A well-rested family is undoubtedly a happier family. When your little ones get good zzzs, you're more physically and emotionally equipped to parent the next day — and your child is generally more receptive.
“Improving sleep issues in the child not only makes the child more well rested and able to cope in their environment,” says Dawnn Whittaker, a sleep and parenting consultant who runs Cheeky Chops, “it also gives the mother the tools to modify her child's behaviors. A mother's feelings of confidence and her parenting skills are enhanced, more enjoyable. This is rolled altogether and positively impacts the family unit.”
An April 2011 study published in the journal Sleep reported that an internet-based intervention program was an effective and surprisingly quick tool to reduce infant and toddler sleep disturbances.
And when the kids slept — so of course, did Mom. The result? Mothers in the study were less depressed, tense, tired and confused.
While behavior-based intervention for childhood sleep problems have been effective in the past, their availability was limited. "Until now, there was no place online that parents could go to get customized recommendations that would help their young child sleep better," said lead author Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D. "This tool provides parents everywhere easily accessible help," she explained.
The program decreased the frequency and duration children woke at night by 50 percent or more. In addition, the longest periods of continuous sleep increased by two hours, kids also fell asleep faster and slept longer.
"We have always known that making simple changes can help young children sleep dramatically better at night, but we were surprised by how quickly these changes came about," said Mindell. "Within just one week, the children and their mothers were sleeping much better and they continued to improve over the second week."
In the study, families were assigned to one of two internet-based intervention groups. During the first week mothers followed their usual bedtime practices. For the next two weeks they followed personalized recommendations and completed an online version of the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and the Profile of Mood States.
The mothers then accessed the Customized Sleep Profile (CSP) from their home computer. CSP is an online program that collects caregivers' responses and compares their child's sleep to other children the same age. Using an algorithm, the program evaluates whether a child is an "excellent, good or disrupted sleeper." The results provide parents with an individualized recommendation plan for how they can help their child sleep better at night such as implementing a bedtime routine, decreasing attention to night waking and decreasing or stopping nighttime feedings.
One group was also instructed to do a nightly three-step bedtime routine: a bath, a massage and a quiet activity such as cuddling or singing a lullaby.
Ninety percent of mothers in both intervention groups reported that the individualized recommendations were "helpful." Ninety-three percent said that they were "likely" to continue using the recommendations after the study.
“Babies and their sleeping patterns have not changed, however society and the expectations of mothers have,” says Whittaker.
Mothers today are less likely to have extended family around to shoulder a nighttime shift, spouses often work long distances and hours, and are unavailable or unwilling to give Mom a break at night. Both parents often work yet Mom is usually the primary go-to sleep soother for the kids and is therefore tired at home — and at work.
“When you combine this with lack of sleep, it's easy for feelings of depression to set in or start a viscous cycle of low self-esteem and high expressed emotions,” says Whittaker. “Mothers can start to feel resentment towards their child and then feel guilty about their resentment and inability to cope in relation to their preconceived perception about family life with a new baby. They may compare themselves to other mothers in public who appear to be coping but aren't admitting how they really feel.”
Sleep deprivation can fuel a mom's distorted view for what she considers idealistic in motherhood. Explains Whittaker, "For example, images of happy family with new baby looking well rested versus realistic — breastfeeding every hour, broken sleep, being used as a human soother, bouncing on a yoga ball for hours at a time or not wanting to ask Dad for help because he has to work — all of the above in combination can have a mental, physical and emotional impact on the family unit."
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