At Sleep Pea, my goal is to provide parents with the support and knowledge they need to dramatically improve sleep habits for their child. Creating positive sleep associations with an emphasis on developing healthy sleep habits for the long-term.
“When you’re tired you start thinking about you. Don’t be tired. Your mom never gets tired. Be as tough as your mother.” — Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski
I recently came across this gem and at first, it had me thinking: We moms – we’re tough MFers, aren’t we?
But then I thought: Hold up. I’m tough! I’ll celebrate and take pride in that any day. But I DO get tired!
I can appreciate that Coach K was talking to his team about their attitudes and endurance levels in the context of basketball. But still. Moms DO get tired – for many, many reasons. I get to own that, don’t I?
How about, “When you’re tired you start thinking about you. And that is OK! Do that! Figure out how your priorities need to shift and show yourself some love!”
Being tired, after all, means that we’re ignoring crucial signals that our bodies are giving us to slow down. When you’re driving and you see a yellow light, you start slowing down. At a red light, you’re fully stopped. You’re watching for cues and signals, and you’re responding.
But when you’re tired, you’ve essentially been sliding through stop signs and blowing through red lights all day. All week. All month. Maybe even years!
Answer truthfully: are you getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night? Is your sleep fairly consistent and complete, versus fragmented?
Almost every parent of a normally developing child will experience some measure of sleep loss. The night feedings, the diaper changes, the sick child who needs a lot of extra love and nurture. But even that must happen within reason. And that’s where it’s important to ask those hard questions.
To what extent is this reasonable? To what extent can I continue this pattern of fragmented sleep without bringing undue negative impact on my (family’s) overall health?
While the answer will inevitably be different for each of us, there comes a point where ALL humans will suffer from chronic sleep loss. According to Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab and the author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, “sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day – Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.”
Tell me that statement doesn’t red-light you for a minute.
When it comes to course-correcting sleep habits – whether our own or on behalf of our children – it really boils down to priorities. What are you going to reprioritize so that sleep moves to the top of the list?
This is difficult stuff! Think about how hard it is to reprioritize how you eat or how you exercise! Sleep isn’t any different.
Knowing that you need to start is one thing. Knowing when, how and where to start is quite another. If you’re tired of being tired – and studies show that 1 in 3 of us are* – let’s get poppin’!
Don’t settle for tired. Tired isn’t the best version of you. It isn’t the healthiest version of you. There is so much more to you and so much more you have to offer! We already know every day can’t be perfect. But that’s OK. This isn’t about perfection – this is about balance. You can do balance. We can all do balance. We just need to prioritize balance.
But like anything, the answer might just lie in reaching out and getting help. Sleep Pea was created to do just that – teach parents about sleep and, in the process, empower them to be more confident about sleep for the days, weeks, months and years to come.
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep
At one point or another, all of my kids loved “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s often described as a “circular tale” where a boy gives a mouse a cookie, only for the mouse to request more and more until, finally, he would like to have a cookie again.
It’s little wonder toddlers love the book! Cute illustrations and a fun storyline aside, I frequently tell parents that toddlers live life by the rule of “Plus One.” If they can get away with something today, what else can they get away next?
I mean, can you blame them? Adults do it too!
If Numeroff and Bond were to write the book If You Tell a Toddler It’s Bedtime, chances are it would be replete with a whole lot of tantrums and stall tactics. The book could literally go on for hours!
In that vain, if you’re experiencing bedtime battles with your toddler chances are you’re making a lot of concessions and sending quite a few mixed messages about your expectations and how likely you are to stick to those expectations. When you send mixed messages, your child is more likely to push the boundaries and test your resolve. If I can get away with this tonight, there’s no reason to believe I can’t get away with more tomorrow!
But like I said, we all fall prey to inconsistencies, so no judgment here! The good news: it’s a very fixable problem.
Taking a hard look at what’s broken is never easy. Our instinct often tells us, “This is going to take a lot of work and it definitely won’t be easy, but there must be a solution.” And yes, there most definitely is a solution for bedtime battles. And yes, it does take a good bit of dedicated work and consistency.
At Sleep Pea, the focus is always on setting your child up for success. That, in turn, gives you license to have high expectations because with the right tools your child can achieve SO much. Sleep is no exception! In fact, it’s the least of all exceptions because we are so incredibly well designed to sleep – we just need to stop ignoring those very important cues and signals our bodies give us when it’s time to get some rest.
Because the story really can be: If you tell a toddler it’s bedtime, they will say “OK!” and do a great job falling asleep at the right time, sleep soundly through the night and wake up refreshed and ready to do it all over again the next day. Imagine that!!
