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  • Writer's pictureJulia Lagman

Infant Temperament & Sleep

What is temperament?

Researchers have discovered that there is “a genetic influence in how your child reacts to the world around him. This first and most natural reaction is called his temperament… temperament has biological, neurological, and physiological underpinnings that affect your child’s mood, ability to calm himself, and activity level.”¹ Merriam-Webster dictionary describes temperament as “characteristic or habitual inclination or mode of emotional response”.

Researchers Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess began the study of temperament in the 1950s. Other researchers have since continued their work, and their findings help us understand the ways in which children can be different. The temperament categories that are widely used today are:

  • Rhythmicity

  • Initial Reaction

  • Adaptability

  • Mood

  • Activity

  • Distractibility

  • Persistence

  • Attention Span

  • Sensitivity

  • Intensity

So what does this mean?

Our society has very uniform expectations as to how a baby should behave, yet infant temperaments differ so greatly. It makes it understandable why some of the sleep training ideas became so popular and why the outcomes are so uneven. If you try sleep training a baby who is highly Regular in his sleeping patterns, very Adaptable, not Intense at all, not very Active and low in Persistence, you are likely to see very little fuss and have a baby who is going to sleep by himself in a short amount of time. You may think sleep training is fantastic and wonder why all parents don’t do it! If you have, however, a child who is Irregular, highly Active, less Adaptive, negative-Mood, highly Persistent and highly Sensitive, the process is an absolute nightmare for everyone. You will likely abandon sleep training and opt for a more attachment-style approach to meet your babies more obvious needs.²

What can we learn from this?

Perhaps the more intense babies who insist “I need you!” may be speaking for all babies. Babies who are not as intense may not announce their distress as loudly, but may be just as stressed and need their caregivers just as much.² The risk with sleep training is teaching a distressed baby to stop signalling. A baby who is quiet during the night isn’t necessarily a baby who is peaceful or who is sleeping through the night. He may be waking up and his cortisol (stress) levels may be high, but has learned not to cry out for his caregiver.³

At In Touch Sleep Education, I will work with you and your child, customizing a Sleep Strategy Package that takes into consideration your child’s unique temperament (as well as your own), allowing you to respond to your child’s needs at night, build a healthy attachment and set your child up for peaceful associations with sleep for years to come. Please contact me to book a free consultation call! I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.


¹ Kurcinka, Mary Sheedy. Raising Your Spirited Child: a Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. Harper Collins Pub., 2006.

² Wiessinger, Diane. Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family. Ballantine Books, 2014, p.106-108.

³ Middlemiss W1, Granger DA, Goldberg WA, Nathans L. Asynchrony of mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep., Early Hum Dev. 2012.

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