Nature or Nurture- Which is More Important to Help Your Baby Sleep?

baby sleep twins case study“Mom….,” comes an exasperated sigh from my daughter, “the boys are awake again!” As a mother of fraternal twin boys (and a singleton daughter), I’ve heard this many times. Often though, I’d enter their bedroom, and find the same one of them up, crying, ready to get out of his crib, and the other asleep, just starting to rustle at the noise from the door.

Sound familiar? What really does make up the difference in sleep patterns between children? Those of you with one child who has sleep challenges may wonder, will we face this again with baby number two (or three, or four)—or is there something different that we can do next time? Can we change the sleep patterns of our current baby? And, every family with more than one child probably recognizes the similarities and differences in their children’s sleep.

Rather than feeling twinges the green-eyed monster jealousy for your neighbor, because her baby sleeps through the night AND her baby naps well, let’s look at some new research on what factors do influence sleep. No wonder she has time to do her nails. :)

An Italian study on twin sleep, just published this month in Pediatrics concludes that sleep disturbances in early childhood are shaped by BOTH environmental AND genetic factors. We knew that though, right? Remember the whole nature vs. nurture debate? This study found that nurture, or the environment that a child is raised with, affects sleep more than nature, or the genetic makeup of the child. Twin studies are invaluable to learn about topics like this, because they look at babies or children who share the same environment and genes (in the case of identical twins—fraternal twins only share about 50% of the same genetic makeup).

The results of this study show, that while there are some things about our babies’ sleep that we can’t change based on their genes, the good news is that there is even MORE that we can change. This can help both us and them receive better rest, based on our sleep behaviors with them.

So, don’t look at it with the glass half empty–thinking that your rocking, walking, or bouncing and holding until baby is asleep has prevented your baby’s chance at good sleep. In fact, you did what was right for her at the time! Maybe she was sick or teething, and you did what was necessary. The glass half full attitude, says, “Yes…I did what was right at the time, and now there are things I can change to help my baby sleep better.” It may be time to help coach your child toward better sleep.

What factors did the study look at? It looked at factors that concern parents just like you ever day, such as:

Co-sleeping 98% Environmental Causes
Night waking episodes 63% Environmental Causes
Night sleep duration 64% Environmental Causes
Nap duration 61% Environmental Causes

For each of these items, it means the things our baby does (especially co-sleeping, which isn’t necessarily bad, and many parents do by choice) are greatly influenced by our actions, and how we respond to our baby. There is no right or wrong when you do what’s best for your family. But, there are methods that can be implemented to help your family rest.

As for me, at this point my twins are 18 months old, and I am quite convinced that their slight differences in night sleep and nap duration are genetic changes between the two. They sleep great at night, and 95% of the time nap well also. So, the fact that one boy wakes a few minutes than the other? I think that’s an example of the genetic differences between them. They are fraternal twins, so genetically more like regular siblings than an identical genetic makeup. I do keep them on exactly the same schedule, and learned by trial and error to do that when they were younger babies also. They have almost always slept in the same room, except when we were working with the one twin who sleeps a little less. Everything else was done consistently, so they have essentially the same sleeping patterns, not just because they are twin brothers—but because I coached them with the exact same sleep behaviors.

The next time you hear a night time cry coming down the hall, question if this waking is natural for a needed feeding session or if it’s truly time to get up. If not, it may be something you could help change through the use of different behaviors and changing sleep associations.

For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about!

This week’s post is by our new assistant sleep consultant, Heather Matthies. Heather will work with us to create personalized sleep solutions for tired families and provide support during the process. Heather is a registered nurse and holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Nursing. She has many years of professional experience and is a kind, warm person. She’s also the mother of three, including twins, and knows just what it’s like to juggle the many demands of parenthood! Please give Heather a warm welcome to The Baby Sleep Site.

Is Co-Sleeping a Solution for Baby Sleep Problems?

Co sleeping solutionWhen I was pregnant with my first, I was adamantly against co-sleeping. The reason was that I saw how difficult it was for other parents to get their child out of their bed, months and years later. Although I knew it was right for some, it wasn’t for me. Before you have kids you have all these ideas about how you will do things, but after the baby comes it’s a whole new ball game. I did end up co-sleeping with my first baby for about 2 months and with my second for just 3 nights. This article will talk about whether co-sleeping is a viable solution for you and your baby’s sleep problems or not.

