We live far west in our time zone and now, with Daylight Savings Time, it gets dark so late here, around 8 pm, and doesn’t get light until relatively late in the morning, either, around 7:00 am.
My five-year-old is really struggling to fall asleep when it’s light out, even with blackout shades in her room. We have resorted to giving her melatonin after an hour of her struggling to fall asleep. We are not in the room with her and she’s not having screen time before bed. I don't know what else to try.
I know that you generally advise an early bedtime, but is there ever an exception to that rule?
It’s true that as a rule, I recommend a bedtime of approximately 6:30-7:30 pm for most children under six-years-old. It seems that this bedtime most often successfully leads to 11-12 hours of sleep at night and a morning wake time of around 6:30-7 am. Most children seem to thrive on this schedule.
But the above scenario illustrates a very reasonable exception to this rule.
If, by putting your child to bed later, your child can fall asleep more quickly and sleep roughly the same number of hours of total sleep, there’s no reason not to make an exception to the rule.
Try it for a few days and see how it goes. If your child starts to have dinner time meltdowns, or impromptu car naps, this would suggest the later bedtime isn’t working so well. But if she sleeps well and wakes up happy and your work/childcare schedule can accommodate the later schedule, congratulations! You have found a workable solution!
Regardless of bedtime, I always recommend blackout shades and white noise at bedtime and lasting the whole night long.
Melatonin should only be used as a last resort, using the smallest possible dose, and only after getting your pediatrician’s approval.
If your family is struggling with sleep deprivation and nighttime struggles, consider setting up a free consult to see what solutions might help your entire family feel their best.
Many new parents think that they have to night wean in order to sleep train.
This is not true! You can maintain night feedings AND sleep train.
Usually, the key issue here is separating sleep and eating.
Once breastfeeding and weight gain is well established, usually by 2 months of age, a breastfed baby should be able to go at least 3-4 hours between feedings at night, if the breastfeeding parent so desires. (Some parents are perfectly happy to breastfeed all night long; this post is not for them.) Check with your child’s pediatric healthcare provider to confirm that weight gain is good and that there are no feeding concerns.
Typically, by this age, the first or second stretch of sleep is the longest and then feedings are more frequent. But they need never be more frequent than every 3 hours during the night, again, as long as weight gain and breastfeeding are going well.
Formula-fed babies should be able to go at least 3-4 hours between feedings as well.
If your baby is feeding more often than this, she is most likely using nursing (or less commonly, bottle feeding) as a way to soothe herself to sleep. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem is when this interferes with either the baby’s or the parent’s ability to get restful sleep.
You can start by just logging the feedings as they are now, either on paper or in a free app like Huckleberry. If you are breastfeeding, make note during which feedings you feel a letdown or can observe your baby swallowing repeatedly during the feeding. If you are bottle feeding, make a note of which feedings are a substantial volume. If your baby takes, for example, less than one ounce in a particular feeding, you can feel confident that he wasn’t hungry at that time.
Next, pick a target time for the first night feeding. It should be at least 3 hours after bedtime but might be longer if your baby already sleeps a longer stretch.
If your baby wakes up before that target time, use a different method of soothing him back to sleep. Breastfed babies often do better if they are soothed back to sleep by a non-breastfeeding caregiver. Even if the target feeding time arrives but your baby has still not fallen back to sleep, do not feed.
Wait for your baby to fall back to sleep. The next time he wakes after the first target feeding time, promptly go to him and offer a full feeding.
The next target feeding time will be at least 3 hours after the start of the first feeding. Again, if your baby wakes up before that time, use another method of soothing to get her back to sleep. The first time she wakes up after the second target feeding time, go to her promptly and again offer a full feeding.
And so on, if there is a third feeding (or more).
Try, whenever possible, to put your baby down awake after the feeding, but with a young baby, don’t stress unduly about this. Just decoupling feeding from sleeping some of the time will help.
