Sleep Props - The Good, The bad, and The Ugly

You are exhausted.  Your child is exhausted.  You are willing to try anything, no matter how gimmicky, to get some sleep.  We have all been there; bleary eyed in the trenches of sleep deprivation.  So you dress your child in a suit that makes him look like the Michelin man; you let him sleep all night in a moving swing; you put on a brilliant music and light show; you give him a nightly dose of a hormone. What do all of these things have in common?  They are sleep props designed to aid your child in falling asleep and staying asleep. 

A sleep prop is anything outside of your baby’s control that helps them sleep. Rocking, eating, and that Michelin man suit are just some examples.

Do they work?  Sometimes, but never for very long.  Unfortunately, these items are more of a Band-Aid on the issue at hand:  your child needs to learn to sleep on his own.      

The Good

Are all sleep props bad?  Absolutely not.  

The pacifier is a great example of a “good” sleep propr.  The trick is though, not to become a human jack in the box constantly jumping out of your bed to replace said pacifier. 

The swaddle is another! In the early months, the swaddle is a lifesaver for many newborns, allowing them to contently sleep for longer stretches before they have the ability to self soothe. It assists with limiting the startle reflux and gives them the snug feeling they are so familiar with.  However, like the pacifier, its useful days are numbered once your child learns to rollover or starts breaking free.  

For older children a lovey can be a wonderful sleep prop when used at a safe age in a safe sleep environment*

The Bad

There are many products that are marketed as the champion of their child’s sleep.  Many even deliver on these promises, but often there are consequences. They may help a child to sleep, but a child will learn to depend on these items to fall asleep. When they are taken away find yourself right where you started – with a child who  requires assistance to fall asleep. (Now, we of course think it’s a much better idea to invest your time and money in teaching your child healthy sleep habits that can last a lifetime rather than products that provide only a temporary solution.) 

Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit, for example – there are parents who love this item and I can understand why. It can help children make the transition out of a swaddle, but at what cost? It’s plump design is much like a snowsuit – over heating can be incredibly dangerous and lead to poor sleep. The same design also limits range of motion putting a child who has rolled onto their belly at risk and drastically limits a child’s ability to self soothe.

The swing is another example of a bad sleep prop. While it can be an amazing tool to assist in soothing, a swing should never become your baby’s primary sleep location for many reasons.  First and foremost are the safety concerns, but there is also the poor quality of sleep your child is receiving while swinging to consider.  Sleep in motion appears to force the brain into a lighter state of sleep and reduce the restorative power of the nap. While swinging a child will depend on the motion as a soothing tool, rather than their own skills to fall asleep. 

The SNOO is the latest and most high-tech sleep prop I have seen. A child cries, it rocks. I child wakes up, it vibrates. It does everything, but allow a baby to learn how to self soothe. There are also concerns of a baby’s position in the SNOO – strapped tightly in a swaddle in one position could lead to deformitites the recalled Rock n’ Play was once held responsible for.

The Ugly

Administering melatonin to promote the onset of sleep in children is one of the many trends in parenthood that can have detrimental effects. Some pediatricians prescribe melatonin, but as the only hormone available that does not require a doctor’s prescription, it is available over the counter.  So what is the harm in using something that is naturally produced by the body? 

Melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement. As such, manufacturers are not help accountable to FDA approval or regulation. For this reason, little research is available on how synthetic melatonin may impact children.  

One thing we do know synthetic melatonin can affect is a child’s sexual maturation. The National Institute of Health warns on it’s website, that due to the effects on other hormones, melatonin might interfere with development during adolescence.

 Another concern is the message giving a healthy child a pill to do something they are capable of doing naturally sends to that child. West Hartford pediatrician, Dr. Tom Fromson recommendsexamining bedtime routines, exposure to bright screens, exercise, and diet as contributors to your child’s poor sleep.

The Take-Away

As parents, we are bombarded with products aimed at helping our children sleep better.  However, the key to developing an independent and healthy sleeper is committing the time and energy to provide your child with a strong foundation for healthy sleep.  

*Safety tip: The AAP recommends a child’s crib be bare except for a fitted sheet until they are one year old.

Well Rested Baby is a team of certified sleep consultants that helps families like yours identify, address, and correct their children’s sleep issues. WRB works with moms and dad’s to create customized sleep plans that reflect a family’s comfort level and philosophies. When paired with WRB’s 360-approach, the entire family is set up for sleep success. WRB offers a variety of support packages. Contact WRB today to schedule a consultation or learn more about how we can help you and yours get the sleep you need and deserve.