Did you know sleep behavior is genetically inherited?
It’s true! As adults we generally accept sleep nuances as part of what makes us, us. Maybe you’re a “night owl”. Or, perhaps your family reminisces on how growing up you had the ability to turn ANY time in to nap time (and likely still do if given opportunity!) Maybe you’re a notoriously light sleeper, or a sleep talker. But most haven't ever pondered the origin of those traits. The answer is fascinating, and it’s so much more than only environment or lifestyle.
Turns out, DNA is a major factor of influence in our quality of rest and quantity needed for full cognitive function. Some genes carry enough directions to completely control a trait (ie, presence of a widow’s peak), but other genes (like sleep) interact to determine characteristic. In essence, you are a sleepy-time mashup of those who came before you. Ever met someone who seems to thrive with very little overall sleep? They may have one of many sleep gene mutations and tend to be super-achievers. I remember watching a documentary segment on the then youngest (and highly successful) pro football coach Jon Gruden in 2002. His wife said of him,
He rarely napped as a child and was
always up before his two brothers. The slightest noise wakes him,
so he cranks up a loud fan by the bed to drown out the night."I
feel like I'm on a plane," says his wife, Cindy."He's awake
while he sleeps." Yet, Gruden says, he never feels tired, and he
attacks each day as if his hair were aflame. "His energy is
unreal," -Sports Illustrated, September 8, 2002
The dude doesn’t need much sleep. He never did. Only ones adversely affected were his mom and his wife! On the contrary, someone’s DNA who dictates a more common 6-8 hour sleep need who doesn’t get that sleep? Is at increased risk for ill-side effects including depression.
Knowing ourselves in this regard can aide in making practical decisions for our best adult life. Interestingly when it comes to babies, we tend to discount the potential for any differences in sleep needs and behavior. We unconsciously tend to think all healthy babies instinctively ought to (sleep a certain amount of hours, have the ability to fall asleep easily, sleep deeply, etc), - behave the same as one-another. Our assumptions on this came about for a number of reasons. Comparison to other babies/families, baby sleep how-to books, old theologies, grandma’s story of how she just left you in the crib and you slept just fine and she didn’t have assistance, peer judgment, blanket pediatrician advice, etc). The issue with this blanket belief, is there are parents who have babies who don’t naturally rest easily or well – and who are doing all the things they're "supposed" to. For these parents, confusion, frustration, discouragement, exhaustion, depression, can take over.
Baby sleep needs and quirks are indeed just as diverse as ours. At Nanny Nod, helping babies sleep their best is what we do best. Your child is indeed unique, AND your child can and will learn to rest well. So that you too, can get back to your own natural sleep nuances.