When it comes to teaching healthy sleep habits, I talk a lot about building a puzzle – ensuring you’ve got all the elements you need and successfully piecing them together.
The good news: in normally developing children, Mother Nature has provided the individual puzzle pieces that allow for healthy sleep. They’re all there! Nothing needs to be designed or recreated. In other words, your child – infant, toddler or otherwise – is fully capable of being a great sleeper.
The bad news: we do a fantastic job of overriding and sometimes outright ignoring our body’s natural cues and signals. Part of my job is helping parents recognize the role they play in meeting their child’s needs and responding to their cues at the right time.
When we miss tired cues or simply don’t prioritize sleep; feed too frequently or don’t feed frequently enough; provide an environment that is either too hot or too cold; not dark enough, not quiet enough, not still enough and so on, it makes it hard for our children to maintain homeostasis – that relatively equal balance of hormones and elements that make it easy for them to sleep well.
Of course, there are also issues like severe reflux/GERD, apneas or chronic infections that might inhibit a child’s natural ability to sleep well. At Sleep Pea, those are never ignored and always discussed on a per-case basis. But even then, children who experience symptoms of acid reflux; frequent or pronounced spit-up; gassiness; tummy troubles; fussiness or unpredictability at feedings (both milk and/or solids); and even failure to thrive – those children see a sharp decrease or disappearance of those symptoms with healthier sleep habits.
Why? Because the body’s most fundamental needs are being met and it is no longer as stressed as it was during a period of chronic sleep loss. Sleep is that significant!
Getting back on track with anything (healthy) in life – sleep, fitness, nutrition, work/life balance – is always a bit of a bumpy road. Asking for help along the way can be the difference between failed attempts and certain success.
I’m not saying don’t go it alone. Many people do and they see great success! But if you feel like you can’t figure out your child’s sleep puzzle and need additional insight, consider that help is a phone call away!
This National Sleep Foundation info-graphic is one of my favorite resources when it comes to determining how much sleep a child needs at any given age. Instead of using this data to make you feel better about your child’s potential sleep loss, use it to set some goals for healthier habits!
IF you’re in the mindset of wanting to maximize your child’s sleep potential, here are a couple of Sleep Pea tips for using this info-graphic and its data to your advantage:
Healthy infants and toddlers CAN get 11-12 hours of sleep at night. The additional hours referenced would apply to naps/daytime sleep. Your child needs those too!
In the preschool years, night sleep should – on average – be in the 11-12 hour range. Remember, many kids will begin dropping naps altogether at these ages and need to make up for at least some of that lost sleep at night.
When referencing this info-graphic, aim for the high end of “Recommended” and the low end of “May be Appropriate.” For example: With the right routine and habits, a healthy 4-month old can get 15-16 hours of sleep in 24 hours; a healthy school-age child can get 10-11 hours of sleep at night and not wake up groggy and tired in the morning.
Most families I speak with initially report that their child falls in the lower end of the “Recommended” range and even farther left of that. “Is this OK?” they ask. I say, “If it works for you and your child, then you don’t need validation from me!” But then you probably wouldn’t be concerned enough about sleep to be researching it…amIright?
Trust your instincts! If you have a hunch – or even an all-out conviction – that your child isn’t getting enough sleep, they probably aren’t. But they CAN!
If you want to connect with someone about your child’s sleep, I’m here to listen! Reach out when the time feels right and know there is a resource to help you get your questions answered.
The FDA recently issued a warning reminding parents of the potential dangers of sleep positioners. Sleep positioners, says the FDA, can cause suffocation that can lead to infant death.
The initial alert to parents came in 2010 when the FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a joint warning after reviewing reports of 12 infant deaths associated with sleep positioners over the preceding 13 years.
So why, amidst these dire warnings, does it appear that demand for positioners is growing?
FOX News recently reported, “Hundreds of different sleep positioners are sold in stores and online, including Amazon. One product was advertised as ‘100 percent premium quality cotton covered memory foam’ that gives babies a comfortable sleeping position and to help them ‘breathe freely.’ Several companies also claim the pillows can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, deformation, and gastroesophageal reflux.”
I’m certain that most parents have every intention of heeding warnings like this one. But if safety is a priority for well-meaning parents – which I know it is – then what do you do at 3 am when your baby has awakened every hour on the hour and won’t go back to sleep?
