Murdoch Children’s Institute study finds limit on sleepless nights with kids
TIRED parents with sleepless infants can rest assured their baby’s screaming will turn to dreaming by the time they turn six.
And the endless nights of tossing and turning will have no long-lasting effects on the child’s behaviour or mental health later in life, the Murdoch Children’s Institute says.
A new study shows most babies who wake through the night at 10 months of age will sleep soundly once they reach primary school.
Of the 326 infants monitored with early childhood sleep problems about 60 per cent were restless at 10 months of age, but only 8 per cent had sleep problems at six.
“We did this study because we know when babies have sleep problems it can stress the parents,” co-author
Anna Price said. “We know now there is no long-term effects on the child from early sleep problems.
“As children get older sleep problems tend to resolve and when they are older they know how to occupy themselves or get themselves back to sleep.
“Having sleep problems as infants does not mean the child will have anxiety or behaviour problems at school.”
According to the report, which was published in the journal Sleep Medicine this week, the average time children wake overnight reduces with age. Babies who woke at the age of four months stayed awake for an average of 44 minutes, compared to children at six years who were awake just three minutes.
Parents who had children with sleep problems had poorer mental health.
Ms Price said the report gave hope to parents that sleepless children would be happy, healthy and sound sleepers by the age of six.
But Glenda Goodwin, of family care experts Tresillian, said children needed to be taught how to sleep from a young age. “Sleep is a learnt skill. Babies need to learn how to sleep,” she said.
Ms Goodwin admitted that with time all children would learn how to sleep, but encouraged parents of young babies to actively teach them to sleep.
“Babies are growing physically, emotionally, cognitively.
“That’s why they need more sleep than us.”
Children’s Hospital Westmead sleep doctor Professor Dominic Fitzgerald said serious sleep conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea could affect a child’s behaviour. “This report can reassure parents that mild sleep conditions, such as disturbed sleep with frequent wakings, will go away,” he said.
“As they get more mature sleep problems start to settle down, probably because they get more active which helps them sleep better. Exercise helps them sleep.”
First-time mother Nonie Elliott said the report was the light at the end of the tunnel when tiny Sophie refused to sleep. “I think when your child isn’t sleeping it can be extremely stressful and this report is good news and a bit of hope that children will settle down,” she said. “For me, I don’t want to feel stressed. I think if a baby wakes through the night it is normal. You can’t impose your will on this little person, the cost of forcing our rhythms on them can actually be damaging for them.”
Ms Elliott said she was looking forward to when Sophie slept through the night.
“Exhaustion and sleeplessness comes with the territory.
“She wakes twice a night and I think that is because she is still in the room with us, but that is the decision we made.”
Mother-of-two Vanessa Berson said the only reason her six-year-old daughter, Meg slept through the night was because she trained her.
“It’s important to teach your children how to sleep.”