee bit earlier, OR a baby that just isn’t tired, and should stay up later to party with you all. night. long 🎉 Clear as mud right?
The Good News
While it is abundantly clear that this format of contradicting parenting advice runs rampant across every online search engine, there is good news here that I am happy to share.
- This won’t last forever. Sleep cycles change rapidly as children develop. You will also change to accommodate every phase of this glorious journey, learning to rely on your own parenting instincts.
- You actually know what’s best for your child. Trust your gut (even if it tells you to run straight to the fridge for an extra scoop of ice cream after your child finally nods off at night).
- There are reliable websites online that have quality information regarding sleep (and I’m going to outline them for you – hooray!).
Online Sleep Resources (that you can trust!)
→ ZERO TO THREE Understand the role parents and caregivers play in building healthy sleep habits for children.
Bookmark this site. Zero to Three is one of the most reliable sources for online parenting information and resources. The site shares the science of early learning in quick and easy-to-digest posts that can be filtered and searched according to your many parenting needs.
- Coping with Sleep Challenges: Birth to 3 Months
- How to Stay Calm When Baby Won’t Stop Crying
- Sleep Struggles? We’ve Got Resources
- My Child Won’t Stay In Her Bed
→HEALTHYCHILDREN.ORG Sleep is just as important to your children’s development and well-being as nutrition and physical activity.
HealthyChildren.org is the ‘sister site’ of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is backed by over 65,000 pediatricians. Even better, the majority of resources are available in both Spanish and English. We like this site for the variety of articles that all go toward promoting healthy development of children. For children ages 0-12 months, there is an external link with super special parenting advice for young ones.
- Sleep Tips for Your Family’s Mental Health
- Big Kid Beds: When to Make the Switch
- Sleep Problems After Separation or Divorce
- Reduce the Risk of SIDS & Suffocation
The Bedtime Calculator is based on the sleep duration recommendations of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for children and adults.
Sometimes, we just need to know the basics (like how much sleep a child age 2 really needs). This calculator isn’t ‘pretty’ per se, and it is deeply embedded in the article (*hint: you will have to scroll a few times), but it is fun to put in the age of your child and what time you would like said child to wake up, and see just what time the experts (at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine) recommend you go to bed. For the calculator, there is a minimum age of 1 year, but if you note the bullet points directly under the sleep calculator there is a great summary of sleep recommendations for children 4 months old and up. Happy calculating!
At the end of the day (literally), there are countless parenting resources out there. If you decide to jump in and start deciphering the madness, remember these few tips (and questions to ask yourself) for deciding if the information is reliable:
- What is the source? Is this a website that you trust and are familiar with? Are there claims that it is from an expert, but you don’t see any citation for the resources?
- To the best of your knowledge – where is the information coming from? Are you reading through discussion forums, or searching a trusted website which references where the information is coming from?
- Is this going to work for your family, and your family’s schedule? Even what others consider the ‘best’ parenting advice, may not be the best fit for your family. Before you make any major changes, take a step back to decide if the advice is really best for your family situation.
For a comprehensive guide on how to spot credible parenting advice, check out this one-pager from MommaDATA.org which includes a helpful list of questions to ask yourself as you determine the quality of online parenting resources.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, please remember that despite all of the information that is available to you online, you can (and should) trust your own instincts and follow advice that works best for your child, and for yourself.
If Finding Nemo can teach us anything on our path to finding sleep, it is to remember that if we just keep swimming we will eventually find ourselves ready to tackle a new day of being the best parents that we can be.
HealthyChildren.org. “Sleep.” 1 August 2018 <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/default.asp>.
MommaDATA.org. “How to Spot Credible Parenting News or Advice” 6 August 2018
SleepEducation.org. “Make Time to Sleep.” 1 August 2018 <http://www.sleepeducation.org/healthysleep/Make-Time-2-Sleep-Bedtime-Calculator>.
WebMD. “Good, Sound Sleep for Your Child.” 6 August 2018 <https://www.webmd.com/children/features/good-sound-sleep-for-children#1
Zero to Three. “Sleep.” 1 August 2018. <https://www.zerotothree.org/early-development/sleep>.
To Cite This Post:
Lewis, K. (2018, August 7). While My Kids Find Nemo, I’ll Find Sleep [Blog post]. Retrieved from<https://orparenting.org/2018/08/07/while-my-kid-finds-nemo-ill-find-sleep/>.
About the Author
Karley Lewis is a member of the OSU Parenting Education Team at Oregon State University, which supports the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC). She holds a Masters degree in Psychological Science from California State University, Chico. Karley is a new-ish mom who is having fun trying to learn the ropes of parenting. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with family, playing a mean game of coed softball, painting and exploring the food and fun of Corvallis. To contact her, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. *Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative or Oregon State University.