We get many, many questions about those sleep stages where babies or toddlers experience a change in sleep patterns, nap times, and sleep environments. These are the toughest times for parents because they require us to be patient and to adapt – we are forced to abandon the routines that we’ve spent so long establishing! We have to accept that we will no longer have TWO breaks in the day, but now have to get all of our laundry, cleaning and food prep done in the span of one nap, and we have to take apart the darn crib and find a place to store it (or haul it away). Yes, we know these are trying times but hang in there. In a week or two, your “new routine” will be your “old routine!” Continue reading…
Everyone talks about the “terrible twos” and we understand – two-year-olds are challenging. They are starting to exert their independence but don’t necessarily have the skills they need to do all they want to do. Imagine you just arrived in a new city – one you’ve always wanted to visit – but when you arrive, you discover no one understands you, you can’t figure out how to move as quickly as everyone else, and they seem to be on a different time-zone. Frustrating! That’s how toddlers feel. And this impacts their sleep, too. Continue reading…
Parents frequently look at their shoes when we ask them if their baby uses a pacifier, as if it’s something to be ashamed of. Many moms think of it as their “dirty little secret.” Well, guess what? Our kids used pacifiers and we would do it again!
There is some controversy about the use of pacifiers stemming mostly from lactation consultants who can scare new moms into thinking that their baby will develop nipple confusion if he is given anything other than a breast to suck. Continue reading…
Melissa and I are celebrating “significant” birthdays this year. For the first time in a long time, we decided to go away together – without the kids (mine went with my husband to his parents’ house)! Our mom and aunt (also celebrating important birthdays) met us in NYC for the weekend. We were so happy to have some time together. Melissa and I spent the first hour just sitting in our hotel room in bathrobes, drinking diet coke and reveling in the silence! We had both called our husbands and were assured that all was well in both households and so we were actually able to relax. Joy!
For the next few weeks, Sleep Sisters is talking about sleep aids. No, not that large glass of red wine you had while watching The Good Wife before bed. We are focused on the tools that help our little ones fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sleep aids include:
items, such as pacifiers or loveys
actions, such as rocking and swinging or bedtime routines
changes in environment, such as hearing white noise or being tightly swaddled
As parents of young children, we need all the help we can get to ensure our kids are getting the sleep they need. And sleep aids offer valuable assistance. Between the two of us and our three kids, the Sleep Sisters have tried them all. In our upcoming blog posts, we will share our thoughts and recommendations for specific sleep aids, but this week, we wanted to talk about them in general.
People say things like this to us all the time, “My child is so hyper in the late afternoon – I’m sure he has ADHD.” This may be true. Another possibility is that a hyperactive child is over-tired. When a child is not getting enough sleep, his body makes more cortisol and adrenaline so that he can stay awake. Those hormones are his body’s way of fixing a problem, only, it’s a poor fix. When children are too tired, they can’t fall asleep when they need to and are missing out on important sleep time – time when their brains should be processing the day’s events, the learning that occurred and the emotions that were felt. Being overtired looks a lot like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
A study summarized here on WebMD suggests that many children are misdiagnosed and in fact, are overtired. This doctor found that children who are getting the ADHD diagnosis mistakenly are children who sleep in a bed with their parents and who do not have a consistent bedtime. He emphasizes that sleep and ADHD are very complicated in their correlation. That is, many children with ADHD have a hard time with sleep and because they are missing sleep, their behaviors are more hyperactive. Of course, we don’t mean to say that all children who are getting an ADHD diagnosis are actually simply overtired, but we are saying that before you seek out this diagnosis for your child, it might be helpful first to examine how much sleep he’s getting and how firm your parenting is around sleep routines.
As with all children, it is important for children who have ADD/ADHD to have a very predictable and consistent pre-bed/nap routine and bedtime. For children who seem more active and who have more challenging behaviors, you might try some or all of the following:
Although your child may not want to nap anymore, we highly recommend that children (through kindergarten) take an hour every day for “quiet time.” Alone in her room playing quietly.
A weighted blanket may also be helpful. We use these blankets with kids who really find comfort in physical pressure (like hugs). Here’s just one weighted blanket – you can find more on Amazon.com.
Dim lights are really important 30 minutes before you would like your child to fall asleep – it helps your body produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Limit screen time and no screens after 5pm. If you have a child who seems hyperactive, you might consider limiting screen time to an hour a day and should certainly not allow her to look at a screen within a few hours of bedtime.
Try an earlier bedtime – although it is counter-intuitive, your child may be overtired. Try moving bedtime a half hour earlier for 5 days and see what happens. If it’s been working, you can even try another half hour the following week.
Be patient! This is so hard – we know! When you’re dealing with a challenging child, it is easy to let your emotions rise to the surface. However, your child can tell how you feel and often, our emotions only escalate our children’s behavior.
