Grandparents, neighbors and friends are full of parenting advice. Of course, they’re all very well-meaning, but sometimes they’re just flat-out wrong!
Here are some of the most common myths you may hear from them about toddler sleep.
Myth 1: It’s normal for little kids to sleep alone.
Fact: Who really wants to sleep alone? In most cultures, young children sleep with their siblings or parents for years.
Parents are often surprised to learn that bed-sharing increases with age! At 3 years, 22% of kids are doing it; and at 4 years, 38% bed-share at least once a week. Even 10-15% of preschoolers still routinely bed-share.
Myth 2: Toddlers sleep all night.
Fact: Actually, video studies show that toddlers wake up from light sleep several times a night. But most of us never know this because our kids usually put themselves back to sleep without a peep.
Myth 3: Toddlers need less sleep than infants.
Fact: Although your toddler’s daytime sleep will steadily lessen as he gives up his 2 naps a day, he’ll still need 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep until he reaches 5 years. And, between 4 and 12 years of age, his night sleep will barely drop from 11 hours a day to 10.
Myth 4: Toddlers should give up their pacifiers, especially at night.
Fact: It’s normal and very comforting to toddlers to suck. In most basic cultures, kids still suckle at the breast until they’re 3 or 4 years old. Pacifiers can promote a child’s confidence and ability to self-soothe in the middle of the night.
Furthermore, many toddlers have a strong genetic tendency to suck. And it’s definitely preferable for them to suck a pacifier rather than get into the habit of thumb sucking, which is much more likely to cause long-term orthodontic problems.
Myth 5: A toddler’s sleep has nothing to do with his ability to learn or his health.
Fact: In addition to triggering a host of daytime behavior problems like tantrums, crankiness, aggression, impulsivity and defiance, sleep deprivation results in “3 strikes” against learning: poor attention, poor knowledge acquisition and poor memory.
Studies have also shown an association in little kids between too little sleep and health issues years later. Surprisingly, a reduction of just 1 hour of sleep a night during early childhood can affect school-age learning!
For example, Canadian researchers reported that getting less than 10 hours of sleep made tots and preschoolers twice as likely to be overweight, have hyperactivity and do poorly on cognitive tests later in childhood.
It appears that there’s a critical period in the early years when inadequate sleep habits improve later on.
Myth 6: Kids naturally fall asleep when they’re tired.
Fact: While most of us (little kids included) fall asleep when we get exhausted, some toddlers actually get more awake! They become giddy and start running in circles. In fact, these tots can look like kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
And this problem can escalate: the more tired they get, the harder it is for them to fall asleep, and the more times they wake up during the night.
Myth 7: A night-light can hurt your baby’s vision.
Fact: Nope! Generations of parents have used dim night-lights (4 watts) in their infants’ bedrooms. Night-lights let us make a quick assessment of our child’s well-being without needing to turn on a bright flashlight or room light. Plus, many babies feel safer if they can see familiar surroundings when they wake at 2 a.m. …not just a gulf of darkness.
But a 1999 study from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia scared many parents into switching the night-lights off. Researchers said 34% of children who used a night-light later became near-sighted.
Fortunately, in the next year, 2 new studies debunked this claim. Ohio scientists found that only 16.8% of the children in their study exposed to night-lights for the first 2 years became nearsighted, compared with 20% of children who slept in darkness. Boston scientists also confirmed there was absolutely no association between night-lights and vision problems.
Myth 8: Putting a TV in your tot’s room can make bedtime better.
Fact: TVs are a huge problem! Nearly a third of preschoolers have a TV in their room. (And 20% of infants do…yikes!) In addition, nearly a fifth of parents use the TV or DVD as part of their children’s bedtime routine. But using this electronic pacifier at night is a bad idea.
Kids with a TV in the bedroom:
- Watch more TV (that means more violent programming and junk food commercials).
- Go to bed 20-30 minutes later.
- Resist sleep (they’re twice as likely to fall asleep after 10:00 p.m.).
- Sleep less (they’re twice as likely to have trouble waking up in the morning).
- Exercise less.
- Have more psychological stress (and perhaps more nightmares).
- Have a higher risk of becoming overweight and obese!
- Can get seriously injured by pulling the TV set on top of themselves.
What You Should Do to Make Sure Your Toddler Sleeps Well
Now, I am not a total puritan about the boob tube. It can be a real help as a short-term babysitter…and sometimes we all need that. But use TV sparingly (picking gentle shows like Sesame Street and nature videos), and turn it off well before bedtime. Better yet, save TV time for special occasions…like weekend mornings when it will be a special treat for your little bud, and it may let you snooze an extra 30 minutes.