May 10, 2019
Ah, the joys of motherhood. The emotional bonds to be forged, the fond memories to be made, the…sleep deprivation? As parents, we become accustomed to deferring our needs so that we can meet those of our children, and while we usually do this gladly, it can still take a toll. Consider, for example, a recently published study out of the University of Warwick, which tracked the sleep satisfaction and duration of over 4500 German parents and found that they continued to experience less satisfying sleep even six years after their kids were born. So in honor of Mother’s Day, when we celebrate the sacrifices our moms make for us (including, apparently, their sleep), we’d like to share some more insights from the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Show last March (for more from the Sleep Show, check out this post).
The Show’s keynote address was presented by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of Happiest Baby on the Block and other parenting guides. He opened by noting that, because of our 90-minute sleep cycles, it’s inaccurate to think of people as sleeping all the way through the night, even as adults. Adults usually do not remember these nighttime awakenings because we have developed the habit of falling almost immediately back to sleep. Infants, however, take time to learn such habits. In the womb, they were lulled to sleep by the calming reflex, which helps to prevent excess activity as a baby reaches full term and is thought to be triggered by rhythmic sound and motion. When a baby is born, these triggers are suddenly removed, which is what can lead to parents’ frustrating struggles to get their little ones to sleep. While this particular struggle is often seen as a rite of passage for new parents, studies like the one cited above reveal that it can also have serious consequences, including leading parents to resort to unsafe sleeping arrangements in their desperation to get some shut eye.
One of the most exciting products revealed at the Sleep Show, the SNOO Smart Sleeper, was developed by Dr. Karp in collaboration with MIT engineers to solve this problem. Designed in conjunction with Yves Behar, the SNOO’s sophisticated design belies its revolutionary effectiveness. The SNOO responds to a baby’s natural nighttime awakenings with gentle swaying motion and rhythmic sound, triggering the baby’s natural calming reflex and teaching it to sooth itself to sleep independently. It features a special swaddling garment that secures the baby on its back so it cannot roll over into an unsafe sleeping position. Extensive testing has shown the SNOO to increase average nightly sleep duration by one to three hours. The SNOO has proven so effective that it currently undergoing additional studies to test whether it can reduce the incidence of postpartum depression (at UCLA and other universities) and speed the recovery of infants born with opioid dependency (at the University of Kentucky and Boston Children’s Hospital). The SNOO can be used for infants up to six months old, which may prompt some parents to wonder if it’s a worthwhile investment. This is why it’s especially exciting that Happiest Baby has made the product available for rent, with the goal of eventually classifying it as a device that could be covered by medical insurance.
Several additional products showcased at the Sleep Show also focused on re-introducing rhythmic sound and motion into baby’s environment to aid sleep and self-soothing. The Tranquilo Soothing Mat was developed by Melissa Gersin, a maternity nurse and certified infant crying specialist. Like the SNOO, it uses motion, in this case gentle vibrations, to help lull infants to sleep. Unlike the SNOO, the Tranquilo is portable and can be used anywhere, including on top of baby’s car seat, so parents can use it even when away from home.
The Baby Shusher, invented by Chad and Katie Zunker in collaboration with pNeo, is a portable device that releases long, rhythmic pulses to mimic the sounds babies may have heard while still in the womb. Portable and easy to operate, the device is a simple, elegant solution to calm crying and fussing and help baby sleep.
Infant sleep wasn’t the only childhood sleep issue addressed at the Sleep Show. Additional lectures drew attention to the sleep habits of adolescents and teenagers. If you are parent to a teen, you may be familiar with their night-owl tendencies. These are based in a developmental shift in young adults' circadian rhythms that causes them to naturally stay awake later into the night and, consequently, sleep later into the morning. Unfortunately, when paired with early school start times, this tendency can lead to sleep deprivation and even social jet lag. As Dr. Michael Breus noted, a University of Minnesota study revealed that shifting high school start times later in the day correlated with up to a full letter grade improvement in students’ first period grades. Unfortunately, these findings have not yet led to widespread implementation of later school start times, but there is a growing grassroots movement pushing for this.
Who would have thought that childhood sleep could be such a complex topic? Well, any mother, perhaps. Which is just one of the reasons we at Wink & Rise join you this weekend in celebrating all of the moms in your life. This Mother’s Day, we wish you much happiness followed by a night of sweet dreams. Thanks for reading!
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