Sleep training can make life much harder for both mother and baby, according to Adjunct Associate Professor Pamela Douglas who is using the latest neuroscience findings to re-educate families on baby’s sleep.
She believes the current methods of sleep training, which include techniques such as delayed response to infant’s cues, feed-play-sleep cycles and avoiding overtiredness and overstimulation, grounded in ideas from the 1950s and 1960s are broken and an alternative paradigm, in which infant night-waking is normalised, needs to be adopted.
“The Possums Sleep Program focuses on two biological sleep regulators – the circadian clock and the sleep/wake homeostat. It is the only program in the world which doesn’t rely on the traditional behaviourism methods.
“We don’t talk about overtiredness and overstimulation. We want to ensure the baby gets enough rich sensory input. Families are being told the minute a baby gets grizzly to get them to sleep, but what they are really needing is a change of environment.
“When there is plenty of activity and social engagement sleep looks after itself. Sleep can happen flexibly and on the go in a satisfying way for the parent,” Associate Professor Douglas said.
LISTEN: We speak to ‘sleep whisperer’ Elizabeth Sloane about how to train your baby to sleep through the night, on our podcast for new parents (post continues after audio…)
She said often excessive night waking is caused by a disruption to the circadian clock from big blocks of daytime sleep or in the first few months of life from underlying breastfeeding problems.
Associate Professor Douglas recommends setting a wake-up time rather than focusing on a bedtime. Then getting up and getting into the day with lots of fulfilling sensory stimulation. When the sleep pressure kicks in and becomes very high the baby will naturally drop off.
Once it’s bedtime she advises parents to wait until the sleep pressure is extremely high and even pushing bedtime back to avoid the excessive night waking and better align it with the family’s sleep patterns.
“Internationally baby’s bedtime is more like 8:30pm in the first year of life but in Australia we are putting them down at around 6-7pm. Don’t worry about overstimulation, a feed of milk can dial them down, allow them to settle and allow sleep to be a really relaxed and enjoyable time,” she said.
Associate Professor Douglas said the same principles applied to toddlers, however their sleep needs shrink and by 12 months a lot have dropped daytime naps completely.
“Big daytime naps at day-care for two-year-olds is worsening their night times,” she warned.
Associate Professor Douglas said it will take one to two weeks to reset the circadian clock.
Brisbane mum, 37-year-old Jillian Nogueira, has had enormous success using the Possums Sleep Program after her baby, Elle, started waking hourly through the night.