Throughout history, parents have used a wide range of items which they feel (or they are told) will benefit their babies’ sleep. In recent years products that are designed to 'promote infant sleep' have proliferated. Some of these products or sleep-aids have also become linked with increasing or decreasing babies' risk of SIDS, or otherwise affecting babies' health. There is no independent research evidence relating to most of these products, nor are there safety standards for most other than flammability of materials. However, sleep aids can provide much-needed rest for parents if they help to calm and settle babies. If sleep aids do help promote infant sleep and prevent night-time crying, there are positive results for both parents and babies’ overall well-being..
In this section we summarise the research evidence currently available regarding some of the most commonly used and recommended sleep aids or products: dummies (or pacifiers), swaddling, baby sleep bags, slings, and bed-side cribs/cots.
Is encouraging babies to sleep more deeply or for longer a good thing?
Many 'sleep aids' marketed to parents claim to make babies sleep more deeply and for longer. Parents should be wary of any ‘tips’, products, or ‘lifehacks’ that make these claims.
Babies, especially newborns, have short sleep cycles and wake often during the night and the day. Although this can be tiring (because it is not the way that Western adults prefer to sleep!) it is good for babies’ development, and frequent waking is protective against SIDS. Waking from sleep, otherwise known as arousal, is an important survival response that helps babies to regulate breathing and other processes. Things that interfere with an infant’s arousability, especially during the critical period of development between 2-4 months, can increase the risk of SIDS.
Because of this, things that claim to help babies sleep deeper or longer can sometimes go against safe sleep guidance. Take time to think before using any ‘tips’ or ‘tricks’ that you might see online, and if you are not sure about something it is best to follow trusted safe sleep guidance. Avoid placing objects on your baby’s body that might compromise their ability to breathe, avoid products that excessively restrict your baby’s movement, and avoid using home-made replicas of fashionable products.
Infant sleep products often have labels that say they comply with or exceed safety standards. However, these standards are usually designed to test general safety (such as sturdiness and flammability) and cannot accurately measure a risk of SIDS.
Products that rock and ‘shush’ babies attempt to recreate the experience of being held and soothed by a parent. However, they are not a substitute for parental vigilance / attention and many manufacturers’ instructions advise that they are used only with a caregiver present.