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Debunking the claim that smarter children do not sleep through the night.



  A baby in his crib with an exam-cap sketch

Image illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo / Slate. Photo of Artfoliophoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus.

The children is Slate's science-based parenting column, which assesses the latest research on children's health, development and well-being.

A new parental claim made the rounds on social media this week, and it was a doozy. "Smarter babies need less sleep and wake up all night, claiming experts", tracking the title of a piece published by the Australian website Healthy Mummy. The piece, based on an article BuzzFeed 2015, has now been shared 363,000 times on social media. On Thursday, [irländsk oberoende] jumped on board with a similar piece titled "Why it really is a good thing if your baby doesn't sleep all night".

The arguments that these articles make and the assumptions they are based on are so poorly flawed, I almost do not know where to start. But the richest whopper is the central requirement, summarized in this quote by the University of Bristol's development physiologist Peter Fleming: "There is absolutely no evidence that there is any benefit to someone having a child who sleeps longer and consistently." Actually, there is a lot of evidence. Let's start with this 2010 study conducted by the University of Montreal scientists, where 60 parents were sleeping days when their children were 12 months and 18 months old, and then the researchers tried the children's mental skills as toddlers. They found that "higher proportions of total sleep that occurred at night, both 12 and 18 months, were related to better performance on executive tasks." There is also this 2011 study in which New Zealand researchers monitored sleep of 52 infants for a week using sensors as well as parent diaries and questionnaires, finding that "sleep efficiency, and having a higher proportion of total sleep at night, was significant correlated with age as well as stages of cognitive and motor development. "

In 2017, researchers reviewed all the scientific literature on the subject and stated that there is a "positive link between sleep, memory, language, executive function and overall cognitive development in the typical development of infants and young children." A number of animal studies support the notion that sleep promotes memory, learning and improved cognition as well: Animals that lack sleep during infants, for example, coincide with smaller brain groups such as adults. In summary, "the scientific literature on infant sleep completely contradicts the ridiculous claims made in these articles," said sleep consultant Arielle Greenleaf, founder of the Massachusetts-based Expect to Sleep Again Sleep Consulting.

There is also a clear advantage for parents when children sleep better. As I explained in a previous column on sleep training, several clinical trials have reported that efforts that help children sleep better at night reduce the risk of maternal depression by as much as a factor of three.

So it is unclear why Fleming believes there is "absolutely no evidence" that better infant sleep gives "benefits to anyone". It is also unclear why The Healthy Mummy Piece spies on "talented children needing less sleep to work than their peers do," because no studies will close up this requirement. (It is worth noting that the website seems to be more concerned with marketing weight loss techniques and nutritional products than publishing audio journalism.) If something, as smarts correlates with longer sleep, it would be more reasonable – if not quite accurate – to argue that talented children probably need more sleep than their peers.

It is certainly a tempting message here for exhausted parents: that your suffering can ultimately produce a superior child, and since this is all that seems to be beyond your control, you should give up and go with the flow – no matter how little you sleep.

But there is also an erroneous underlying assumption in these paragraphs. Fleming says it's normal to wake up at night but "doesn't fit into our 21 st -century expectations." In fact, Fleming misunderstands our 21 st -century expectations. Parents who sleep exercise do not expect or want their children to sleep all night without ever waking up We know that children inevitably wake up, just as adults do, because that is how sleep cycles work. The goal of sleep training is instead to help children and children develop ways to calm down and go back to sleep without having to keep a parent, feed or sing them. And that makes it possible for us to get the sleep we need as well, and be better parents in the morning.

Fleming's largest and most offensive point comes through a quote at the end of BuzzFeed and Independent articles. "If we go back to man's evolutionary history, infants spent all the time in close and continuous contact with their mother, they carry around everywhere," he explains. "If the child is constantly with mother, the idea does not arise that they need to sleep long." Aha! It is the misogynistic core of the problem for him then: Moms do not constantly carry their children around. Now, mothers have the nerve to do things like work and put their children in day care . If only mothers were to reorganize their lives around their children and not vice versa, sleeping plans would be the mold. But it is an absurd suggestion from someone who finds it as easy to reorganize basic facts about sleep science to make people feel guilty.


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