You have unconscious beliefs and thoughts that are telling you that it's your fault that your child doesn't sleep well. You are beating yourself up.
You also think it's too hard, or not fair, or selfish. You fear that sleep training might hurt your child.
The problem with all of these thoughts and beliefs is that they are keeping your child, and you, from getting the sleep you both need.
The more you think these thoughts, the more you feel the negative feelings they create. And even worse, your child feels that negative energy, too.
A family that I worked with a few months ago was convinced that sleep training was abusive. I tried my best to convince them that this was not true, and sent them research demonstrating that sleep training is safe and beneficial to children. I showed them that misleading articles that argue that sleep training is traumatic were based on flawed research (on rat pups or children in homes with domestic violence).
But these parents were ultimately unable to let go of their damaging belief. And a result, their child did suffer with sleep training. Because he felt his parents' emotions, and believed them, that there was something wrong. Of course. Children, especially pre-verbal children, are incredibly tuned into our feelings and our energy. Especially feelings of fear.
If you want to change your child's sleep, you have to identify, first, the story you are telling yourself about the problem. You can't let go of that story until you know what the story is. I suggest you write them down. Then, forgive yourself for the situation you are in. It's not your fault. You always had the best of intentions. You are a good and loving parent who has only ever wanted to help your child.
Next, we can create a new story. You know your child needs better sleep. Depriving a child of healthy sleep is like depriving a child of food. You wouldn't let your child go hungry. And from now on, you won't let your child go without sleep, either. Your child will be healthier and happier with better sleep. And so will you.
You also need to believe that you are strong enough to support your child through a transition. You have to believe that you and your child are strong enough to withstand strong emotions about that transition. You and your child can tolerate strong, negative feelings in life, not just in sleep training. Your role is not to take away the negative emotions, but to support your child through them, to assure him of his safety despite feeling angry or sad or tired. Tell yourself and your child that all feelings, even negative emotions, are okay.
We parents have a hard time allowing our children to feel pain. We love them so much; we want to take away the pain. But we can't prevent children from feeling pain. We can only support them through it, and teach them that they are strong enough to feel all the feelings. Feelings can't hurt us.
We are having a great example of this right now with COVID-19. We can't keep our children from feeling sad, or anxious, about the changes the pandemic has brought. We can acknowledge that our children are missing their friends, their routines, their birthday parties and trips to the beach and hugs from loved ones. We are sad alongside them. But we can't make them not be sad. To tell them, "you aren't allowed to be sad about missing your old life" would be ridiculous, right? So why can't we give them space to be sad about a change in their sleep routine? We can. Our children can be sad without us doing something wrong. Sometimes, life is hard. We can get through it, together.
Next, we focus on building up our children's confidence, and our connection with them. Special time, cuddles, playing hide and seek or tag, praising desired behaviors, maintaining limits, even letting them have tantrums and staying close by for a hug afterwards all strengthen your connection with your child. If your child is anxious, make time to discuss the anxious thoughts well before bedtime. At bedtime, gently enforce a limit that anxiety-provoking topics will be discussed the next day. Offer to write down all the anxious thoughts on a notebook next to the bed so your child knows she can let go of those thoughts without fear of forgetting them. Then, practice mindfulness or sing a song or listen to a meditation recording. Make bedtime a reassuring, relaxing time.
In the morning, after the separation for sleep, show your pride in your child's new independence. Be joyful. Greet him with smiles and hugs. Show him that you know he can learn new habits that will keep his body feeling well-rested and healthy. Push the fears away and remind yourself of the story that you believe, that your child is so much better off with healthy sleep.
It can be hard to change your child's sleep habits. Hard isn't bad. You were built to do hard things. And so was your child.
If you would like emotional support during the process, or if you need some practical advice, set up a free consult and let's get you and your child the sleep you need. We can have your entire family sleeping soundly in two weeks or less.
"It was so terrible before. The sleep deprivation was so hard for me. I was starting to think I should have never have had children.
Now I don’t have to doubt myself as a mom all the time anymore or think how I can physically hurt myself to survive those sleepless nights!
The first days and nights were tough, but I am very much looking forward to what’s next and can’t believe that I’ll have a child that sleeps well!! I will enjoy motherhood so much more.
This also opens up the window of having another baby in a couple of years which I really wanted but thought could never happen. I was gonna get sterilized!
Thank you so much!"
-- Violet, mom to Lucas, 4 months, day 4 of our work together
While it's a well-known fact that many new mothers suffer from "baby blues" or even postpartum depression, many parents don't know that massive sleep deprivation can also cause symptoms of depression. Regardless of the cause of depression, better sleep can only help.
Violet, above, believed that she had postpartum depression with both Lucas and her older son, Liam, but was surprised to discover that her symptoms quickly resolved once she got better sleep as her baby slept better. Violet is lucky to have a supportive partner who handled many of Lucas' night wakings but she was still unable to sleep through her baby's crying. It would have been even more difficult if she didn't have that support system.
