Are some children better sleepers than others?
Yes – definitely. Individual differences certainly matter. A common experience of parents who have more than one child is that every child is different. This is true in several areas and sleep is not an exception. Some children are deep sleepers, sleep in long bouts from birth, and are able to settle down very easily while others are light sleepers, don’t sleep for long stretches until they are toddlers, and are difficult to soothe. These differences can be accounted for by the infant’s intrinsic characteristics, such as temperament, maturation, and other biomedical factors.
Temperament is defined as biologically based individual differences that inform one’s affect, attention, and behavior in response to environment. Studies have found links between infant sleep and specific temperament dimensions: infants characterized by an easy temperament (positive mood, high approach, and high sociability) have been found to sleep longer at night and have fewer sleep problems than infants characterized by a difficult temperament (negative mood, high withdrawal, high activity level, low sensory threshold, and poor regulatory capacity). Infants with difficult temperaments tend to have more difficulty with sleep consolidation (trouble sleeping for long stretches); and, infancy is where sleep disturbances often begin.
In addition to these internal factors, we also know that most sleep disturbances during early childhood are explained by environmental factors and parenting practices (such as having a late bedtime). However, the influence of genetic factors should not be underestimated since sleep duration and night wakings are strongly influenced by genetics.
In summary, some children are good sleepers and others have trouble sleeping – but all healthy babies have the ability to sleep well with appropriate support when needed.
About Dr. Oliviero Bruni