The [Amazing] Benefits of Sleep

You, like many other people, probably think of sleep as a time when your mind and body rest and slow down, but in truth, sleep is a time when your body is working at a furious pace. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” It might surprise you to learn that how and why we sleep is still unknown to scientists, but they do know that sleep is required for us to remain functional and healthy. Let’s take a look at some of the many benefits of sleep, and why it’s not only crucial for your baby to get a healthy amount of sleep, but why slumber is vital for you as well.

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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.”

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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.

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Does Teething Affect My Baby’s Sleep?

Teething symptoms in babies is much debated — just ask your pediatrician…and then poll your friends. Some pediatricians will say that an elevated temperature is not a sign or symptom of teething, but ask parents of multiple children and they’ll tell you otherwise. A quick internet search will yield results listing a handful of baby teething symptoms, but what you rarely see listed is disturbed sleep patterns.

Teething Sleep

Timing of teething

Many of my clients often feel that their baby has just gotten the hang of a healthy sleep routine when it’s suddenly derailed. And if this sleep regression happens between the ages of 4 and 7 or 8 months, teething typically gets the blame.

Teething symptoms

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — a good source of answers to all of your baby questions — does concede that teething in babies may be accompanied by some not-so-fun side effects; it’s interesting to note that their listing of signs and symptoms of teething is preceded by the following statement:  “Teething occasionally may cause….” Notice the word in italics. The reality of many parents with teething babies is much different than an occasional symptom or associated discomfort, and you’ve likely experienced anecdotes from both sides — not a single symptom or side-effect, or a completely miserable, drooling baby.

The AAP’s official stance is that teething may — occasionally — cause and/ or be accompanied by mild irritability and crying in your baby (no surprise there because, ouch.). Your baby may also exhibit a low grade temperature — not exceeding 101 degrees Fahrenheit — excessive drooling, a desire to chew on something hard, and have swollen, tender gums.

Teething and sleep

What the AAP doesn’t mention is that your baby’s sleep may be disrupted during this uncomfortable period. It stands to reason that, if your baby is experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms associated with teething, those symptoms won’t simply disappear during naptime and nighttime. And, as any good parent does, you want to do whatever you can to take away any of your baby’s pain or discomfort, by any means possible. Am I right?

The truth is that teething can disrupt your baby’s sleep, but it can also derail any progress you’ve made with sleep training, if you suddenly decide to run in at the sound of the first wimper. Now, I’m not saying you should leave your baby to cry when they’re in pain, but you shouldn’t use teething as an excuse to fall back into bad sleep habits, either.

According to a Parents.com article, parents may give their baby Tylenol to help reduce teething pain. However, the article warns that, while teething can cause sleep disruptions, a change in behavior — a disinterest in playing or inability to be distracted — can be a sign of something other than teething. In essence, teething isn’t so painful that your baby should be crying incessantly; if this is the case, you need to call your pediatrician.

As you would at any other time, give your baby some time to calm themself when they awake from sleep crying. I’m not saying to completely ignore a baby in distress, but don’t disregard the pause just because your baby is teething. Allowing your baby to work through the discomfort and self-soothe will ensure that they’re getting the sleep they need for their growing body, tooth buds and all!

Is your little one having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep and you are sure it’s more than teething?  Let’s chat! Please reach out to me!  Visit me HERE and get in touch for a complimentary sleep assessment.

AAP Releases New Safe Sleep Guidelines

Safe sleep guidelines is a topic that I never tire of sharing, and it’s important to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) research-backed suggestions. The AAP recently revised their safe sleep guidelines, and I thought it would be great to take a moment to share those with you, as well as to take a look at how those guidelines have changed over the years.

I'm discussing the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated safe sleep guidelines, and taking a look at how those guidelines have changed over time.

Back is best

In 1992, the AAP instructed parents to lie their infants on their backs to sleep, which resulted in an overall decrease in the occurrences of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) across the country. But while SIDS deaths decreased, infant death by suffocation, entrapment and asphyxia rose, prompting the AAP to revisit and further explain their safe sleep guidelines.

What is a safe sleep environment?

