Holidays and Healthy Sleep

In the blink of an eye, the holiday season is here again, and I know that I have many nervous parents wondering how they’re going to stay on top of the busy season and keep their little ones well-rested and healthy. I’m here to tell you that it likely won’t be perfect, but with a bit of planning and foresight, you can help your baby stay on some semblance of a sleep schedule.

Now’s not the time to start

If you’re reading this and you’re about to begin sleep training, I suggest waiting until your holiday travel plans are complete before committing to consistency. Knowing that you’ll likely not be able to maintain a set schedule while traveling will just prolong the training period, frustrating everyone involved.

 

Expect and plan for disruptions

From November through January, many people are on-the-move, traveling to spend time with family — near and far — and getting as much quality time in as they can. Whether you trade holiday visits between both sides of you and your partner’s family or open your home for the season, you’ll likely experience a little disruption with your little one’s sleep schedule. Whatever you do, don’t panic!

Travel tips

Plane rides and road trips can easily interfere with your baby’s sleep routine, which is why you want to plan ahead of time. If at all possible, plan your travel times around your baby’s schedule — I know, I know, it’s not always possible, but if you can, do it.

By car

If you’re traveling by car, try to plan your travel to coincide with nap times. While car naps aren’t always the best sources of sleep, getting your baby to nap a little on schedule while you’re headed to visit family will help them stay on their sleep schedule. Don’t forget to pack your little one’s favorite stuffed toy or blanket to provide a little bit of homey comfort while you’re away.

With especially long road trips, try to make planned stops to get a little exercise and fresh air — weather permitting, of course. If you can get your toddler to have a nice run around a park or a quick sightseeing stop along the way, it may help tire them come bedtime.

By plane

Flying introducing a myriad of different variables, not least of which is pressurization — changes in cabin pressure are enough to throw your baby off for the entire flight. Again, a perfect scenario would be to try to schedule travel time around your baby’s nap schedule, but even the shortest flights are still time-consuming, between advance check-in and boarding. Bearing the lengthiness of air travel in mind, I’m going to do something I never do and suggest that you do whatever you need to keep your little one comfortable and content on the plane.

The reality is that flying on a plane is exciting for children, and they’re surrounded by lots of unfamiliar faces, which can cause overstimulation. In all likelihood, your little one won’t sleep on the plane, so you’ll want to find ways to keep them occupied throughout the flight. If you need some ideas for in-flight activities, check out Parenting magazine’s 50 Ways to Entertain a Kid on An Airplane or these 10 Busy Bags Ideas to Make Traveling with Toddlers Easier.

Establish expectations with family

Whether you’re traveling to visit family or family is coming to visit you, your little ones are going to be doted on by relatives. The extra family time alone can cause overstimulation, not to mention well-meaning relatives who want to see your baby alert and awake. Resist the urge to cave into your relatives’ demands and treat your little one’s nap and bedtime as sacrosanct.

Stick to your regular nap and bedtime routines and schedule — as closely as you can — and make sure you establish that the baby’s room is off-limits. Because of your baby’s sleep routine, you can tell well-meaning family members and friends when your little one will wake, and invite them to visit with them at that time. If you need to be forceful, explain that your baby is sleep training and minor disturbances or disruptions can throw off their schedule, making for a grumpy baby who will likely not be in the mood to visit.

Work with the sleeping arrangements

Whether you’re in a hotel, staying with family, or using the nursery as a spare room for visiting family, you need to try to keep your baby’s sleeping arrangements as separate from yours as possible. If you’re relegated to a single room, try to find a way to divide the room into two sleeping areas — one for you and one for your baby.

While it might sound strange, a closet is actually an excellent option for room-sharing. Not only will your little one be in a dark, muffled area, but they also won’t be able to see you and your partner, and they’ll be insulated from people coming and going from your room.

 

While you’ll likely not make it through the holiday season without a few bumps and bobbles in your little one’s sleep routine, having a plan going in can make a huge difference. Most importantly, don’t let minor setbacks throw you off — consistency is what will get your little one back on track.

A Bedtime Reading Routine is Beneficial for Babies

The first five years of a child’s life are explosive in terms of their overall development and will set the stage for the person they will become. By age three, your toddler’s brain is 80% the size of an adult’s and reaches 90% of its potential size at age five. According to First Things First, “The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults. The connections needed for many important, higher-level abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving and communication are formed in these early years – or not formed.”

