Sleep Myths

There are many harmful sleep myths that keep persisting today in spite of good research to the contrary. In large part, this is due to the internet search phenomena and also how the human brain works. These persisting sleep myths are the number 1 reason why sleep training fails and gets a bad reputation. The sleep training methods are fine, but often people implement them incorrectly, or use a good sleep training tool on the wrong sleep problem.

The internet search phenomena results in people searching for information on the internet that confirms their beliefs. The information people find is often from nonqualified non-clinical places, yes Wikipedia would count as nonclinical, I could not use it as a reference for my master’s degree and you shouldn’t use for medical or child problems. Clinical information is  expensive and no gives it away for free unless it is out of date. Anyone, including myself, can put anything on the internet. Consumers of internet data need to be very skeptical and check out the qualifications and motivations of someone writing the article they are reading.

Before tackling the sleep myths, it should be clarified how the adult brain works and why it makes it so easy for these myths to be form and maintained, even in spite of good clinical research to the contrary.

The human brain is a meaning-making organ. We must give meaning to all information and data that comes into our life. Please note, all data is neutral, only human beings give it meaning. So we humans decide whether something is good, bad or neutral, and this influenced by many cultural messages we get.

The other factor contributing to myth/superstition building is that our brain evolved to help us survive. Survival brains developed to find patterns and see things as causing one another. This means that our brain is very good at finding patterns, however scientific research continually shows how we see patterns incorrectly, or worse see patterns that don’t even exist (think- the stock market or the housing market, how many patterns do you find there that are not true).

To make matters worse, for us modern-day humans, our brain is a causal brain, meaning it tends to link to randomly occurring events together and our brain says “hey A is causing B.” The reality is very few things are causal, they are mostly correlational (remember those statistical terms). Correlational means they occur at the same time but do not necessarily CAUSE one another. Correlational does not mean Causal.

For a comprehensive explanation of this and more read Nobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahnmann’s book “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.”

Therefore, many myths and superstitions have arisen out the fact that humans are trying to explain randomly occurring events, often, by linking things together saying they cause one another.

A famous example of this is the Mayans. They found a pattern of chopping people’s heads off a big temple thinking it would make it rain. A person probably cut the head off someone it rained and they decided these two random events were connected and caused on another. Yikes! Fortunately we now know how weather works and we know this to NOT be true.

So the reason I highlight this, is because many sleep myths come about because people do not understand how sleep works. This may include medical professionals who often do not receive any training on the behavioral aspects of sleep and are often giving clients their personal opinion as opposed to clinical opinion. Most sleep issues fall in the domain of a mental health professional because they are behavioral not medical or organic.

In the case of children’s sleep, it is a behavioral or parenting issue. The child is responding to what the parent is doing as they are 100% dependent on the parent. So if parents don’t like how the child is behaving, the parent needs to change.

That is where a trained mental health professional with child development, child brain development and education on sleep will help you. Unless it is something organic like enlarged tonsils, an infection, or some other medical condition, most nurses or doctors will follow the sleep myths and give you personal, rather than professional opinion. Many doctors cannot even advise parents accurately and this is one of the reasons why sleep training fails.

Here are some myths that have formed as result of people finding incorrect pattern and linking random data together. This has resulted because most people do not receive any training on sleep. Instead they are sleep deprived parents desperate to solve sleep problems accessing poor information:

For more details on how the native human’s need for freedom drives the maintenance of these belief read our other article called Baby’s Sleep and Parent’s need for Freedom.

Harmful Myths:

Myth: Children don’t want to sleep

False, everyone wants to sleep…when they are tired. A child that has not had enough wake time between sleep periods will not sleep well and will fight sleep. Crying it out will not work on this problem. The amount of wake time is determined by the child’s brain age. Sleep is a brain function and will change every 4 to 6 weeks during the 1st 24 months of life. Make sure you organizing sleep so that your child can be successful.

Myth: Sleeping through the Night is 7pm to 7am. This is not true and goes against clinical research done out of the Boston Pediatric Sleep Institute. Every internet site keeps purporting this because it is good for parent’s freedom. Due to all the things pulling at parent’s freedom many parents want to stop parenting at 7pm instead of 9pm or 930pm. There is also a brain function that contributes children’s need for earlier and earlier sleeps and wakes. I discuss this in my consults with my clients.

People find patterns that support their desire for freedom and they will insist on a 7 to 7pm. Many western cultures such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and South Africa follow this belief. This belief is not factual but persists due to old Victorian beliefs (NOT FACT) that children are to be seen and not heard and parents trying to get a break. Parenting is really hard and many people are working full time, running a house and have little time for themselves. One area to get back some individual time is putting a child to sleep early, but if a child biologically cannot do that sleep you will have sleep problems that cry-it out will NOT work on.

However, when you try and get your freedom by making children sleep more than they biologically need, you get some really extreme and frightening behaviors. Crying it out will not work on these problem- period. Also parents do not end up getting the freedom they desire because they are up all night tending to a child that cannot sleep, not because they are scared or don’t want to but because they do not have enough sleep debt to be able to. The child must wake to accumulate tiredness and they don’t want to hang out alone in a dark room.

