5 things that kept your child up last night (Sweet Sleep Solutions featured in Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine June 2014 Issue)
Parents often ask me why their child will only take a short nap--wake up still tired after 30-45min, and will not go back to sleep. Other times I hear parents say that their child just doesn’t nap or doesn’t need a nap. The reality is that all children (usually until the age of 4 years) need to nap. And if you have a child (over 6-months of age) who is not napping or who will only take short naps then it is most likely because they have not learned that skill yet. The good news is that if you have not taught your child this important skill, it is not too late. Here is some information that may help:
Sleep is actually learned in stages. First, nighttime sleep comes together followed by the morning nap and then the afternoon nap. Therefore, before you consider working on your child’s naps, you should first look at their nights. If your child does not have the skills to put himself to sleep at night (the easiest time) then it will be much harder to do it at nap time. If your child is sleeping well at night then it may be time to start nap coaching.
For day sleep, it takes 45mins to complete a full sleep cycle. However, a restorative nap is over one hour in length. Here are 3 nap scenarios and how to deal with them:
If your child is sleeping through the night, but is still not napping this could be why:
Daylight savings time ends at 2am on Sunday, November 2nd. For some people this may mean an extra hour of sleep. However, for parents of young children this can mean schedules are thrown off especially if you have a child who struggles or who has struggled with early rising. Because what is 6am (a perfectly acceptable and biologically appropriate time to wake up for children) now, will be 5am once the clocks change.
So how do you prepare for the time change? Here are two options:
1) Cold Turkey: When the clocks change, immediately switch to the new time. For instance, if your child normally goes to sleep at 7pm, continue to put her down at 7pm (according to the new time). To your child this will actually feel like 8pm so make sure they get a good nap that day (to avoid getting overtired). If your child wakes up at 5am (according to the new time), then go in and "sh-sh" her and tell her quietly that it is still night time. At 6am, come back into the room and do a "dramatic wakeup" (loudly say "It's daytime! It's time to wake up!" then turn on the lights and open the blinds). For more difficult cases, you may have to do the "Sleep Lady Shuffle" in the morning hours until 6am followed by a dramatic wakeup.
2) Gradual Approach: For younger children or for those who have a harder time adapting to new schedules, you can choose to take a more gradual approach. Two to three days before the clocks change, start moving nap times and bedtimes 15-30 minutes later each day until your child has adjusted to the new time.
You may find that your child has difficulty adjusting at first to the new schedule, but if you are consistent then it shouldn't take more than a week (usually less) for things to be completely normal again. If you can expose your child to a lot of natural light in the morning or go for a morning walk, this will help to adjust his circadian rhythm. But, most importantly, don't forget to watch for sleep signs. Having an overtired child leads to fussiness and early rising. If your child can't handle the cold turkey approach without getting overtired then doing it gradually is probably best.
We all know how important consistency is when parenting. Children thrive on schedules and consistency. They need to know what is expected of them. The best way to show them this, especially at a young age, is to be consistent. Behavioral scientists call giving mixed messages or not being consistent intermittent reinforcement, meaning we give in sometimes, but not others. Have you ever been at a grocery store check out line and your child begs and begs for a piece of candy? You keep saying no, but then you give in and buy that piece of candy because you are a little tired or stressed that day or you just want to get out of the store fast and quietly. It seems harmless enough, but you are in trouble now because your child won't forget that you gave in to his request. The next time you are in the check out line, you can expect a lot more protesting if you decide to say no. You can also expect that your child will cry for as long and as loud as he did the time it took you the longest to give in. It is the same with sleep coaching. There are so many examples of intermittent reinforcement with sleep coaching. One of the most common is when parents decide to try the “cry it out” method because maybe a pediatrician or friend recommended it. They put their child in the crib awake and leave the room. The child starts to scream. 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes pass and the parent just can’t take it anymore. They finally give in, get the child, and rock/swing/nurse the child to sleep in their arms. Now, they have just trained their child to cry for 30 minutes. The child now knows that if they cry for 30 minutes and hold out for the parent, the parent will come in and rock him to sleep. The next time the parent tries the “cry it out” method, they can expect the child to cry for at least 30 minutes. Another common example of intermittent reinforcement is when parents say, “We are not going to bring our child into our bed until 5am. At 5am, it is almost daytime and it won’t bother us if she comes into our bed at this time.” Well, the problem with that is children can’t tell time. They don’t know when it is 5am vs. 3am or 2am, so over time, the child will start to wake up earlier and earlier and they will think, “this must be the time I get to go into my parents bed.” If you say no to 4am, but yes to 5am, this only confuses her. As you can see, if you don’t show your child what you expect from them regarding sleep, there is no way for them to know. Understanding intermittent reinforcement and being consistent is the cornerstone to sleep coaching success!
We all have an internal clock, also known as a circadian rhythm, that tells us when we should be awake and when we should be asleep. This clock is mostly set by light or the sun. Our bodies feel best when we listen to our circadian rhythms and when we go to bed/wake up at the same time each day. Around 3 months, babies start to produce melatonin, a sleep hormone that relaxes them and makes them drowsy. As a child's sleep window approaches, melatonin is produced. However, if we miss our child's sleep window (ex. getting them to bed at 8-9pm when they should be going down at 7pm) instead of continuing to produce melatonin (which calms them), their body will produce cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, which will give your child a second wind making him feel wired similar to drinking a shot of espresso. This is the meaning behind Dr. Marc Weissbluth's phrase "sleep begets sleep". A well-rested baby will usually sleep more than a baby who is overtired and has cortisol rushing through their bodies. This also explains why a baby will fight sleep the most when they are actually the most tired. If you want to avoid your child getting overtired, keep an eye on his sleep windows during the day and after 6pm. Examples of sleep signs include being fussy, rubbing eyes, yawning, listlessness and decreased activity. If you see these signs, it is best if you can get him down immediately. Bedtime routines can also help by allowing your child's body to unwind and prepare for sleep, which will help produce melatonin. If you have a consistent bedtime/naptime routine for your child and watch their sleep signs-getting them down before they are too tired, then you are setting yourself up for sleep coaching success!
NOTE: A typical bedtime for a 12 month old is 7pm, if they are not napping during the day then it should probably be closer to 6pm.
These numbers are the averages (taken from "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" by Dr. Richard Ferber-original edition). Some children will need a little more and some a little less. However, the range of healthy sleep shouldn't vary by too much-no more than a one hour variation from the recommended Total Sleep. Above all, it is important for parents to watch their child closely and listen to what their instincts tell them regarding their child's sleep needs.
Stephanie Baker is a gentle sleep coach® trained & certified by Kim West, The Sleep Lady®.