Bedtimes by Age

This month, Sleep Sisters is focused on bedtime. We thought it best to start off with a review of age-appropriate bedtimes. As certified infant and child sleep consultants, we are often asked what time kids should be going to sleep and whether it really makes a difference.

The answer is YES, the time your child goes to sleep does make a difference. We all have a biological clock and our circadian rhythms can help us sleep if we honor them by getting to bed at the right time. In addition, maintaining a consistent bedtime (and wake time) helps keep our internal clock “set” and is a critical part of healthy “sleep hygiene,” according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
Continue reading…

Post-Vacation Sleep Blues

It’s holiday time, and for many of us, that means packing up the kids and taking a vacation. Even if your kids are sleeping well and you have a great routine, a vacation can throw a wrench in the works. Most of us can make it through even the worst sleep situations while on our trip, but when you return home, you want everything to fall back into place, right?

Sometimes returning from vacation brings even more sleep challenges. Many kids revolt once they return from vacation – tantrums at bedtime, night waking, early rising, and more. Why do they torture us after we took them on such a lovely trip?

Kids crave routine and regularity. Even on a short vacation, they come to expect that whatever the sleeping situation was there will continue. So when they get home and find that they can’t share a room or a bed with the family, or that they have to go to bed earlier, they have something to say about it.

Here are 5 tips to help you transition back to your home sleeping routine:

  1. Articulate the rules. The adults in the house need to be on the same page so everyone can enforce the rules and routine. Explain to your kids (even the little ones can understand) that vacation was a special treat, and now that you are home, you are going to return to our house rules. Write down the rules and routine to remind the older kids.

  2. Clear your schedule. For the first several days after you return from vacation, try not to plan any activities late in the day. Keep it simple and stay close to home. Then you can make sure your evening routine is calm, unrushed, and the kids get to bed on time. Your kids may be overtired from less than ideal sleep on vacation, so consider an earlier bedtime for the first week you are home.

  3. Reinforce the routine. Chances are that your routine while on vacation was different from your normal routine at home. When you return, remind your kids of their bedtime routine and stick to it strictly the first week or two after vacation. With younger children who still make, make sure their daytime schedule is back on track and naps are at the right times. Use positive language not just about vacation, but also about how nice it is to be home. “Isn’t it great to be back in your own bed with your animals?” Give small rewards to congratulate your children when they get it right.

  4. Give extra attention. While not strictly linked to sleep issues, I think that kids get used to having more of our attention when we are on vacation. Once we return home, to our jobs and our daily lives, we may not be spending as much quality time with the little ones as we were while away. So kids may seek that extra time with us during the night or at bedtime. To keep from creating bad nighttime habits, try to pay a little extra attention to the kids in the daytime if possible. Or plan some special time for the weekend and discuss that with your child during the week.

  5. Expect some setbacks. Try to manage your own expectations. As your kids adjust to life at home again, they may wake during the night or very early in the morning. If you are suffering from jet lag, assume your kids are suffering even more. While these disruptions may be frustrating, it is normal and kids take a few days to a couple of weeks get back on track.


Vacation Update: Smooth Sailing

I last blogged before my family left for a one-week beach vacation with extended family. I wasn’t worried about my kids’ sleep, but I will admit I was stressed. Travel is always a challenge, and it’s always unpredictable. Change can be hard for kids, and for some adults, too. So how did we fare? It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good. Continue reading…

Dads: Nighttime Warriors

This week, as I continued to think about the role fathers play in helping babies sleep, I asked my friends and clients, “What is the one thing your partner does that you find most helpful?” The response was overwhelming. Mothers of infants and young children told us that the most valuable contribution fathers make is getting the baby back to sleep during the night.

Our personal experience and our experience as sleep consultants has demonstrated that when dads respond to baby’s cries during the night, the whole family gets back to sleep more quickly. So we wondered, why are dads so great at getting babies to sleep during the night. We have a few ideas.

  1. Dads don’t have boobs. That’s right, I said it. Dads don’t have the goods…i.e. milk. If Mom is breastfeeding, the baby can smell it when she gets near. And many breastfeeding mothers experience let-down when they hear crying. So if Mom responds during the night, chances are baby is going to want to eat. Once your baby is old enough to sleep through the night and you have stopped night feeding, best to send Dad in to help soothe the baby back to sleep and keep milk out of the equation.