During the day, also work towards putting the baby down awake after feeding when possible, but again, don’t stress unduly about this. Many parents find it helps to feed when the baby first wakes up, rather than right before a nap, to separate feeding from sleeping. If your baby is only for awake for an hour at a time, he shouldn’t need to eat twice during that time.
Taking these steps are a gentle way to gradually work towards improved sleep, especially at night, without doing any forced night weaning or any "crying it out."
If you have questions about how to do this, scheduled a free chat and get your little one gradually on a track towards better sleep.
March 2nd was America’s Read Across America Day.
If you aren’t already in the habit of reading to your child every day, it can feel like an awkward habit to start. I usually don't think to spontaneously offer to read to my children, so I’m guilty of the same struggle.
The thing that worked the best for my family was to establish reading as a pre-sleep routine. And I suggest the same to all my clients.
You can start reading to your child at any age from newborn on up. She may not seem to be paying attention, but even the rhythmic, soothing sound of your voice helps along her journey of language development and someday, reading.
If your older baby wants to eat the book, or grab at it and flip rapidly through the pages, or wanders away, that’s not a problem, either. Keep on offering once or twice a day. One of these days, he will surprise you and suddenly want to pay attention. Just keep the energy light and positive. What counts is that you make the effort, not that your baby focuses on reading. Keep it pleasant and non-stressful for both of you. Eventually your child will grow to love the routine of reading together.
If your preschooler prefers to watch a show over reading, change the order of things. Move TV before dinnertime, so that your child has an hour or more without exposure to blue light (the light from screens can make it harder for children to sleep, even though they seem relaxed while watching). Substitute pre-bed watching for pre-bed listening to a story.
If your older child no longer wants to be read to but doesn’t want to read independently before bed, try an audiobook. Any and all exposure to written language is helpful for your child’s growing brain, and also makes drifting off to sleep an easier process.
If you’d like to add to your child’s collection of diverse books, check out these suggestions from Read Across America that promote diversity and inclusion.
PS If you are struggling with the transition to Daylight Savings Time or other sleep transitions, schedule a free consult and get your family the sleep you deserve.
Five-year-old Amelie got into my makeup and thus, her "Doggy" got an unfortunate makeover. Luckily a trip through the washing machine returned "him" to normal.
If you are wondering why Doggy looks like a monkey and not at all like a dog... Well, Amelie named Doggy when she was a young toddler and ALL animals were “doggies.” Amelie is nearly six now but her monkey remains a “doggie.” Only “he” got named Jack a while back… but in moments of stress, he is called Doggy again.
Doggy has special significance for us because my mother gave him to me before Calliope was born. Calliope never needed a transitional object because she twiddled her ear for comfort (along with sucking her thumb). So when Amelie was born, Amelie inherited the love object, and unlike Calliope, Amelie quickly grew attached.
My mother died just before I successfully conceived Amelie. I had been trying to get pregnant with frozen embryos as my mother was dying of cancer and so I was able to tell my mother that her future grandchild, if a girl, would be named after her. (My mother's name was Amy, and she was named for her grandfather, Emil,)
Doggy is Amelie's one gift from her grandmother.
What are transitional objects and how do they help?
A “transitional object” is a physical item, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, that represents an extension of a young child’s primary caregiver. It reminds the child of the warmth, love, and security he or she feels in the presence of the primary caregiver. It allows the child to separate from a parent with less distress.
Transitional objects can be a huge help for children who resist separation, particularly at bedtime. It's normal for children to fear separation from their beloved grown ups, and it's also normal that their grown ups need that separation to function.
Particularly if your child is dependent on your physical touch to fall asleep, consider introducing a transition object. If your child is mobile, you can let them choose which they would like to sleep with. For a younger child, you may have to choose for them -- ask your pediatrician when it is safe to introduce one. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nothing in the crib before 12 months but your healthcare provider may say earlier is acceptable. It should be large enough to not be a choking risk and small enough to not be a smothering risk.