The American Academy of Pediatrics again changed their safe sleep guidelines in 2011, this time with an emphasis on the explanation and demonstration of safe sleep environments for infants. The AAP made three additional safe sleep recommendations, to reduce the overall occurrence of infant deaths, including SIDS related deaths. Those recommendations included:

  • Breastfeeding is recommended and is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS.
  • Infants should be immunized. Evidence suggests that immunization reduces the risk of SIDS by 50 percent.
  • Bumper pads should not be used in cribs. There is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, and there is a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.

Further recommendations included:

  • Always place your baby on his or her back for every sleep time.
  • Always use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
  • The baby should sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed (room-sharing without bed-sharing).
  • Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, and bumper pads.
  • Wedges and positioners should not be used.
  • Pregnant woman should receive regular prenatal care.
  • Don’t smoke during pregnancy or after birth.
  • Breastfeeding is recommended.
  • Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
  • Avoid covering the infant’s head or overheating.
  • Do not use home monitors or commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
  • Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development and minimize the occurrence of positional plagiocephaly (flat heads).

Updated guidelines

So, what’s different between 2011’s AAP safe sleep guidelines and those recently released? The AAP now recommends that infants share the same bedroom as their parents, or room share, for at least the first six months of an infant’s life, and ideally, the first year. This comes as a result of new research findings, showing a decrease in sleep-related infant deaths in those infants room-sharing with their parents. The AAP also included the recommendation of immediate skin-to-skin time after birth, regardless of feeding or birth type, for a minimum of one hour, as soon as the mother is “medically stable and awake.”

Breastfeeding is still recommended, and the AAP urges parents to move babies to their [separate] sleep space as soon as feeding is completed, to further reduce the risk of accidental death [should a mother or father fall asleep while holding the baby].

While these recommendations are not hugely different from what they have been, they do further explain ideal safe sleep conditions, back by research showing a reduced rate of infant mortality. In addition, AAP is urging doctors to have more in-depth conversations about infant sleep environments with new and expecting parents, in an effort to communicate ideal safe sleep environments and field any questions parents may have.

If you have any questions about your baby’s sleep environment, I am available to review and make recommendations for the safest sleep environment for your little one.

How To Treat Plagiocephaly

Maybe you’ve heard the term ‘flat head syndrome’, or perhaps you’ve seen a baby with a flat spot at the back of her head. Maybe your own baby’s head is beginning to look a bit flat in the back — don’t panic! Plagiocephaly, or Positional Plagiocephaly, is more common than one would think. In fact, almost half of all two month olds in the US have some form of Plagiocephaly, ranging from moderate to severe.

If your baby has flat head syndrome, don't panic! It's easy to treat Plagiocephaly with these tips...

What Is Plagiocephaly?

Babies grow at an extremely fast rate from birth, tripling their size in the first year, and their heads are no exception. To accommodate such a pace of growth, babies’ skulls remain “soft” with the cranial bones not yet fused. A baby’s unfused skull makes it easy to mold (how many babies have you seen born with a cone-shaped head?).

Positional Plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, can be present at birth (from cranial pressure in utero) or developed over time. Flat spots usually appear in the back or on either side, and are caused when a baby sleeps in the same position for a length of time.

The “Back Is Best” campaign, launched in the 1990s in an effort to combat SIDS, is largely responsible for the rise in Plagiocephaly in infants. With infants spending more time on their backs, Plagiocephaly has definitely become more common, but it’s not impossible to treat.

It’s important to note that cribs aren’t the only culprits here; bouncers, car seats and swings, anywhere your baby spends a significant amount of time laying, can all contribute to the development of Plagiocephaly.

How to Treat Plagiocephaly?

In most cases, your baby’s flat spots will resolve themselves in a matter of months. However, your should consult your pediatrician if you notice any flattening of your baby’s head. If you wait too long, your baby’s skull will grow less pliable over time, making it difficult to resolve.

If your baby has Positional Plagiocephaly, or flat spots caused by lying down, there are a variety of things you can do to help resolve the issue. Remember to ACT to help treat Plagiocephaly:

Alternate Positions

Make a concerted effort to vary the way you lie your baby in his crib — you’d be surprised how much your dominant hand/arm influences repetition! You should also reposition your baby’s head throughout the night, ensuring that he is sleeping on both sides (this will help with muscle development in the neck as well).