The developing brain

Ronald E. Dahl, in a study published in Sleep, reviews the widely held belief that the three “most fundamental requirements for healthy growth and development in young children include a) loving support and protection by parents/caretakers, b) adequate nutrition, and c) adequate sleep.” It’s the importance of sleep that keeps my phone ringing and my email inbox full of messages and questions from concerned parents who simply want their little ones to sleep better.

Books and babies

Ongoing stimulation in the form of reading goes a long way to building important, lifelong brain connections for your little one. Study after study has shown the correlation between reading to young children and emergent literacy. And indeed, according to Kids Health, your baby will have mastered all of the sounds needed to speak their native language by the time they’re one. While this early language mastery can be accomplished by regularly talking to your baby, reading aloud to your little one is where it’s at! (Psst! Listening to audiobooks together counts, too.)

The benefits of reading to your baby are many, including:

  • teaching a baby about communication
  • introducing concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes
  • building listening, memory, and vocabulary skills
  • giving babies information about the world around them

And perhaps most surprisingly, a recent study points to a correlation between reading aloud to children and an absence of behavior problems. Dr. Perri Klass explains the study findings in a New York Times article, saying, “A new study provides evidence of just how sustained an impact reading and playing with young children can have, shaping their social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and develop early literacy skills. The parent-child-book moment even has the potential to help curb problem behaviors like aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention, a new study has found.”

Sleep is key

If you’ve heard the term, “Sleep on it,” it refers to waiting overnight to make a decision, allowing your brain to recharge before jumping in with both feet; there may be some science to that.

Referring to another study, this one entitled, “Sleep and the Developing Brain,” Dahl shares that a study showed an incidence of cognitive deficits and high hyperactivity scores in six-year-old children who did not get enough sleep when they were two-and-a-half. Says Dahl, “This suggests that obtaining insufficient sleep during the first few years of life may have long-standing consequences.”

Research shows that both reading to your children and ensuring that they get enough sleep have lasting impacts on their social, emotional, behavioral, and mental development. The brain needs sleep in addition to stimulation to develop healthily. Now you can understand why I’m a such an advocate for books being a part of a child’s bedtime routine.

Books and bedtime

Creating a consistent bedtime routine can help your little one get the sleep their tiny body so desperately needs. Whether you read a book before bathtime or directly before the lights go out, make sure that reading to your child is part of their bedtime routine each night. Not only will it help build those essential brain connections, but it will also it will help you relax and unwind at the end of the day, too!

If you need help coming up with a bedtime routine that works for your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me HERE!!

Tips for Dealing With The Time Change and Daylight Savings for Children

Daylight savings time is coming up this weekend. Most parents don’t mind it so much in the fall when they gain an extra hour, but it sends fear through people’s bones when they hear they are going to have to lose an hour of sleep! Every year I get a TON of questions asking for the best way to handle daylight savings time and children’s sleep. So here it is:

If I had my way, there would not be a daylight savings time. I think it really does affect not only children’s sleep patterns but adults, too. In fact, statistically, there is an 8% increase in traffic accidents the Monday after daylight savings time kicks in. It really does have an effect on all of us, and it can increase our sleep debt – especially in children, who tend to be much more structured with going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. That is usually why people notice it the most in young children.

Fall Back - Tips for Dealing with Daylight Savings Time

So what is the best way to handle it?

My advice is to “split the difference.”

Tips for Dealing with Daylight Savings Time 

 

For “Fall Back”

My recommendation to all parents is just to leave the clocks alone so it’s not a psychologically upsetting event to see your little one up an hour earlier. Just get up at your usual time and start the day. After your cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, then you can go around changing the clocks. It will feel much better this way, trust me!

 

If, for example, your little one usually takes a morning nap around 9:30, you will adjust this to 9:00 for the three days after the time change. It will be a bit of a push for your child, but not so much that it will cause much damage to her schedule. Do the same for the afternoon nap.

Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m. I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30 p.m. for the first three days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.) And it will take about a week for your child’s body to get used to this. It takes everybody’s body roughly one week to adjust any kind of change in sleeping habits.