Being depressed also makes it harder to sleep well, and that, in turn, can worsen depression. Adding in a baby who doesn't sleep well can be a recipe for disaster. And a study shows that babies with depressed mothers may sleep worse than babies who don't have depressed mothers. It can be a painful cycle of sleep deprivation and depression.
"While the fact that new mothers are often sleep-deprived will surprise few, the concern is poor sleep is considered to be a risk factor for depression, and depression may in turn contribute to or exacerbate sleep disturbance. Several studies indicate that postpartum women with depressive symptoms experience poorer sleep quality, less total sleep time, longer sleep latency (longer time to fall asleep), less time in REM sleep, and more sleep disturbance than women without depressive symptoms.5-9
One study estimated that women with postpartum depressive symptoms sleep about 80 minutes less per night than women who are not depressed.2 Another study also showed that because infants’ sleep patterns tend to follow maternal circadian rhythms, the infants of depressed mothers may also experience poor sleep quality, which may further exacerbate maternal depressive symptoms.9"
This is why sleep training can be a gift for the entire family. When a baby's sleep gets better, her parents sleep better. When sleep gets better, depression often improves. And sleep deprivation that we thought was postpartum depression resolves and the symptoms of "depression" magically disappears. And it seems that babies of depressed mothers also sleep less well than babies of non-depressed mothers. So if mom sleeps better, baby's sleep may also improve.
Also, babies who are tired tend to be fussy and difficult to soothe. As they get more rest, babies tend to more happy, calm, and focused. This strengthens the relationship between parent and child and gives parents more confidence in their relationship with their baby, which, in turn, leads to a better quality of life for the entire family.
If you have been struggling with the idea of sleep training, or working with a sleep consultant to improve your baby's sleep, know that helping him will help you and your whole family. As one of my clients said, "Sleep is truly a gift for the entire family."
Committing to, and following through with, sleep training is hard. Let me help. I promise we will find a solution that works for you and your parenting values. Set up a free consultation and we will figure out it together.
"Postpartum Depression and Poor Sleep Quality Occur Together." Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts General Hospital, MGH Center for Women's Health, 2011.
Six of the seven suitcases.
We arrived in Mexico on August 6, 2018, with 7 overstuffed suitcases and a giant carseat bag. The plan had been to only bring six suitcases but it was so hard to decide what to leave behind -- the vast majority of our belongings -- and what to bring. By the end, I had so much "decision fatigue" that I was throwing things, willy-nilly, into our suitcases. I brought all the play food, for example, and all the magnatiles. The play food mostly goes unused and the magnatiles get used every day. Lesson learned: most toys are really unnecessary.
Navigating the enormous Mexico City airport with those 7 giant suitcases, a giant car seat bag and a wiley preschooler (plus her more docile sister) was mostly a nightmare. Luckily I had a stash of American dollar bills for tips... but those didn't help when Amelie turned and took off running back through Immigration. Past the soldiers with machine guns. I was on the verge of tears as I attempted to hoist her squirmy self up to the customs camera. Thankfully, immigration officers took pity on our bedraggled group and let us go in the handicapped/employee line. Grateful doesn't begin to describe how I felt.
We arrived in San Miguel de Allende after a night in a hotel and a four-hour drive to a temporary apartment where we lived out of two suitcases before moving into our year-long home at last. It was a relief to unpack but our belongings sure looked skimpy. Mostly in a nice way. I liked feeling freedom from too many belongings. But sometimes I worried that my children didn't have enough things. Over time, I saw that they really were happy with just a few toys. Nowadays, we rarely buy toys and instead use our money on travel and experiences.
A few days after we arrived, my one English-speaking friend from the children's school, Katie, notified me that there was an emergency meeting for parents. Using Google maps, I nervously navigated my way to the meeting's location. I still barely knew my way to Centro at that point. I found my friend and she introduced me to what felt like millions of other parents. I was startled to experience being pulled in for a quick hug and air-kiss on the cheek before even exchanging names. What a difference from New York City, where I never touch even my closest friends!
I only understood about half of what was being said but with a help of a friendly translator, who helped me and another brand new American parent, I came to realize that the school's land had been taken over in a coup! What an introduction to life in Mexico. I had no idea if this was typical or not. I was impressed by how calm and respectful everyone seemed to be.
Luckily, Katie knew someone who had just purchased property with a vacant school on it, and our school was able to take it over. A couple weeks later, the children and I went to help prepare the new property. Painting and scrubbing was a nice introduction to the new school for all three of us. I still felt like an idiot whenever anyone spoke to me in Spanish -- my Spanish speaking was moderate but my understanding felt poor -- but it was good to be able to wordlessly work alongside others.
The first day of school was very hard. Calliope was joining the first grade class, despite completing first grade in the United States, because the Waldorf school required children to be seven to start first grade (and she had just turned seven). She was actually the youngest in her class. Little did I know, repeating first grade would be a tremendous gift for Calliope. It allowed her to focus on learning Spanish (and making friends) without being overly challenged by academics. It actually bolstered her confidence immensely and solified her mathematics skills.