My first son was a challenging sleeper from basically the beginning. Once the newborn sleep-all-day stuff wore off, he was difficult to soothe to sleep for every nap and especially at bedtime. I had to rock him for 2-3 hours (I’m not exaggerating) only for him to sleep for an hour or two before needing to be rocked again. It wasn’t that he wasn’t tired. He’d fall asleep just fine, but would wake up whenever we’d put him down. I know many of you relate.

Once my son was 2 months old, out of necessity, co-sleeping was the only solution. I had gone back to work and just couldn’t hack it anymore. Getting up every 2 hours was not even a possibility anymore. Co-sleeping was just a temporary solution for us, though. The main difficulty for me was that I was getting depressed going to bed every night at 7 p.m. and missing out on time with my husband. More than that, he was still waking every 2 hours to breastfeed for 30 seconds to go back to sleep and although he went right back to sleep, I didn’t always. I was getting more sleep, at least, but it still wasn’t the best and I was petrified I was going to roll on top of him or my husband would cover him with blankets. So, we did transition back to the crib at 4 months when I learned about 4 month sleep and sleep associations. Once he was gone, I did miss him. :( But, it was the best thing for me and my family. We were all happier after that, mostly because he was getting way more sleep than ever, since he was so cranky without it (still is!).

Although co-sleeping wasn’t a long-term solution for us, I do believe that it can be for others. We only did it 2 months, but it doesn’t mean others can’t do it longer and still be successful at helping your baby sleep better. Knowing what I know now, I know that you can co-sleep, you can break sleep associations if you must, and you don’t have to let your child sleep with you until they are 8 if you don’t want to. I have personally helped many parents transition from co-sleeping to crib at a variety of ages.

Co-sleeping Solution

If your baby is having sleep problems, co-sleeping might be a good solution for you. Whether you are breast feeding or bottle feeding, if numerous night wakings are doing more harm than good for either of you and you feel your baby is too young to learn to self-soothe, you may find simply sleeping together is the best option. This is a personal decision for each family. The main thing is that you do co-sleep SAFELY. There have been several recent news articles about the risks of bed sharing and the increase of suffocations. The thing to keep in mind is sleeping on a couch, sofa or other unsafe place is included in these statistics and there are safe ways to co-sleep.

For co-sleeping to be a solution for you and your family, it is best when both parents are on board as a first step. In my case, my husband did support my decision. He did want a sane wife. :D In some cases, a partner will take up temporary residence in a guest room to get more sleep. Here are some guidelines for safe co-sleeping:

• Do not co-sleep if you’ve been drinking, on drugs or on medication that makes you too drowsy

• Do not smoke in the room you are co-sleeping as it’s an increased risk to SIDS

• Do not co-sleep if you have a too-soft mattress or waterbed

• Do not co-sleep where baby can get stuck in a hole or crevice (such as between you and the back of the couch)

• Do not place a baby to sleep next to an older child

• Do sleep on a firm mattress with not too much adult bedding (too much bedding in a crib is just as dangerous!)

• If your baby is young, consider a sleep positioner or Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper

• If your baby is older or a toddler, and moving around, consider a bed rail. I have had parents come to me when their child crawls right off the bed and falls.

If you think co-sleeping might be the right solution for your family I encourage you to read more detailed co-sleeping safety tips and the benefits of co-sleeping. We also have more information here about the differences between bed-sharing and co-sleeping.

Co-sleeping is not a solution for everyone and my philosophy is that we all must find our own way to parent our children and find the right solution to our baby’s sleep problems. Hopefully this article has helped you determine whether co-sleeping is the right solution for you and your family. Keep in mind that even co-sleeping, you may need manage sleep associations in order for all of you to sleep well. And, when you are ready to transition to crib, I typically recommend a slower approach the longer you’ve been co-sleeping. I don’t typically recommend jumping to cry it out for long-term co-sleepers. If you’d like to discuss options, I’m always here.

Was co-sleeping a solution for you? Share your story.