If you have children over the age of two, you can put a digital clock in the room and put a piece of tape over the minutes, so that they can see if it is 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock, but they cannot see the minutes, which often confuses toddlers. Just set the clock forward half an hour so that at 6:30 it says 7:00 and let them get up a little earlier than normal, knowing that, by the end of the week, they will be back o

n track and sleep until their normal wakeup time. 

If you are dealing with a baby, you cannot do that. Do not rush in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up at 6 a.m. is okay now. So if she normally wakes at 7:00, but is now up at 6:00, you will wait till ten after the first day, and then twenty after the next, then 6:30 the next day and, by the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and waking up at their usual hour.

On the fourth night, just get in line with the new time so your baby is back to going to bed when the clock says 7:00 pm. Adjust naps to the correct time on day 4 as well.

For “Spring Forward”

Tips for Dealing With The Time Change and Daylight Savings for Children

The same “split the difference” rule applies. So if naptime was usually 9:30, it’s now 10:00 a.m. The same goes for the afternoon nap, and bedtime is 7:30. This will mean that your baby is going to bed a little earlier or sooner than the normal wait between sleeps, but again it’s not so much so that it’s going to interfere with her schedule too much. It may take her a bit more time to fall asleep since she may not be as tired, but in a week’s time she will be back on track again. 

On day and night 4, move to the correct time on the clock again.

Give it time and know that your little one will get back on schedule within a week, possibly two

Healthy Sleep Tips for Adults

I’m going to switch gears and focus on YOU. Are you practicing what you preach when it comes to healthy sleep? While my main focus is on helping families get their babies to sleep soundly, it’s still essential for you to get a good night’s rest. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to fall asleep and get the requisite number of hours of sleep your body needs to perform, this post is for you.

Sleep Aids

Unfortunately, I have no advice for those of you who suffer from a sleep disorder because I am not a physician and I’m sure your doctor has already offered you strategies. What I can do, however, is share some helpful tips to begin implementing a healthy sleep routine of your own.

If you find yourself taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, you could likely benefit from a sleep routine. However, the best sleep aid you can have is one similar to your baby’s — create a bedroom environment conducive to sleeping. As hard as it is, avoid the temptation to bring your cell phone or tablet into bed at night and keep the television out of the bedroom. You’ll also want to keep your room cool and dark; basically, do everything to create an environment that allows you to relax.

You’ve likely already about the adverse effects blue light has on our brains and that it affects sleep, but did you know that our gadgets can change all aspects of our sleep, start to finish? According to the National Sleep Foundation, our electronics can suppress the release of melatonin — thus disrupting sleep patterns and signals — and keep our brains alert (making it difficult to fall asleep), in addition to causing sleep disruptions throughout the night. Again, if you’ve eliminated screens from your children’s nighttime routines, you will also benefit from doing the same; bring a book to bed if you must (but do not read on a tablet!).

How much sleep do I need?

According to the American Sleep Association, 35.3% of adults report less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period. A third of the adult population in the US are not getting adequate sleep each night, which contributes to a slew of additional problems: daytime sleepiness, irritability, depression, increased risk of developing diabetes & heart disease, memory & concentration issues, weight gain, and driving accidents. The first step to battling sleep deprivation is figuring out the right amount of sleep for your body because sleep needs differ by person.

Henry Nicholls, author of Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest, spent months researching the science of sleep, to help people sleep better (Nicholls suffered from narcolepsy). What he found was that knowing how much sleep one needs, and carving out a routine that protects that amount of sleep, are keys to getting a better night’s rest.

If you’ve ever tried an elimination diet, the concept with determining optimal sleep amounts is similar. Keep a sleep diary and tally the hours you sleep each night; make sure you enter any notes pertaining to how you feel each day — mental clarity, alert/sluggishness, etc. Nicholls says that the average number of hours over a two week period of journaling sleep will be the number of hours your body needs.

Sleep Stability

Once you’ve determined your optimal number of sleep hours, create a consistent sleep routine every day of the week. This means going to bed and waking at the same times each day and resisting the temptation to stay up late and sleep in on weekends. The other key to a better night’s sleep? Practicing what Nicholls calls good sleep hygiene: “you have to implement basic sleep hygiene, which is not drinking caffeine after midday, or exercising too late, or drinking alcohol before bed, and just eating sensibly.”

And like I tell my clients, give it a couple of weeks of consistently adhering to your routine and your body will start to respond. You may even find that you no longer need to set your alarm — wouldn’t that be great?

