Sleep: the best of times, the worst of times

Monday, September 25th, 2017

toddler sleeping on plane

Haven getting ready for bed on an overnight flight

Sleep is a constant topic of discussion in our household.  “I didn’t get enough sleep tonight.”  or “Haven had a tough time with nap today.”  or “That was an amazing night of sleep!”.  I feel either my husband or I are always commenting on this basic, time consuming (hopefully) activity.  Sleep is so important for adults and kids alike.  When we don’t get enough sleep we struggle the following day.  Multiple days of sleep will cause irritability and loss of mental focus.  For children, lack of sleep is a disaster causing frequent melt downs, acting out and oddly, a deeper resistance to sleep.

It’s actually quite amazing how many hours of sleep children need.  I remember the first few weeks after Haven was born when she should sleep for 4 hour stretches.  In the beginning it’s rather easy, most newborns naturally sleep a lot!  As they get older, napping and sleep become much more challenging, requiring parental consistency, patience, and adaptability.  Believe it or not, infants actually need to learn how to fall asleep.  Right around 3 months of age, Haven began to have a terrible time with naps – 20 minutes of crying and hysterics before finally being able to fall asleep.  Mind you, at this age infants are awake for 1.5-2 hours between each nap.  Some simple math during waking hours means that I was living through this nightmare 5 times a day!!!  It was horrible – for both of us.  I began reading everything I could to help her adapt healthy sleep habits, habits that, as it turns out, will actually translate into adulthood.

I would say that sleep is one of the most challenging things about being a new parent.  Your lack of sleep and your baby’s inability to fall asleep naturally is a quick trip to looney-bin central.  I actually sought the help of a sleep coach that gave me some amazing tips to gently facilitate good sleeping habits.  And, while some days it was extremely challenging to stick to the routine – all children go through growing cycles that throw everything off – I found that my perseverance and patience has paid off.  Haven is almost 3 and still naps for around 2 hours mid-day and is generally vey easy to put to bed.  She goes to sleep around 7pm and wakes up around 6am.

Changing sleep habits is not something that happens overnight.  It’s easier to start implementing practicing from around 3months of age, however, gradual changes and consistency with any child will lead to the same results.  I thought it might be helpful to address some important toddler sleep topics that I uncovered through the countless articles, mom advice, and child development experts.

  1.  MYTH:  If I don’t wake my child up from nap in time, they will go to bed too late.
    Ever heard the saying “never wake a sleeping baby?”  Well, it’s true.  Sleep is when a child’s brain and body develop.  If they are sleeping a lot, then their body probably needs that time to get bigger and smarter!  If your child is waking up from nap too close to bed time, then it’s likely an earlier nap time will solve the problem.  Children that get woken up from naps can be more irritable and grouchy – go figure.
  2. MYTH:  It’s easier to put my child to bed later because they are more tired.
    I have I heard this so many times in discussion groups – the idea that if I skip the nap or if I keep them up later, my child will go to bed earlier and more easily. What I learned is that actually the opposite is true.  The more tired your tot is, the more difficult it will be for them to go to sleep.  You’ve probably had a similar feeling – you’ve been up forever and are exhausted, you lay down to go to sleep but your eyes are vibrating and you’re basically too tired to fall asleep!  Why?  the body produces cortisol when you’re over tired as a stimulant to keep you awake – you’ve basically stressed your body out and the reaction is to go into overdrive.  This is the same for children.  Moral of the story – children that are sleeping more will be more relaxed and will have an easier time to fall asleep for naps and bed time.
  3. Ample time outdoors to run and play will help facilitate healthy sleep habits
    Children need lots of time outdoors for fresh air and play.  Making as many opportunities for your little one to explore in the great outdoors is your best bet at helping your child to easily relax and be naturally tired for sleep time.
  4. Create a routine and stick to it
    This sounds easy, but it really is important that you stick to a routine and try not to deter from it.  My husband fights me on this one all the time as schedules are not exactly something he likes to follow.  What do I mean by a routine?  That your child’s sleep times are close to the same time every day, that you stick to the same steps each time and that your child is a aware of what comes next.  Here’s what our routine looks like for bed time:  Brush the teeth, potty break, jammies go on, we read a book while she drinks some milk or coconut water, snuggle in bed for about 5-10 minutes, then I say goodnight.  The whole process takes about 30 minutes and she goes to sleep at 7pm and wakes up around 6am.   Other things you can incorporate are singing or essential oils, basically anything that resonates with your child that it’s time to wind down and have some rest.  Talk through the routine with the child so they know what’s coming next – this is especially important when you are creating the routine or during those challenging phases when everything is tough.
  5. Finding a sleep routine that works for your child will take time and will evolve with age
    I found that Angelique Millete had the best advice for what our family needed – the sleep coach I hired studied under her.  Important things to consider when developing a sleep routine are:  Understand the sleep guidelines per age of the child – depending on the age, the number of naps, overall asleep and wake times will vary.  Find out what the averages are for your child to help create the routine.  Incorporate a ritual knowing the things that relax your child so that the each step is one more thing that will calm and focus your child on the task at hand.  Angelique has a number of resources on her website:
  6. Routines help children feel safe and secure in the world
    It’s a big world out there and it can be extremely overwhelming for children.  They see the world through their whole body and have no idea how to filter out the noise.  Having a routine will help them feel confident in knowing that they can predict some events throughout the day and feel confident that you will follow through.  I can’t stress how important this is for a child’s development.
  7. Try to be patient and not too rigid!
    Sticking to the routine is important, but let’s face it, it’s not going to be exact and some days you may be a little late.  That’s OK!  It’s also important for your child to know how to adapt when things don’t go exactly as planned and being honest with them is the best way to achieve that, “I know we’re going to sleep a little later today for nap, it’s a special day when we get to spend a little more time at the beach.”  Children are fully capable of understanding changes and this will help them to become more adaptable.

Most importantly, be patient with yourself and your little one.  Some days will be easy and some days will be difficult.  Over time your child will know what to expect and learn how to peacefully get some rest.



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