The 7 Biggest Sleep Challenges Parents Struggle With

When you want to learn to drive, you need to get your driver’s license. If you want to further your studies after high school, you need to attend University to receive a degree. Yet when you become a parent, there is no pre-requisite required and you leave the hospital without being given a manual for your baby!

Navigating through parenthood is such a steep learning curve that happens overnight as soon as you take your baby home from the hospital. Almost every parent face huge challenges in regards to sleep (or lack of!) and they quickly learn that all those beautiful, sleepy, peaceful photos and videos you see of babies on social media and in the movies, don’t always translate to real life.

There are seven key areas that we regularly see in relation to sleep that are some of the biggest challenges that parents face when trying to get their little ones to sleep. 

  1. Babies need to learn how to sleep

I know what you’re thinking. “Catherine, don’t be silly…of course babies just sleep when you put them down!” I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately this does not always happen. Yes there may be babies who can sleep a lot better than others and will actually fall asleep easily when they are put down, however in many instances this is simply not the case.  

For many babies, they need to LEARN the skill of how to fall asleep on their own. In fact this is the #1 challenge that I tackle as a sleep consultant is teaching babies this exact skill.

  1. A lot of parents are ashamed to ask for help

There can be quite a lot of stigma around any form of sleep training for your infant. This can come from friends, grandparents, siblings, etc. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it. Everyone will also have an opinion on what they think needs to be done to ‘fix’ your baby. The problem is however that something may have worked for THEIR baby who may have a completely different temperament to YOUR baby. 

Because of these opinions and pressures, many families don’t ask for help and think that they need to push through. I hope I’m not the first to tell you, but you DO NOT need to have months and months (or even years) of suffering with sleep-deprivation. We have worked with families where they have almost got to breaking point before they realized that they just can’t continue how things are. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.   

Research shows us that sleep is an integral part of mental, emotional and physical well-being. Deep, restorative sleep is when all the good stuff happens in our bodies…tissues are repaired, you have a better chance of fighting off illnesses, your mind is sharper and you will have a better memory, your mood improves when you are well rested…the list goes on. Sleep-deprivation is also considered a form of torture.  Moms are not prioritizing sleep and family life is being significantly impacted putting more stress and pressure in the household. Please know that you are not alone and there absolutely is no shame whatsoever in prioritizing sleep when your entire family will benefit from it. 

  1. Understanding what is appropriate for their baby:

Even if you’re operating in a sleep-deprived state, it can be so much easier or reassuring to know what is ‘normal’ for your baby. Eg. We’ve seen Moms ask for help to teach their 7 week old baby to link their sleep cycles together. We know that developmentally, newborn sleep is completely erratic and that it is completely normal for babies up until at least 6 months of age to catnap due to their developmental ability. It is not until this point that their circadian rhythm has developed that they have the ability to be able to do this. Knowing this can significantly help with expectations and frustrations.  

Another example is that although somewhere between 3-6 months of age, many babies have the ability to sleep through the night, it is also completely normal for 8 or 9 month old babies to still wake once in the night for a feed due to hunger.

If parents know what is ‘normal’ for their baby due to where they are at developmentally, this can help manage their expectations and frustrations that they may have.

  1. Conflicting Advice…on nearly every possible topic on sleep

Almost every topic discussed for parents, there is the completely opposite form of information. It is so easy to be confused and overwhelmed and to trust your gut to know that YOU know your baby the best. For example, when I went to my first ever mother’s group, I told the lady who was taking the group that I did a dream feed. She almost launched down my throat telling me that they didn’t believe in dream feeds and that babies should wake on their own accord if they are hungry. Fast forward a couple of years later, I have learnt how beneficial dream feeds can be and they can be incredibly useful for families. If only I could see that lady now…I would have a very different response to her than what I had back then!

  1. Late bed times equal babies sleeping in later

Parents have the misconception that if babies go to bed late, they will be more tired and then wake up later. The opposite is true! When babies become overtired and they are staying up later than they can handle, it can result in frequent night wakings and also shorter day naps. Even more frustrating for parents is that even if they put them to bed late, they still wake up around the same time in the morning. It means that they just lose sleep due to being put to bed late.

  1. Babies have age-appropriate awake times

This point is one that seems to be new news to many parents. Babies have a limited amount of time that they can handle to stay awake for. The awake time depends on the age of the baby/or toddler. For example, a 1 month old newborn can only stay awake for approximately 60 minutes. An 8-month-old baby however can stay awake for approximately 3 hours. If babies are not asleep within their awake time, they can become overtired very quickly. Cortisol increases in their body and it makes it even harder for them to fall asleep sleep and stay asleep.

  1. The amount of change in the first year is incredible!

Especially in a baby’s first year, the changes from a newborn to a toddler is immense! There are multiple sleep regressions: The big ones at 4, 8 and 12 months. Just when parents think that they have got a good rhythm in place, something else changes! Babies learn and develop at such a rapid pace, they develop so many milestones. This includes rolling, sitting, crawling and even walking. Being equipped with knowledge to help deal with the changes specifically in regards to sleep can help immensely.