Switching From a Crib to a Bed

Determining when to switch from a crib to a bed is a common toddler-parent question I receive, so today I’m going to address it. In addition to being asked when the right time is, I’m also asked how to go about the process of switching from a crib to a toddler bed. It’s easy, so let’s take a look.

 

 

If you stumbled across my website because you’re looking for ways to teach your toddler the skills to sleep through the night, put this blog to the side because now is not the right time to make a switch. Right now, you need to focus on getting your little one into a healthy sleep routine, rather than making further changes to their sleeping environment.

Thankfully, many manufacturers make convertible cribs that transition between crib and toddler bed, so the leap is not such a big one for many little ones. But I’ve noticed a trend of people putting their little ones into beds earlier and earlier, some as young as a year-and-a-half! Let me reassure you unless they’ve outgrown the length of their crib, there is no reason to rush your toddler out of their crib and into a bed.

Identify your concerns

Take a moment to think about what it is about the transition that makes you apprehensive or worried that the switch from crib to bed won’t be a smooth one? If you’re concerned about your little one slipping out of bed in the night, the reality is that is less likely to happen if they’re well-rested and sleeping through the night. So, the moral is, make sure that your toddler is sleeping well before considering the switch from crib to bed.

If your little one is sleeping independently through the night, and you’ve deemed it’s time to transition, let them know. Explain that they’re going to be getting a new bed and let them know when the switch is going to happen. Keep the conversation positive and upbeat, and allow them to utilize some of their newfound independence by helping choose new bed linens to create a space that’s comfortable for them.

Once you’ve chosen a bed, let your little one help assemble it if they’re interested — anything you can do to make them a part of the process will help smooth the transition. Make sure that the bed occupies the same space as your toddler’s crib; this is not the time to make significant changes with furniture arrangement.

Treat the first night in the new bed like any other. Try not to make a production out of the new bed, and make sure you keep the bedtime routine the same. Toddlers are at a time of uncertainty in their lives, not knowing whether or not they want to do the whole “growing up” thing, so keep things low-key.

What to expect

You’ve gone through your little one’s bedtime routine, turned off the lights and cracked the door. Here are some scenarios that may play out:

  1. Your little one adapts to their new bed and sleeps through the night. In this case, celebrate because you are among the minority.
  2. Your toddler adapts immediately, but after a week or two begins leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling you back in several times during the night.
  3. Your toddler doesn’t adapt immediately, is up from the bed and leaves their room, plays with toys and calls you in throughout the night.

With the latter two scenarios, offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates unwanted behavior and give them a consequence if they do it again. Make sure you follow through with the consequence if your toddler follows through with the action. Don’t attempt to manage your toddler’s behavior differently, as the focus here is getting them to adjust to the change in bed, not a change in discipline.

It’s highly likely that your little one will have some hiccups with the transition from crib to bed, so remember that you are in control. Remain calm and don’t go back to the crib — remember, with any transition, it can take a week or two for your little one to adjust. Trust me, you’ll get through it!

If you feel you need a little more guidance, give me a call! I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation with new clients to see if your family can benefit from working with me.

Back to School Sleep Tips

Ah, summer vacation, the time when we let our hair down and enjoy the sun ‘n fun. It’s also a time when we tend to relax the rigidity of the school year schedule and make some room to breathe. Bedtime routines are often collateral damage, are they not?

Although I’m a sleep consultant, you’ll find no finger pointing here. I get it, I really do! I’m a mom, too, and summer evenings are the time for firefly catching, lawn concerts, and fireworks shows. In the summer, if the choice is between experiencing one of the many fun evening activities or a consistent bedtime, bedtime is going to lose out. No judgment here, my friends.

 

 

However, with the start of school looming, it’s time to ease back into those regular bedtime routines, and the sooner you begin, the better.

Set a bedtime and stick to it

The first thing you need to do is determine what time your kids need to go to bed. Many of my parents are taken aback when I recommend a bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. Yep, it’s tough, with homework, after-school activities and squeezing in family dinners, but school days are long, and your children need at least 10 hours of sleep a night. If you’re able to squeeze in an hour or two more, that’s even better.

