Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Common Sleep Mistakes ... and how to avoid them

We are parents, not perfect - I love that saying from a TV network.  I wanted to share with you four common sleep mistakes many parents make that will definitely affect your child's sleep and their ability to sleep through the night.  I see these mistakes over and over when I work with families one on one, so I thought I would share them with you along with tips on how to avoid them so that your child is set up for a better nights sleep.

Four common sleep mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Putting children to bed too late!

Set a regular bedtime (and, if appropriate, nap times) that you stick to. 

Don't wait until your child is rubbing his eyes, yawning, or whining — that's probably too late. Put him to bed earlier. Even 15 to 20 minutes of extra sleep can make a difference.  

NOTE: If you need help with finding appropriate nap times and creating an age appropriate schedule click here.

While every child is different, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that:

  • infants and toddlers typically need up to 12 hours of sleep during the night
  • preschoolers need 10-13 hours once they drop daytime naps
  • school age children should get between 9-11 hours at night.

Figure out what time they need to be up in the morning and count backwards by how many hours of night sleep they require.  If your child needs 11 hours of night sleep and they wake most mornings at 7am or need to be up by 7am, then they should be asleep by 8pm.

For the first 5 years, bedtime will likely be between 7-8pm.

2. Relying on motion

A common mistake is relying on motion for naps or night sleep - if a child over 6 months of age is always sleeping in motion — in strollers or cars — he probably doesn't get the deep, more restorative sleep they need due to the stimulation of motion.
Use motion for calming, not sleep - once your child has fallen asleep, turn off the swing and park the stroller.

NOTE:  If you need help with getting your child to sleep at nap time click here.

3. Over stimulation at sleep time

Take the crib mobile out of the crib during sleep times.  All those bright lights, sounds and toys are too much stimulation when it is time to drift off to dreamland.  It may keep your baby awake instead.  

I am not in favor of the projectors with the star lights and such, as for a child with sleep issues they are usually too distracting.

For older children - do you really want a TV or computer in your child's bedroom?  Even kids who fall asleep with a favorite DVD on are probably losing a half hour or so of precious shut-eye — a loss that can affect their mood and behavior during the daytime — and it's easier to keep the electronics out of the bedroom than negotiate the issue every night.  NSF recommends no screen time (of any kind) at least 1 hour before bed for children and adults.

4.  Skipping the bedtime routine

Have a comforting bedtime ritual.  Regardless of your child's age, a bedtime ritual or a predictable series of steps will help him wind down from the day.  It will also be a cue that sleep is coming and will be helpful to get those drowsy hormones flowing which will aid in drifting off to sleep.

For a younger child, a simple routine might be: diaper change, PJs, darken the room, turn on the white noise, and a few cuddles - then into bed.  Ideally relaxed but still awake.  With older children, the routine might be a bath, PJS, reading books, singing songs or saying a prayer, hugs and then into bed awake.

You can create your own ritual.  Most important is that you have consistent activities that happen in the same space, in the same order, at roughly the same time every night.

Occasionally, if you are short on time you can reduce your pre-sleep routine to the last couple of steps, so that your child is comforted with the familiarity that sleep is coming - one night of a shortened routine for a well-rested child should not make too much of a difference.

Children who are well-rested bounce back from an occasional late night, skipped or shorten nap much better that children who are always overtired.

Sweet Dreams!

Written by: Michelle S. Donaghy

Thursday, January 1, 2015

5 (more) Sleep myths that can effect your lil ones sleep

Sleep Myth #6: Every time my baby wakes overnight, s/he must be hungry - FALSE!

Babies who wake during the first few months are more likely waking from hunger, but older babies (over 4-6 months) who wake frequently (every 1-2 hours), may not be waking from hunger. Ask yourself whether your baby can be soothed in other ways. Also, ask yourself whether your baby is going to sleep from an awake state at bedtime (without being nursed or rocked).  This is the first step to longer stretches at night.  *Discuss with your baby's doctor how many night feeds they need in that 10-12 hour stretch at night.  

Sleep Myth #7:  If your child wakes before 6:00 am, put him/her to bed later - FALSE! 

Often, putting your child to bed later makes them rise earlier.  Review my blog on Early Rising, look at the four causes of early rising to see if you can identify why your child is waking so early in the morning.

Sleep Myth #8:  If you keep your child up all day, they will sleep better at night - FALSE!

Children who nap well during the day, at age appropriate times, actually fall asleep more easily and sleep better at night. Children who are over-tired are more likely to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at night. So, if your child is having sleep difficulties, consider whether s/he is napping at the correct time or needs more day sleep! You may also review my blog on Schedules, Naps and Awake Windows  to check the age appropriate schedule for your child.

Sleep Myth #9:  TV before bed helps calm them down/get them sleepy - FALSE!

According to the National Sleep Foundation, researchers caution that use of any electronic devices within one hour of bedtime are harmful to the sleep-onset process because the artificial light can suppress our body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that helps signal our body to fall asleep.  

Sleep Myth #10:  My toddler won’t nap – s/he just doesn't need it! - FALSE!

Many toddlers go through phases when they resist napping, or skip naps some days of the week. Most toddlers need a nap until they are at least 3+ years old. Consistency in enforcing nap time, ensuring that your toddler knows how to put himself/herself to sleep and making sure you are putting your toddler down for his/her nap at the 'right' time can help ensure successful nap practices.  

Sleep Myth #11:  Gifted children don’t need as much sleep as other children - FALSE!

It is true that many gifted children have difficulty shutting down and getting enough sleep, but the studies actually show that children who get more sleep during their toddler years (and beyond) do better in school – they have higher grades and better math and language skills.  

Sleep Myth #12:  My toddler doesn't seem sleepy or tired, so s/he must be well-rested -  FALSE!

Children are different from adults, and may even seem energetic or hyper when they are over-tired. Many children who are over-tired exhibit attention and behavior problems, or may simply be difficult or cranky in the afternoons. Look at these others signs that your toddler may be overtired and if so, try an early bedtime and age appropriate day sleep.  

Other signs of an over-tired toddler - does he/she: 
Always fall asleep in the car?  
Fall asleep shortly after rising in the morning?  
Crash much earlier than their usual bedtime?  

I wish you and your family sweet dreams!

Written by: Michelle Donaghy

This blog is 2 of 2 in a Sleep Myths series, if you wish to view part 1: Sleep Myths 1-5

Photo credit: Facebook.com/MSDBabySleepCoach - photo contest submission 
Photo credit: MSD Baby Sleep Coach - Client photo, published with permission