Monday, April 1, 2019

Baby Care: Ssssh, The Scoop on Sleep

Article featured in: OC Family | OC Register

By Jenna L. Jones with Michelle S. Donaghy, Certified Gentle Sleep Coach

Bloodshot eyes and fuzzy thinking are typical hallmarks of early parenthood.  And it’s no surprise — 43 percent of new parents get only one to three hours of uninterrupted sleep per night according to a study commissioned by Owlet Baby Care. Because newborns wake up every two to three hours, getting baby to sleep promptly can have a huge impact on everyone’s overall wellbeing.

To help parents find a few extra zzz’s in their nighttime routine and shed light on the basics on newborn sleep, we sat down with Michelle S. Donaghy, MSD Baby Sleep Coach. Based in Brea California, she is a certified Gentle Sleep Coach who has helped several hundred families implement better sleep practices.

OCF: What are the sleep cycles like for newborns?

Michelle S. Donaghy: Newborns sleep a lot but their sleep is not well developed or organized. So you may not even realize it, but they are getting about 15 to 18 hours in a 24-hour period as sleep usually comes in small increments.

In the early stages, newborns spend about half of their sleep in the active kind of sleep called REM. In REM sleep, they are more easily aroused and are sleeping lightly.  Babies also cycle between REM and non-REM more than adults do and every time they switch they have a partial awakening.

OCF: What are some easy ways to help baby fall back to sleep?

Donaghy: Allowing baby the opportunity to work it out and put themselves back to sleep is always best.  If baby never learns how to get back to sleep after partial arousal independently, they most likely won’t learn to sleep through the night.

If baby is fully awake and crying, go to them and soothe with techniques such as patting, shushing, stroking, or diaper change and re-swaddling.

Then put baby back in their bed. Sometimes less is more, and all baby needed was to be re-swaddled before being put back into their bed to fall asleep.

It’s OK to stay cribside until baby dozes off, but the middle of the night is not the time for playtime or awake time.

OCF: What kind of routine should parents implement before putting a newborn down to sleep?

Donaghy: Newborns don’t need a lot of preparation for sleep. But a consistent bedtime and a few simple steps leading up to bedtime will help set the stage to regulate and improve sleep.

The simple steps could be going to the bedroom, changing into pajamas and a clean diaper, swaddle, darkened the room, turn on white noise, a pre-bedtime feed and rock or hold them in your arms to the point of drowsiness but not fully asleep then put baby down into the crib and let baby finish falling asleep in the sleeping space.

OCF: Do you have any advice for parents who are lacking in sleep?

Donaghy: My best suggestion would be to have a bedtime routine of their own.  Set a timer when you will turn off all electronics that is at least 60 minutes before you would like to fall asleep.

The ideal bedtime for most adults is to be asleep between 10 and 11 p.m. Having a little routine with something relaxing like reading, yoga or listening to meditation is very helpful in getting the body ready for sleep at night.

Other tips would be for parents to take turns attending to a child who is not sleeping through the night.

Co-Author: Jenna L. Jones is an editor and journalist who writes about everything from tech startups to beachside weddings. She regularly enjoys a crisp glass of chardonnay with her husband and two lazy dogs at her home in Long Beach, California. Follow her on Twitter @JLJonesOCR

Co-Author: Michelle S. Donaghy founder of MSD Baby Sleep and Certified Gentle Sleep Coach.

Article featured in OC Family | OC Register - Baby Care: Ssssh, The Scoop on Sleep - 
March 14, 2019  

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Tips To Handle Spring Forward - Daylight Savings

Sunday, March 10th we “spring forward”! 

Turn your clocks ahead 1 hour, before bed on Saturday night March 9th.

If you/your child(ren) typically wake at 6am, then they will likely wake 7am.  If you like this change then YAY!  This is a great fix for an early riser.

Keep naps and bedtime on the new schedule (1hr later). To protect this new schedule and time make sure you use continuous white noise for all sleep periods and keep the room really, really dark.

