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Got a temperamental toddler? CUDDLE them to sleep: Scientists think it could help them be better behaved

  • Scientists asked 841 parents across 14 countries to participate in their study
  • They questioned what techniques they used to encourage their child to sleep 
  • Countries with greater reliance on ‘passive strategies’ had more sociable kids 
  • Examples of passive tricks include cuddling, singing and reading 

If you have a temperamental toddler it could be worth incorporating cuddles into their bedtime routine, a new study suggests.

Researchers have discovered passive tricks to help a child fall asleep – for example cuddling, singing and reading – are positively linked to a child’s temperament.

On the other hand taking more active measures like walking, going on a drive or playing with your child appear to have a negative effect, the study suggests.

A team of international scientists asked 841 parents across 14 countries to participate, who all had toddlers aged between 17 and 40 months.

Researchers have discovered passive tricks to help a child fall asleep – for example cuddling, singing and reading – are positively linked to a child’s temperament

They were asked to report their toddler’s temperament and what techniques they use to encourage their child to sleep.

Analysis revealed countries with greater reliance on passive strategies had children who were more sociable, pharmacy opens with positive effects such as a toddler smiling and laughing more.

Meanwhile active sleep techniques were linked with fussy or difficult toddlers.

The countries where parents mostly used passive bedtime tricks included the US, Finland and the Netherlands, while Romania, Spain and Chile topped the list for active techniques.

Christie Pham, one of the authors from Washington State University, said: ‘Our study shows that a parent’s sleep-supporting techniques are substantially associated with their child’s temperament traits across cultures, potentially impacting their development.

‘For example, countries with higher reliance on passive strategies had toddlers with higher sociability scores.

Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system and significantly raises your risk of developing numerous forms of cancer. Even moderate reductions in sleep for just a week can disrupt blood sugar so profoundly you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping also increases the risk of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path towards cardiovascular disease, stroke or heart failure. Perhaps you have noticed you crave junk food when you’re tired? Too little sleep swells concentrations of a hormone that makes you feel hungry, while suppressing a companion hormone that signals food satisfaction

‘Our results demonstrate the importance of sleep promotion and suggest that parental sleep practices could be potential targets for interventions to mitigate risk posed by challenging temperament profiles across cultures.’

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the team said: ‘Our results extend prior findings by suggesting that active techniques that involve removing the child from bed to walk, drive or play with them are related specifically to greater distress proneness.’

Earlier this year a separate study found a bottle at bedtime really could help babies sleep better.

Infants fed just before they fell asleep slumbered for an extra hour before waking up during the night, researchers discovered.

The team, from the University of Tübingen in Germany, said it is best to check in on babies without picking them up, and that taking a baby back to your own bed when they wake up at night could cut the amount of time they sleep by almost 20 minutes.


Preschool (3-5 years): 10-13 hours

School-age (6-13 years): 9-11 hours

Teen (14-17 years): 8-10 hours

Young adult (18-25) 7-9 hours

Adult (26-64): 7-9 hours

Older adult (65 or more) 7-8 hours

Source: Sleep Foundation 


1) Limit screen time an hour before bed

Our bodies have an internal ‘clock’ in the brain, which regulates our circadian rhythm. 

Mobiles, laptops and TVs emit blue light, which sends signals to our brain to keep us awake.

2) Address your ‘racing mind’

Take 5-10 minutes before you go to sleep to sit with a notebook and write down a list of anything that you need to do the following day.

3) Avoid caffeine after 12pm

If you want a hot drink in the afternoon or evening, go for a decaffeinated tea or coffee.

4) Keep a cool bedroom temperature

Keep bedroom thermostats to around 18°C. During spring/summer try sleeping with your bedroom window open to reduce the temperature and increase ventilation.

5) Limit alcohol in the evenings

While you might initially fall into deep sleep more easily, you then wake up frequently during the night and have poorer deep sleep overall.

6) Supplement vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in sleep. Vitamin D is widely available online and from most pharmacies.

If you are unsure if this is appropriate or how much you need, seek advice from your GP.

7) Ensure sufficient intake of magnesium and zinc

Foods high in magnesium include spinach, kale, avocado, bananas, cashews, and seeds. 

Foods high in zinc include meat, oysters, crab, cheese, cooked lentils, and dark chocolate (70%+).


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