You may wish to slide the love object between you during bedtime snuggles, or even put it inside your shirt to acquire your scent. You can tell your child, "Lovey will keep you safe all night long." Don't be afraid to create a dependence on the love object. It's much healthier for a child to be dependent on a transitional object than on you for the small stresses of daily life. It's not a substitute for you, it's in addition to you. This is one sleep crutch that you actually want to have.
Most loveys are adopted during infancy but don't be afraid to try to create one into the preschool years.
Also, if you are afraid your child will never outgrow their dependency on the love object, don't be. Some children outgrow it gradually and others reject the love object seemingly overnight. All children outgrow their dependence sooner or later. One piece of advice though: acquire duplicates as soon as your child has identified a favorite love object! Rotate them regularly so the child doesn't have a preference. And keep the beloved love object safe at home and use a back-up for daycare and outings.
I actually threw away Doggy's duplicate before Amelie was born, since Calliope wasn't interested in it. And now I can't find an identical lovey. I live in fear of the day that Doggie gets lost -- he gets misplaced occasionally and we all feel terror as we search! Don't make my mistake.
Also, some children adopt "lovies" that are nontraditional. If your child loves bringing a favorite truck to bed, not a problem! Other children like carrying a cloth diaper around, or an item of a parent's clothing. Whatever creates a feeling of security in your child is perfect.
If your child is resisting separation at bedtime, set up a free chat to discuss how we can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Daylight savings time is coming to the United States and Canada in just TWO weeks, on March 14. (It's not until April in Mexico.)
Parents often ask if they can just keep their child’s schedule the same while the clock “springs” forward, to instantly create a later bedtime and later wake time.
The answer is that yes, you can… but it can be a little tricky to maintain. The main challenge is that in order to keep naps from shifting, you have to keep meal times the same as before, also. So if your child ate at 7, 12, and 5 before, you will now need them to eat at 8, 1, and 6.
Likewise, if your child woke at 6 am, napped at 1, and went to bed at 7 pm, your child will need a wake time of 7 am, a nap time of 2, and a bedtime of 8 pm.
The wake time and the bedtime should be pretty easy to maintain but if your child goes to daycare and preschool, you may not be able to control the nap time nor the lunch time. Just something to keep in mind.
Also, in the United States and Canada, the days are getting increasingly long. In order to prevent early wakings, you may need to up your game when it comes to keeping your child’s room dark. If you haven’t yet invested in blackout shades, do so. It’s seriously one of the best investments you can make in the health and happiness of your family.
Even if you do have blackout shades, you may need to address light coming in around the edges. If you haven’t bought them yet, consider buying extra-large ones that go around the window frame instead of inside the window frame. If you have already made the investment, consider painter’s tape around the edges. It may look ugly, but a few minutes of extra sleep in the morning is worth it, no?
At naptime, check if light is streaming under your child’s door. It may not keep her from falling asleep, but it may lead to a shorter-than-optimal nap time. If this is an issue, put a towel at the bottom of the door to block the light.
Don’t forget to keep white noise running during naps and all night long. It can be very hard to convince a child to go to sleep when it’s still light out! If he can hear the rest of the family having fun, that will only make things worse. White noise is your best friend in this situation.
If your family is struggling with early wake times, why not schedule a free consult to see if you can all get a little more shut-eye?
When I moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, from Brooklyn, New York, romance was the last thing on my mind.
At least two different friends predicted I would find love in Mexico. And I just laughed.
The idea of wanting one more person who would need something from me sounded ridiculous. I told my friends, “Time will tell! Maybe someday, when the kids are older. I doubt it, but maybe.”
I moved to San Miguel without much of a plan for myself, besides knowing I needed a radical change from the constant rush and stress of NYC life. I had already enrolled the children in a Spanish-only Waldorf school but didn’t know what I would do for myself.