If the new time doesn’t work for you, below are some options to help your family adjust:

Gradually adjust:

This is ideal for children under 2 or those who don’t do well with big changes.  Go to bed 15 minutes earlier every night this week.  Each day, wake up your child 15 minutes earlier in the morning.  If napping, put her down 15 minutes earlier for each nap the following day.

Continue to adjust the schedule earlier in 15-minute increments (wake up, naptimes, mealtimes, and bedtime) until you get to your goal according to the new clock time.

Adjusting all at once or split the difference:

On Sunday, schedule your day (wake up, meals, naps, and bedtime) on the new clock time.  But don’t start your day any earlier than 6am on the new clock time.

If you think the one-hour adjustment is too much for your child, split the difference and put her to bed 30 minutes earlier starting Sunday night and for a few days.  Once that is going well, shift bedtime an additional 30 minutes earlier (the full hour). 

Don't forget to adjust your entire schedule in the above increments eg: earlier wake-up time, nap time(s) and meal times.

Extra Daylight Saving Tips:

  • Be sure to make naps a priority this week, this weekend and next week too! (view my blog on Sample Schedules by age)
  • Watch the sleep windows (view my blog on Awake Windows by age).
  • Install room-darkening shades for improved sleep.
  • Keep things calm in the evening and no screen time 60 min before bedtime.
  • Get lots of bright sunlight in the morning during this transition time.
  • If necessary use your preferred sleep coaching method to help encourage sleep and get everyone in the family the sleep they need.
  • Don’t forget an early enough bedtime!  For most children that is between 7 – 8 PM. 
The adjustment to the new clock can take a few days, but it seldom takes more than a week!

Sweet Dreams!

Written by: Michelle Donaghy

PS: Ensure your child is going to bed awake, relaxed but awake.  On a scale of 1 to 10 and 10 is fast asleep your child should be at a 5 when they get into bed.   It should take them at least 5 minutes to put themselves to sleep.  If it takes less, your child was too sleepy and it is likely the cause of your night waking and also your early rising sleep issues (see my blog on Early Rising).

Friday, October 26, 2018

Time Change - Fall Back 2018

Summer is officially over and we are in the midst of the fall time change. Sunday, Nov 4th at 2:00 AM clock fall back by one hour.

Spring forward...Fall back....

I love fall! Cooler weather, leaves changing colors, holidays around the corner and I get an extra hour of sleep. As a parent, I dread my kids waking up too early and having to adjust their sleep patterns. Do you?

If so, here are some options to help you and your family through the transition when we set our clocks backwards one hour on Sunday November 4th.

Gradual Approach: 

The gradual approach is usually recommended for younger children (3 and under) or those who do not adjust well to rapid changes in their schedules.

Start the week before the time change and slowly shift your baby's sleep schedule later.  For example: move bedtime, morning wake up time and nap times later by 10-15 minutes.

Keep moving the entire schedule later every few days but ensure your child doesn't get overtired.  By the time Sunday comes, your child's schedule will be based on the new time.  You will have gently shifted the circadian rhythm which regulates your child's sleeping patterns.

Rapid Approach: 

For the rapid approach, put your child to bed at their normal bedtime on Saturday, the ideal bedtime for most children is between 7-8 pm.

Your child will likely wake up at their normal time (6-7am), but the clock will say (5-6 am).  Your brain will say uck!  Go ahead and get them up, they don’t know about daylight savings time, but you can keep it low key for 30-60 minutes until you are ready to start your day.

If your child is less than 3 years old and still naps then stretch him as close as you can to his normal 1st nap time (using the current clock).  Water play, a stroll outside (don't let them fall asleep in the stroller) or getting outside is a great wake to keep any kiddo awake!

