Look around on Facebook at other moms who have young kids – I bet that a good portion of their status updates revolve around SLEEP and how much of it their kids get. Sleep is one of a mother’s biggest enemies. We love it when our kids sleep well and torture ourselves when the opposite happens. We celebrate that moment when our children “sleep through the night” and we ask ourselves, “What the hell am I doing wrong?” when they regress and/or go through a rough patch.
My daughter suffers from night terrors – a topic for another day. Recently after a particularly bad bout of night terrors where she had episodes twice a night for about 2 weeks, she developed some poor sleep associations. Once the terrors passed, she still woke up at the same times strictly out of habit and then was up for the day at 5AM instead of her normal 6:45AM. This went on for about 2 months and to put it mildly, it sucked.
I had the chance to attend a sleep seminar where I raised the question of “What the hell should I do?” and followed it up with some direct correspondence with the sleep consultant. What it boiled down to was that I had to make a few small adjustments to our schedules to get her to sleep longer, and then re-sleep train her to prevent her from nightwaking. I wanted to share some tips that were given to me in hopes that this can help some of you (these tips are for kids that are down to a single nap or no nap at all). Some of it sounds counter-intuitive, but I SWEAR it works.
I should preface this by saying that most of the guidelines on clock time have to do with the impact on sleep cycles, which are based on circadian rhythms, which in turn are based on the amount of natural light that someone is exposed to. Some people believe that they can put their kids to bed later and they’ll just wake later, but the reality is that if a child’s bedtime is later, more of their waking time has been when there has been less sunlight.
1. If you want to lengthen nighttime sleep, get your child down for a nap NO LATER than about 1pm. The optimal time is anywhere between about 12-1pm to coincide with circadian body rhythms. If your child goes down later than that, it will disrupt nighttime sleep, most likely resulting in a later bedtime and earlier wake time. She stated that if you miss the “nap window,” she’d much rather prefer that you skip the nap altogether and then put the child to bed as early as possible.
** Most kids could in theory keep naps/downtime until about 3-1/2. The expert had some data that showed that on average, kids with SAHMs or nannies give up naps sooner than kids in a fulltime daycare setting (where napping is part of their schedule) because of the structure and consistency imposed by the daycare schedule and setting.
2. Bedtime no later than 8pm (optimal window is 6:30-8pm – impossible for working moms to get their kid to bed by 6:30, but 8pm is doable). If your child has his/her second wind by that time, it means that their bedtime is too late.
3. Get rid of external stimuli – this means trash the nightlight, silence background music. Make the room as dark as you can because any light is distracting (even coming from a clock). The brain processes even minimal amounts of light and sound.
4. No stimulation (TV/radio/videogames) for at least an hour before bed.
5. Keep it cool. Kids have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep if they are too warm.
6. Sleep aides – a) Toddler sleep clock (she swears by these); b) Sound blockers – white noise machine or fan; c) Room darkening shades for both naptime and bedtime.
7. Kids this age CAN be reasoned with. Give them one soft toy (and maybe one book) and tell them that if they wake up, to hug the toy. REMOVE ALL OTHER TOYS from their bed/crib. The draw of playtime in the morning is just too strong.
8. Consistency is key. Kids are creatures of habit and they learn by rote example. A consistent bedtime routine is critical, NO DEVIATIONS.
We did everything above (except the toddler clock because she’s terrified of it) to get her to sleep later but in addition to that, we had to deal with night wakings which are a whole different ballgame. Lemme tell you, sleep training a toddler SUCKS BIGTIME because these kids now talk. We chose the cry-it-out method. I endured hours of “I’m so saddddddddd!!” or “Help me! Help me!” for almost a week. But after the 3rd night, she slept until 6:30AM (but still night waking at least once). After the 5th night, and for every night since, we have had peep-free nights. Five nights of hell for a future of peaceful sleep. It all worked – I was a skeptic and now I am a convert.