The first day of school included a "bridging up" ceremony for new first graders. In front of the entire school community, each seven-year-old walked across a flower bridge, holding the hand of an older student, away from the kindergarten teachers and towards the first grade teachers. My poor, shy girl was quietly crying across the circle from me, not understanding a word of what was being said. I ached to take her in my arms and comfort her but waited helplessly across the circle with Amelie instead. The kindergarten teacher escorted Calliope across the bridge -- she was too scared to take the hand of an older student -- and delivered her to the first grade teacher, Yolanda.
Then Yolanda and her student teacher escorted the first graders directly into their classroom and closed the door behind them. There was no chance to hug her goodbye. I felt terrible. I hadn't anticipated this separation, and thus, hadn't said goodbye before the ceremony. My poor girl: a new country, a new school culture (Waldorf), a new language. And now, no chance to formally separate from me before a very long first day.
I delivered three-year-old Amelie, sobbing, into her teacher's arms and headed home. It was Amelie's first full day of school in her life. She had only attended preschool two mornings a week before, and her nanny and nanny-share-buddy, Leo, always went with her.
Oh, my aching heart. I could barely get anything done all day, worrying and waiting to pick them up.
To my relief, they both seemed fine at the end of the day. Exhausted, yes, and clingy, but not traumatized. Thank goodness.
I continued dropping them off and picking them up by taxi for that first week -- each crying at drop off each morning -- and then switched to the school's van service near our home. To my surprised relief, they both seemed to like the van and there were no more tears at drop off. It turns out that transitioning in a parking lot was a lot easier than being personally delivered to their teachers. Who would have guessed?
They were exhausted each day after school during that first month. I could hardly blame them. Those days that I went to school for a parent meeting, I was exhausted too. All that Spanish! And not just "ordinary" Spanish like greetings and ordering food in restaurants. Oh no, this was high-level, fancy pants, pedalogical Spanish. Anthroposcopic was my favorite. I don't even know what that means in English!
Calliope, especially, was moody in those early days. Amelie, too, but it was easier to see that it was just plain exhaustion for her. By October, the dark moods started to lift. Amelie started to speak in Spanish -- her class was only Spanish-speaking. Plus, she had had a Spanish/English bilingual nanny, Susie, back in Brooklyn, so she had had more exposure to Spanish. And Amelie is a born mimic. To her, figuring out to speak Spanish and charm others was just a game.
Calliope, my more cautious and reserved little soul, was more reluctant. She would only speak in English at school, but mostly didn't speak at all. Luckily, her initally-stern-appearing teacher turned out to be a warm and loving gem of a person. I felt so lucky! She truly understood Calliope, how hard to push and when to relax her standards. And Yolanda had another teacher working with her all year, Manuel, so there was an extra person to help Calliope as needed. And they both spoke English fluently. Best of all, the "handwork" (knitting and sewing, for first graders) teacher, Theresa, is American and speaks English to all the children during her art class. And Calliope is dextrous and creative beyond her years, so she had a class where she she was a shining star among her peers. This bolstered her confidence in school. And in October, a bilingual girl (English/Spanish) joined the class and Calliope had a true friend!
With the children more settled at school, it was time to figure out what to do with myself. Looking back, I wonder why I didn't give myself more time to relax. It was the first time in more than 15 years that I was neither working nor in graduate school. But I was so accustomed to the grind of full-time work! I didn't know how to relax.
I got an online job as a health advisor to new parents. I hoped it would allow me to work half-time, but they never fully launched so work was scarce. My friend Jackie had had good luck building niche sites for Amazon so I decided to give that a shot, and signed up for an expensive online course.
The initial challenge was that I couldn't think of an item to build my niche site around. It had to be at least $50 but not already have competition from other niche sites. So all kitchen items, for example, were out. There were tons of websites devoted to them. Finally, the instructor of the course took pity on me, after hours and hours of researching items, and suggested... toilets.
I started building a niche website called, I believe, TheBestToiletReviews.com. (In case you were wondering, TheBestToilets.com was already taken.) I kept trying to prod myself into completing next steps but the trouble was... I hated it. I hated everything about it. Friends suggested I give up by I hated to waste the money I had invested. So instead, I spent hours and hours NOT working on it and not leaving the house because I was SUPPOSED to be working on it.
Finally I threw in the towel. What an enormous relief. I immediately felt so much lighter.
The company that hired me to work remotely as a child health advisor was looking for more sleep consultants so I got the idea to train to become a child sleep consultant. It made perfect sense: my life had been completely transformed by sleep training my own children. I had felt so empowered by seeing the tremendous changes in them when they got the sleep they truly needed. Moreover, as a pediatric nurse practitioner, I had seen the negative effects on children of inadequate sleep: poor school performance, hyperactivity, obesity and excessive daytime sleepiness (yes, children can be both sleepy AND hyperactive -- it's quite common, actually).