If you think your child can’t make it a full hour later, split the difference pushing the morning nap later by 30 min.  If that is too much, push the 1st nap later 15-20 mins and continue to do so every 3 days until the new time is reached.  The rest of the schedule will naturally be later if you follow this sleep tip.

Early Rising Tips:

The next few mornings, they may wake up a little early, but don’t let them start the day before 6:00 am (new clock).  You may need to review my blog on Early Rising if you have issues with waking up too early in the mornings or if your child is waking before 6:00 am.

Daylight Savings Tips:

On Sunday, follow your usual schedule as close as possible.  Move meals, the rest of his naps(s) and bedtime using the new clock time.

Ensure that your child is well-rested during this transition period and if needed, putting them to bed 15-30 minutes earlier for a few days is okay.

If your child had too late of a bedtime before the fall time change, here is your chance to move it earlier without too much fuss.  So, if your lil one's nite-nite time was too late, don’t move it later - pretend time change didn't happen.

It may take everyone a few days to adjust but it should not take more than a week to adjust your child's sleep patterns to the new time.

Written By: Michelle S. Donaghy

Photo Credit: Classic Kids Photography Newport Beach, By: Jenn

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Nap transitions from 3 naps to 2 naps

Around 7 to 9 months most babies drop their 3rd cat nap and transition from three to two naps. The sign for this change may come in many different cues from your baby.  Some baby's will continue to take the 3rd nap but it will last only 10-30 minutes and then it will stop completely.  Other's will take the 3rd nap some days but not consistency.  The last group will suddenly one day refuse the 3rd nap altogether.

When any of the above happens consistently for more than 3 or 4 days, it's time to drop that nap and begin transitioning baby's schedule from a 3 nap routine to a two nap schedule.  
This can be a little bit of a bumpy road and most babies go through a yucky phase where three naps is too much but two naps is not enough.  You may need to be patient and some days you will need to try for that 3rd nap in the car, stroller or arms if that's what will get even just a little catnap and help baby make it to bedtime before she is running on fumes eg: over tired!  The transition to a 2 nap schedule can take as much as two weeks and it's important to follow your baby's lead until she adjusts to the new schedule.
During this three to two nap transition baby can become overtired so the occasional early bedtime by up to 30 to 60 minutes, is appropriate and recommended.  But don't move bedtime up so early that baby starts to wake up earlier in the morning.  I recommend, at this age, a bedtime no earlier than 6:30 PM and a morning wake up no earlier than 6:00 AM.

Sample Schedule for 3 Naps:

  • Bedtime: 7 or 7:30 PM
  • Wake time: 6:00 AM
  • 1st nap: 8:00 AM (sleeps 1  to 1 1/2 hrs till 9/9:30 AM)
  • 2nd nap: 12:00 PM (sleeps 1 to 1 1/2 hrs till 1/1:30 PM)
  • 3rd nap: 4:00 PM (sleeps approximately 45 min till 4:45)
*Adjust the times and schedule to when your baby wakes up in the morning.

Gradually increase the awake windows -

When making the transition from the 3 naps to the 2 naps, you will need to adjust the wake windows by at least 30 minutes each.  It's always best to adjust wake windows gradually and I recommend that you do this schedule adjustment in the following manner. 

For the first awake window, increase baby's awake time by 5 to 10 minutes, so delaying the usual nap time by 5 or 10 minutes than you normally would. Do this for 3 days in a row and evaluate if baby seems to be able to handle the longer awake time. If she does, repeat the process and increase the awake window another 5 to 10 minutes and hold for 3 days. 
Repeat this process until the awake window for the morning nap is two and a half to three hours from when baby started their day. 
Next, we need to adjust the awake window for the second nap.  We will repeat the same process of gradually increasing be awake window 5 to 10 minutes every few days and only increasing it an additional 5 to 10 minutes once the baby has adjusted for the extra time.
We continue the above process until the afternoon nap awake window is 3 to 3 1/2 hours from when baby wakes from the first nap.  

