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Mom’s Emotional Availability and Baby’s Sleep

June 16, 2010

Is there anything quite so beautiful as a sleeping baby? We can gaze upon their angelic sleeping faces and feel a sense of peace. Yet getting to that angelic, peaceful state can be quite a struggle for many parents. Some babies are just naturally born with regular, predictable sleep patterns and are easy to soothe. But for others it’s a different story! A good night’s sleep is so important for both our own and our children’s physical and mental health, but the challenges of getting a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep are huge stressors for many parents.

I just read an interesting article* about infants’ sleep in the Journal of Family Psychology that I thought was valuable to share.  Granted the study is small (45 families) so the results should be interpreted as intriguing but not as gospel. As parents we often tend to focus on the things we can do to get our kids to fall asleep. We sometimes hope that we can come up with the magical combination of parenting behaviors to induce sleep. So we rock, we nurse, we sing, we cuddle.

This study found that mothers’ behaviors at bedtime were unrelated to the quality of their babies’ sleep (e.g., disruptions in sleep, frequent night wakings). However, the mothers’ emotional availability was related to the quality of their infants’ sleep. Their measure of emotional availability included assessments of sensitivity, structuring, nonintrusiveness and nonhostility.

So perhaps if moms focus less on what they can do to get babies to sleep and more on who they are and how they connect with and tune into their babies, sleep will come more readily. Believe me, I know it can be a challenge to be “emotionally available” at the end of a long day when you’re tired yourself, but the payoff seems to be pretty good if in the end it results in better sleep for everybody! I’d love to hear your comments on your experience with sleep.

*Teti, D. M., Kim, B., Mayer, G., Countermine, M. (2010). Maternal emotional availability at bedtime predicts infant sleep quality. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 307-315.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. susana permalink
    June 24, 2010 9:10 am

    I fell it´s truth what the study says, I see it in my own relation with my baby (he has 2 years now). It depends a lot of my frame of mind how he goes (or not goes) to sleep. It varies day to day, or night to night, according to my tiredness , happiness, etc.

    • drcuneo permalink*
      June 25, 2010 12:38 pm

      I definitely found the link between my own mood/level of patience and my children’s behavior to be true for sleep as well as daytime behavior. It just confirms the importance of taking care of ourselves as well. Thanks for sharing Susana.

  2. Donald permalink
    July 13, 2010 10:56 am

    We tried solving the baby-sleep-calculus with all types variables: milk, bath, no television, low light, pajamas as signal to calm down, additional park play time & reading a story with only 50-50 success. I’m not sure what “emotional avaialbility” looks like. My Wife and I play with our child almost everytime he wants to play, we reduce/resist televison as much as possible, we typically do not raise our voices to our child, and we do not force him to do or play in any sort of structured way; so I’m a little skeptical about the above study. I will deinetely try to add the findings as another tool in the tool box and see what happens.

    • drcuneo permalink*
      July 13, 2010 1:10 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Donald. Again, like I said in the article, this study is interesting, but not necessarily true for everybody. Challenges with sleep can have lots of different causes. In general, when I think of “emotional availability” for myself, I think of how I feel. Am I feeling stressed? Am I thinking of all the things I need to do once I put the kids to bed? Or am I calmly present and in the moment? Am I tuned into how my child is feeling and what she needs from me at this moment? I hope that helps to give you a better sense of what it looks like. I’d love to hear how this new tool might work for you. Keep us posted ~ and good luck!

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