Most parents are familiar with the sleepless nights that are common among newborns and infants. However, what parents may not be aware of is that their actions can affect their babies’ sleep.
Researchers at UB and Penn State University recently shared findings from a decade-long study that may help babies develop healthier sleep patterns. In an article published in the journal Pediatrics, they explained how researchers studied the link between responsive parenting and better sleep for infants.
Originally developed as a program to prevent obesity, the Intervention Nurses Start Infants Growing on Healthy Trajectories (INSIGHT) study aimed to educate parents of infants in the principles of responsible parenting. “Responsive parenting means that parents pay attention to cues from their babies and respond appropriately,” says Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
A team of nurses met with the INSIGHT families to train them to appropriately recognize and respond to their babies’ signals. The training focused on several common “behavioral states” in babies, including excitement, drowsiness, alertness and sleep.
Another important element of the study was parents’ encouragement of self-soothing behaviors in their babies. For example, at 8 weeks of age, babies can be left alone for a few minutes to give them a chance to soothe themselves. As they get older, parents can support their babies’ development of these skills by letting their babies try to move for longer periods of time, e.g. B. 10 to 15 minutes to self-soothe. Self-soothing skills can help babies go back to sleep when they wake up at night but don’t have a special need, such as to sleep. B. Hunger or changing diapers.
Another focus of the INSIGHT study was to help parents develop healthy bedtime routines. “Consistency is key,” says Anzman-Frasca, who believes consistent routines provide a reliable structure that benefits children and families.
Researchers are finding that it’s important for parents to figure out what works best for their babies and stick to those routines on a daily basis. There is no one size fits all bedtime routine, but some helpful options include taking a bath, reading a book, or singing songs.
As for the optimal bedtime, Anzman-Frasca suggests between 7pm and 8pm as an appropriate bedtime into infancy—a bedtime that research has shown helps babies sleep longer. It’s important that feeding doesn’t come last in the routine and aim for about 20 minutes for the entire bedtime routine, she says, adding that putting children to bed when they’re sleepy but still awake helps children to soothe yourself to sleep.
Taken together, these strategies not only promoted longer and healthier sleep in the firstborns whose parents participated in INSIGHT’s responsive parent intervention program, but had similar benefits for the sleep of secondborns in those families, researchers found.
For those interested in learning more about responsible parenting, Anzman-Frasca suggests checking out the organization Zero to Three, which brings research to parents in an easily digestible way, including podcasts and downloadable resources. Another option is the Healthy Eating Research website, which promotes healthy eating habits in children and young adults.
In addition, the UB Child Health and Behavior (HAB) Lab Facebook page, developed and maintained by Anzman-Frasca’s lab, is a helpful resource for parents.
The INSIGHT study was led by Ian M. Paul, Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, and Jennifer Savage Williams, Associate Professor and Director, Center for Childhood Obesity Research, Penn State, and the late Leann Birch. Co-researchers on the study were (first author) Emily Hohman, assistant professor at the Center for Childhood Obesity Research, Penn State, and Anzman-Frasca.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.