How to Keep Your Child Awake

I talk about sleep a lot. Here on my blog, with family, friends, clients and colleagues — sleep is a never ending topic of conversation, as it should be given my career! However, I was just telling a former client that we, as parents, spend so much of our time wishing our children would sleep, and when it’s not an appropriate time to sleep, we bend over backwards to keep our child awake. Am I right? Strange, isn’t it?

I’m going to take a break from talking about children and sleep today. I know, I know, you came here because you’re anxious to have your child develop healthy sleep habits, but did you know that wakefulness, at the right times, can help your little one sleep better?

keep-child-awake

For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know how important routine is in helping children develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. And if your kiddo has healthy sleep habits, he’s not likely to fall asleep at random times or when you’re out running errands. This is because your kiddo has a routine and picks up on the sleep cues of that routine. Driving to the grocery store, in between naptimes, is not an appropriate time to sleep, especially if you want your little one to stay on schedule.

There are, however, times when your kiddo may be so tired out that you look in the rearview mirror to see her head nodding. Or, you leave the room to prepare dinner, only to return and find that your kiddo is rubbing her eyes while watching her favorite show. The alarm bells go off and you begin, like every other parent, to act like a crazy person, knowing that your child will be up until midnight if she naps now.

I’ve been known to tap my daughters’ legs if they try to nod-off, but I wanted to see what other parents do when faced with this dilemma. I asked parents and parenting writers to share how they keep their kiddos awake, and here’s what they said:

Michael Jackson is always a go to when we need to stay awake. WE DANCE! (Not my child, my nephew). Emily K.

We roll down the windows, turn up the radio and sing along at the top of our lungs! And just yesterday we gave the 5-year-old my phone to watch Funniest Home Videos on YouTube so he’d stay awake on the ride to baseball practice. Dana Kamp

I’ve tried tapping my son’s leg, opening his window and turning the radio up in the car — none of which worked — until I had a stroke of genius. My son is a mega-dinosaur fan, and a Jurassic Park fan (even the horrible 2nd and 3rd installments), so I pulled up a YouTube video of Universal Studios’ Jurassic Park ride on my phone; he was absolutely transfixed. Lauren B. Stevens

We listen to an audiobook, talk to the child, or let them throw shoes around in the backseat (I know, I’m a horrid parent). Elizabeth Broadbent

I am a terrible singer, so what I do is make up insane, very loud songs while poking at my kids and trying to engage them to sing along. If I’m able to move around, there is definitely ridiculous dancing involved, too. Their misery at my awfulness usually keeps them conscious long enough to keep them from dozing off! Kim Bongiorno

I may or may not have slammed on the brakes and screamed. Elly Lonon

I will engage in an active conversation with my child (he’s 4) so sometimes that takes imagination. We will look for things out the window to talk about. Sing songs together. Even make things up. C. is a boy that the later he is up past his bedtime the earlier he wakes up in the morning, so if his schedule gets jacked up – everyone’s life gets jacked up!!! Holly K.

I tell fart jokes. NJ Rongner

We play I spy or sing or iPad but not movies. Movies equal sleep. We do thinking games. Sometimes you just need them to stay awake! Sarah B.

“Look! A bear!” Lindsay Gallimore-O’Breham
Now you have plenty of options for the next time your kiddo attempts to take an impromptu nap! So, what do you do to keep your little one awake when s/he’s nodding off at the wrong time?

Eliminating Afternoon Naps

I typically talk about ways to help your child sleep, and work with families every day on establishing a healthy nap and bedtime routine, but today I’m going to switch gears. Yes, today I’m going to talk about eliminating afternoon naps.

If bedtime is again becoming a battle, you may want to consider eliminating afternoon naps.

I know, I know, you’ve come to enjoy that slice of quiet time in the afternoon, relishing the calm and cleaning up after the morning’s chaos. But, unless you want your nights to stretch endlessly, and bedtimes to once again become a battle, you should be on the lookout for signs indicative of eliminating afternoon naps.

Knowing when to remove the afternoon nap can be tricky, as little ones will often still go down for an hour or two in the afternoon even if they’re ready to go without a nap. How can you tell? If you’re finding that your little one is having a party in his crib for an hour or two after bedtime, and waking at his normal time…tired, that’s a pretty good sign that he’s ready to go without an afternoon nap.

I understand that every family needs to do what’s best for them, so if you want to keep the nap and have your little one up later, make sure you move back their wake time to compensate, ensuring that they’re getting the proper amount of sleep.