Clinically, starting as young as 3 months, sleeping through the nights is only 9 ¼ to 10 hours. While some children may need more, many do not. In a consult, I explain these myths and these patterns. When parents give their children more time in bed than a child can sleep symptoms of this are:

·         Taking longer to fall asleep than 15 minutes

·         Waking before midnight

·         Waking in the night for 1 to 2 hours and no amount of crying it out or ignoring will correct it

·         Waking at 430am or 5am or 530am done sleeping

·         Naps disappearing age-inappropriately (Children at 6months, 12months or 24 months not napping, children need naps to age 4)

·         In older children they will develop fears of monsters or bed time creatures

Myth: never wake a sleeping child: False!

Have you ever tried to get a child that is not tired fall asleep? No way. The only control you have and the only way you can predict when a child will sleep is by controlling the wake time. So often you will need to wake a child to protect the next sleep cycle.

Myth: Food and sleep are connected: the dream feed

Here is another example of people finding a pattern where none exist. Food and sleep are not connected. PERIOD. During my consults I explain how people mistakenly find this pattern and this false pattern is what drives the mythical “dream feed.”

The Dream Feed is a myth because it doesn’t help babies sleep through the night. This strategy is more about giving parents more freedom so they don’t have to wake at 1am or 2am. For parents that it works, it’s probably a placebo, meaning no effect. These parents have 1 data point and no control to see if it would really work or if their kids would sleep through the night without waking. I have many other parents that try this and it doesn’t have an effect, that is because FOOD AND SLEEP ARE NOT CONNECTED.

Myth: Perfect bedtimes/wake times

I have parents asking me and magazines calling me for what are the perfect bedtimes. Here’s a reality check: THERE ARE NONE.

As I tell my clients, the clock is not a dictator, instead it is a guide simply telling you where you are in the day. The perfect bedtime is tied to the child’s age because this determines how much sleep they need and when they are waking and how much they doing for naps.

Everything is interconnected in sleep and you cannot change 1 thing without everything else being affected. Too many parents have arbitrary bedtimes that are based on what THEY WANT and not what their kids needs. Again trying to put a child to bed when they are not adequately tired, i.e. accumulated enough wake time between last sleep and next sleep and the child will. Many parents misinterpret this fighting because they really, really want that early bedtime.

Myth: No napping after 3:30pm

Again, when I hear these rules they are based on parents aiming for a 7:00pm bedtime. So many sleep myths are based on very out-dated Victorian principles around “children are to be seen and not heard.” Many parents, whether they consciously or unconsciously acknowledge it want to be done parenting by 7:00pm. They engineer their whole day to get the child to bed by this time.

When I’m consulting with clients I explain a number of factors of how the brain works, the circadian body clock works and how everything in sleep is interconnected. Sleep works in a way that solutions of seem counter-intuitive and this encourages parents to find incorrect patterns. Parents will also find patterns incorrectly because the filter through which they are interpreting their child’s sleep is misinformed.

If a parent believes that a child should do 12 hours of sleep at night (based on perpetuated myth and junk science sleep books advocating parental freedom disguised and child benefit) and when they try and get their child to sleep and the child struggles for longer than 30 minutes or starts throwing a huge fit and maybe vomiting at bedtime or wakes in the middle of night screaming like crazy they’ll say it’s a night terror, or over tired or misbehavior or manipulation. The poor kid isn’t doing any of those things, the child is simply not tired and not biologically able to do 12 hours of sleep. The child can only do may be 9 ¼ or 9 ½ and so they need to wake up or delay bedtime using the only means they have to them, which is crying, screaming, pleading and puking.

When consulting parents, I show them how this works. But not understanding how sleep works and having misinformation keeps parents interpreting data wrong and prevents all their sleep solutions from working.

Myth: Rigid consistency: children are not computers

Another thing I see parents misunderstanding is about keeping  to a schedule. A schedule is important but parents often go about it incorrectly with sleep. They try and set up a schedule that is not age appropriate for a child, usually trying to get the child to do more sleep than they need. Rigidity is never healthy. You want a flexible yet predicable schedule. I help my clients understand how to create a healthy, biologically and brain based sleep schedule.

Sleep is a brain function and changes as the brain develops. It takes 25 years to grow a human brain with 90% of structural brain growth occurring in the 1st 4 years. During the first 18 months to 2 years of life a child’s sleep pattern will change every 4 to 6 weeks! So once you get your child’s sleep schedule figured out it will change. Missing these changes can set you up for bad sleep patterns.


If you are struggling with your child’s sleep, rather than pathologize the child or admonish your own skills, invest in educating yourself on how sleep works and then get the right information to correct it. We provide a 90 minute sleep consult in office or via skype that educates parents on how sleep work, so that when we tell you what you ‘ll need to do to fix the problem it’ll make sense. We also explain all these weird sleep behaviors and debunk myths. Our goal is to give you all the tools you’ll need to fix this problem, maintain the solution as well as troubleshoot so that you’ll never need to call us again.

That’s right! Once you fix a sleep problem isn’t doesn’t stay fixed for life. It is tied to the parent’s behavior. If you change your behavior you’ll bring the problem back in 2-3 nights! So we want to really equip you so that you can navigate all the changes you’ll experience in sleep.

Get the right information and right solutions to start sleep now. SMS or call us at +6590307239 or email us.

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