Sleeping Like a Baby?

While every baby is different, the sleepless nights are something that most parents of infants can’t escape.

Sleepless nights don’t just equal tired parents, though. Sleep deprivation can double mom’s risk of suffering from depression and can lead to marital strife. But how should tired parents teach their babies to sleep?

While some parents believe letting their child “cry it out” will teach self-soothing behaviors, other parents believe that letting their child cry will cause their little one to feel insecure and abandoned. However, exhausted moms and dads have some new research on their side that can (hopefully) afford them a little shut eye.

A new study released in the journal Pediatrics followed 225 babies from seven months old until age 6 to compare the difference between parents who were trained in sleep intervention techniques and those who were not. The sleep intervention group was told to select either “controlled crying,” which had them respond to their infant’s cries at increasing time intervals, or  “camping out,” which asked them to sit with their child until he or she fell asleep, removing themselves earlier each night over a three-week period.

Families in the sleep training group reported improved sleep. Mothers were also less likely to experience depression and emotional problems. Furthermore, it was determined that those children in the sleep training group were not harmed by letting them cry it out. Researchers found no differences between these children and the children in the control group in matters of mental and behavioral health, sleep quality, stress, or relationship with their parents at age six. Allowing babies to cry for limited periods of time was found to help the entire family sleep better without causing psychological damage. Furthermore, an earlier study found that sleep training does work – babies learn to go to sleep easier and stay asleep longer than their counterparts.

No matter which method parents choose, they can feel better knowing that while it may seem that their infant is stressed when he or she is crying, researchers believe that it is good stress and it will have no lasting impact on the parent-child bond.

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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

You don’t have to be Hamlet to wax poetic on the wonders of sleep, but several new studies are giving us more insight into your nightly snooze. Although you may think sleep is just a way for your body to rest and recharge, the following researchers are showing that there is so much more to it.

Sleep deprivation may increase hunger

According to a presentation given at the American Heart Association’s annual conference, people tend to consume more calories on the day after they’ve had less sleep. Researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, found that women consumed, on average, 329 more calories when sleep deprived; men consumed 263 more. In addition to eating more calories, individuals also tended to consume foods with a higher fat and protein content than they did when they had adequate amounts of sleep. Though it may seem that participants were looking for quick sources of energy, if could also be that sleep impairs one’s ability to make healthy food choices.

Dreaming about a task may be beneficial to learning

Scientists are finding more evidence that dreaming about a particular task may be associated with better performance in that particular activity. Researchers are finding that dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing, and retaining the information we learn during the day. Harvard researchers found that college students who dreamt about a computer maze task they encountered during the day showed a tenfold improvement in their ability to navigate the maze than did those who did not dream about the maze.

Your social life may have an impact on your sleep schedule

Information collected at the University of Chicago found that people who report higher levels of loneliness also tend to report more sleep fragmentation. Those who feel more connected to others tend to get a better night’s sleep.

 

Sleep seems to have a positive impact on so many aspects of life. In what other settings have you noticed sleep’s influence on an individual’s functioning?

“Sleeping on It” May Not Be Best After Traumatic Experience

Getting a good night’s sleep is a typical recommendation during times of stress, especially after a unsettling or traumatic experience. A new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, questions this standard thinking. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst showed 106 participants unsettling images, then showed them again 12 hours later. Subjects who stayed awake during those 12 hours had less emotional reactivity to the same stimuli than did subjects who went to sleep—particularly those who had more time in REM sleep. The same pattern was noted for recognition accuracy 12 hours later—it was better in participants who slept than in those who didn’t.  The study concludes that “sleep enhances emotional memory while preserving emotional reactivity.”

“It is common to be sleep-deprived after witnessing a traumatic scene, almost as if your brain doesn’t want to sleep on it,” said Rebecca Spencer, one of the authors of the study. In fact, going to sleep may “lock in” the negative emotions associated with the traumatic event.

Have you found this to be true in your practice? Do patients who get more rest after a negative event have a harder time recovering than those who get little sleep? Could insomnia be considered as a recommended treatment for people with PTSD?

New “children’s book” illustrates bedtime frustration with a dose of humor

The recent electronic release of Adam Mansbach’s “Go the F— to Sleep” has taken the Web by storm. The book, which features as narrator a tired parent attempting to put his child to sleep for the night, combines mock-sweet prose with bursts of exasperation and annoyance. If you’re a parent, and you remember the sleepless nights—and you have a sense of humor—this amalgamation of genuine parental love with the eye-rolling that goes along with nighttime routines will probably strike a chord with you.

The book and its release bring up several interesting issues, including the frustration experienced by all parents of young children. Ranging from mild annoyance to real anger, the feeling can be surprisingly overwhelming. Parenthood is generally advertised as a joyous walk through a meadow, and, for some, discovering that the meadow is filled with divots, bumblebees, and sharp branches is a shock. Though it could be said that the book uses strong language for shock value, for most readers, the use of expletives serves to highlight just how intense the aggravation can be.

The book’s message goes a little deeper, though, as it effectuates a collective sigh of relief in its readers who are parents. Many parents inherently feel guilty about having negative feelings about parenthood. It may be psychologically reassuring for a young parent to know not only that many—okay, most— children have trouble going to sleep at night, but also that he or she is not the only one who finds the bedtime routine—and, for that matter, any routine that requires the parent to coerce the child—a vexing experience.

So, what do you think of the book? Do you think it’s vulgar and/or inappropriate? Do you think it serves a purpose in letting parents know they’re not alone? Are you willing to admit that it could have been written from your very own thoughts? Most important, do you have any tips for those of us who are trying to put little ones to sleep every night?