My suggestion is that you push bedtime back to no later than 8:30p.m. and remain consistent. This is an all or nothing proposition – you either keep the nap and push back bedtime, or eliminate the nap. Remember the consistency I advocate with sleep routines? Consistency will establish a new routine if you’re pushing back bedtime to allow for a nap, or forgoing the nap altogether.

If you decide to eliminate the nap [and keep the same bedtime], replace that time with quiet play in her bedroom. Books are best, but quiet play with LEGOs or something similar is fine as well. Remember, your child is used to heading to her room mid-day for that nap, so you will continue with that routine to transition away from her nap (and you’ll still get a little quiet time for yourself).

You may experience some late afternoon meltdowns in eliminating afternoon naps, but be consistent. It takes two to four weeks for our bodies to adjust to new sleep patterns, so keep this in mind if late afternoon becomes difficult during the transition and push through it.

 

If you’re struggling to remove your child’s nap, call me — I’m more than happy to assist you (and provide moral support)!  Just send me an email with the subject “I NEED HELP”.

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.

Healthy Sleep Habits: Giving Up The Afternoon Nap

I knew the day would come eventually.

The very sad day when my daughter Lizzy (almost 4) was finally showing signs that she was ready to give up her afternoon nap.

Lizzy was always a fantastic napper.  Once I had helped her in learning how to fall asleep and stay asleep all night long and for naps on her own she looked forward to her naps and once able would ask to be put down for them.

Healthy Sleep Habits
Healthy Sleep Habits

As she grew from an infant to a toddler, she fell into a solid routine of a daily 3 hour nap every afternoon.  This was such a blessing for me as it gave me a chance for some down time and to accomplish anything I needed to get done.  When I became pregnant for a second time, her afternoon nap allowed me to take one as well.  And when you are pregnant and exhausted, a 3 hour afternoon nap hits the spot!

For the past several months, Lizzy began showing signs that she was nearing the end of her afternoon nap days.  At first the signs (detailed below) were sporadic at best and usually after a few days to a week of nap difficulties she would settle back into her usual 3 hour nap routine.

But as the weeks and months wore on, the signs became clearer and clearer to spot and increased in frequency until I finally came to terms with the fact that in order to preserve my daughter’s healthy sleep habits at night, we were going to have to phase out her afternoon nap.

For all children, this transition will need to be made to allow for a proper bedtime and to prevent bedtime struggles from ruling your evenings.  The timing of dropping the afternoon naps can range anywhere from 2 years to up to 4 years of age.

Healthy Sleep Habits: What are the signs that your little one is ready to drop their nap?

They will almost always go down easily for the afternoon nap, but the main challenge will become bedtime.  They might have a prolonged duration of chatting, singing or playing in their bed or crib when they should have been heading off to dreamland 30 or 45 minutes ago.

Or, your little one might try and take control of your bedtime routine and drag it out with multiple requests (more books, songs, another sip of water, having to go potty once more or my personal favorite…but I just need one more hug).  Pretty soon, a great bedtime routine that usually takes 20 – 30 minutes has now turned into a 45 minute + free for all.

But a word of caution: Developmental milestones can be the cause of naptime parties and bedtime shenanigans, so be sure the problem has been going on consistently for longer than 2 weeks.

Once all the signs are clear to you, you actually do have a choice to make:

If you would like your child to continue with their afternoon nap or you are unable to drop it due to a daycare schedule and expectation, then you will need to move your little one’s bedtime back to 8:00 or 8:30pm.

If you are choosing to remove the afternoon nap, bedtime will need to be moved earlier to 7:00pm.  This will ensure that your little one is not becoming overtired and cranky who is primed for a full blown meltdown by the time bedtime rolls around.

I also suggest that each afternoon when naptime would normally begin, you implement “Quiet Time” for at least 6 weeks after making the transition to allow your little one time to decompress from a busy morning and rest their brain a bit before taking on the afternoon.  The appropriate duration of quiet time is about 45 minutes worth of “unplugged” activities.

What are some great Quiet Time activities?

Reading books, coloring, quiet games such as memory or puzzles.  Some toddlers and preschoolers may find it difficult to refocus and engage in quiet time so you may have to sit for the first few minutes at the beginning and lead them into what activities are appropriate options.  Once they have the hang of it, you can step away with the understanding that you will return when quiet time ends.

In closing, my advice is to watch your child’s sleep habits closely and let them be your guide through this important journey.

Good luck and please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

Sweet Dreams!