Backtrack and take a look at the time your kids need to be out the door to head to school or daycare in the morning. For example, if your little one needs to be up at 7:00 a.m to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00 p.m. at the very latest. Don’t forget to factor in the time it takes your kids to get ready for bed and perform their nightly bedtime routine, or the inevitable request for a glass of water 30 minutes after lights out. All things considered, 8:00 p.m. is really the latest they should be going to bed to ensure a healthy night of sleep.

Don’t procrastinate

Even if you’re someone who works well under pressure, re-establishing a school year bedtime routine is not something you want to leave until the last minute. Try starting the routine somewhere around two weeks out from the start of school to allow you to make the changes to bedtime gradually.

If your kids have been going to bed around 9:00 p.m. for the majority of their summer vacation, move bedtime up by 15 minutes every four days until they’re back to their usual bedtime. And if you have to “trick” your kids into their routine by changing the clocks in their rooms, go for it!

Establish a bedtime routine

The best way to jump into the new school year is to have your family routine nailed down. If you had an effective bedtime routine before summer vacation, go ahead and re-implement it. The familiarity of routine will help your children settle back into their school bedtime schedule more smoothly than introducing something new.

If this is the first time you’re implementing a bedtime routine, know that we’re looking at the end goal here. Not only will a consistent bedtime routine make your days — and nights — much easier, but your child will reap the benefits of healthy sleep. When your child’s brain and body begin to associate things like baths, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading books — done in the same order, at the same time, each night — it cues their melatonin production, making sleep come more naturally. Honestly, I can’t recommend bedtime routines enough.

Use a timer

If lollygagging is an issue, consider implementing a timer into your child’s nightly routine. With a timer, your kiddo can see where they’re at in the routine, and you can get out of being the “bad guy” with time enforcement — it’s the timer’s fault! Kids can’t manipulate a timer, but they sure can weasel another ten or fifteen minutes out of mom or dad!

Power down screens

In addition to going lax on bedtimes over the summer, many of us also let screen time rules fly out the window. I get it. During the school year, time for favorite television shows, favorite tablet apps and video games is scarce, what with homework and extracurricular activities. As a result, many parents ease up on screen time and find their kids spending increasing amounts of time lost in the glow.

What many parents don’t realize is that screen time negatively affects sleep quality. Use the school year routine to get back into good habits and set healthy limits on daily doses of screen time. Most of all, make sure to cut off screen time at least two hours before bedtime to allow your children’s brains to rid the effects of blue light and ready themselves for slumber.

Blackout

No, not that kind of blackout, I’m talking about shades! Many schools now start their year in July or August, and it is often still light out around 8:00 p.m. Make sure your child’s room is dark, creating an inviting, cave-like place to sleep. If you don’t already, invest in some blackout shades or curtains to staunch any errant beams of sunlight that might be finding their way into your kid’s room.

 

I hope you and your families have had wonderful, fun-filled summers! If you follow my back to school sleep tips, your children should be in great shape to take on the year and reap the rewards of healthy sleep habits. And, if you find yourself struggling, remember that I’m just a phone call away!

5-Year Check-In with a Former Client

Today I’m changing things up and sharing a guest post from a former client of mine. Five years ago, Lauren called for help with her 8-month-old son, Declan. Declan wasn’t napping and was sleeping in clips of two to three hours at night, max. As a result, Lauren was deliriously tired and extremely emotional when she called for help. Now, five years later, Lauren shares how Declan is sleeping as he prepares to enter first grade.

 

Having some bedtime fun!

 

Years ago I wrote a one-year follow-up for Jennifer, and now I’m here to check-in at the five-year mark. The short answer is that all’s quiet on the home front and, having just turned six, Declan sleeps between ten and eleven hours a night. However, we still have to follow a bedtime routine to keep him on a schedule, and he’s unable to participate in some activities because of his early bedtime (he’s asleep by 7 p.m.). We’re used to this now, and I don’t think Declan’s life is suffering as a result (there are many more years of opportunity ahead).

Some things have become more evident with time, especially regarding the high level of alertness and difficulty we had with Declan sleeping as an infant. At the end of his kindergarten school year, Declan was evaluated and deemed to be highly gifted as a result of testing. Sleep issues are a commonality among gifted children — and adults — which explains some of the trouble we had early on. This study gives a brief overview of the incidence of sleep issues in the gifted population if you’re interested in reading more about the topic. We joked early on that Declan’s sleep issues were due to FOMO and his desire to take in every detail of the world around him — we weren’t far off. Once Declan got older, we integrated what I call a “brain dump” as part of his regular bedtime routine. After reading a book, we’d take a few minutes to talk about the day — or anything pressing on his mind — so that he wouldn’t lay awake processing instead of going to sleep.