I was accepted into the 5-month training program with the Family Sleep Institute, the only training program that seemed to be both evidence-based AND inclusive of all training styles and families. The online training and reading turned out to be really fun! It was great to be learning and studying again. I had always been a good student and it was great to return to my roots.
In the process of turning my focus to the sleep training program, I also started to feel less lonely. I deeply missed our daily visits with Amy and Emily, back in Brooklyn, but Amy visited in February with her two children, my children's best friends and nanny-share partners for seven years, and somehow that turned things around for me. It was like my emotional tank got filled and that kept me going until April, when my other dear friend from Brooklyn, Emily, came to visit with her daughter. Then in May, my childhood friend Emily (a different Emily) came for three weeks with her children and husband, and my SMC friend Denise came with her son. By the time they left, it was just three weeks until we returned to the States for six weeks of glorious summer with our loved ones.
But I was also busy building community in San Miguel. I had a group of neighborhood mom friends, mostly with younger children, and Jackie, friends online since we were pregnant with our oldest children and in-person since our visit to San Miguel the summer prior. We actually had a little group of moms with donor-conceived children living in San Miguel, ranging from 2-6 people at any given time! It was great because we all committed to going out every Saturday night together, often including other friends and visitors as well. I loved having regular social plans and having affordable babysitting to support it! In NYC, babysitting ran me $20/hour, which made the very thought of going out become stressful. In Mexico, it was more like $4/hour. Much more doable! And San Miguel de Allende has an amazing number of restaurants, many of them quite good, so there was no shortage of new places to try.
I was also making friends with other English-speaking parents at the children's Waldorf school. As my Spanish developed and my confidence grew, I got more friendly with the Mexican parents as well. It was important to me to be friends with Mexicans as well as Americans but I was intimidated -- I felt like a child, and not a very bright one at that, when I tried to keep up with group conversations in Spanish. I stopped going to most of the school meetings, realizing that they were not worth the cost to my confidence.
By the time we returned to the States at the end of June, we were feeling much more settled in Mexico. And also very, very grateful to be within our beloved community again. Despite that gratitude, though, I knew our "experiment" of life in Mexico was not yet complete. I knew I wanted at least another year. The first, and hardest, year was over. It was time to start reaping the rewards of all that hard work.
to be continued...
San Miguel de Allende's famous pink sandstone church (that my children refer to as "the castle" -- they think it's the one in Disney movie credits)
Brooklyn besties Leo and Eleanor come to visit.
But San Miguel pals like Mika and Teo are amazing too.
San Miguel mama friends are wonderful, also.
Calliope's classmates and teachers after a performance for parents.
Feeling all the community love and Amelie and Mika's joint birthday party.
Churros in Mexico City with beloved Brooklyn friend, Annabelle
May visitors: childhood friend Emily and SMC-NYC friend Denise and their families. (Calliope was SUPER happy to have her photo taken).
Despite it being only mid-morning, this toddler is overtired.
Early wakings and nighttime wakings are the number one reason families reach out to me for help. And the culprit is one that always surprises them.
You are putting your child to bed too late.
I know that seems crazy. You put your child to bed at what feels like a very reasonable hour, based on your family's schedule. It feels impossible to put her to bed any earlier. Your days are so hectic.
Plus your very reasonable fear: you are afraid your child will wake up too early. I know. I get it. I am having exactly the same struggle with my five-year-old who just gave up her nap and needs an earlier bedtime. Even though I know better.
Here's the deal: overtired children don't sleep well. They wake up more at night and they wake up too early in the morning.
I suggest roughly twelve hours in bed each night for children under 6. (Maybe slightly less for preschoolers who still nap).
The sleep before midnight is the most restful. So sleeping 8 pm to 8 am is not as good as sleeping 7 to 7 and will generally result in less overall sleep.
My ideal bedtime for most children under six years old is actually 6:30 pm. Especially knowing that if you aim for 6:30, you might actually achieve 7 pm.
If this sounds too hard... think about your disrupted nights and way-too-early mornings. How much would you like those to go away? Are you willing to push your schedule to make it happen? Even if it means you have to work in the evenings to finish work earlier? Remember that when your child sleeps through the night, you will be more rested and thus, more productive. So you may find you are able to finish your work in less time and not need to continue to work in the evening!
This tip, moving bedtime earlier, has worked with every child I have worked with. Even my own. I put her overtired five-year-old self to bed at 6:20 last night -- the earliest in weeks -- and she woke up at 7:20.
A warning: this doesn't always work the first night you try it, though it often does. I tried it for the first time a few days ago and my little one was up at 4:30 AM. Sob.
But two days later, my efforts paid off and she started to sleep later.
Most of my families see results in two to three nights, and often even faster. So give yourself a few days, at least, to try this radically simple suggestion: an earlier bedtime.