Carry Your Baby

If you’re trying to treat Plagiocephaly, or just trying to avoid it, one of the best things you can do is to hold your baby. These days there are a variety of baby carriers available, allowing you to carry your baby while having both hands free. Babywearing isn’t just beneficial for your little one’s head though, the benefits are varied and plentiful!

Tummy Time

Yes, the dreaded ‘T’ word. I honestly don’t know of many moms and babies who had a blast with tummy time in the early days, but it’s necessary. Not only does it give your little one’s noggin a break, but it strengthens the neck muscles, which are integral to appropriate and timely development.

Just remember, Plagiocephaly is relatively common, but there are plenty of things you can do to help your baby’s head remain beautifully round. If you’re still having trouble with sleeping arrangements, give me a call!

When Illness Causes Baby Sleep Problems

You and your baby have finally mastered an amazing sleep routine and your little one has never slept better. Whammo! Your baby gets sick, you fall into bad sleep habits to comfort your little one, and the healthy sleep routine is out the door…or is it?

 

When illness causes baby sleep problems, keep the following tips in mind.

 

There is no need to completely throw away all of the amazing work you and your baby have done to ensure that sleep is happening in a healthy environment and in a routine manner. When illness causes baby sleep problems, keep some of the following tips in mind.

NIGHT WAKINGS

It’s a given that when a cold or illness strikes, the ‘Sleep Fairy’ goes on vacation. Think about how you sleep when you’re sick, and the level of discomfort you feel at nighttime — your baby is no different (except she can’t take Nyquil). So when illness causes baby sleep problems, anticipate night wakings, prepare yourself by having a plan for dealing with those wakings. Here’s the key — how you handle those wake-ups will make a big difference.

I’m also a parent, so I understand how tempting it is to go into the nursery when your little one is sick and do whatever you can to help assuage the discomfort by rocking or re-introducing a feed. Don’t do it. I’m not saying you’re not to comfort your little one, definitely go into the room, but don’t fall victim to all of the sleep props you’ve worked so hard to rid.

By all means, share a short cuddle with your little one, wipe her nose or offer some other type of comfort, but do not interfere with her sleep skills. Don’t rock her back to sleep, don’t feed her to sleep, don’t re-introduce any of the sleep props you eliminated (or start adding new ones!).

NIGHT FEEDS

The only time you should re-introduce nighttime feeds is if your pediatrician recommends it (IE your baby may need additional fluids due to his illness). Even then, you should only feed your little one at night for a few days, as in three days. Three days is my rule of thumb, any longer and you risk creating a new ‘routine’ for your baby, with him now waking each night expecting a feed long after the cold is gone.

MUSICAL ROOMS

I know it’s tempting, but please do not bring your baby into bed with you at night. I know, I know, you want to comfort your little one and be right by her side, but don’t do it. Routine, remember? Your baby needs to sleep in her room, in her crib (or whatever room or bed she usually sleeps in). If you feel the need to be by your child’s side while she’s sick, go to her.

That’s right, go to your baby’s natural sleep environment instead of uprooting him and bringing him into yours. Drag some cushions or an air mattress into your little one’s room and sleep in there for a night or two to monitor him.

Remember my rule of thumb? Do not spend more than three nights in your baby’s room, or else you may find yourself moving in permanently (and neither I nor you want that to happen).

What happens if everything falls apart? First of all, go easy on yourself, tending to a sick baby is not easy. Second, remember all of those healthy sleep skills and routines you and your baby worked so hard to achieve? You remember the structure, right? Well, get right back on the horse as soon as you and baby have come through the worst of it.

Start over, and if you need support to get back on track, remember that I’m just a phone call away.

Snoring in Young Children

The soft cadence of heavy breathing, that ear-splitting roof-shingle-flapping sound, even the whistle and twitter of cartoon characters; at some point you’ve been exposed to snoring. Maybe even YOU snore. Snoring is a pretty common occurrence, and not typically something to worry about. But, what if the snorer in your house is your child? Let’s talk a little more about snoring in young children.

Snoring in young children is normal, but can also be an indicator of a more serious problem like sleep apnea.

IS SNORING NORMAL IN YOUNG CHILDREN?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “many if not most children snore on occasion, and about 10 percent or more snore on most nights,” and “children who are three years or older tend to snore during the deeper stages of sleep.” Snoring in young children can be caused by anything from a cold or allergies, to a more serious condition such as sleep apnea.