  2. Dads don’t have crazy hormones. Debbie told me the story about how when her daughter would cry during the night, she would sit in bed squeezing her husband’s hand on the verge of tears herself until the baby settled down again. Woman deal with hormone changes during and after pregnancy, and for some women, hearing her baby cry, especially during the night, can trigger emotional and physical reactions. In response, we often want to go to our babies and hold them, rock them, physically bond with them. This is a perfectly natural response, but it can interfere with the baby’s sleep, her ability to learn self-soothing skills, and it interrupts Mom’s sleep. Dad, on the other hand, seems less affected by these physiological responses to baby’s cries, so he can go in with minimal disruption and quickly settle the baby back to sleep, and then get right back to sleep himself.

  3. Dads are problem solvers. Please don’t call me sexist…I’m actually more of a problem-solver myself. What I mean here is that dads typically approach night waking in a very tactical sense. “What is the problem and how can I fix it?” During sleep time, the ability to quickly assess the situation, address the problem, and get out is critical so that the entire family can get back to sleep. While many dads we know are also very nurturing and do a great job of soothing (see last week’s post), during the night, speed is king.

Some clients who stay at home with their babies tell us that they are reticent to have their husbands get up during the night when they have to be at work during the day. On days when Dad has a critical meeting or presentation or business trip, then let him sleep the night before. But sometimes, having a well-rested mom is just as important. So on days when Dad can deal with being a little more tired, ask him to have a try.

To avoid sleepy arguments during the night, before you turn in for bed agree who is “on duty” for the night shift and what your strategy will be (e.g. let the baby cry for 20 minutes to see if he can soothe himself back to sleep, then go in to check). And be sure to let Dad know that dealing with baby during the night is the most helpful thing he can do for you!

Have a Happy Fathers’ Day!


Dads’ Soothing Skills

June brings us Father’s Day, so Sleep Sisters is dedicating this month to dads and their impact on sleep.

Dads can often feel marginalized when there is a new baby in the house, especially if mom is breastfeeding. But sleep is one area where Dad can be a huge asset.

Today, I want to talk about Dad’s role in soothing and helping get baby to sleep. Dr. Karp introduced us to “The Five ‘S’s,” which include swaddling, shushing, swinging, side, and sucking, all great tools for helping calm a crying or fussy baby. I can say without hesitation that my husband is better than I am in executing these soothing techniques. For one thing, fathers are often a bit stronger and willing to be a bit more aggressive when soothing their babies.

My husband is the best swaddler in our house. He can make the tightest swaddle that has the most amazing effect – instantly settling a fussy baby. I always cringe when I see him do it; I worry he is doing it too tight or that he’d hurt the baby. But of course, when morning comes and our darling is still snug in the swaddle, baby burrito, sleeping like…a baby….I acknowledge his prowess in this arena.

In addition to swaddling, my hubby, and lots of other men, are great at shushing. I’ll admit that I have noise issues – everything is always too loud for me. But not my husband. He puts his mouth right next to the baby’s ear and makes a loud shushing noise. My shush will sometimes work, but his always does. He’s not afraid to shush louder than the baby’s cry, and that is what it takes.

Then there is swinging. This is probably the most fun, and also the most tiring. Here again, men can excel and may even enjoy soothing. Whether it’s making arcing swoops with baby in arms, or jiggling the baby on its side in his lap, my husband never seemed to tire of this form of soothing. And it works like a charm.

Soothing is one area where we strongly encourage fathers to participate and develop domain expertise. Dads can really enjoy this direct contact with their babies and feel great when they achieve that seemingly impossible feat of getting a fussy baby to sleep. And moms will appreciate a break from the struggles of parenting, especially at the end of the day when nerves are worn thin. And what an amazing feeling when you see your partner bonding with his baby! Now that’s a gift for both Mom and Dad.

Check out Dr. Karp’s video showing the Five S’s…it’s unbelievable and really works!

Your Monitor Has an OFF Button…Use It!

I have one piece of advice that may have the biggest impact on improving your own sleep, and your baby’s sleep. TURN OFF YOUR BABY MONITOR!

