For many parents of small children, bedtime is the most frustrating time of the day. It can take major effort (and patience) to get little ones to sleep - and to stay asleep - and many parents struggle to find an easier way. Now, a study suggests that being "emotionally available" may be key to getting infants and toddlers to sleep better.
In one of the first studies to use direct observation of infant sleep patterns - and the first to use video cameras to capture parent-infant interactions at night - researchers at Penn State University examined mothers' behaviors during infants' bedtimes. They found that when the moms responded appropriately to their children's cues - by continuously gazing at the infant's face or quietly saying "It's okay" when the baby started to fuss - those babies had fewer bedtime disruptions and woke up less during the night.
The lead researcher, developmental psychologist Douglas Teti, PhD, notes that this type of emotional connection appears "even more effective than a specific bedtime behavior in promoting better sleep." And he told the Globe and Mail yesterday:
“What parents do at bedtime doesn’t seem to matter as much as how they do it... So you can decide to co-sleep or not co-sleep or you can decide whatever bedtime routine you want to follow. That seems secondary to whether or not parents are feeling good and comfortable with what they’re doing.”
The research, which is part of a larger analysis of factors promoting infant sleep, appears in the Journal of Family Psychology. The next step, Teti says, is to "examine links between infants' temperamental styles, parenting at bedtime and during the night, sleep disruptions, and development."
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