The Sleepy Dust Phenomenon
Have you noticed that your baby drops off to sleep quicker when they're being carried? It’s often remarked that slings have 'sleepy dust' because of this, seemingly magical, ability they have to help little ones fall asleep.
There’s lots of evidence that the “sleepy dust” phenomenon is real. Babies feel safe when they're near you, so it's understandable that they will fall asleep in a sling more quickly than when alone in a cot. Research has shown that carried babies sleep more and cry less.
Snuggling your baby up against you creates warmth, closeness, gentle movement, and familiar sounds and smells, recreating that safe, calming environment they experienced for 9 months. A soft, supportive sling which moulds around your baby's body mimics this feeling of containment and safety.
The close cuddles also produce oxytocin, which has a calming effect on the brain, and reduces levels of cortisol, "the stress hormone".
A study in 2013 showed that crying dramatically decreased when babies were held by a walking mother compared to one who was seated. Their heart rates slowed too, showing that their cortisol levels were dropping and oxytocin levels increasing, resulting in an overall calming effect. The study looked at babies who were being carried in arms, but using a sling is easier on your arms and has that added benefit of invoking the feeling of being in the womb.
Does Napping in the Sling Have Any Benefits?
As mentioned, a contact nap (having some physical contact with your baby while they sleep) is often the easiest way to get them to sleep.
But there are other benefits to sling naps -
- The oxytocin hormone which you both produce, as a direct result of the closeness, not only reduces stress but also promotes bonding, increases lactation and helps optimal brain development.
- Keeping your baby close to you significantly reduces the risk of SIDS for babies under 6 months.
- The likeliness of flat head syndrome is reduced as there’s less pressure on just one area of their head.
- Research shows that a contact nap promotes longer, more restful sleep.
Will Napping in the Sling Create Bad Habits?
It’s a very common concern that being carried too much will make a child clingy or that if your little one only naps in the sling then it will affect their sleep at night.
We know that babies feel safe when they’re close to us and that the oxytocin produced helps bonding, so by nurturing your baby and responding to their needs you're actually helping your child to develop a secure attachment. If children feel secure in the knowledge that they can return to their caregiver and have their needs met at any time then they become more self assured and, rather than becoming clingy, have the confidence to explore their surroundings.
Napping in the sling will not create bad nighttime habits, actually it can help create healthy sleeping habits when they're older.
If your child associates sleep with reassurance and feelings of safety then, when the time comes, they'll be happier to sleep on their own.
If they are getting regular naps during the day babies are actually more likely to sleep at night. When your little one misses a nap they have an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes them very unhappy. This causes that well known state of being overtired, when sleeping is even more difficult. So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, sleep actually promotes sleep. When bedtime comes if your baby is happy and well-rested during the day they will be much more content and find falling asleep easier at night.
Is it Safe For My Baby to Sleep in a Sling?
If your baby is safely supported in an upright position then it is fine for them to have a nap in a sling. Some important safety points to remember are -
- Check their airways are visible and clear, ensuring that no fabric is covering their nose and mouth.
- Carry in an upright position, with their head resting on the hard part of your chest.
- Make sure their chin is not resting on their chest.
- Tighten your sling so it maintains this upright position and clear airway, with no slumping.
- A deep seated squat position ensures that they are seated in a stable position, with their head naturally resting on you, just under your chin.
It may be tempting for you to have a nap while your baby sleeps in the sling, but it’s important that you remain awake and can monitor them. When we sleep our muscles relax, potentially changing the positioning of your baby in the sling, which could pose a danger.
So don't worry if your baby only sleeps in a sling, in fact embrace it! Young babies often only nap when they're carried, and by using a sling you’re helping them to relax and establish a routine of day napping. Your baby will feel safe and know that you will help and comfort them whenever necessary.