Once the children started school, I got an online job as a health advisor, since nurse practitioner jobs don’t exist in Mexico. I started to build a social circle for myself. After a time, I got myself a therapist -- a requirement for any good (former) New Yorker.
And my therapist suggested that I start dating. Just casually. Just to explore my options.
I agreed that it might be fun to find an occasional dinner companion -- nothing more! -- and enrolled in Tinder, the most popular dating app in our small city.
Simultaneously, my friend Antoinette and I started doing a workbook together called Calling In the One: Seven Weeks to Finding the Love of Your Life. She wanted to find a lifelong partner. I don’t know why I decided to do the workbook too. Just curiosity, I guess? I had read amazing reviews of the book, hundreds of success stories, and while I wasn't looking for love, I was fascinated by the results it promised.
Well, before either one of us had finished the workbook, we both went on very promising first dates. Which quickly developed into much more.
Sergio and I met for coffee on February 4, 2020. I scheduled a quick forty-five minute coffee break between Spanish class and therapy. He seemed nice, but I didn't think much beyond that. I suggested we meet again soon and hurried on my way.
He sent a photo of our cozy meeting spot to me moments after I left… and was shocked that I blocked his number.
A little later, I wrote to him and thanked him for coffee. And he realized he had sent the photo to a stranger, not me. It was someone else who had blocked him.
The next day, he walked to Centro and chose the perfect terrace restaurant for our next date. He even reserved the specific table he wanted. He met me the next evening in the central garden of San Miguel. I was only a little nervous but as soon as I saw his smile, my heartbeat sped up.
We spent hours talking over a romantic dinner with a view of the parroquia, the famous pink church in San Miguel. Shyly, I finally took his hand. And hours later, I initiated our first kiss -- on the sidewalk of a busy street -- and felt fireworks.
Just a couple weeks later, I changed my mind about having a potential suitor wait six months to meet my children. Despite my desire to protect them, I didn’t want to commit six months to this relationship, only to have their meeting be a disaster.
It was the opposite of a disaster.
On the advice of Antoionette, we planned for just a quick ice cream outing, nothing too ambitious. Short and sweet.
The day of our date, he knocked on the door as we were doing chores. Calliope had been told to wash dishes but was dragging her feet. He went to the kitchen and quietly offered to help. Wordlessly, she handed him a sponge. They washed the dishes together. And by the end of the day, my shy girl was hanging all over him.
Amelie was even easier. She was instantly smitten, and thrilled to command his attention. Walking home afterwards, she climbed into his arms and laid her tired head on his shoulder.
He told me much later he had been nervous to meet them… and shocked to find that he was instantly smitten.
My heart swelled to see their ease together. I had truly never imagined a partner loving my children. My imagination blossomed and I started to imagine much more than a dinner companion, but a life partner. We quickly began spending nearly all our time together.
Seven weeks later, I decided to keep the kids home from school for a couple weeks, maybe. There was this strange virus circulating the globe.
Sergio’s mom came from Mexico City to stay in Sergio’s house -- much safer than an apartment in Mexico City -- and he was soon spending all his time with us, instead.
Then in May we had terrifying break-in when a vandal came into the house through Calliope’s second story window while we were sleeping. Thankfully, we were none the wiser until we realized a purse and iPad were missing the next day. Still, I couldn't wait to get out of that house. We found a new house together and moved in together, officially. And now we've moved again, into a house we adore, and Sergio’s furniture and kitchen items have gradually migrated to the new house.
We are talking, now, about moving his remaining possessions into storage and him letting go of his rental house.
And we are buying a used car together! He has generously shared his car with us throughout COVID but “Frida” has reached elderly ages and is ready for retirement.
It’s hard to express what it feels like to go from being a devoted Single Mother by Choice to being a committed family of four.
I feel a sense of surprise every day of my life, although it is gradually lessening.