The positive side of this is that while it’s common for gifted children to have issues sleeping, it’s not impossible for them to develop routines that help them get the sleep they so desperately need. In all, it took about a week of following Jennifer’s instructions to get Declan sleeping through the night and napping like a champ throughout the day — it is possible (and Declan never “cried it out” in the process). I’ve checked back with Jennifer throughout the years to consult with her about stumbling blocks, and each time it was because we needed to change what we were doing, whether it was removing all naps, transitioning Declan to a bed, or pushing bedtime back to a later time.

Declan and myself sharing some downtime.

 

I won’t say that Declan’s sleep is without issues today — that would be a lie. He’ll still try to weasel his way out of going to bed at least once or twice a week, and he’s out of sorts if vacation or other activities push his bedtime back. And then you have those times when Declan falls asleep on the bus ride home, making it a struggle to get him down that night, or those nights when he’s sick and materializes at our bedside in the middle of the night (so scary!). If we’re traveling late at night, we can usually tell when Declan’s fighting sleep because he starts talking a mile-a-minute. If we don’t engage him, we’ll be met with silence and then snores within minutes. Some days, especially those marked with a lot of physical activity or summertime swimming, Declan will admit to being tired (!) and express a desire to go to bed earlier. However, this rarely happens, but when it does, we know he must be exhausted, and we jump into action to get him ready for bed.

My only regret about contacting Jennifer those 5+ years ago is that I didn’t do it sooner. If you’re on the fence about hiring Jennifer to work with your family, let me reassure you that she’ll be with you along the way and will provide suggestions based upon your family’s needs and comfort level. Don’t go as long as we did; healthy sleep is so important for early childhood development, so get your little one on track as soon as possible!

 

THANKS LAUREN!

Attachment Parenting & Sleep Training

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: attachment parenting and sleep training are not mutually exclusive. Nope. And this may surprise some of you, but sleep training does not require you to leave your babies to cry themselves to sleep. Shocking, isn’t it? Sleep training is all about giving your baby the tools to sleep independently — which sounds at odds with attachment parenting, I know — in the sense that babies learn to go to sleep without a sleep crutch. You might even consider sleep your child’s first step towards independence.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely practicing attachment parenting in some form or another. Many parents I encounter don’t subscribe to all tenets of attachment parenting, but pick and choose the elements that work best for their family and beliefs.

Dr. Sears and attachment parenting

Popularized by William and Martha Sears, attachment parenting at its most basic involves being as close and as responsive as one can to their baby and its needs; and by having its needs met consistently a baby will grow into a well-adjusted, happy, healthy member of society. Attachment parenting materializes in the form of wearing your baby, breastfeeding on-demand, bed-sharing and responding to your baby’s cries immediately.

I’m not going to enter into a debate about parenting philosophies, except to say that I’m a neutral party here. The reality is that there is no evidence showing that attachment parenting is any better than other parenting philosophies — it merely aligns better with what some parents desire for their children.

Therefore, this blog is aimed at those parents who are in need of help with their baby’s sleeping habits, but feel conflicted; many of my attachment parenting clients share that they think that they’re “cheating” by utilizing sleep training. Look, who cares what it is as long as everyone in the family is sleeping healthily? No one needs to be a martyr here.

The Seven B’s

Dr. Sears was helpful enough to provide a bulleted list of main principles of attachment parenting that he termed, “The Seven B’s.” The Seven B’s include: Birth Bonding, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding close to baby, Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry, Beware of baby trainers, and Balance.

Original attachment parenting concepts

I would, however, like to point out that the original tenets of attachment parenting were not so rigid. In fact, an Atlantic article points out that the originators of attachment parenting theory — psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby– glossed over breastfeeding and never mentioned co-sleeping. What Ainsworth and Bowlby emphasized was the importance of a mother being engaged with her baby while feeding it, not whether the baby was fed by breast or by a bottle, and that “a mother’s attention does make a difference.” The Atlantic article also points out that sleep and babywearing were never mentioned in the original attachment parenting discussion.

