Stress. Inability to focus. Lack of productivity. Emotional decision making. Snap judgments. Irritability. What do these all have in common?
They are all side effects of sleep deprivation!
With everything going right now because of the pandemic... Figuring out school for the older kiddos. Working from home with no daycare. Keeping the kids occupied with nowhere to go…. Lack of sleep should NOT be an additional burden!
If you’re experiencing exhaustion because of your baby’s sleep struggles and you want to feel human again? I’m here to help! I am going to walk you through what I look at every single time I prepare for a consultation and/or create a customized sleep plan.
You see? It is more than just choosing a method! Unfortunately though, one of the most common mistakes I see in my work is families jumping straight into a method without any thought to the other building blocks.
When navigating why your baby isn’t sleeping well and what adjustments to make, it is important to cover all the bases. The areas to evaluate include the sleep environment, the schedule, the daily and sleep routines, and the child’s ability to fall asleep AND connect sleep cycles independently. Along with those four major components, make sure no other areas are overlooked that need to be strategized.
Come on! Let’s dig in!
THE SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
Ideally for sleep, we want a space that is dark, quiet, and cool.
When I say dark, I mean pitch black! Literally meaning you do not want to be able to see anything! And that is for both naps and bedtime. Even if you use blackout curtains? Check that light is not coming in through the edges. With any light in a sleep space, it can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and lengthen sleep.
EVERYONE wakes up a few times when sleeping due to the nature of sleep cycles. Including your baby! But if there is light seeping into the room, your baby is going to have a more difficult time connecting sleep cycles and falling back asleep; thus, increasing their potential to wake at night, early in the morning, and early from naps.
If you don’t believe me, listen to this! I once worked with a client who asked her childcare provider to move her son from a room with a little bit of light to a large closet that was pitch black. Immediately...and I mean immediately...the boy’s naps started to lengthen.
While it can be difficult for some adults to fall asleep with noise in the background, it can be even more so for your infant or toddler.
Think about it! They are constantly soaking in their environment and often want to be in on the action. Imagine how distracting it is to be transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next and hearing the other kids in the house, the tv, mom or dad talking, traffic outside, etc.
While I understand that some parents want their children to be able to sleep anywhere, creating a quiet and dark space allows for your baby to get better QUALITY sleep and potentially larger QUANTITIES of sleep. Both traits being extremely beneficial for a child’s growth and development!
Now this one might surprise you a bit. The temperature of the room MATTERS!
Typically, we fall asleep as our core body temperature starts to fall to its daily minimum. When a room is too warm, it can make falling asleep and staying asleep very difficult.
Many studies have shown that the ideal temperature for sleep is 65°F! And the AAP safe sleep guidelines suggest cooler temperatures in order to reduce the risk of SIDS for children one year of age and younger.
Now, I have seen a variation of temperatures suggested for sleep. And I know that 65 seems extremely low for many. So if that seems too extreme, try to aim somewhere between 65 and 72. And make sure that your child’s room is actually the number you see on the thermostat!
This component, the schedule, is one of the most simple adjustments that families often need to make to improve sleep. Sleeping at the right time of day is so important because of two factors - the circadian rhythm and sleep pressure.. If your child is not down for naps or bedtime when their circadian rhythm is dropping AND sleep pressure is rising, getting quality sleep is very difficult. This is often referred to as “missing the sleep window.”
While each child is different, here are typical times for each nap and typical ages when they are dropped. Note that while I provide ranges for each, it is beneficial to be consistent with your child’s schedule.
The AM nap begins between 8AM and 9AM and lasts 1.5 to 2 hours. It disappears between 15 and 18 months of age.
The PM nap usually begins somewhere between 12PM and 1PM. It lasts about 1.5 to 3 hours and disappears between ages three and four.
The catnap usually begins about two hours after the PM nap and lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. It generally is not beneficial to have a catnap starting past 5PM. A nap past this time would be bedtime. This nap generally disappears between six and nine months of age.
Bedtime NEVER disappears. Thank goodness! However, the time of bedtime might gradually change as your baby ages.
After birth, sleep is not yet mature. Hence, it is very sporadic. Around 6 weeks of age, bedtime starts to move up to an earlier time, somewhere between 5PM and 6PM. As your baby ages, bedtime gradually pushes to sometime between 6PM and 7PM. For some children, they stick with the same bedtime until they are about school age. For other children, bedtime shifts a little later. Somewhere between 7PM and 8PM. Ideally, no later than 8PM.
THE ABILITY TO FALL ASLEEP AND CONNECT SLEEP CYCLES INDEPENDENTLY
If your infant or toddler requires rocking, feeding, being held, reinserting of the pacifier or anything else external to fall asleep, time to work on improving that skill! This is where choosing a sleep training method comes into play. A child unable to fall asleep independently is more likely to experience short or no naps, bedtime struggles, frequent night wakings, and/or early risings.
When it comes to choosing a method, you will want to take a few things into consideration. One, your parenting preferences which might determine the level of involvement you would like to have. Two, how involved you will be while remaining consistent. Three, your child’s temperament. Four, other responsibilities while your child should be sleeping.
If number one contradicts with any of the last three, I would suggest taking some time to reflect. What causes you to object a specific sleep training method? Is that thought based on emotion or logic? What would REALLY be the best option for everyone involved?
AREAS OFTEN OVERLOOKED OR NOT STRATEGIZED
Time and time again I hear parents say, "We have tried EVERYTHING to improve our child's sleep!” But having a child does not automatically make you omniscient!
I don't know everything about most things. But what I can tell you? "EVERYTHING" to a parent when it comes to child sleep is often not "EVERYTHING" to a Child Sleep Consultant.
Here are the main areas that parents often do not consider or do tackle strategically when trying to improve sleep:
Like I mentioned, it is not just about which method you use. If you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle in place, the method is not going to matter.
If you want to strengthen your child’s sleep foundation...If you want to stop feeling like a zombie because of your child’s sleep struggles...click here to learn more about what working with a sleep consultant entails.