It was really, really hard for me to ask for help and even to expect it. But when the kids stayed home from school last spring -- because, of course it turned from 2 weeks to 6 months, thanks to COVID -- I had to depend on him so that I could work. To my amazement, they quickly grew to adore mornings out with Sergio. He took the children and his mother to their school campus (no one else was around) to play. After a week, my reserved Calliope asked if he could call his mother “Grandma Carmen.” Both children asked if Sergio could stay home with them so I could go out alone on date nights!
When Amelie fell ill with an ear infection in the middle of the night after swimming in a pool, Sergio sat with me at her bedside in the middle of the night. Do long term couples do things like this? It had never occurred to me that I might not always have to worry alone. It was mind blowing.
Sergio insists on driving the children to and from school every day so I can take advantage of the time to work. He washes the dinner dishes every single night. He pushes the children -- and their friends -- in the hammock until they scream with delight. He watched them all afternoon yesterday so I could go to a vineyard with friends.
It is hard to describe is the gradually growing sense of safety and security that I feel. Especially because I didn't experience this as a child. I love the sense of comfort and confidence I see in my children.
Conflict -- inevitable in any relationship, and a guarantee in any relationship during COVID lockdowns -- was hard and scary for me. My parents had terrible fights, ones that were terrifying to me as a child. So anger is hard for me, whether the anger is from me or from him.
But we have gradually been practicing how to handle conflict in a healthy way. I have slowly been learning that he needs time to cool off when he is upset, that it’s not a rejection of me. This has been a hard but invaluable lesson for me! I am also learning that it’s not fair for me to apply a “manual” to him. I can ask for what I want or need, but I can’t be mad at him for not automatically realizing my needs and acting accordingly. Likewise, he’s his own person and has his own needs and wants, ones that don’t always match up with mine. He can say “no” to me without it meaning anything about me or our relationship. He almost never does, but he’s allowed to.
Our future together looks rosy. A one or two-year experiment in life in Mexico seems to have become permanent. As much as I miss my friends and family “back home,” I can’t imagine ever returning to the States to live. I am living my personal fairy tale here in Mexico.
I’ll never regret my unique path to motherhood. Becoming a single-mother-by-choice to Calliope and Amelie with the help of donor sperm was the perfect path for my family. If I had chosen to have children with a partner, we wouldn’t have had this perfect space for Sergio to step into. I’m so glad I had such beautiful years alone with them… and now I’m thrilled to be creating our new family together with him.
A Gentle Method to Teach Children To Fall Asleep Independently… Even If You Currently Lie Down With Them At Bedtime
You may be dreading teaching your child how to fall asleep independently. Perhaps you try to remember “they are only little once” as you stifle a sigh and you lie motionless in the dark, waiting impatiently for your little one to drift off so you can begin your “second shift,” -- cleaning up the kitchen, unpacking and repacking lunch boxes, finishing the work you couldn’t quite get to during the day. Or perhaps you even have hopes of a little time for yourself, just to relax and recharge for the next day.
Great news. There’s a gentle way to teach your child to fall asleep independently.
This method is best for children ages 2 and older. It’s called the Reverse Sleep Wave. It’s primarily for use falling asleep at bedtime, as opposed to night wakings.
The reason that falling asleep independently is so important is that children who can’t fall asleep independently at bedtime are much more likely to have night wakings. If they can fall to sleep independently, they can fall back to sleep independently after momentary night wakings.
The most important thing, as with any changes to the sleep routine with a child over two, is to talk, talk, talk about it first. Help prepare your child ahead of time and the change will be much easier. Make a plan together with them. Not at bedtime, but at a Family Sleep Meeting, perhaps on a relaxed Saturday afternoon.
Here’s how it works.
Tell your child that you will check on her automatically, every 5 minutes, without her calling to you.
That way she doesn’t have to create a crafty excuse to bring you back. You are going to come back no matter what. Kids love this. It makes them feel safe and secure. And makes them relaxed and thus, more able to fall asleep.