Where the uncertainty stems from

So, we know that babywearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding weren’t explicitly mentioned by the originators of attachment parenting theory, which makes the following quote from the Ask Dr. Sears site a bit outrageous:

Attachment parenting teaches you how to be discerning of advice, especially those rigid and extreme parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby; you know, the cry-it-out crowd. This “convenience” parenting is a short-term gain, but a long-term loss, and is not a wise investment. These more restrained styles of parenting create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.

The above quote is in response to the Beware of baby trainers ‘B’ and is a little out there; anytime a philosophy doesn’t allow for anything to stray into the gray area, I question it. Just as every baby is different, every baby’s needs are different, and a baby that isn’t sleeping well needs a little assistance to get there. Helping your baby develop healthy sleep skills and habits does not “create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.” In fact, you noticing that your baby is having issues sleeping, and teaching your baby sleep skills, means that you are an expert in your child.

If it ain’t broke…

Look, if your family is bedsharing and everyone is sleeping well, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re co-sleeping and your partner is now taking up residence on the couch in the other room, while you struggle to stay awake during the day from frequent night feedings and wake-ups, I’d say that bedsharing isn’t working for you and it may be time to consider other options. And one of those options is teaching your baby healthy sleep habits, which includes learning how to fall asleep independently.

The reality is that you cannot bedshare and teach your baby healthy sleep skills. Think about it, teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t feasible when mom is in arms’ reach at all times. And if you’re not ready to sleep in separate rooms, room sharing is a viable option for sleep training.

But the crying…

Again, sleep training does NOT require you to leave your baby to cry until they fall asleep. I do suggest giving your baby a few minutes to see if they can fall back to sleep on their own. But, the idea that sleep training requires parents to close the door at bedtime and leave their little ones until the next morning, regardless of the intensity or duration of their crying, is preposterous and, frankly, not at all accurate.

I hope I’ve alleviated any concerns you may have about sleep training and practicing attachment parenting. If you have further questions, or would like to talk about how I can help your family achieve healthy sleep, give me a call!

 

5 Common Myths About Sleep Training

Parenting can be a sensitive topic, and the advice is not in short supply. From the time you celebrate your baby shower to your first visitors in the hospital, you’re bombarded with “advice” on how to parent your baby. And likely, from the moment your baby is born, you’ll be asked how your baby is sleeping, even before your baby has had an opportunity to find their rhythm. So, as an ode to all of the awful and unsolicited advice new parents receive, I’m going to discuss five common myths about sleep training.

Your first week or two of being a parent inevitably blessed you with the most beautiful, peaceful baby who slept most of the hours in the day. You likely didn’t heed the advice of well-meaning friends and family who told you to sleep when your baby slept and took in every moment of your adorable sleeping beauty. And then your baby flipped days and nights and began to be awake more. Now you panicked and began scouring the internet for suggestions on how to get your baby to a.) sleep at night (like the rest of the human world), and b.) sleep longer. And in the process surfing the web for information, and checking out books on baby sleep, and getting well-meaning advice from friends, family, and strangers, you discovered that the wealth of information you were being given was conflicting, making you more confused than when you first began your research. Take a deep breath, put the bad advice, books, notes, printouts, and bookmarks aside and read on while I debunk common myths about sleep training.

1. If you let your baby sleep too much during the day, it will keep them up at night.

Unlikely, but it does occur on a rare occasion. Now, if your little one is sleeping through the day and not getting a wink of sleep at night, you may need to take a look at daytime napping, but again, “sleeping too much” is rarely the case. In fact, newborns need a lot of sleep, and I don’t recommend that your baby be awake for more than 2-2 1/2 hours at a time if they’re under six months of age. For newborns, that number is closer to 45 minutes to an hour.

You might be surprised to hear that overtiredness often keeps babies awake at night because it goes against what we think we know about sleep. The reality is that an overtired baby has missed falling asleep when they were tired, and their bodies are cycling back into wakefulness.

 

2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.

Yes-ish. Everyone cycles through sleep stages through the night, waking and falling back asleep each night. You likely don’t remember waking because you already know how to slip right back into your next sleep cycle. However, babies can take some time to learn how to smoothly transition between sleep cycles.

