Infant Sleep Tip #7

Infant Sleep Tip #7: Put your baby down drowsy but awake at least once every 24 hours (ideally bedtime or first nap).

Holding our baby as she falls asleep in our arms is one of the most precious parenting moments we get. Feed, nurse, rock, bounce her down in your arms as much as you want those first few weeks/months, without any guilt about “creating bad habits.” Your young baby and you both benefit from that close contact and time together.

At some point – and there is a huge range for this – parents and/or babies do better falling asleep on their own. Some parents need a break to care for other children, work, cook, or simply take a few minutes for themselves. Likewise, some babies may only sleep for short times in someone’s arms.

I remember frequently swaying my firstborn to sleep as she cried, only to have her wake again as soon as I transferred her to her crib. At some point, I realized that she was crying herself to sleep regardless, so why not just have her fall asleep in her crib and avoid the transfer drama? I felt less guilty about the crying if she was in my arms, but it was starting to feel ridiculous. And I was exhausted. That was what prompted me to try a new approach.

Bear in mind that the easiest time to fall asleep in the 24-hour period is at bedtime, provided she’s not overtired, or first nap. When you are ready, try putting your baby in her crib/co-sleeper/bassinette drowsy but awake at one of those times.

What does drowsy but awake mean? Imagine a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being wide awake and 10 being sound asleep. Aim for a 7. She should be fed, clean, snug, and ready for sleep. You can do some singing, bouncing, etc. and when you see her eyelids getting heavy, try putting her down. She might fuss or cry a bit, but you can try some patting and shushing, or of course you can pick her up and try again then or another time. A few sleep experts encourage multiple pickups and putdowns, though depending on temperament, for some babies this can be very stimulating. With alert babies, less is usually more.

More tips to follow soon. In the meantime, wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday.


Approaching the End of Daylight Savings Time

I know I’m not the only one noticing how much shorter our days are getting already. Daylight savings 2015 will end on November 1st. Clocks are moved back one hour from 2 a.m. DST to 1 a.m.  For parents of early risers, the upcoming change can be nerve-racking. “He’s already waking up at 5:30 a.m. Does this mean he’s going to start waking up at 4:30 a.m. now?!” Thankfully the answer is no. You are going to gradually shift his schedule to the new time, just like when you are traveling.

So what will it look like? You have a few options. One is to allow your child to wake up at his natural time on the morning of the 2nd. According to the clock, it will be an hour earlier than usual. If he usually wakes up at 6:30 a.m., he will likely awaken at 5:30 a.m. That’s fine. It will be short-lived! Try to keep things low key for 30 minutes until you are ready to start the day. Base the day’s routines (meals, naps, etc.) around the new clock time. If your son’s bedtime was 7:30 p.m., the clock will now read 6:30 p.m. Aim for good naps that day so he can make it to at least 7 p.m. (new time). You can gently push his bedtime back to 7:30 p.m. over the next few nights.

Alternatively, if going “cold turkey” doesn’t appeal, you can also approach the time change incrementally, starting the week before. Push naps, meals and bedtime back 15 minutes later each of the days leading up to the end of daylight savings. For example, if his usual bedtime is 7:30 p.m., he can go to bed at 7:45 p.m. on October 29th, 8 p.m. on the 29th, 8:15 p.m. on the 30th, and 8:30 p.m., on the 31st. By the time daylight savings ends, he will already be adjusted – or at least well on his way.

Regardless of which approach you choose, stay consistent and try not to let him eat or really start his day before 6 a.m. (new time). He’ll be adjusted within a week.

If your child had too late of a bedtime before the time change, this is your chance to move it earlier without too much fuss.  The ideal bedtime for most children is between 7-8 p.m.  So if your son’s bedtime was too late, don’t move it later; just put him to bed at the new time of 7 or 8 p.m.

Note: If your little guy seems plagued by early rising, it’s time to get to the bottom of it. Click here to read my earlier post about the common causes of early rising and how to address them.

*Includes information from Kim West’s Good Night Sleep Tight.




Infant Sleep Tip #5

Happy spring to all! My apologies for being slow to post more infant sleep tips. My household has been busier than usual this month, partly due to my son’s recent obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) diagnosis and subsequent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Much more on that very soon. Suffice it to say, I am now on a crusade to tackle pediatric OSA.

But for now, here are another tip for your infant’s sleep. If you missed the first few, please click here.

Infant Sleep Tip #5: Create a quiet, sleep-friendly environment.

Your baby’s environment strongly affects her sleep. Whether she sleeps in your room or her own, the space should be peaceful, safe and generally free of stimulation. This means room darkening shades and calm soothing colors in the bedroom and on her sheets. In short, the sleep environment should be B-O-R-I-N-G! Comfortable, cozy, but boring! Avoid mobiles, lights, crib toys, and busy patterns. When I walk through the bedding department at stores, the incredible number of boldly patterned crib and bedding accessories always surprises me. At bedtime, we want the message to the brain to be “Slow down,” not “Stay up and focus on the fuchsia colored giraffes lining your crib!” This is particularly true if your child has an alert temperament.