While snoring can be more common in children ages three and up, the National Sleep Foundation states that “loud and regular nightly snoring is often abnormal in otherwise healthy children.” If a cold, allergies or respiratory infection are not to blame, snoring in young children might be caused by sleep apnea.

WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?

When we sleep, the muscles in our body relax; when the muscles in the throat relax to the point of airway obstructions and reduced air flow, sleep apnea is typically the culprit. The National Sleep Foundation states that “one to three percent of children not only snore, but also suffer from breathing problems during their sleep.” Breathing problems can be characterized by “gasping or snorting, waking up and starting to breathe again.” This pause in breathing can be disconcerting to parents, and make for restless nights for both parent and child.

Sleep for Kids lists the contributing factors to sleep apnea as “obesity, allergies, asthma, GERD (gastroenterological reflux disorder), an abnormality in the physical structure of the face or jaw as well as medical and neurological conditions.” If sleep apnea is to blame, your child can be exhausted and cranky from waking throughout the night. Over time, these sleep issues can create problems with mental focus, possibly leading to learning difficulties. According to Sleep for Kids,

Undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea may contribute to daytime sleepiness and behavioral problems including difficulties at school. In one recent study presented at the American College of Chest Physicians, children who snored loudly were twice as likely to have learning problems. Following a night of poor sleep, children are also more likely to be hyperactive and have difficulty paying attention…Apnea may also be associated with delayed growth and cardiovascular problems.

If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, consult your physician. Sleep apnea can be treated; the form of treatment will depend upon the cause of your child’s apnea, but can include the removal of your child’s tonsils (tonsillectomy) or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy (CPAP), involving a machine that increases the air pressure in your child’s throat (to prevent it from restricting or collapsing) by using a mask with forced air.

If your child snores regularly, remember that it isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. If you believe snoring is affecting your child’s sleep, consult your physician to rule out any underlying conditions that may be affecting sleep quality. If snoring is not the cause of your child’s sleep issues, please give me a call to see how I can help your family get a restorative and restful night’s sleep!

 

Napping After Age 2: No-No or No Worries?

You and your little one have finally mastered a sleep routine and the entire family is feeling rested. Your 2 year old has healthy sleep habits, knowing when and where to sleep, and she follows her routine with precision and mastery. You secretly pat yourself on the back and relish the fact that you and your toddler are sleeping soundly through the night. Then, you see an article saying that napping after age 2 serves to disrupt sleep, rather than provide restorative benefits for cognitive and physical development. What do you do?

A new study purports that napping after age 2 can interrupt healthy sleep; here are my thoughts on these findings.

 

A recent study (Thorpe 2015), making rounds on the internet and causing a buzz among parents of toddlers, presents findings that show that “napping beyond the age of 2 lengthens the amount of time it takes for a child to fall asleep (sleep onset) and shortens the overall amount of night-time sleep s/he has” (Science Daily).

As of now, there are no long-term studies showing a link between napping after age 2 and any impediment in cognitive and behavioral growth, in addition to overall health (Science Daily). So, what do you do with this information?

As with any information, there are a multitude of factors to take into consideration before coming to a conclusion; the most important factor is your own child. Take a look at your toddler’s current sleep habits before making any changes to her routine. Is your toddler/preschooler still falling asleep at her usual bedtime, or are you noticing that she stays awake or has difficulty falling asleep at her bedtime?

My professional opinion is that if your child is napping well during the day, while maintaining an early bedtime (allowing for eleven to twelve hours of continuous sleep per night), and appears happy and well rested, then there is no need to transition away from the afternoon nap. However, if your child struggles to get to sleep each night, and/or begins waking several times a night of for long stretches, then it is a clear indication that they no longer need to nap during the day; at this point, the family should work on transitioning away from naps by using afternoon quiet time.

The bottom line is that this study’s findings are not a ‘one size fits all’ statement about napping after age 2. The circumstances always depend on the individual child’s needs, and many toddlers still benefit from an afternoon nap. Again, take a look at your little one’s sleeping habits and let that be the decision maker, not a scientific study making a blanket statement.

If you’re unsure whether your toddler is ready to transition from an afternoon nap to quiet time, I’m more than happy to evaluate your child’s needs. I offer a fifteen minute child sleep assessment at no charge, to assess whether you can benefit from my assistance.