Awake windows chart -

Follow your child's sleep cues but also use this awake windows chart below to help time your child's naps to an age-appropriate schedule.  If your child is a champ at hiding their sleep cues, try taking them to a dark room near when you think it's nap time, sometimes that will bring out the tired signs you were looking for to know when is the best time to put them down for sleep. 

Sample Schedule for NEW 2 Naps:

  • Bedtime: 7 or 7:30 PM
  • Wake time: 6:30 AM
  • 1st nap: 9:00 AM (sleeps 1 to 1 1/2 hrs till 10:30 AM)
  • 2nd nap: 1:30 PM (sleeps 1 1/2 to 2 hrs till 3/3:30 PM)
*Adjust the times to when your baby wakes up in the morning.
The goal is to get baby on a schedule where the first nap starts about 2 1/2 to 3 hrs after morning wake up time, the second nap starts about 3 to 3 1/2 hours after the end of the first nap and bedtime is about 3 to 3 1/2 hours after the end of the second nap.

Most babies stay on this new two nap schedule until 15 to 18 months when they transition to the one nap.  Here's the link for assistance with that transition, when your baby is ready.  Nap Transitions from 2 nap to 1 nap

Sweet Dreams,

Written By: Michelle S. Donaghy

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Tips for Nap Time Success

The key to good napping is to be consistent. Make sure to always watch the awake windows and put them into the crib drowsy but awake. This is how they will learn to fall asleep independently and stay asleep!

Top 5 tips for naps:

1) Nap Routine -

Create a good nap environment: Give wind-down time, which should be a short version of the bedtime routine.  For example, a simple routine could be a diaper change, swaddle (for babies under 4-5 months), close blinds, turn on the sound machine and sit for 5 minutes in the chair (sing, read a book) then into crib drowsy but awake.

2) Environment - 

A dark, quiet room: Some babies need total darkness to nap. I always recommend room darkening shades and if it is a noisy home, you might want to try a loud fan or place a white-noise machine in the room.

3) Crib nap and back up plan -

Try the nap in the crib twice a day before going to a “back up nap plan”.  If you look at your log and see that the day sleep is much less than it should be - get a back-up nap using motion sleep, stroller, swing or car ride. Remember nap deprivation will create MORE night wakings.

4) Drowsy but awake - 

After an abbreviated version of the bedtime routine, put your baby in his crib drowsy but awake.  If 10 is fast asleep and 1 is wide awake, shoot for a 6 or 7. This will teach them to put themselves to sleep.

5) Gentle Sleep Coaching - 

Sit beside the crib and soothe the baby. If they need help falling asleep, you can use your verbal (talking or singing) and physical presence to help soothe them the rest of the way to sleep.

Other tips - 

Awake Windows:

Follow your child's sleep cues but also use this awake windows chart below to help time your child's naps to an age-appropriate schedule.  If your child is a champ at hiding their sleep cues, try taking them to a dark room near when you think it's nap time, sometimes that will bring out the tired signs you were looking for to know when is the best time to put them down for sleep. 

For more detailed help with an age-appropriate schedule view our blog with sample schedules by age group.


Consistency is your best friend. We parents can sometimes forget the factors that set naps and night sleep apart: noise level, too much daylight, etc.  Don't forget that naps are the hardest time to put yourself to sleep. 

You want to stay consistent in order to make their nap time the most effective.

Sweet Dreams!

Written by: Michelle S. Donaghy

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Summer Sleep and Travel Tips

Summer is coming and keeping your little one on a schedule is a challenge.  With vacations and long summer days the routines are bound to be disrupted.

As a general rule it is a good idea to return to your normal routine as soon as you can. 

Some children return to their normal sleep patterns without much fuss.  With others you need to do some sleep training, but it falls into place much faster then the first time.  

When you return from vacation try to keep the schedule clear for a few days so you can make sleep and returning to your normal routine a priority.  I hope these tips below help you and your family have a fun, but sleep filled, summer vacation.

