Springing Forward

Today’s post will come as good news to many of us who are sick of being buried in snow and/or coping with our children’s early rising. Daylight saving time starts this weekend. At 2:00am on Sunday, March 8th, 2015, we will turn our clocks ahead one hour. The start of daylight saving time assures us that spring is indeed on the way, even if it is still 17 degrees outside.

What does this mean for our children’s sleep? Generally speaking, it’s a good thing. Children who were waking up at 5:30am will now be waking at 6:30am, a far more civilized hour.  However, those with late sleepers, may need to rouse their child so they don’t sleep the morning away.

What should we do in anticipation of the time changes? We’ve got two options. One is to do absolutely nothing. Just go with it. On Saturday night, put your child to bed at the usual time and allow her to wake at her usual time (though of course, the clock will read an hour later – i.e. 8am instead of the usual 7am). For the next few days, naps and bedtime may all feel a bit too early. For example, if your child’s bedtime is 7pm, you will be putting her to bed at the “new” 7pm, which is really 6pm. However, with a consistent bedtime routine and other good sleep habits, she will adjust within the week. This is a great option for families with early risers.

Alternatively, you can gradually adjust your child’s internal clock to the time change. Put her to bed 15-20 minutes earlier each night over the next few nights. For example, if her bedtime is 7pm, put her to bed at 6:45pm Monday and Tuesday nights, 6:30pm Wednesday and Thursday, and 6:15 on Friday and Saturday. Naps and meal times will need to be adjusted in the 15-minute increments as well. This method is usually recommended for young babies and children with already early bedtimes and/or struggling with naps.

Regardless of what approach you opt for, exposing your child to morning sunlight (if you can find some!), focusing on good naps, a predictable and calming bedtime routine (without screen time), room darkening shades and/or white noise, and following your child’s sleepy cues will make the transition smoother all around.

Also remember that if your child was waking early due to another reason (nap deprivation, too long of a wakeful window between nap and bedtime, etc.), it’s likely that the early rising will return in a few weeks. If so, take a look at this earlier post.

Escape Artists

1:30pm. I’m working on my computer as my two-year old daughter settles down for her nap in her crib. Or so I thought. Suddenly I hear the pitter patter of little feet. She appears around the corner, looking quite surprised – and pleased – with her newfound skill…

My daughter was a great napper and loved her crib. Whatever possessed her to climb out?! And how do I respond?

Temperament and age are big factors here. Some children simply need a few, firm reminders to keep them from trying again. Others just can’t resist the temptation to test their skills, climbing out over and over again whenever they have the chance. Some are old enough to safely and smoothly transition to a bed, whereas others, particularly those under 2.5 years, are usually too young to make the switch.

Most children under the age of 2.5 years old lack the cognitive ability to fully understand the concept of “staying in bed all night long.” With a lot of effort and patience, some can learn to sleep successfully in a bed (more on that in another post!). But generally speaking, transitioning to a bed prematurely can lead to LOTS of struggles and safety issues (i.e. wandering around a dark room/house alone in the middle of the night).

I believe most early climbers actually do find tremendous security in their cribs, and their climbing should not be misinterpreted as a sign that they are ready for a bed. Just as babies practice their rolling, sitting, pulling up, walking, and talking in their cribs – sometimes to the detriment of their sleep – so too with climbing.

Toddlers and many preschoolers truly benefit from the comfort and cozy containment that a crib provides. Now that crib tents have been recalled, unfortunately our options for physically keeping young climbers in their cribs are more limited. But here are some suggestions, starting with the most minimal interventions.

·      Make sure her crib mattress is set to the lowest possible position. Baby's Dream makes a crib with an extra low mattress (6" lower than usual), though it is expensive.

·      If the back crib railing is higher, you could try wedging the crib in a corner with the taller side facing out.

·      Remove large stuffed animals she may have used as a launch pad.

·      Place pillows on the floor for safety.

·      Start putting her to bed in a sleep-sack, which limits her ability to hoist her leg up and over the railing. Or try a long t-shirt. Some parents find it discourages them from swinging their legs up. There are also product - Cribberz  and Crib Pants - on the market that I've heard good things about. Of course, if she’s using her arms to pull herself out, these interventions won’t really help.

·      If she climbs out, put her right back in her crib with minimal interaction – a firm, “No climbing” will do. Then position yourself nearby, out of her line of vision (just outside the bedroom door). When she goes for her next attempt(s), remind her, “No climbing,” and return her to her crib if necessary. Your response should be minimal, firm, boring, and consistent.

·      If she is persistent but not ready for a bed, there are some tent-like options out there that enable you to zip them in, such as the Nickel Bed Tent by ReadySetBloom. It’s a sturdy, tent-like structure that secures to a twin mattress. Nice colors to choose from and great for travel too. Many kids love the feeling of being contained and cozy in a tent, especially when it is pitched as a fun, special place (and not "this is to keep you in your bed!").

Just remember, your child may not be thrilled about the changes you make. Chances are, the “it’s for your own good” rationale will be lost on her. But don’t second-guess yourself if she protests. You are setting her up for good sleep, while ensuring her safety – one of your most essential jobs as her parent. She will get over it soon enough and will go back to sleeping like a champ. And so will you!

Ensuring Good Sleep, Even on the Road!

Here are some tips to make your vacation as smooth as possible, sleep-wise.

Prepare a sleep-friendly environment. Whether you’re staying in a hotel, rental house, or with family, try to create a sleep-friendly environment for your little ones. Bring along unwashed crib sheets (the familiar scent will be soothing), favorite loveys and blankets, sound machine, and night light. If you’re not sure the window shades will be dark enough, pack black trash bags and masking tape or thumbtacks for makeshift blackout shades. The Phil & Teds “Traveller” cot is a great alternative to traditional pack n plays; it is small and light enough to fit inside your suitcase, has no uncomfortable crossbars, and has the added advantage of an optional top in case you’ve got a climber on your hands. (More on that subject in another post!)

Respect your child’s need to sleep – even on vacation. Yes, your child may miss a few naps due to travel and bedtime may be a little later due to older cousins. But try to not abandon your child’s schedule altogether, particularly if you are away for more than a few days. If normal crib naps are not possible, plan to drive during nap times, squeeze in catnaps to take the edge off, and opt out of a late dinner if your little one is showing signs of fatigue. You’ll be glad you made the sacrifice – over-tired children usually don’t make the best travel companions anyhow.

Maintain the rituals. Try to maintain your family’s pre-sleep routine, or at least an abridged version of it. The familiar books, songs, and other positive sleep associations will be especially comforting to them as they adjust to their new environment.

Talk to your children. Even one year olds often understand a lot more than we think. Let your little ones know that you are doing things differently than usual because you are traveling. “Today we are going to take our naps in the car because we have a long drive to grandma’s house. You can rest in your car seat, and we will wake you up as soon as we get there!”

Avoid using the same crutch you just broke. Sure, some sleep regressions may happen during travel. However, if you have recently worked hard to stop nursing your baby to sleep, try rocking her or patting her down instead. It’s less confusing and less intermittent reinforcement, which means ultimately it will be easier to undo.

Nip bad habits in the bud. Let your little ones know that once you are back home, it’s back to business as usual. So if you had a co-sleeping nurse-athon in order to keep her quiet at your in-law’s house, the “open bar” officially closes when she kisses grandma goodbye. It’s much easier (i.e. less crying) to tackle new sleep issues before they are fully engrained.

Enjoy your vacation!