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.
Don't worry, I don't feel like this either.
Hey there, friend? Are you, by any chance, stuck at home with one or more little ones right now? Is life feeling out of control? Are you anxious? Unproductive? Feeling disconnected?
Yup, me too.
But I realized this morning that that feeling serves no one.
We are all in a tough situation right now. Why not do what we can to give ourselves a sense of control? And help our families feel their best?
If your child is not getting the sleep he needs, he's likely going to be wound up and hyperactive. Even if you have a very chill little one, I promise he will be even more calm and focused when he's getting the sleep he needs.
Coronavirus is providing us many of us with the ideal opportunity to change our lives, establish new habits and yes, sleep train. When will you again have such control over your child's schedule?
Also, if your child is sleeping on a predictable schedule, you'll know that you have set periods each day to focus on your work. That is going to relieve some of your stress, whether you are working for pay or a stay at home parent. Here are some things that can help:
With my pediatric nurse practitioner hat on... The good news for parents everywhere is that corona virus, aka COVID-19, is rare in children. Most children either have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. It is much more likely that your child will get sick with the common cold or the flu.
If your child has not yet been vaccinated against the flu, please go today for the vaccine. Getting the flu will make her more vulnerable to catching other infections, plus the flu kills children every year. She is more likely to die from the flu than from COVID-19.
Other measures you can take to protect your children: wash hands frequently. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer works well also (assuming it is at least 60% alcohol -- check the label). Keep your child home from school or daycare if he has a cold or other signs of illness. Call your doctor's office if your child looks sick -- don't just walk in!
For more information, please check out this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Remember to always get your health information from reliable sources such as this. Please do not trust Facebook or other popular media sources that have not been vetted.
(Sleep consultant hat on again.)
Get your child outside for daylight, fresh air, and exercise every day that you are both well. These all boost a healthy immune system. If you are concerned about contact with others, you can easily avoid playgrounds and busy parks. Find a quiet road to walk on and count squirrels, or birds, or rocks. Or play tag in the backyard for ten minutes -- this has the advantage of getting your child laughing and allowing him to "empty his emotional backpack."
And keep your child well rested. A well-rested child has a stronger immune system than an overtired one. Focus on prioritizing an early bedtime, between 6 and 7 pm for most children under six years old. Start naps on time or even early, at 12 pm for once-a-day nappers and 9 am and 1 pm for twice-a-day nappers.
What if your child is sick and you have recently sleep trained?
There are no simple answers here. Try to maintain the sleep routine as much as possible while also allowing for flexibility as needed.
For example, if your child recently weaned off milk at night, in most cases you should not offer milk again at night unless your child is vomiting or has a high fever and won't take other liquids. In that case, offering breastmilk or formula (during the first year of life) at night may make sense but you should try not to let your child fall asleep while feeding. Once the vomiting or high fever has resolved, typically in 1-3 days, you should switch to offering only water at night.
Likewise, if your child recently learned to sleep alone in his room but may have a fever, you should go into his room promptly if he wakes up and cries during the night. If he flashes a huge grin at you when you enter, you can assume he's fine and give him a quick pat and leave again. But if he's sobbing and hot to the touch, of course you should take him out of the crib and attend to his fever. You may wish to give a fever-reducer -- check with your healthcare provider on the best options -- and then rock him until he feels better. Try to put him down drowsy but awake if you can. If you can't, it's okay. Just resume your good habits as soon as possible when he's feeling better. It may take a few days but with consistency, once he's well, he'll get back to his good habits again.
If you have any concerns that your child is having difficulty breathing, please don't leave her alone. Call your healthcare provider immediately. She should have an after-hours emergency number to call. This is the time to use it! If you are worried about being a bother, the best thing you can do is to call early and don't wait for 3 am. This is what pediatricians are for. In most cases they are able reassure worried parents over the phone. In a few cases, they will advise parents to go to the emergency room. Remember that emergency rooms are full of sick people so don't go there for routine illnesses (including fever without difficulty breathing) that can wait for the pediatrician's office in the morning. Again, when in doubt, call your doctor.