Packing List

For your packing check list, here are a few items you should not leave home without:

  • Travel crib, sheets, pillowcases                                        
  • Crib blankie, sleep sack, security object
  • Sound machine and/or white noise app on your phone
  • Bedtime books
  • Night light  with a small 4 watt bulb
  • Garbage bags or black flat sheets (from Wal-Mart) to cover windows             
  • Pushpins, electrical tape and/or binder clips

MSD Baby Sleep Coach Tip: Wal-Mart sells flat sheets very inexpensively in black.  I never traveled with my girls without our black sheets and binder clips (to hang them), just in case the room wasn't dark enough for naps or nighttime.

Sleeping Environment

Young children thrive off routines and predictability. Set up your child's sleeping environment to mimic the home environment as much as possible.

  • Bring familiar objects from home and set them up around the room.
  • Bring bedding from home that your child has already slept on rather than a freshly washed sheets. The familiar smell will help your child feel more at home.
  • If your child will be sleeping in a travel bed from home, have him get used to the bed by sleeping in it at home for a few days ahead of time.

Adjusting to the New Space

While you set up your child's sleeping room, have them in the room with you.  This will help your child get accustomed to the new sleeping environment.  Give him some play time in the playpen or crib when you arrive at your new destination, before you actually put him down for sleep. 

MSD Baby Sleep Coach Tip:  Crib or room acclimation activities before sleep are great ways to help your child create a positive association with this new place.  While he is in the new crib, play games with him like peek-a-boo, read books or toss a soft toy back and forth. You can also both get down on the floor and allow him to explore the space together.

Sleep Routines

When possible keep your bedtime routine the same as it is at home. E.g. If your child always has a bath then reads a book before bed, try to do this while on vacation as much as possible.  Respect your child's need to sleep while on vacation.  Avoid keeping your children up past their bedtime or skipping naps. Try to stick to your at-home daily sleep schedule if you can. 

Depending on what type of vacation you are on, here are a few tips for preserving your child's sleep routine:
  • Plan out your days so that you are able to get back to your "home base" for nap times.
  • Bring a playpen and set it up in a dark quiet room at guest's houses.
  • Time car trips so that your child can have their nap in the car.
  • Have your child nap in the stroller by finding a quiet location to go for a walk.
Sleeping in the car or stroller is not as restorative as sleeping in a bed and should not become a regular routine, but it is much better than skipping naps altogether.

Your child may need a little bit of extra comforting the first few nights while he/she adjusts to the new sleeping arrangements. It is ok to provide some extra soothing if needed, just avoid reverting to old sleep crutches. E.g. If you have eliminated nursing to sleep at home don't start this again while away.

MSD Baby Sleep Coach Tip: If you have a method of sleep training that you used successful at home, you can re-visit this method to help your child settle in their new sleeping space without starting new habits that you don't want to keep when you get home.

Time Zones

Changing time zones can be difficult for both adults and children. Here are a few tips to help your child (and yourself) adjust to the time change.
  • Try to switch your child's eating and sleeping schedule onto the real time of the location you are in as quickly as possible.  Ideally within 24 hours from when you arrive. This may mean getting your child up from naps early so he doesn't nap too late in the day or waking him up in the morning even if he went to bed late the night before.
  • Exposure to daylight during proper wake times will help your child's body adjust to the time change more quickly.
  • Flights that land in the afternoon at the destination and time changes of less than three hours usually make for an easier adjustment.

Be Flexible

Have realistic expectations and be flexible.  Planning ahead is essential, however, even the best laid out plans will always have snags!  Even if things get thrown off for your child, don't let yourself become so stressed that you don't enjoy your vacation. Once you are home you should get back to your 'normal' routine within 1-2 days so you can get your child's sleep back on track asap.

Don't forget to enjoy yourself!!!!! It is easy to get so caught up in managing our child's sleep and routines that we forget the reason we took a vacation! So go ahead, relax and have fun!

