'Nothing was helping': U of C infant sleep study made big difference for Calgary mom

If you have a five-month-old baby, sleep might be a rare luxury in your home, and Rachel Farrar knows that all too well.

“He would sleep for about 20 minutes, which I thought was normal. It turns out 20-minute naps aren’t so normal,” Farrar said of her sleep struggles with her son, Daniel.

Daniel is 19-months-old now, but about a year ago, he just could not consistently get to sleep and stay asleep.

“If it wasn’t for the study, I would not have known where to turn. I was reading everything I could. I was going on forums, speaking to friends, nothing was helping.”

She’s talking about a study at the University of Calgary that is helping parents get their babies to bed.

The Play2Sleep project sees a nurse visit parents and their five-month-old babies at home.

Parents are videotaped teaching their child to use a new toy as part of getting them to sleep. The idea is to see if this improves infant sleep patterns over time.

And by incorporating home visits, the hope is that parents will also learn more about what resources are available to them.

Elizabeth Keys is the PhD candidate behind the study.

“In terms of sleep at that age, we have to think about it in terms of something that babies learn how to do, and so sometimes it’s just providing some information to parents about what is considered normal,” Keys said.

Elizabeth Keys is the PhD candidate behind the study.

Elizabeth Keys, the PhD candidate behind the study, says babies have to learn how to sleep. (Anis Robert Heydari/CBC)

“Like lots of parenting issues, there is a lot of information about infant sleep and we try to tailor it down and personalize it for families.”

Keys says successful sleep is about working toward finding that combination of techniques that works for your family.

It’s about “routines, healthy, sustainable sleep associations; reading cues,” she said.

“It’s much harder to put down an overtired baby than not.”

Meanwhile, Farrar says Daniel’s lack of quality sleep affected the whole family.

Daniel Farrar

19-month-old Daniel Farrar is full of energy today after getting better sleep, thanks to a U of C study his parents participated in. (Anis Robert Heydari/CBC)

“His not sleeping was the trigger for some anxiety I was having. It wasn’t just affecting him, it was affecting me and also my husband,” Farrar said.

“Through the research we were able to find ways of getting him to sleep a little bit longer.”

And her tips for other parents?

“Be consistent with sleep training methods. You don’t have to try something new every few days, just keep what you are doing. Keep it consistent, same routine. If you have a few bumps, just carry on. Keep going.”

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