We also want the crib to be a place for sleep and maybe a few minutes of quiet play after waking. It’s not a place to park the baby while you wash the dishes or a pen for the baby to play in when she begins to crawl. Those associations make a difference.  Again, we want the message to be clear: this is the place where you sleep.

As Dr. Harvey Karp recommends in Happiest Baby on the Block, white noise can be very calming, particularly for alert babies because it helps them shut the world out. If you have a busy, noisy household with older children, barking dogs, ringing phones, or street noise, white noise can be a game changer. I recommend white or gray noise because they are constant and buffer noise best. Sounds like crashing waves, chirping birds, etc., which may sound nice to us, do not work well in this regard. Be mindful of the volume – which should be relatively low – the sound is meant to buffer noise, not block it out completely.

Motion sleep can trip up parents. Babies are very portable. They can sleep wherever you put them – car seats, strollers, swings, carriers, and noisy cafes. But even though they can do this, it doesn’t mean they should. It’s ok some of the time, especially in the late afternoons when their naps are shorter and less restorative anyhow. But try to have them nap in a quiet crib or bassinet most of the time – especially after the first few months. Motion sleep keeps the brain in a light sleep and as babies mature, they need deeper sleep as well. Think about it, when you doze off in a car, do you feel as refreshed as if you had slept in a bed?

Getting her out of the car and into the crib may mean that you will be more housebound, until your baby develops more predictable nap patterns. If you go stir crazy, invite a friend to visit, make a deal with your partner so you can get some time off. You don’t have to be super rigid; an occasional stroller or car nap is fine. But respecting your baby’s need for quality sleep is important and will pay off in spades.

Enjoy this time with your little ones. More tips coming soon!

Infant Sleep Tip #3

Happy New Year! This is the third part of a series dedicated to laying a good foundation for sleep with babies under six months of age.

Infant Sleep Tip #3: Look for natural day/night cycle to emerge – usually 6am-6pm or 7am-7pm

Most babies fall into a 6am-6pm or 7am-7pm (or thereabouts) schedule. During the day, we want to focus on full feedings every few hours, outside time, floor time to practice new skills, and napping at appropriate intervals. When you notice your little ones starting to fall apart around 6pm or 7pm, she’s probably ready to call it a day.

Many parents mistake this fussiness as a need for one more nap. But after a 12-hr day, her central nervous system is taxed, and it is time to get her into a less stimulating, more sleep friendly environment. Bring her to the bedroom, give her one last feeding, change her diaper, dim the lights, turn on some white noise (especially if the rest of the house is still up and at ‘em), sing her a song, swaddle her up (if she’s into that), and put her to bed.

Good Night Stars, Good Night Air, Good Night Noises Everywhere

All children take great comfort in predictability; it helps them make sense of their world and regulate their states of being. The bedtime routine is a wonderful opportunity to incorporate soothing rituals into our children’s daily lives, while improving sleep habits at the same time.

As adults, we have learned how to relax ourselves in preparation for sleep. We bathe, dim the lights, read in bed, beg our partner for a foot rub, listen to mellow music. Likewise, our children, including babies and school-age kids, benefit from calming, predictable rituals before going to bed. Activities should all be comforting and quiet. Save the wrestling, tickling, scary stories and tv shows, and anything else that’s potentially stimulating for another time of day.

Here are activities that work well as part of a bedtime routine. Pick 3 or 4 based on your child’s age and preferences.

·      Bath
·      Put on pajamas
·      Brush teeth
·      Go to the bathroom
·      Read books
·      Bottle or nursing
·      Massage
·      Swaddle or sleep sack
·      Plenty of hugs and kisses
·      Sing a (short) lullaby
·      Tell a (short) story
·      Share 3 things about your day
·      Say good night to dollies or objects in room
·      Listen to quiet music
·      Small cup of water with books
·      Prayers, blessings, or send love/kisses/wishes to others

Encourage buy-in. If your child is asserting his independence these days, empower him to participate actively in the routine. He can pick out his pajamas, choose the book, say goodnight to his special dolls, and turn off the light. But you set the time frame.

Anticipate your child’s reactions. If there is one part of the routine that your child resists (perhaps brushing his teeth or combing his hair), get that part over first, before he settles into his snuggly mode.

Think about timing. Your routine could be anywhere from 15 minutes (for a baby) to an hour, depending on your child’s age and temperament. Some need more time to switch gears than others. Keep an eye on the clock though – if your child’s natural bedtime is 7:30, remember to start the routine early enough so he has plenty of time to fall asleep by then.

Follow at naptime too. The naptime routine can be an abbreviated version of bedtime, 1-2 calming activities in your child’s room.