The list of ‘don’ts’ is long. Don’t turn on the lights. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t rock, hold or feed your little one to sleep. Don’t put your baby in a swing. Don’t let your I’m-so-tired-I-might-as-well-be-drunk partner drive your baby around the neighborhood. Don’t bring a baby into your bed with you to sleep. Don’t cram yourself into your baby’s crib to sleep. Don’t stress, this will all be over soon. But will it??
There comes a point when we get so desperate with our situation that something’s gotta give. We’re all going to break the parenting “rules” at some point. Bribing my kids with candy? Guilty. Driving my child’s forgotten homework to school? Guilty. Arriving at my destination only to realize I forgot to buckle my kid in their car seat. Ugh. Guilty. No one has this freakishly fantastic journey down to a science. Or at least that’s what I tell myself!
When it comes to making tough choices on behalf of your child though, consider reaching out to a well-referred expert who can help you weigh your options. Maybe that’s your child’s pediatrician. Maybe that’s a doula. Maybe that is an experienced sleep trainer.
The point is that you and your family are unique. You have your own story, your own parenting philosophies, and your own convictions. Share those. I’m not saying sleep training is the right answer for you – it very well may not be. But speaking to an expert may help you better understand your options and avoid making a potentially unsafe choice on behalf of your little one.
The words “time change” have a way of making parents cringe. If things have been going well for you and your child sleep-wise, the last thing you need is a schedule change. If your days and nights have been choppy and unpredictable, you’re probably feeling cautiously optimistic that a time change will work in your favor.
Here’s some good news: while an hour of time change can certainly take a toll on our bodies, it typically takes just a few days (generally no more than 3-4) to fully adjust. And, if you’re the planning type, you CAN begin to prepare.
First, check out this more in-depth post on navigating Daylight Savings Time in the Fall.
Another trick is to use the sun’s natural light to your advantage. If you’ve been following my sleep tips, your child is going to sleep (and waking) in a very dark room designed to increase melatonin levels, which signal the brain that it’s time to slow down and sleep. In the morning, we want to expose our bodies to brighter, natural blue light to help with the production of serotonin and cortisol. So rise and let the light shine in (provided your child is waking at a reasonable hour)!
If after a few days you find that your child is really struggling with the time change, consider reaching out to an expert to discuss what might be causing the issue. Kids are in a constant state of change, so it’s possible that other factors are contributing to your child’s sleep issues. My heart always aches for the jet-lagged parents of the teething 12-month old who just recovered from a week of congestion only to then get a round of vaccinations, somehow figure out how to walk, and then be faced with the time change. But even that is fixable!
During a recent trip to Whole Foods, a small, strategically-placed package of chocolate caught my eye at check-out. The label said the product had 1mg of melatonin per piece, and users should take no more than four pieces.
I had to laugh because, when it comes to chocolate, I have minimal restraint.
“Watch out for that stuff,” cautioned the lady in line behind me.
“Oh! You’ve tried it?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But people don’t use melatonin correctly. And now it’s being added to candy!”
She had a point.
Melatonin is a hormone the body produces naturally as a reaction to darkness. As darkness occurs, the hormone level rises and the body is better prepared for sleep.
Studies show that parents are increasingly giving their children melatonin with the obvious hope of solving – or even partially solving – their child’s sleep issues, most of which are behavioral.
Unfortunately, melatonin also does not induce sleep – at least not directly – as some might hope. Darkness helps trigger the release of melatonin, while natural light does the opposite. In other words, when produced at the correct levels, melatonin helps our bodies prepare for sleep by sending signals to begin winding down.
You don’t need an expert to tell you that preparing children for sleep takes more effort than simply turning off the lights. Because our kids are receiving so much stimuli throughout the course of a day, we need to do a lot more to help their bodies prepare for sleep than relying on melatonin alone.
This is where routines and early bedtimes come into play. Undoubtedly, this is the hard part. While it certainly can be done, many families find it difficult to structure their days in a way that prioritizes sleep. It takes planning, flexibility, patience and consistency…lots and lots of consistency.
It would be so much easier to go for a quick-fix in the form of a supplement. And sometimes that’s not a bad idea. If your issues are short term – say trying to adjust your child’s internal clock a bit over the course of a few days – melatonin might help do the trick.
But, experts believe that trying to solve chronic sleep issues with melatonin on a daily basis can lead to long-term problems. For one, it is believed that melatonin supplements have varied side effects with long-term use, including daytime drowsiness, headaches, and dizziness. That’s not something to mess with, especially when it comes to little ones.
Offering children melatonin, often touted as a natural sleep remedy, seems like a harmless approach. After all, when your little one is boycotting naps and waking 4-5 times at night, you’re willing to try anything.
