Most parents are familiar with the common sleepless nights for newborns and infants. But what parents may not realize is that their actions may affect how their children sleep.
Researchers from Penn State University and Pennsylvania State University recently shared the results of a decade-long study that may help children develop healthier sleep patterns. in Article – Commodity Published in the journal Pediatrics, they explain how researchers explored the link between responsive parenting and better infant sleep.
Originally developed as an obesity prevention program, the Intervention Nurses Growing Into Healthy Pathways Study (INSIGHT) began training parents of children in the principles of responsive parenting. “Responsive parenting involves parents refining their children’s cues and responding appropriately,” says Stephanie Ansmann-Frasca, MD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Jacobs College of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
A team of nurses met with INSIGHT families to train them to recognize and respond appropriately to their children’s signals. The training focused on many of the common “behavioral states” of children, including restlessness, drowsiness, alertness, and sleep.
Another important component of the study involved parents who promote self-soothing behaviors to their children. For example, babies as young as 8 weeks old may be left on for a few minutes, which gives them a chance to self-soothe. As they get older, parents can support their children’s development of these skills by allowing their children to try to calm themselves for longer periods of time, such as 10 to 15 minutes. Self-soothing skills can help babies get themselves back to sleep if they wake up in the night but don’t have a specific need, such as feeling hungry or needing a diaper change.
Another focus of the INSIGHT study was helping parents develop healthy bedtime routines. “Consistency is key,” says Anzman-Frasca, who believes that a consistent routine provides a reliable structure that is beneficial for children and families.
The researchers note that it is important for parents to determine what is best for their children and to be consistent with these actions daily. There is no “one size fits all” formula for a bedtime routine, but some helpful options include taking a shower, reading books, or singing songs.
As for the optimal bedtime, Anzman-Frasca suggests between 7 and 8 p.m. as an appropriate bedtime during childhood — a bedtime that research has found will help children sleep longer. It’s important that feeding doesn’t happen last into the routine, she says, and aim for about 20 minutes of a total bedtime routine, adding that putting babies to bed when they are drowsy, but still awake, will help babies learn to calm themselves to sleep.
Taken together, the researchers found that not only did these strategies promote longer, healthier sleep for first-born babies whose parents participated in the INSIGHT Responsive Parental Intervention Program, but had similar sleep benefits for second-born babies in these families.
For those interested in learning more about responsive parenting, Anzman-Frasca suggests looking into the organization zero to three, which brings research to parents in an easily digestible way, including podcasts and downloadable resources. Another option is healthy eating research website Promotes healthy eating habits in children and young adults.
In addition, the UB Child Health and Behavior Lab Facebook pageDeveloped and administered by the Anzman-Frasca Laboratory, it 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, Childhood Obesity Research Center, Penn State, as well as the late Lynn. birch; Study co-investigators (first author) were Emily Hohmann, associate research professor, Child Obesity Research Center, Penn State, and Anzmann-Frasca.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.