Let him get himself to sleep. Your routine should be relaxing, but not enough to put them to sleep. We want them doing that part themselves. So if your baby keeps conking out reading or nursing, move that activity up in the routine. If it still happens, try shifting your routine earlier.

(Some excerpts from The Good Night Sleep Tight Workbook ©2010 Kim West LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady ®)

Consolidating Naps: A Tricky Dance

Most toddlers are ready to transition from two naps to one around 15-18 months. That said, if your toddler’s naps are going well, leave them alone! But when things start to get funky on the nap front, it might be a sign that she is preparing to consolidate her naps. Your toddler is ready to transition to one nap when she:

·      Consistently gets 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night (if she’s not, work on improving her nighttime sleep before tackling naps)
·      Consistently takes longer and longer to fall asleep for her morning nap
·      Consistently takes shorter morning naps or sleeps too long in the morning then refuses her afternoon nap

If your toddler’s afternoon nap isn't going well, try shortening her morning nap – don't let her sleep longer than an hour. Maybe even 20-30 minutes. Think of the morning nap as a catnap to take the edge off, so she isn't overtired for the more important afternoon nap. Eventually she will drop the morning nap altogether. But catnaps can be a really good stopgap measure, buying her body a few more weeks/months to adjust.

When the time has truly come to kiss the morning nap goodbye, brace for a 7-10 day process. Gradually push her morning nap later – 11am for 2 days, 11:30am for a few days, then noon, etc. Don’t let the nap get stuck in the late morning. Your goal is for her nap to start between 12:30-1pm and last at least 2 hours.

Some children adapt quickly to an “after noon” naptime, while others really struggle. I found that keeping my toddler out of the house from 9-11am made a big difference. Keep her busy at the playground, library, or a friend’s house before bringing her home for lunch and then nap. Just don’t let her fall asleep in the stroller or car ride home!

If your sleepy toddler wakes up from her nap after only an hour, try to encourage her back to sleep using whatever method works best for her and you. Consistency is crucial here. If all else fails, you can always let her crash in the car or stroller so that she isn’t falling apart by 5pm.

Bear in mind: this is a significant transition that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It often leads to short-term sleep deprivation since toddlers typically go through a "two naps are two many but one is not enough" stage. During that time, put her to bed earlier than usual and be open to an occasional two-nap day if you sense she is getting over-tired.

(Some excerpts from The Good Night Sleep Tight Workbook ©2010 Kim West LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady ®)

The Early Bird Doesn't Catch the Worm

If your adorable little alarm clock wakes up at 6:15am refreshed and ready for action – though it may feel like the middle of the night to us parents – you may have to just go with the flow. 6-7am is a biologically appropriate time for babies to wake. However, if she is groggy, falling apart by 7am, or consistently waking before 6am, you’ll want to tackle the early rising once and for all.

Here’s a look at the most common reasons for early rising…

·      Too late of a bedtime. I know this doesn’t seem logical. We tend to think that if our children stay up late, they will crash hard and sleep in the following morning. Alas, this is rarely the case. Depending on their age, most babies and young children naturally want to fall asleep (not start bedtime routine) between 7-8pm. Missing their “sleep window” triggers the release of cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone, which can make for a harder bedtime, more wakeful night, and early rising.

·      Nap deprivation in general. Babies and young children who are not getting adequate naps on a regular basis tend to wake early in the morning. It’s important to know approximately how many hours of naps your child needs based on their age (understanding that these are averages – some children will need more, others slightly less). For example, a six month old needs approximately 3.5 hours of naps spread out over 2-3 naps, whereas a two year old needs approximately 2 hours of sleep during their afternoon nap. For more information on how much sleep your child needs, click here.

·      Too big of a wakeful window – Too long of a wakeful window prior to bedtime means that your child is going to bed overtired, with cortisol running through their body. This means we need to base bedtime partly on when our baby woke up from their last (or only) nap. For babies under 6 months, the maximum wakeful window is about 2 hours. As babies approach one year, the window extends to about 3 hours. Some well-rested toddlers and preschoolers can handle a 4-hour window, max. It’s important to watch for your child’s sleepy cues and tinker with bedtime to find out what works best for them.

·      Too drowsy at bedtime – Bedtime is the easiest time to get to sleep. If we act as our child’s sleeping pill, getting them to sleep at bedtime by holding, rocking, feeding, or patting them down, then how can we ask them to do it themselves when they stir at 5am, the hardest time of the day to get to sleep?

If none of these ring a bell, take a look at your child’s sleep environment and make sure that there’s nothing external contributing to the early rising. Perhaps the birds chirp in the tree near their bedroom window or the morning light is streaming in through their curtains. White noise or blackout shades can make a big difference during the early morning hours, when babies are feeling relatively well rested after 9-10 hours of sleep.

Wishing you and your little ones many happy mornings together!