Melatonin, often labeled as natural sleep remedies, don’t actually fit the bill of “natural.” While melatonin used to be extracted from animal brains (think cows) it is now synthesized in laboratories and sold by vitamin and herbal supplement manufacturers. Anything synthesized in a lab is not going to fit the bill of “natural.”
Unsurprisingly, this brings us back to that age-old adage: quick-fixes, while gratifying, rarely address the underlying issues.
Through a judgment-free approach, Sleep Pea helps parents identify and address their child’s underlying sleep issues. By providing parents with a customized plan and helping parents implement that plan over the course of days and weeks, Sleep Pea helps take the guesswork out of sleep teaching. Instead, parents become increasingly confident about reading and responding to their child’s cues and are able to reap the benefits of healthier sleep habits.
There are a lot of misconceptions about sleep. One that I frequently encounter is the idea that children need to be exhausted before they can fall asleep.
Most of the families I work with are well informed about the importance of establishing a set bedtime and following a routine leading up to “lights-out.” Unfortunately, their little ones don’t always comply.
Among infants, parents frequently report their little ones are either wide-eyed and bushy-tailed or fussy and inconsolable when bedtime rolls around. Hours of rocking and feeding ensue, only for the child to wake up a short time later.
Among the increasingly verbal toddler set, parents often note that their kids are too excited to settle down for bed. Or, they get their children in bed only to face a litany of requests and needs. “I’m thirsty. I need my stuffie, but we’ll need to go on a long hunt to find it. I need to use the potty…again. One more hug. I need to see Daddy one more time. I want my door open…no, closed…no, open…not that open, just a little bit open.”
While the advice in one blog post may not solve all of your child’s sleep issues, try to resist the urge to delay bedtime. Instead, consider that you may have missed your child’s sleep window and are now experiencing the symptoms of exhaustion.
When our children go to bed too late, their bodies are overextended. It becomes increasingly difficult for them to fall asleep because their body is reacting to stress. During stressful situations, the brain starts firing off signals to help the body react to potential danger. Our brain – the body’s command center – is telling the body to stay awake and alert.
By catching children for bedtime earlier, you chip away at the potential for their bodies to get over-stimulated and overextended. Stress levels tend to be lower making it easier for them to settle into sleep. And, when you catch your children for sleep early enough, you may also see those night wakings and early morning wakings subside.
So, what is an early bedtime? The best bedtimes for infants and toddlers are typically 6pm – 7pm.
For more information on the difference between bedtime and asleep time, read this post.
Daylight Savings Time is just around the corner and we’re springing forward! No better time than now for a refresher on how to prepare.
When it comes to successfully navigating a time change with your infant or toddler, your approach will first depend on how adaptable they are. Children who adapt easily will likely require less “prep time” for the change than children who are more structured overall.
In many cases, it’s less about how adaptable the child is and more about how much flexibility we can afford with daycare and work schedules to consider. In this case, once the clocks move forward you will follow your child’s “old” routine. If your child was waking at 6am before the time change, then you will wake them at 6am after the time change. If your child was going to bed at 6pm before the time change, then bedtime will be 6pm after the time change. Meals and naps will follow.
The downside to this approach is that you may need to override some of your child’s natural cues to ensure everyone stays on schedule. Oftentimes, parents will find that their kids are initially hyped up at bedtime and tired in the mornings. The same goes for naps and mealtimes – kids may seem a bit “off” for a few days. Most kids will adapt within a week, but you may want to carve out extra time on the first weekend following the time change to help them catch up on lost sleep.
Split the Difference
For the slightly more adaptable child, some parents may choose to “split the difference.” This means that if your child was going to bed at 6pm before the time change, you would move bedtime to 6:30pm after the time change. Ideally, you will allow them to sleep until at least 6:30am the following morning. Meals and naps would also shift 30 minutes later.
Keep it Simple – Go with the Flow
Many families will find themselves cherishing “springing forward.” If you’ve been itching for that 6:00am wake-up to slide later, this may be your golden ticket. For the very adaptable child, a 6:00am wake-up will now look like 7:00am. Likewise, those early 6:00pm bedtimes may now shift to 7:00pm.
Do remember though that your child is losing an hour of sleep, so the best way to keep that 7:00am wake time is to put them down for bed a bit earlier. For example, if the clocks read 7:00am when they wake on Sunday, consider putting them to bed at 6:30pm/6:45pm on Sunday evening – especially if they are showing you cues that they are tired. “Stretching” kids to stay up longer only increases the stress hormone in their bodies, making healthy sleep less likely.