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No Need to Teach Infants to Sleep Through the Night

Author Prof. J. Spranger, University Department of Pediatrics Mainz

Assuming that 6-8 hour blocks of uninterrupted sleep should be achieved at age 6 to 12 months, parents are often advised to use coaching techniques to reach this goal. Measures include keeping Infants awake, delaying meals, use of white-noise machines etc.  Such and other forms of sleep training are thought to further the child’s development and disburden stressed mothers.

To quantify maternal stress caused by infant-induced maternal sleep disruption 388 mothers consented to a mood assessment with a validated depression scale [1]. Symptom frequency during the previous week was recorded during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and at 6,12, and 36 months postnatally. At the same postnatal intervals the infant’s mental and psychomotor developmental indices were measured with the Baley Scales II and correlated with the sleeping protocols kept by the mother. 

Results: At the age of 6 months only 62% of the mothers reported that their infant got 6 or more hours of consecutive sleep.  At 12 months the figure was 72%.  Statistically, short (<6hrs) and long  (>6hrs) continuous sleepers did not differ in their psychomotor development. Remarkably, mothers disturbed more often at night by their short-sleeping infants were not more stressed than those who got 6 or more hours of quiet rest. Breastfed infants woke significantly more often than formula-fed infants (p<0.0001), boys more often than girls.  

In older children and adolescents insufficient sleep harms the development [2]. From the referred study it appears that in infancy and early childhood short sleeping periods provide enough rest to guarantee normal psychomotor development. 

[1] Pennestri MH, Laganière C, Boutvette-Turcot AA (2018) Uninterrupted infant sleep, development, and maternal mood. Pediatrics 142/6/e210174330.
[2] Chaput IP, Gray CE, Poitras FJ et al. (2016) Systematic review of the relationships between sleep duration and health indicators in school-age children and youth Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 41 (6 suppl:266-282.