Baby monitors are great, don’t get me wrong. When you have a newborn, a monitor will let you move about, sit on your front porch, or take a nap knowing that you will hear your precious one when she wakes. The monitor can help rouse you when it’s time for those night feeds. However, once your baby is three to four months, I think it’s time to turn off the monitor at night.

By four months, babies are learning to cycle between deep and light sleep. This is the age when babies may start sleeping through the night…hurray! During the night, your four-month old will pass through two to three complete sleep cycles. Every 90 minutes, babies cycle to a state of light sleep called REM. Every three to four hours, they cycle to a more active, almost awake state. Each time they come to that light sleep, they will likely make noise, move about, cry out, and may even wake themselves.

At these intervals (often around 11pm, 2am, and 5am), we often want to go to our babies – maybe feed them, or hold them until they quiet down so they don’t wake the rest of the household. But by going in to comfort our babies when we hear cries during the night, we risk two things:

  1. Waking the baby by going to him when he’s just cycling through a light sleep and isn’t really awake

  2. Conditioning the baby to need a parent to settle him down between sleep cycles, and not allowing him to learn and practice self-soothing techniques he will need throughout his life to get back to sleep when he wakes

Of course, I don’t want you to ignore your baby’s cry. I just want you to ignore all the other sounds your baby makes at night. And I want you to get a good night sleep when you can!

I do know that no matter where I am in my house, when one of my kids cries a real cry, I hear it. It will wake me from a deep sleep, and my bedroom is on a different floor from my kids’ room. I don’t need the monitor to hear them crying. But by turning the monitor off at night, I can sleep through those whimpers, grunts, and fleeting protests as my kids move through their sleep cycles.

Some of the newer monitors have a myriad of bells and whistles. One client told me that their machine had noise canceling so it only transmits real cries. If that works, then great – leave that machine on at night if you need it. I have also seen machines with lights, noises, and more. While white noise is great for helping babies and adults sleep, any other kind of noise or visual stimulation will prevent your brain from resting, so steer clear!

Reclaim your nights. If your kids are older than four months, turn off your monitor one night and give it a try. I’m betting you will sleep better and you’ll give your little one a chance to practice valuable self-soothing skills during the night.

Help! Why aren’t I sleeping?

Our guest author, Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author, and radio host, and has appeared on The Today Show, CBS News, Good Day NY, and Fox News, among others. Dr. Wider is a medical advisor to Cosmopolitan magazine and hosts a weekly radio segment on Sirius Satellite/XM Radio. She is the author of three books, including most recently, The New Mom’s Survival Guide.

If you’re asking why you aren’t sleeping, it might reassure you to know that you are not alone. Sleep problems are a lifetime struggle for many women and they tend to peak at certain times of life. Studies reveal that women report sleeping problems most often during periods of hormonal fluctuation: at certain points on the menstrual cycle, and during pregnancy and menopause.

Almost eight in 10 women experience more sleep disturbances during pregnancy than at other times during their lives. Hormonal changes, heartburn, an expanding belly, and difficulty breathing and getting comfortable all play a role in sleep disorders related to pregnancy.

But the problems often don’t end there. Many women are surprised to learn that after they have the baby, it doesn’t necessarily mean their bodies will automatically go back to their normal sleep patterns.  Hormone levels continue to fluctuate after delivery and as a result, sleeping problems may persist for some women.

When Sleep Becomes A Problem

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While it’s true that all new moms struggle with getting a good night sleep — it comes with the territory — that’s not really what we’re talking about here. If you regularly experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and these difficulties occur regardless of the baby’s sleep patterns, you may have a problem. Many experts agree that an official diagnosis of insomnia would be given to women who experienced difficulty sleeping on a consistent basis for at least four weeks.

Postpartum sleeping problems can get in the way of your daily functioning, impair your motor coordination and thought processes, and add stress and anxiety to the long list of new mom concerns. So don’t ignore these problems!

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do about it. While prescription drugs may sometimes be necessary, if the problem goes on for too long, there are many other behavioral and lifestyle changes that should be tried before resorting to medication.

Here are some tips that may help you repair your sleep cycle:

  • Avoid the late-in-the-day caffeine fix: Cut back on caffeinated beverages at least five to six hours before you plan on hitting the sack. Consuming caffeinated coffee, tea, or soft drinks late in the day can really do a number on your ability to fall asleep at night.

