Sleep Consultant Tips: Physical Activity and Pediatric Sleep

I think it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in this country, whether you or a family member contracted the virus or how your daily life has changed in response. At the outset, one of the ways the pandemic changed daily lives for those with children was the very real quarantine that occurred. Today I’m talking about the role of physical activity in pediatric sleep.

Pandemic and reduced activity

Just over a year ago, the country ground to a halt. Schools and daycares closed, and people were told to quarantine at home, limiting their contact with others. In addition to this quarantine, businesses were forced to close, and playgrounds across the country were closed, some even taped-off; most parents would likely have been scared to bring their children to playgrounds, even if they were open.

News reports and state departments of health warned families against meeting with other groups outside their household. As a result, many children who frequently played with friends and others outside their home were left without playmates or outlets for exercise. And for parents trying to juggle the obligations of family with those of work, the lack of daycare meant that they needed to juggle working from home and keeping their toddlers active and engaged

School-age children lost gym class and recess, and club and school sports were canceled. This left children of all ages without any physical outlet for their sometimes endless energy reserves. Paired with the stress of the disruption of everyday life, it’s understandable that many children have developed sleep issues in the past year.

Link between physical activity and pediatric sleep

Studies have shown a correlation between physical activity and sleep quality in children for years, but the outcome may be surprising to you. While I’d like to say that more exercise during the day means your little one will sleep better at night, that isn’t definitive. In fact, the association between physical activity and sleep is largely a matter of genetics and circumstance, and as with anything in life, there are always exceptions to the rule.

On average, most children will benefit from thirty to sixty minutes of physical activity per day. This means they will have sufficiently tapped into energy reserves and will have tired their bodies to a point where they fall asleep relatively quickly at bedtime and sleep well. However, you know your child best, so if you’re finding that your kiddo is having a difficult time after getting adequate exercise during the day, you may need to play with their schedule a bit.

Takeaways

One of the biggest takeaways from studies of the physical activity and pediatric sleep association is that moderate exercise during the day can help your child fall asleep faster. Too much exercise and you might find that your kiddo is wired when it comes to bedtime. This energy surge is due to the body releasing cortisol to provide a burst of energy; it’s a survival mechanism that engages when the body is overtired. This can start a cycle of poor sleep marked with fatigue or less physical exercise throughout the day and poor sleep at night. 

If you’ve ever traveled with your little ones, you’ve likely experienced the sleep cycle I’m talking about. Let’s take Disney World as an example. Your little ones spend an exciting, yet long, day in the park – it’s magical, after all! When you get back to your hotel, your kiddos are quite literally bouncing off the walls. You’re exhausted, and you expected them to conk out as well. What you’re witnessing are the effects of being overtired. 

The best way to master the physical activity and pediatric sleep connection is with balance and moderation. Moderate exercise can help most children fall asleep faster at bedtime. An abundance of exercise can wreak havoc and launch your little one into a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and over- or under activity. 

If you’re having trouble finding balance, reach out to me! I’m happy to hop onto a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to see if my services are a good fit for your child’s sleep struggles.

How To Sleep Train A Baby: Potty Training Edition

toddler-potty-training

Ah, yes. You’ve come to the point where your little one is sleeping well, but it’s time to potty train at night. No more diapers, no more training pants, we’re talking about how to sleep train a baby to get through the nighttime potty training phase. Don’t panic, we’ll get through this together.

Day training

If you’re just at the beginning of the potty training journey, look away, focus on the days, and come back and read this in six months or so. Both you and your little one have enough to handle with the daytime milestone, so you want your baby to become a daytime potty pro before even thinking about tackling nights. For now, nights are business as usual. Carry on. (more…)

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.”

bedtime reading routine babies (more…)

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: (more…)

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.

crib to bed (more…)

How to Drop to One Nap

Just when it seems you’ve gotten into a comfortable rhythm of morning and afternoon naps, your baby’s sleep behavior begins to change, and you start to wonder what’s causing the disruption. Are you sitting down? The culprit may be that your baby…needs less sleep. There, I said it. It’s entirely possible that the changes you’re witnessing are signs that your baby is ready to transition to one nap a day.

Drop One Nap

Signs your baby is ready

Before you begin panicking — and I get it, those naptime hours were the times you got to relax a little and focus on things you needed to accomplish — make sure your baby really is ready to transition from two naps to one.

You may find that your baby is completely rocking their morning nap, and then struggling to go down in the afternoon. Or maybe your little one struggles to go down for their afternoon nap two or three days in a row, and then completely conks out for their afternoon nap on the fourth day. The rule of thumb here is that if your baby is struggling to go down for their afternoon nap the majority of the days in a week, it’s a good sign that they’re ready to transition to one nap.

Another sign that your baby is ready to transition to one nap is if they’re rocking both their morning and afternoon naps, and then wide awake when bedtime rolls around. If your baby is taking an hour or more past their usual bedtime to settle into sleep, it’s a good sign that they’re ready to drop a nap.

