Bleary-eyed parents across the nation rack their brains daily over what they can do during their children’s bedtime to ensure a full night’s sleep. If you’re one of these parents for whom no amount of coffee in the morning seems enough, read on.
A new study suggests it may not be what you do during your child’s bedtime routine that matters, but how you do it. The study examined the connection between maternal practices at bedtime, emotional availability (EA) of mothering at bedtime, and sleep disruptions.
The study recruited 45 families to participate, each of which were grouped based on the infant’s age: 1-month-olds, 3-month-olds, 6-month-olds, 12-month-olds, and 24-month-olds. Video cameras and microphones were set up to monitor bedtime practices. To determine “emotional availability” researchers coded instances of specific bedtime behaviors (e.g., cuddling, book reading, nursing). For example, “one mother, rated high on EA, directed quiet and gentle vocalizations to her 6-month-old infant while breastfeeding. She continuously gazed at the infant’s face and, whenever the infant vocalized, she responded promptly (e.g., “It’s OK”).” Low emotional availability was witnessed when parents adhered to bedtime rules and routines rather than the child’s emotional cues. For example, on mother who did not score high on emotional availability “repeatedly directed the child to lie down and close his eyes, threatening to take his toys away if he does not settle down.”
Results demonstrate that parents’ emotional availability to children at bedtime effects higher levels of safety and security in infants and, consequently, lower levels of sleep disruption throughout the night. The study found no significant correlations between specific bedtime activities like reading a book and infant sleep quality. What was significant, however, was the emotional quality taking place between mother and infant during bedtime activities. The infant feeling safe at bedtime is what predicts a good night’s sleep.
Limitations in the study included a participant pool that was overwhelmingly white, and that only interactions between mother and child, rather than father and child or both parents together, were examined. Hopefully, more diverse future studies will support this study’s results.
Regardless of whether you sing, read books, or just chat with your children at bedtime, what they need most from you is to be able to drift off into slumber with the sense that everything is going to be all right.