If you have tried all of the above and are still finding that your child’s behavior is impulsive and hard to manage and if others who are with your child outside your home (teachers, care-givers) agree, it would be beneficial for you to speak to your child’s doctor and/or a developmental pediatrician.
My daughter returned to preschool this week. Last year, after struggling at bedtime and with her waking a few times every night, we moved her bedtime back to 6:30 and all of our problems were solved. (Granted, we did have to pick her up from school 30 minutes earlier than we had been, and we had to shift bath time to the morning.) This year, I thought, “Well, she’s older now and hasn’t gone to bed that early all summer…we’ll go back to a 7-7:30 bedtime.” Boy, was that a mistake! Margo clearly needs more sleep, especially when she’s using her mind and body so much more at school. After two days of total melt-downs around dinner time, my husband and I agreed that bedtime had to be shifted earlier again and, after one night, it worked! We all slept through the night and had a pleasant morning before school. Everyone was happy and I know that our daughter is much better equipped to deal with the excitement of learning.
There was a fascinating article printed in NY Magazine a while ago that is worth reading. As our kids head back to school, we need to think about the importance of sleep and how it affects their ability to learn and develop. This article explains that even a short period of time (a half hour) can have a huge impact on our kids. The research indicates that for every hour of sleep lost, 2 years of cognitive and maturational development are lost. In addition, we learn from the article that a shift in sleep times (they gave the example of letting kids stay up later on weekends) also has a negative impact on ability to learn.
Bottom line: our kids need sleep. While we don’t like to give hard and fast numbers for how long your child should sleep, we have heard from pediatricians that school-aged children still need anywhere from 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Melissa and I have found that our children have a pretty large sleep need and our kids tend to do best when they can get the maximum amount of sleep possible. As parents, it is really important that we have consistent bed times and that we allow our children to sleep for as long as possible. If you have a child in school, it is important to maintain your routine even on weekends (when possible).
Check out our Bedtimes by Age guidelines. Figure out what time your child needs to wake up in order to get to school on time and count backwards to find the suggested bedtime. Tell us what you think – are your kids getting enough sleep? Do they have trouble adjusting when going back to school? If you struggle getting your child to bed or find that he’s grumpy in the morning or throws tantrums in the late afternoon, give an earlier bedtime a try for a few weeks and let us know if you see an improvement.
Kids need plenty of sleep to stay healthy and happy, and an age-appropriate bedtime is key. Kids also thrive on routine, so try to keep your bedtime activities as regular as possible. It’s so important to get your kids to bed early enough to enable them to get the sleep they need, but this means parents sometimes miss out on playtime at night or even seeing their children awake at the end of the day. Please let them get to bed on time, and try to find other times to spend with them – maybe making more time in the morning or spending special quality time during the weekend.
If you find that your bedtime routine and kids’ antics are dragging on longer and longer, here are three tips to help you get your kids to sleep on time.
Cut down your routine to the basics. Think about what things you can do at other times of the day. For example, ask your nanny to bathe your little one during the day (maybe before a nap). Read more stories at other times of the day so that you can just have one special book before bed. If you are transitioning from a longer routine, cut back gradually over a few days to allow your child to adjust to the shorter routine.
WRITE IT DOWN
Regularity is key, so list the steps, order, and timing of your routine. It will help you be consistent, but it will also enable other caregivers to follow the routine if you aren’t there. For toddlers and older children, try making a simple picture chart of the routine that they can follow to keep the bedtime simple and fun. You can even reward following the routine and completing the steps by giving stickers or other positive reinforcement.
This may be tough if you work a long day, but the bedtime routine can even start before you or your kids get home. If your child is at daycare until the early evening, ask your provider if she can feed him dinner or change him into his PJs before you pick him up. That will be one less thing you have to do once you get home. The goal with a bedtime routine is to slow down and begin readying the mind and body for sleep. By starting the process earlier, it gives you and your kids the opportunity to ease into bedtime without increasing stress or rushing to beat the clock. And please try to turn off the TV at least an hour before bedtime!
For more sleep tips, please see our Rules to Sleep By.
Our guest blogger, Gina Perkins, mom of two beautiful and “spirited” daughters, is a Silicon Valley girl turned stay-at-home mom. She now uses her passion for writing to tell the truth about motherhood – the good, the bad, and the downright absurd. You can read more of her daily musings at www.sahmstheword.com.
As sleep consultants, we focus quite a bit on establishing bedtime routines with our client families. Parents seem to have lots of questions about bedtime routines: Why do we need one? When should we start a bedtime routine? What should we include in the routine? How long should it last? What makes a good bedtime routine? Read on…I’ll answer each of these questions right now. Continue reading…