Sleep deprivation seems to go with the territory for new parents. But what happens when your baby doesn’t outgrow disrupted sleep patterns after two or three months? What if you’re still pacing the halls at 3 A.M., trying to figure out how to soothe your sobbing 11-month old, get her back to bed and be ready to face the world again at 7 A.M.?
You might want to try the Customized Sleep Profile, an online tool that asks about the baby or toddler’s age, frequency of nighttime waking, what the parent usually does to help the child, and even whether a child snores. Based on the answers, the profile provides specific recommendations and routines parents can use to help achieve better sleep habits in their child, based on research-based methods rather than anecdotal remedies.
The Customized Sleep Profile was created by researchers to test the idea of an on-line profile tool and to test whether its recommendations are effective. The study involved 264 mothers and their children, six to 36 months old, during a three-week period. It was published in the April 1, 2011 issue of SLEEP, the journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Some of the profile’s suggestions are common sense, (who’s going to argue with settling down for quiet time before bedtime, not having a late bedtime for baby, or reducing or stopping nighttime feedings to encourage sounder sleep?). Others, like checking on your child when she wakes, but not picking her up so that she learns how to soothe herself, could be helpful, too.
“Parents go for advice to their friends or pediatrician,” said Jodi A. Mindell, lead author of the study, and professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s University and associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pa. “Pediatricians are still not educated about sleep issues. We wanted to make something interactive, customized for situations and accessible to the public. In developing it, we wanted to make sure it was empirically based.”
By having a Web-based tool, Mindell added, parents could also return to the profile and update it as their child’s needs and behavior changed. “The tool works,” she said. “It’s difficult for families when babies aren’t sleeping.” When babies aren’t sleeping, parents are more likely to be depressed, stressed and fatigued. Solving the baby’s sleep issues meant that mothers in the study felt better, too.
If you’re too tired to complete the Customized Sleep Profile, the site itself provides some general recommendations for a better night sleep for both baby and parents. The basic three-step remedy involves giving baby a bath, massage and quiet time before a fixed bedtime each day. Parents can also click on specific areas of the site to download traditional lullabies or a mix of soothing sounds to lull baby to sleep, and watch videos demonstrating how to give baby a comforting bath.
Still, it’s not a panacea. The recommendations are meant for healthy babies and toddlers. And be aware that the study was supported by Johnson & Johnson, so you may want to skip the product placement links on the site, which is company-sponsored. The researchers received no compensation from the company and Johnson & Johnson had no involvement with the data.
“It’s a good thing,” said Michael Frogel, M.D., chairman of pediatrics at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, NY, and grandfather of 13. “The sleep safety tips told to parents are useful. It allows parents to understand scientifically that other kids have problems, and gives the message that it’s common.”
He cautioned, however, that “the recommendations should be checked with your health care provider.”