Because developmental milestones happen often, and can typically cause changes in sleep, you want to make sure that your child’s disrupted sleep pattern lasts at least two weeks before deciding to transition to a single nap per day. While the two week period may be difficult, it’s worth knowing whether or not it’s time to make a change (rather than having to backtrack later). And on that note, once you’re sure your baby’s sleep issues aren’t due to a growth spurt, make sure that you’re committed to transitioning to one nap, because you definitely do not want to waver here — it’s confusing for baby and more work for you — so stick to it.

How to transition to one nap

While the steps to transitioning your baby from two naps to one may look incredibly easy, realize that the transition will happen over time — as much as you may want to, do not rush the process.

Begin by pushing your baby’s morning nap a half hour later every three days, until naptime is at 12:30pm. Know that this transition can take anywhere between 4-6 weeks, so be patient and trust the process. If you don’t rush, you’re more likely to commit to this schedule change, and everyone will be happy.

I know, I know, pushing your baby’s naptime back is no easy feat, now that they’re firmly into a sleep schedule. To make things a little easier, try to avoid going for car rides or walks with the stroller during your baby’s usual naptime, to prevent them from falling asleep (and derailing their transition’s progress). Try engaging your little one in a physical activity during their typical naptime, to try to distract them from their fatigue. If need be, give your baby a piece of fruit to give them just enough pep to make it until their newer, later naptime.

You may also find it helpful to temporarily move up your baby’s bedtime, just until they adjust to their new schedule. Don’t worry if you encounter inconsistencies on your baby’s part along the way, it’s important that you remain consistent, and their little body will follow along shortly.

If you hit a rough spot in your baby’s nap transition, just think of how much freer you’ll be once your baby is down to one, middle-of-the-day nap — it’s so worth it!

If you’re having difficulty transitioning your little one down to one nap a day, feel free to reach out to me to see if you can benefit from my help.

4 Tips for Getting Baby to Sleep Better

Stop putting it off. I mean this in the nicest of ways, but if you keep saying you’ll get around to getting baby to sleep better, the reality is that you’re putting off the inevitable. And if your baby isn’t sleeping well, the longer you wait to make changes to their sleep routine, the harder those changes will be to make. In an effort to make things super easy for you, I’m throwing out four easy tips for getting baby to sleep better, that you can implement today. I mean, why do it tomorrow if you can do it today, right?

getting baby sleep better

Tips for getting baby to sleep better

Keep it dark

Have you ever tried sleeping in the middle of the day? Unless you’ve outfitted your room, or are sneaking down to the basement for a quick nap, you’re going to be met with sunlight streaming in through the windows. Darkness is where it’s at, and as soon as you create a dark environment, the sooner your baby will understand that bedtime or naptime is coming.

Blackout shades or blinds are the easiest, and most inexpensive, fixes for a bright room; if you’re installing blinds, it’s imperative that you have them cut exact, or else you’ll have tiny beams of light cutting through the room like little lasers.

One thing many parents don’t think of is the light of the television or other electronics. Electronic screens emit blue light, which serves to keep baby (and you) alert and awake, opposite of your desired effect. The body needs darkness to trigger the release of melatonin, which aids in sleep, so turn off the electronics, or move to another room, at least an hour before baby’s bedtime.

Keep it cool

If you’re anything like me, your sinuses get dry and you become stuffy in the winter, when household heat is running constantly. And when I can’t breathe well, I don’t sleep well — it’s no different for babies. That feeling of snuggling into the warmth of your covers, body covered from the cool air of the room? So cozy! And babies love it, too.

Not only do babies sleep best in a cooler room — ideally between 65 and 70 degrees — it’s also safer for them. A hot room can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS, so keep the heat down and use a sleep sack or layered onesie to keep your baby core temperature up, making them comfortable while they sleep.

Keep it boring

Take a look around your nursery. Do you have bright prints on the walls? Maybe a mobile above the crib or hanging from the ceiling. How about one of those super cool, light-up faux aquariums that attach to the side of the crib? The reality is that all of these things are wonderful for stimulating your little one’s mind, but terrible for a quiet, comfortable sleep environment.

Instead, use your playroom, or a nook in your living room to create an area of stimulation for your baby, and try to keep all of the bright colors, lights and toys out of your nursery. Without much to look at, or play with, your baby will do what they’re meant to do in the nursery — sleep.

If you don’t already have one, consider adding a white noise machine to your nursery, to filter out the background noise of household activity or environmental noise. If you have other children, a white noise machine can be your baby’s sleep savior!

Keep it predictable

Think about how you perform when you have a set routine — you may even already practice a nightly bedtime routine. The truth is, babies respond extremely well with a consistent bedtime routine because they’re able to pick up on the cues.

Once you’ve taken them into the quiet of their nursery, perhaps reading them a book by a soft light, or giving them a warm bath, your baby starts to produce melatonin. Your baby’s body begins to relax, knowing that slumber is imminent, and they’re ready to welcome sleep.

While these tips for getting baby to sleep better are simple, and easy enough to begin implementing today, know that it will take some time for your baby to adjust to the changes. If you stay consistent, both you and your baby will reap the rewards of a healthy, restful night of sleep.