Families who share their home together influence each other in many ways, including sleep. Babies disturb their parents sleep by waking frequently, teens wreak havoc by staying up late and needing help to get up early, and bed partners disrupt each other by snoring, twitching and getting up in the night. Whenever you are woken by an external stimuli, including another person, that is considered an environmental sleep disturbance.
Let’s look at what is normal for different age groups in the family, and talk a little about how to minimize disturbances.
• Newborns begin to have a circadian rhythm at about 6-8 weeks of age, when they will begin to sleep more in the night. (Circadian rhythms are variations in physiological functioning across the 24 hour period. They are most strongly influenced by the timing light exposure, such as the sun rising. We’ll talk more about that in this blog later). At an early age parents can help infants develop a predictable sleep routine by having a regular, short sequence of events that help cue that it is sleep time. Think “bath, bottle, book, bed,” or something similar. This sequence can be used also at nap time, though without the bath. This is a time that sleep associations begin to develop.
• Children can sleep on their own through the night by age 1 year. It is important that children fall asleep on their own, otherwise when they have a brief awakening in the night (as we all do), they will be alarmed that the person who was there when they fell asleep is no longer present. The child will then call out for their parent, and need their parent to help them fall asleep. The other question of whether to co-sleep, and for how long, is a complex one, which involves not only sleep health but also other family values. We’ll give co-sleeping its own blog entry in the upcoming weeks.
• Teens have later circadian rhythms than children and adults. This causes them to be alert later, and stay asleep later in the morning. Unfortunately, typical high school start times are not in sync with teen body clocks. I’ve spoken with many families which are disrupted because the parents stay up late supervising the teens and helping with homework, and then must get up early to help get the teens up and out to school. Both the parents and teens are sleep deprived and suffering its effects in short order.
• Many adults have sleep disorders of one kind or another, whether it be snoring, a movement disorder, or insomnia. When sharing a bed these problems disturb both partners. If you are waking in the night, first determine if it is an external factor waking you up. If it is, try to eliminate that disturbance first, then see what quality of sleep you have. It may be that your bed partner has a sleep disorder that needs to be addressed so you can both sleep well.
Although family life is a pleasure in many ways, it’s important to acknowledge the ways we can disturb each other’s sleep, and find solutions so that everyone in the household enjoys the benefits of healthy sleep.