If you want to put your child to go to bed earlier and sleep all night long but aren't sure how to make it happen -- maybe you struggle emotionally even if you have the book knowledge of what needs to happen -- set up a free consult and get your family the sleep you deserve.
Strolling the cobblestone streets of beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
When I started my job as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a progressive public elementary-through-high school in Brooklyn, NY, I thought I might never leave. At the very least, I thought I would stay until my then-theoretical children graduated from elementary school.
It seemed like the perfect job for me. It was two blocks from my apartment. The politics of the school were amazing, with a focus on prioritizing racial and economic diversity as well as social justice. The teachers were warm and devoted, some of them spending decades at the school. Admissions to the school were through lottery, but as long as I worked there, the odds were high that my future children would be able to attend this gem of a school. I was providing primary care to children ages 4-19, including reproductive health services to adolescents, and seeing a dramatically reduced rate of teen pregnancies in our community as a result. I was treating many asthamtic children, addressing their symptoms as well as starting them on preventative medicines to improve their long-term outcomes. I was making a difference. And it felt amazing. I was happy to work long hours to achieve these results.
Thirteen years later, it was feeling far less ideal. My commute was now 45 minutes or more, by subway and on foot, dragging a tired child behind me. The demands of the job had increased radically. My popularity meant there was an ever-increasing demand for my clinical services, while at the same time, the advent of electronic medical records and other new documentation requirements meant my administrative work had increased exponentially.
I was exhausted. My child was exhausted. I was missing my baby at home with the nanny. I was almost never fully emotionally present with them, because I was racing the clock throughout the day. It was a battle to get out of the apartment in the mornings -- especially with the nanny often being late herself -- and to get home in time to relieve the nanny at the end of the day.
Then I rushed them through dinner and into bed at night so I could cook dinner, eat, clean up and fall into bed exhausted at night, only to get up at 5:15 the next morning to start the cycle all over again.
I was also rushing through my patients during the day, anxious to keep up with the ever-growing pile of paperwork. Our funding was always in question, and we got laid off several times, only to have funding reinstated when our devoted patient families fought on our behalf. I was humbled by their efforts, but exhausted by the stress of job insecurity.
One day my beloved medical director made a comment that I mistakenly interpreted to mean that our program's medical assistants would be laid off. One day of working solo without my assistant was miserable -- swabbing a sore throat for strep before dashing back to the waiting room to check on the latest patient to arrive. An eternity of working alone was intolerable.
A switch flipped. I was done.
I started looking for other jobs and even had an interview for a similar job with another, more well-funded and stable organization. I realized I couldn't start over, doing the same job again, just in a new and more geographically distant community, no matter how stable the organization.
A couple of weeks later, I had an evening off and went to get a pedicure, blissfully alone. My pedicurist was Mexican and we cheerfully chatted together in Spanish. A lightbulb went off. I loved speaking Spanish.
I remembered a conversation I had recently with my older friend, Scott, who was beginning his retirement and talking excitedly about the places he would travel. I remembered thinking wistfully that I didn't want to wait until my own retirement to travel. I wanted to travel now, with my children, while they were still young enough to want to travel with me.
I remembered my years' long "conversation" over Facebook Messenger with my friend and fellow single-mother-by-choice, Jackie, about our desire for immersion travel with our children. We had traveled together the previous summer to San Miguel de Allende. I had always thought "immersion travel" meant trips during my glorious summers off from work.
But now I started to have a different dream. What if I gave up everything -- my newly remodeled apartment, my beloved community of friends, my devoted patient population -- and moved to Mexico?
It seemed like a crazy idea. And yet. I knew I had to do it. I had to make the leap.
I got in touch with Jackie and shortly therafter, to my amazement, she decided to make the same leap. She already worked remotely so she didn't have to give up her employment but just like me, she packed up her home, sold or gave away most of her possessions, and flew her family to Mexico.
Saying goodbye to the only life my children knew wasn't easy. It was particularly hard to say goodbye to Amy's family -- we had shared a nanny and raised our children together every day for seven years -- and to Emily's family -- we lived in the same building, were both single mothers, rode the subway together every morning and often shared meals. I couldn't speak as I silently, tearfully said goodbye to each. They weren't just my friends, they were our family.
But I knew that the time we spent together, as precious as it was, didn't make up for the hours and hours of stress and exhaustion every week. As much as I loved being in their lives, it wasn't enough.
So on August 6, 2018, we boarded a plane with 7 overstuffed suitcases and flew to our new lives in Mexico.
to be continued....
Well, the world is collapsing and so am I!!
Julie and I have been home for 3 weeks (due to COVID-19) and somehow her sleep is even worse and I desperately need a schedule.
She gets tired after only an hour and a half of wake time which is crazy because she’s about to turn 9 months. I try to stretch her awake time and I think she’s so overtired that she does gymnastics in her crib and then only naps for 20 minutes. It's like getting in the crib invigorates her! She will lay on her back for a bit kicking, then stands and mouths the crib, then lays down and pushes her arm through the slats, then puts her head on the mattress and waves her booty around. Sometimes she just sits up waving her paci around and holding a press conference. It's adorable but very odd! I’m just grateful she’s not crying so I don’t go in unless I think she needs me.