If you’re in the habit of nursing or rocking your baby to sleep, your little one can become dependent on that motion or routine to fall asleep — we’ll call it a sleep crutch. As your baby cycles through sleep stages during the night, they wake and don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep without being nursed or rocked, so they cry out for you. Part of sleep training is teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently.

3. Babies will naturally dictate their sleep schedule.

In a perfect world, babies would regulate their own sleep needs and always be well-rested; unfortunately, this is not the case. Much like the constant care babies need with diapers and feeding, they rely on their caregivers to help them develop healthy sleep habits. Left unregulated, babies’ sleep cycles would become erratic; missing a sleep cycle by just 30 minutes can cause cortisol levels to elevate which is when we experience cranky babies who are overtired.

Read more about identifying baby sleep signals

4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.

This is just not true. In fact, you may have consulted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for information about safe sleep practices, a source I’m sure you trust. Well, a 2016 study conducted by the AAP found that “Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” And, both parents and babies slept better through the night — win-win!

5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.

Babies don’t come with manuals, so I’m not sure who dictated what babies are or are not “designed” for — sheesh! What I can tell you is that trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits or their behavior is a recipe for disaster.

Look, you’re obviously reading this for a reason — most likely because you’d like your baby to sleep better. I’m here to tell you that I can help you and your baby develop healthy, independent sleep habits that will have the entire family getting restful nights of sleep. When you’re ready to get started, give me a call to see how I can work with your family to guide you to healthy sleep.

 

Why Does My Baby Wake Up At 3 A.M.?

The witching hour. Sleep regression. Whatever you call it, early morning wakings can be the bane of any parent’s existence, especially when the alarm is set to sound just an hour or two after your baby begins crying. To better understand why your baby is waking at the literal crack of dawn, you need to understand a little more about humans and sleep.

 

It’s a chemical thing

You’ve likely heard about melatonin and its involvement in the sleep process, helping to balance circadian rhythms. When it comes to sleep, melatonin is like a warm bath, relaxing us and getting our brains ready to rest. On the flip side, our bodies release the hormone cortisol about three hours before our natural wake time. Cortisol acts as a stimulant and is released during times of stress, but also acts as our body’s way of waking itself up.

What happens in babies

Even with your baby’s cycle of melatonin and cortisol release — which can be working perfectly –, there can be some mishaps. Once your baby’s body begins releasing melatonin in preparation for sleep, there is only a small window of time for your baby to fall asleep. If your baby misses their melatonin window, their tiny body responds by releasing cortisol, which is why you’ll sometimes notice a surge of energy and wakefulness when it’s supposed to be bedtime.

The cycle

Now that you know how this cycle works, you can better understand the 3 a.m. wake up. Remember that your body begins releasing cortisol three hours before your natural wake time. If your baby’s circadian rhythm puts their natural wake time at 6 a.m., 3 a.m. would be the approximate time that their body stops releasing melatonin and begins to release cortisol. When the release of cortisol corresponds with the end of a sleep cycle, your baby will more than likely wake. However, babies who possess the skills to self-soothe and go back to sleep will wake but eventually drift back to sleep without a fuss — much like we adults do every night. Those babies who haven’t yet developed independent sleep skills, or who rely on a sleep prop, will wake fully and begin crying when they can’t fall back to sleep.

How to fix it

I’m often called by panicked parents who are desperate to “fix” their baby’s sleep problem. If your baby hasn’t developed the skills to sleep independently, and are thus waking early, then nothing is broken, it’s simply not yet learned. This is where the work comes in.

Know that your baby’s sleep isn’t going to be solved overnight, but know that you can take steps each day to help your baby learn how to sleep independently — and soundly.

I can’t say this enough — create an environment conducive to sleep. If you’ve not already, start by making necessary changes to your baby’s nursery. Add blackout curtains or shades to ensure that your baby’s room is nice and dark — perfect for encouraging continual melatonin release through the night. Remove the ceiling projectors and any other bright or shiny items that may stimulate your baby — you want your baby’s nursery to be boring so that they’ll want to sleep. 

Finally, make sure that you’re committed to a consistent and predictable sleep schedule. Keeping a consistent sleep routine can better train your baby’s body to work in tandem with their natural circadian rhythm. And most importantly, make sure you’re teaching your baby the skills they need to sleep independently.

If you’re unsure how to teach your baby to sleep independently, give me a call. I offer a free 15-minute evaluation so I can get to know the specifics about your situation, so book a call now.