For families with older children (preschool and up), please remember that this can be an anxious time for them, too. And anxiety can make it harder for them to sleep. Laura Markham at Aha Parenting has some excellent tips on addressing children's anxiety around Covid-19. These tips include: start by asking your child what they have heard and correcting any misinformation, reassure them that grownups have got this covered and that healthy children and grown ups are not at risk, turn off the TV and other news sources that your children are exposed to, and teach them good hygiene. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow not your hands. Use hand sanitizer for 20 seconds (long enough to sing Happy Birthday twice) or scrub with soap for 20 seconds, making sure that hands are wet before adding soap and that the soap is not rinsed off until after the 20 seconds are up (it may be a pet peeve of mine that folks think that adding soap to dry hands and then scrubbing under running water will optimally reduce illness transmission).
This is a scary and uncertain time in our world, no doubt about it. But keeping our children reassured and our families active and well-rested can only help us in the battle against new and old illnesses alike. For help getting your family the rest you need, schedule a free chat and look forward to optimizing your family's health and happiness.
Daylight savings time starts this Sunday, March 7. in the United States. It doesn't start for another month in Mexico, not until April 5.
Daylight savings time is rough, especially for parents.
Or rather, the "fall back" at the end of daylight savings time is rough. "Springing forward" is actually a lot easier in most cases.
If your little one is waking too early, this is the perfect opportunity to reset her clock. Just get her up at her regular time and voila, it's magically an hour later!
The only challenge with this is, if you want to keep her waking at this suddenly-later time, you have to keep the rest of her schedule on the "old time" too. If you adjust her meals and her naps to DST, you can expect her early wakings to return, too.
Of course, early wakings are almost always the result of a too-late bedtime, so it might be easiest to focus on solving that problem. For more tips on that, check out Why Does My Child Wake Up So Early?
If you want your child to continue waking at the same time -- for most children, a wake time between 6-7:30 am is ideal for the best rest at night -- try to start transitioning the schedule now, if you are in the States, or 6 days prior, if you are in Mexico or another place with a different start date for DST.
Everything in your child's schedule will need to shift. Get him up 10 minutes earlier, feed him 10 minutes earlier, put him down to nap 10 minutes earlier. Tomorrow you will do it 10 minutes earlier than you did today. And so on. So that by the time DST arrives, you are already on the correct schedule. Easy peasy!
If you weren't that organized, no problem! Just start the transition as soon as you can. Or allow your child to transition gradually next week, if work and daycare schedules permit.
As the days get longer, children will also struggle with early wakings because the sun is rising earlier. Make sure your child's bedroom is equipped with really great blackout shades. Any leakage of light can lead to early wakings when your child is naturally less tired after a long night of sleep. Not sure you want to invest? Try taping garbage bags over the windows for a few days. I did this with my older daughter and her room was depressingly dark and cave-like but suprisingly effective at creating great naps. Your local hardware store will likely have inexpensive stick-on black out shades as well.
Make sure you are using white noise as well, to block out outside noise. The birds -- and the garbage trucks -- will be getting up extra early as the days get longer. I love this one -- it's suprisingly loud, inexpensive, lightweight and portable -- you can power it with batteries if there isn't an outlet available. We bring it on all our trips, even when we go camping!
As the days get longer, it's also easy to let bedtime slide later. It's harder to keep track of the time when the sun is shining so brightly. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you when to start bedtime. If the living room is sunny and bright, consider transitioning to a darker room an hour before bedtime. Exposure to darkness naturally encourages our bodies to produce melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness. Exposure to blue light from screens does the opposite, so make sure to avoid them in the hour before bedtime.
Any shift in schedule can be stressful with little ones, but the start of DST in most places is a lot easier than the end of DST. A little preparation can make this transition even easier!
For help with transitioning your child to a time change, addressing early wakings, or any other sleep challenge, set up a free chat so we can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.