I’m supposed to be working from home and while I obviously can’t work while she’s awake, it’s impossible to get anything done in the day when she never sleeps! Lately she's been skipping her third nap of the day -- should I keep trying to put her down for it?
I’m also trying to feed her solids twice a day and struggling to get her to actually eat and I think it’s because she’s always so tired! She's also started waking up between 4 and 5 each morning so I am very tired too!
Erin, mom to Julie, 9 months
As soon as you get used to a routine with a baby, the routine changes.
Babies typically give up the third nap by about 9 months; some a bit sooner. I encourage parents to maintain that third nap as long as possible but at some point, it stops working.
This nap transition is often complicated by the fact that it is occurring at an exciting time, developmentally. This baby is sitting and pulling to stand and babbling, all things that she is excited to practice in her crib, even when she's exhausted. Her lack of interest in solid food right now likely reflects her total exhaustion. It's not a health concern at this age, when it's fine for her to get most of her calories from breastmilk or formula anyway, but it is naturally worrying to her mother.
In the case of this overtired baby, we decided to have her mother put her in the crib for 30-45 minutes each day at 3 or 3:30 so that this single mother has a brief opportunity to work and so that baby can have some quiet time. She hasn't been falling asleep but it's not a problem or a punishment to put a baby in her crib for some time to decompress. It's actually a great opportunity for the baby to practice all her exciting new skills in a safe environment. Luckily she doesn't protest this time out.
We also moved her naps earlier, to 8:30 am and 11:30 am, to try to get her to sleep before she is overtired. And we are striving for a 5 pm bedtime. Occasionally, when her short naps lead to early morning wakings, I have counseled her mother to attempt a third nap in the car.
Normally, I never recommend car naps because naps in motion are never of high quality for older babies and toddlers. But sometimes, when a child is overtired, a nap in motion can help prevent the sleep debt from becoming too great. A mid to late afternoon nap in motion, when she wouldn't be napping in the crib anyway, serves as a bridge to keep her from getting too overtired before her very early bedtime.
We are still working together and finetuning the plan each day, but Julie is gradually -- usually -- lengthening out her two naps a day. Her early morning wakings are improving.
The good news is that this transition, like all transitions with babies, is generally short-lived... even if it feels like it lasts forever. Julie will master the latest set of developmental skills and be more willing to sleep at bedtime again... so the early morning wakings should end. Her body will become more accustomed to only two naps a day and the naps should lengthen out, especially when she doesn't wake up so early in the morning.
It all sounds simple here but when you and your baby are both exhausted, it's hard to troubleshoot successfully. Let me help.
"Ask Me Anything" sessions are just $35 for a fifteen-minute call. During this season of COVID-19, I am offering a special one-week package of sleep support for only $279 (normally it's $339 for two weeks) and additional discounts are available for returning clients. Schedule a free consult today and get your tired family back on track.
How long do you normally give a schedule adjustment before deciding whether you think it's working? We had a rough night with the baby last night and I feel like I did everything "right" yesterday — all three naps were on time and I put her to bed early last night. She woke up and got herself back to sleep in a few minutes at about midnight; but then woke up at 2 and cried off and on until I went in at 3a.
The confounding factor: She started flipping onto her belly on Sunday. When I went in at 3a she was on her belly and crying, and I'm wondering if she was upset because she didn't know how to flip onto her back. I will say, when I went in at 7a this morning, she was sleeping happily on her belly, so maybe she came to terms with it quickly?? She also rolled belly-to-back for the first time while playing this morning, so who knows??
Anna, mom to 5 month old baby S
Welcome to developmental leaps. They are exciting but they can really mess with sleep! The good news is that the disturbance will be temporary if you are consistent in your response. In other words, refrain from rewarding the unwanted behavior.
In the case of this particular developmental leap, rolling, this mom did perfectly. She left her baby alone to sort it out. She could have gone in sooner to flip her baby over onto her back again... but the baby might well have rolled back onto her stomach again and cried all over again. You can certainly try rolling her back and if it works, great, but if she keeps rolling back, there's nothing to do but let her figure it out.
The best way to help takes time but it is to give her lots and lots of floor time to practice her rolling skills. Limit your baby's time in containment devices such as swings, bouncers, exersaucers, Bumbos, Jumparoos as much as possible. This baby learned to roll back to her belly just three days after rolling to her stomach but it can sometimes take a month or longer. A clean blanket on the floor is always the ideal place for a baby to play unless there is a toddler or pet around who poses a risk to her safety. In that case, I recommend a Pack n Play for safety if there is not an adult closely supervising her. Toddlers can hurt an infant very, very quickly and it's not fair to expect them to know better. Same with animals. If you can create physical boundaries to keep them apart, I highly recommend doing so.
