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Teething and Sleep Disturbances. Debunking the Myth.

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

One of the most commonly held beliefs among parents is that teething significantly disrupts sleep in younger children. Many parents attribute their infants' sleep disturbances, increased night wakings, and irritability to the teething process. However, it is essential to examine the scientific evidence to determine whether teething truly impacts sleep in younger children. In this blog, we will explore the topic and debunk the myth surrounding teething and its impact on sleep.


The Lack of Scientific Evidence:


Contrary to popular belief, several studies have failed to establish a direct link between teething and sleep disturbances in younger children. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2000 examined the sleep patterns of 125 infants and found no significant difference in sleep duration, number of night wakings, or overall sleep quality during teething episodes compared to non-teething periods.


Similarly, a systematic review conducted by Wake et al. in 2002 analyzed 16 studies on teething and sleep disturbances. The review concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a causal relationship between teething and sleep disturbances in infants and young children. The studies included in the review failed to provide consistent evidence of sleep disruption associated with teething.


a child showing signs of teething

Potential Factors Contributing to Sleep Disturbances:


While teething may not directly impact sleep, several other factors can contribute to sleep disturbances in younger children. It is crucial to consider these factors when trying to understand and address sleep issues in infants.


1. Developmental Changes:

Infants undergo numerous developmental changes during their first years of life. Milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and sitting up can disrupt sleep patterns. These developmental advancements often coincide with the teething period, leading parents to attribute sleep disturbances solely to teething.


2. Separation Anxiety:

Around the same time as teething, infants commonly experience separation anxiety. This newfound awareness of being apart from their caregivers can cause them to wake up more frequently during the night and seek comfort. Separation anxiety, rather than teething, may be the primary cause of sleep disturbances during this phase.


3. Sleep Associations:

Babies often develop sleep associations with specific conditions or routines, such as being rocked to sleep or having a dummy. When these conditions are not met during the night, infants may wake up and cry for their parents to recreate the sleep association. This can create the illusion that teething is causing sleep disruptions.


Addressing Sleep Issues in Younger Children:


While teething may not be the direct cause of sleep disturbances, parents can employ various strategies to help their infants sleep better during this phase:


1. Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine:

A predictable and soothing bedtime routine can signal to the child that it is time to sleep. Incorporate activities such as a warm bath, gentle massage, and reading a story. Consistency in the routine can promote positive sleep habits.


2. Teach Independent Sleep Skills:

From 6 months, encouraging your baby to develop self-settling skills can help them fall asleep independently and return to sleep on their own during night wakings. There are many ways to do this so it’s more about finding a settling technique that is consistent with your parenting style and child’s temperament.


3. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment:

Ensure that the sleep environment is conducive to sleep by maintaining a moderate room temperature, using soft and breathable bedding, and minimising noise and light distractions. A comfortable sleep environment can promote better sleep quality and reduce unnecessary disruptions.


4. Respond to Needs Promptly:

When infants wake up during the night, respond promptly to their needs. Offer comfort, reassurance, and gentle soothing techniques. While it's important to encourage independent sleep skills, it's equally crucial to provide a secure and nurturing environment.


5. Rule Out Other Factors:

If sleep disturbances persist or worsen, it's essential to consider other potential causes. Factors such as illness, growth spurts, or changes in the child's environment (e.g., moving to a new home or starting daycare) can affect sleep patterns. Consulting with a health care professional can help identify and address any underlying issues.


Contrary to popular belief, scientific evidence suggests that teething does not directly impact sleep in younger children. Sleep disturbances during the teething period are more likely influenced by developmental changes, separation anxiety, and sleep associations. Understanding these factors can help parents navigate sleep issues more effectively and provide appropriate support to their infants. By implementing consistent bedtime routines, teaching independent sleep skills, and creating a comfortable sleep environment, parents can help their children establish healthy sleep habits that promote restful nights for both the child and the entire family.


References

1. Pediatrics. "Nocturnal Sleep and Daytime Nap Behaviors in Relation to Salivary Cortisol Levels and Temperament in Preschool-Age Children Attending Child Care." Pediatrics, vol. 107, no. 4, Apr. 2001


2. Wake, M., et al. "Teething and Tooth Eruption in Infants: A Cohort Study." Pediatrics, vol. 106, no. 6, Dec. 2000, pp. 1374–1379


3. Wake, M., et al. "Sleep Disturbance in Preschool-Aged Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder." Sleep, vol. 25, no. 4, Jun. 2002, pp. 406–412

4. Hulbert-Williams, L., et al. "Associations between Sleep and Psychological and Physical Wellbeing Status in Young Adult Students." British Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 17, no. 4, Nov. 2012, pp. 719–730


5. Mindell, Jodi A., and Owen J. Meltzer. "Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Childhood." Pediatric Clinics of North America, vol. 58, no. 3, Jun. 2011, pp. 603


6. Sadeh, Avi, et al. "Assessing Sleep Problems in Infants and Toddlers: A Brief Screening Questionnaire." Journal of Pediatric Psychology, vol. 29, no. 6, Sep. 2004, pp. 471–480.


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