Written By: Michelle S. Donaghy 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Is there such a thing as too late of a naptime?

We are starting a new series of Q & A blogs-

I take a question (from tired Mom's like you) and give my answer (and my professional opinion).  Note: If you would like to submit a question please do so in the "Post a Question" area of the blog below.  

This month I answer a question from the Mom of a 3yr who's late naps are making bedtime too late.

Question from Mom:

Q: "I'd like your professional opinion - I am the mother of a 10-month-old and 3-year-old. My older daughter just turned 3, and currently on a 2:30PM nap to match my (11-month old's afternoon nap). 

However, the nap ends up running later and later, which results in a late bedtime (10 or 10:30 PM). 

My husband thinks I should drop the nap, but I'm not sure. It just seems 10:30 PM is too late for her to go to sleep at age 3.

Should I continue with the nap? How can I control these factors and get bedtime back to a reasonable hour?

My answer:

A: Yes, there is definitely such a thing as too late of a bedtime and I get this question from my client's at nearly every age of baby or child.  I agree that 10 PM is too late for a 3 year old.  

You didn't mention what time she wakes in the morning but assuming she:
  • wakes around 7 AM
  • falls asleep independently
  • is taking one nap a day
then the schedule below would be a great schedule to follow and is age appropriate for a 3-year-old.

At her age (or a child between 2 and 3 years old), the average amount of sleep is around 10 1/2 hours at night plus a 1 1/2 hour afternoon nap.

Ideal schedule at 3 years old  

Wake up in the morning (no early than 6 and no later than 7:30 AM)
7:00 AM - wake up
1:00 or 2 PM - nap 
(put her down between 6-7 hours after she woke in the morning)
2:30 PM - Wake from nap (wake her up no later than 3 PM).  
8:00 AM - bedtime

NOTE: A good rule of thumb at 3 years old, up from the nap by 3 PM.

Instead of dropping the nap, all at once take these gradual steps to fix the problem and move towards a no nap schedule soon.  Work on cutting back or shortening the nap so that her bedtime isn't so late.  You do this by waking her up from nap time by 3 PM or after 1 1/2 hours of day sleep!!  

Or if it works better for your two little ones plus you don't mind a little bit of a later bedtime and your child sleeps after 7:00 AM in the morning - then you can push nap and bedtime a little later in the day.  Just keep in mind that we really do want her to get that 10 1/2 hours of night sleep.    If she wakes at 7:30 AM or at least after 7 AM, then a 2 PM nap and an 8:30 or 9 PM bedtime would still work.

Shorten naptime to fix late bedtime

The first step to fix this late bedtime and gradual the step before you consider dropping the nap completely is to shorten her nap so that she sleeps around 1 1/2 hours at naptime.

I agree with you, 10:30 PM is too late for her to go to sleep at night so to help with that start waking her up from the nap 15 min earlier every 2-3 days until you find a place that brings bedtime up to where she is getting about 10 1/2 hrs of nighttime sleep.  You didn't mention how long she sleeps for at naptime, but start with waking her at 1 1/2 hours of sleep or less.

You can keep shortening the nap and cutting it down until you get to a 45min mark.  At that point, you can decide if it is time to drop that nap completely.  My blog on dropping the nap is a good review of what to be looking for to decide that. You may see that she needs a nap every 2 days or 3 days before she gets ready to drop athe napo completely.

Quiet Time

When she is ready to drop the nap, don't skip nap times completely - you both need the downtime. What I recommend is to keep sending them to their room for quiet time - say to her "you don't have to sleep but you must have 45-60 min quiet time".  She can read a book or a quiet toy, but she must remain on her bed quietly for this time period.

On days when she doesn't nap make sure her bedtime is early enough so that she gets at least 12hr of night sleep.

I hope that helps!
Sweet Dreams
Michelle S. Donaghy, Certified Gentle Sleep Coach