In terms of safe sleeping, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that once a baby can roll onto his back indepdently, it is safe to leave him there. This typically happens between 4 and 6 months of age. The important thing is that you make sure that the crib has nothing in it but a tight-fitting bottom sheet and perhaps a pacifier, if desired. Bumpers, soft toys, and blankets are dangerous for babies. A sleep sack is safe but a swaddle -- once a baby can roll -- is not.
The good news is that once babies grow accustomed to rolling, they often sleep more soundly on their stomachs. Assuming you have not been rewarding her new wakings, you may well experience better sleep for the whole family once baby learns to sleep on her belly.
If you want your family to receive all the benefits of being well-rested but need a little help getting there, schedule a free consult and to get the sleep you deserve.
I am conflicted about using blackout shades in my twins' room.
I'm reluctant to use them because whenever I nap in a dark room in the middle of the day, I wake up feeling cranky and miserable. I don't want that for my girls.
But right now, they never nap on the same schedule and I am going absolutely bonkers. I can never leave the house and I never know when I'll get a break.
Kate, single mom to 11-month-old twins
Kate is an amazingly devoted mom. I admire her tremendously.
We parents should take all the help we can get. It's not cheating to help them nap. It won't make your young children wake up feeling cranky and miserable.
That's because their young bodies have totally different sleep and wake cycles than we do. Babies' bodies are designed to nap during the day. Unlike ours.
When we wake up cranky and miserable after a nap, it's because we have nap inertia. Basically, we are sleeping at a time that our bodies weren't designed to nap. Babies, on the other hand, absolutely need naps during the day.
If babies nap at the biologically ideal times, they won't have nap intertia. For twice-a-day nappers, those times are roughly 9 am and 1 pm. Once-a-day nappers should sleep at around 12 pm.
Just timing naps appropriately can make a huge difference. That's step one. And it's the furthest thing from cheating. It's taking advantage of biological sleep and wake cycles.
Step two is yes, using all the sleep crutches you can find that don't require your active, ongoing participation.
So blackout curtains? Heck, yes! White noise? Absolutely. Fan or air conditioner to keep the room cool and air circulating? Definitely. Swaddle (for newborns) or sleep sack? Sure! Pacifier that you have to reinsert 16 times during the nap? Nope.
Offer the pacifier once and that's it. Either she finds it and re-inserts it herself or she loses it and learns to sleep without it. There may be some tears in the short-term but otherwise, she will never learn to sleep independently (or at least, not until she gives up the pacifier).
The same goes for breastfeeding or bottle feeding to sleep. If your little one can fall asleep and stay asleep, feeding to sleep is fine. But if he needs another nursing session or an additional bottle to link his sleep cycles, you are doing him a disservice. You'll know this is happening if your baby (4 months or older) is waking for multiple feedings every night. By four months, your child should be able to go several hours without feeding, and that should gradually decrease from a maximum of three a night to two to one or less at nine months old. By a year old, most babies should not need any feedings at night.
My five-year-old recently started to give up her nap. The timing feels pretty terrible -- stuck at home for months at a time during a global pandemic -- but I hardly feel like I can complain. Five years of napping is a pretty good run.
But then we tacked up a heavy blanket over an internal window to her room that was letting in a good bit of natural light. Lo and behold, my preschooler is napping again. Gloriously long naps that leave her well-rested and cheerful, a delight to be around.
If this "cheating" means I can avoid the cranky miserable mess she was on the days she missed her naps... I'm a devoted cheater.
But I prefer to think of it as smart parenting. Helping my girl get all the sleep her body needs to be her best.
(Note the white noise on her table, the standing fan pointed at her, and of course, the heavy blanket tacked up over the internal window.)
If you'd like help getting your little one napping better, or need support tackling a different sleep challenge, schedule a free consult so we can get your child, and your entire family, the sleep you deserve.
My two-and-a-half-year-old has recently started resisting his nap. He has no interest in going in his bedroom at nap time and only wants to play. If I put him in his crib anyway, he cries and asks to be picked up. I think he still needs sleep but I can't get him to go down. I've tried putting him down later, around 2, but that doesn't help.
The thing is, bedtime is a dream on the days he doesn't nap! He conks out immediately... but then sometimes is up at 5 am the next day. Should I be keeping him up longer?
Also, sometimes he ends up falling asleep in the car at 4 pm and then bedtime is a nightmare -- he's still running around like a maniac at 9 pm. I need my evenings back but I don't want to start my days at 5 am, either.
Many children give up the nap too soon.
What typically happens is the afternoon nap creeps later -- I made this mistake with my oldest child -- and it thus becomes harder and harder for my little one to fall asleep. That's because I was missing the ideal nap window, between 12 and 1 pm. She seemed fine before the late nap, but it took a long time for her to fall asleep, and if she did, the nap would run late and she would wake up a cranky, miserable mess. I could expect inconsolable wailing for at least half an hour after the late nap. It was horrible.
