So you’re on the fence about this whole, “Teaching your baby to sleep,” thing.
On the one hand, you know that sleep is essential for everyone in your family. You’ve read all the literature and have come to agree with the consensus of the pediatric community that sleep is vital to your baby’s development and well-being.
You’re 100 percent positive that your little one needs some help learning how to sleep well, and you’re dedicated to helping them overcome this obstacle.
And on the other hand, you’re nervous as hell about it.
Almost every parent I’ve worked with has started off absolutely riddled with anxiety. They know there’s a problem that needs fixing and they’re committed to that solution, but even with all of the research and evidence that this is a safe, effective process, they’re still on pins and needles.
So, what’s happening here? Is this your maternal instinct kicking in? Are you subconsciously aware of an underlying threat to your baby? Is mother nature trying to tell you not to teach your baby to sleep?
Well, sorry to be ambiguous, but the truth is, it’s complicated.
Sleep deprivation stimulates activity in the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that controls several of your immediate emotional reactions.
According to a 2007 joint study between Harvard Medical School and U of C Berkeley, “...a lack of sleep inappropriately modulates the human emotional brain response to negative aversive stimuli.”
Or, in layman’s terms, you’re likely to overreact when things go bad. So when, say, your baby starts to cry, you’re less inclined to think, “I wonder what she needs,” and much more likely to think things like, “I’m a complete failure as a mother.”
This is what happens after one night of sleep deprivation, so you can imagine what chronic lack of sleep over the course of weeks, or even months, can lead to. You may even be experiencing it right now. It leaves you feeling helpless, inadequate, and riddled with anxiety.
Alright, that’s the sleep deprivation part. Let’s look at the other major reason that this process can be so difficult, and the real elephant in the room when it comes to this whole endeavour. - Crying.
Will your child cry when you’re teaching them this skill? Here’s the straight answer. It is extremely likely, bordering on an absolute certainty that, yes, your baby’s going to cry when you implement these new rules around bedtime.
Is your baby also going to cry when they get dropped off on their first day of school? Again, we’re looking at about a 95 out of 100 probability.
Will you baby throw a fit when you turn off their favorite cartoons, or when they get their first taste of asparagus, or when they’re told not to eat dirt?
You betcha. And even though you know they’re not in any danger or genuine distress in those situations, you’re still going to feel your heart explode when you hear your baby crying.
But again, if we look at this objectively, we can see that there’s an actual reason why the sound of a crying baby causes us such distress, and it’s not because of the actual level of urgency. Dr. David Poeppel, Professor Of Psychology & Neural Science at NYU, found that a crying baby differs from other environmental noises in something called the “amplitude modulation rate,” meaning how often the loudness of a sound changes.
Crying babies, along with car alarms and police sirens, have a modulation rate of about 100 times per second, compared to a regular speaking voice, which hovers somewhere between 4 or 5.
Experiments with an MRI to monitor the brains of people while listening to a variety of sounds, Poeppel found that baby screams have a unique ability to trigger activity in… you guessed it, our old friend, the amygdala.
Where I think I can be of the biggest help here is by getting you to realize that your brain, despite having some really noble intentions, is playing tricks on you. It’s making you feel negligent. It’s making you think that your baby is in desperate need of something they’re not. It’s attempting to get you to address an immediate situation because it’s incapable of appreciating the long-term solution that you’re working towards.
As with most instinctual habits, this one is more easily dealt with when we can appreciate not just what we’re feeling, but the science behind why we feel what we feel, so I wanted to provide you with that vital tool before you take on the challenge of helping your baby sleep through the night.
Now that you know; it's time to take that leap of faith and take the next steps in the journey to helping your little one learn to sleep well independently.
We can do this together!
Erin Neri - Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Owner of To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting since 2016.
To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting
Providing families the tools & support they need to get their little ones sleeping through the night and napping like champs! Everyone has more fun when they are well rested!
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