  • If you are experiencing serious bouts of disrupted sleep, try to make up for the lost sleep with naps. Women who are waking every three hours to breastfeed or soothe the baby can get caught in a bad cycle that becomes a pattern they feel they can’t escape. If you’re enough long stretches of sleep to sustain you during the day, carve out some nap time to catch up so as to minimize the toll exacted by sleep deprivation.

  • Keep to a regular schedule. Our bodies crave routine, so try to go to sleep at the same time every night.

  • Avoid doing chores around the house or last minute items before bedtime—this will only add aggravation to your day and get the adrenaline racing to your mind and your body.

  • Create a calming night-time routine. I used to drink a cup of chamomile tea and watch a Sex in the City rerun before going to bed. It was my little half-hour, short but relaxing enough to help me drift off to sleep (most of the time!).

  • Avoid watching the clock. How many times have you looked at the clock every five minutes, stressing that you can’t fall asleep? This is the worst thing you can do. The anxiety about not falling asleep only makes it harder to fall asleep. If you aren’t asleep in thirty to forty minutes, get up out of bed and do something else. Read a book, watch a sitcom, take a warm bath, whatever it takes to change your frame of mind and help you relax. You can try again a little later.

If you find that lifestyle changes don’t help and you are tossing and turning consistently for weeks on end, therapy and medication may be an option. Sleeping medication is usually prescribed for a short period of time and should always be monitored by a physician, especially if you are breastfeeding. If you are suffering from depression, anti-depressant medication may be a better option, but again, speak to your physician.

Follow @DrWider and find her online at

7 Sleep-Promoting Ideas to Celebrate Mother’s Day

May brings us Mother’s Day, the one day each year when we are encouraged to recognize the awesome gifts our mother has given us, as well as the sacrifices she has made to give us life and guide us safely along our path. At least that’s what I want my children and husband to do!

In all honesty, I’ve been thinking about how important it is for our families that as moms, we are as healthy and happy as we can be. Getting enough sleep is not only critical for our children, but for ourselves, too. Even if you have a baby who isn’t old enough to sleep through the night, there are things you can do to improve your own sleep.

So with that in mind, here are my seven ideas to help mom sleep, at least this month. (Hint, hint…some of these make great Mother’s Day gifts!)

  1. Try a white noise machine. They are not only great for babies, but many grown-ups love ‘em. Or do what I do, and just get an App for your phone. I use White Noise. If you use an iPhone, just make sure to turn off the sounds from the other apps, so you aren’t interrupted with phone calls or email bings.

  2. Make your bed an oasis. Treat yourself to a new luxurious pillow or new sheets. Debbie likes this Temper-Pedic Neck Pillow. Buy some snugly pajamas or a silky nighty (whichever is more your style). We spend one third of our life in bed, so splurge a little and make it a real refuge.

  3. Spend time relaxing before bed. Turn off your screens. Enjoy a nice cup of tea (caffeine-free, of course). I like The Republic of Tea Ginger Peach Decaf and Cardamon Cinnamon Herbal Tea. Maybe throw in a bubble bath.

  4. Book a babysitter. In the SF Bay Area, we have this great service, UrbanSitter, that can help you find a sitter quickly. Then spend some quality adult time – by yourself, with your significant other, or with friends. Go to the gym, see a movie, or have a nice dinner – anything that will recharge your batteries.

  5. Go to the spa. Do something really therapeutic for yourself. Whether it’s a massage, facial, or other treatment, you will not only enjoy it at the moment, but most spa treatments have lasting physical effects and even positive emotional benefits. Spa Finder Gift Cards are accepted at spas around the world.

  6. Schedule a day to sleep in. This one might be tough, but if you can figure it out, it is soooo worth it. There’s just something about getting an extra hour or two of sleep in the morning that feels so much better than going to bed early. Ask a grandparent or friend to take your kids to the park the morning. Or have your partner do what my husband does on occasion – get the kids out of the house first thing and go to the 24-hour doughnut shop.

  7. Get away for the night. If you are lucky enough to have grandparents nearby or a sitter you trust, leave the kids and escape with your partner to a nearby hotel for an overnight. Ask for a quiet and dark room – the idea is to maximize sleep. Put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and tune out the world for the night.