It can also make bedtime Mission Impossible. Your little one is thus running around like an hyperactive maniac at 9 pm or later and you think, "gosh, on the days when he doesn't nap, he passes at at 7 pm. Sure, I'll miss the afternoon break, but anything is better than this madness, right?"
Don't give in to the temptation.
Overtired children are more prone to meltdowns and misery. They are also likely to wake up too early in the morning, or to have nighttime wakings. If your child has recently given up the nap and is waking up during the night or waking up too early in the morning, consider bringing back the nap. (If that's impossible, move bedtime earlier.)
Move the nap earlier. The ideal time to put him in his bed is between 12 and 1. Make sure you don't start too late. When children are overtired, their bodies produce stress hormone, cortisol, which makes it harder for them to fall asleep. They can seem hyperactive. This is a sign of overtiredness. It's better to start the nap too early, and have your child play a while in bed than to start too late.
If you are worried he won't be tired this early, make sure he gets plenty of exercise and exposure to natural light in the morning. These both cue his body when it is time to play and when it is time to rest. If he still resists naptime, you can be confident that he just doesn't want to separate from you and the fascinating world he lives in. This is totally normal. And is not a reason to delay or skip the nap.
Start lunch early, around 11:30, before she is too tired to eat well. Make sure she's hungry for lunch by avoiding unecessary snacking. I suggest breakfast at about 7 am and then a healthy snack at about 9:30 am. The exact timing isn't important; what matters is that there are set eating times and then breaks from eating. Your child does not eat to eat processed carbohydrates (crackers, pretzels, dry cereal, Goldfish) on the go between meals. These break down to sugar in the mouth, will dull her appetite, and make her more prone to getting cavities -- the teeth need a break from eating, too, to let bacteria-killing saliva wash over the teeth.
After lunch, start your nap time routine. A consistent nap routine cues his body that it is now time to sleep. A pre-nap routine of about 15 minutes is ideal. A typical nap routine includes: diaper change or visit to the potty, 1-2 books, a song, close the blackout shades, turn on the white noise, and go into the crib awake. You do not need to soothe your child to sleep. That is his job. If he is accustomed to your help falling asleep, we should work on helping him learn the vital skill of self-soothing.
You should leave your once-a-day napper in the crib or bed for at least 90 minutes, and up to two hours, before declaring the nap a failure. If she wakes after less than an hour, leave her, Let her try to go back to sleep. Don't let her sleep past 3:30, though. Once you have declared nap time over, expose your youngster to natural light and opportunities for play. It's ideal to take her outside for more exercise if you can. Avoid the car and stroller if she skipped the nap or only took a short one, and aim for an early bedtime, around 6 pm. It's better to run your errands the next morning instead. A too-late afternoon nap will wreak havoc on bedtime.
If you are worried he won't sleep at night after a nap, you can cap the nap. Try shortening it by 15 minutes every few days until you hit the sweet spot of getting enough rest to make it through the afternoon without meltdowns but falling asleep at a reasonable bedtime, around 7 pm.
Preschoolers may resist less if you call this time "quiet time" or "rest time" as opposed to nap time. Give them a short but positive message about this time, such as "Our bodies and brains need to rest now so they can grow." Don't engage in arguments, even if your miniature lawyer presents you with a long list of reasons why the nap is unecessary. A simple, "I love you. I'll see you later," is enough response. Engaging in a debate will only make things more difficult. Make sure you darken the room and turn on the white noise, even for older children. Likewise, it may be helpful to describe the steps of falling asleep to your child, such as "You need to lie down, stay very still, close your eyes, and take deep breaths."
Sleep guru Dr. Marc Weissbluth says that three-year-old children who still nap are more emotionally adaptable and able to learn. (He notes, though, that naps should not be used to compensate for a too-late bedtime as this will not make up for too-short nighttime sleep.) Giving up the nap too soon is also likely to lead to issues with nighttime sleep.
For this reason, don't give up on the afternoon nap unless it's been at least 6 weeks of consistently skipping the nap. Nap strikes are very common and can last quite a long time but are temporary. Even after nap time is over, preserve an hour of afternoon quiet time for as long as possible. Your child can look at books quietly in her room while you, dear parent, get a break too. You aren't depriving your child of attention by doing this; her brain needs down time just like yours does.
I am full of sympathy for those of you who are enduring this difficult transition. My own child seems to be finally giving up her nap at newly five-years-old. I'm very grateful that she has napped as long as she has but still, the transition is no fun. She is napping approximately every other day and is a whiny mess in the late afternoons when she doesn't sleep. She's often still cranky the next morning, despite 12 hours of sleep at night. Ugh! It's not easy to stay patient with the frequent meltdowns. We are doing our best to get through this time with grace and patience, and I know you will too!
If you would like support or troubleshooting through this difficult transition, set up a free chat so we can get your child, and your whole family, the rest you deserve.