Just tell her, “you have to wait quietly in your bed and Mommy/Daddy/Designated Grown Up will come back.”
Demonstrate how you will stick your head inside the room and quietly say, “I’m checking on you. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. Love you.” Make sure he understands that you won’t be having a conversation at this point or any other time after lights out. You'll just say these words and leave again. Practice during the day.
The first time, wait only 30-45 seconds before checking on her. After all, she can’t tell time! The goal is to check on her before she has gotten out of bed, called out, or started to cry.
Then stick your head just inside the door, quietly say, “I’m checking on you. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. Love you.” Leave again.
Gradually increase the waiting interval until your child can wait 5 minutes between checks. Then continue 5-minute checks until your child is asleep.
Over the next two weeks, the number of checks needed before your child falls asleep will quickly drop. Usually, a child can fall asleep within three 5-minute checks after a couple of weeks. He will likely be very excited at first, but as your routine of 5-minute checks becomes very predictable for him, he will gradually relax.
Make sure you use a timer so you aren't late for your checks!
If your child is not yet able to stay in bed even long enough for you to leave the room, you’ll need to start with timed checks or the standard Sleep Wave, but can revert to the Reverse Sleep Wave once your child can stay in bed independently for short periods.
The Reverse Sleep Wave is a wonderful way to peacefully teach your child to fall asleep independently and peacefully, without tears.
PS If you would like to institute major changes in your child's bedtime or sleep routine but aren't sure how to start, why not schedule a free consult? I'll tell you all about how the process works, and there's zero obligation to buy.
PPS I also have a free Facebook group called Sleep Deprived Parents. Come on over! You'll get support from other tired parents and tips from me, too. I can't wait to "see you" there!
"Happy Saturday! We talked about the plan all week long, leading up to Friday night. Then last night, we spent the evening coloring our “plan”.
I could see him integrating and really absorbing it all. Then we went to bed...not a peep, or a cry, no attempt to nurse. I had no idea it could be that easy. I can’t believe I’ve waiting so long thinking it would be brutal. Your help was essential!!!!
My beautiful friend Kris asked for advice on weaning her three year old. In three years, they’ve only spent one night apart. Every other night, he’s nursed throughout the night. (In their one night apart, he woke up only once, for 30 minutes, and then went back to sleep!)
“It’s hard to stop,” she says, “because it’s a really primal connection.”
But, she adds, “I know we need to stop. For my health -- I don’t do well when I’m not sleeping well -- as well as his. He’s definitely having dental issues.”
Here’s what we discussed:
I'm here to help. Schedule a free consult and see if support might make the process easier for you, too.
Lots of parents tell me that their children are remarkably happy, despite getting enough sleep.
The truth is, it can be hard to tell if your child is getting enough sleep. This is because obvious signs of fatigue (like yawning and eye rubbing) are much less common in overtired children.
Here are some less obvious signs that your child may not be getting enough sleep:
1. Does your child get hyperactive or manic, particularly in the late afternoon or early evening? Overtiredness can actually mimic the symptoms of ADHD. This is because overtired children usually don’t wind down, they wind up… think of the Energizer Bunny.
Babies may need ever more bouncing, swinging, rocking to stay calm. Older children may be bouncing off the walls.
2. Do you regularly need to wake your child for school or daycare? A well-rested child should wake on their own at the appropriate time.
3. Does your child sleep late on weekends? As delicious as it is for parents, sleeping late is a sign of chronic overtiredness.
4. Does your child fall asleep before a scheduled nap in the car or stroller? Or does your non-napping child take a nap at any time if in the car? A well-rested child shouldn’t doze off in the car unless it’s a car ride at a scheduled time.
5. Is your child clumsy, irritable, or easily frustrated? A “difficult” child may actually just be a tired child.
If your child is showing one or more of these symptoms, try moving bedtime a few minutes earlier each night. A good goal for most children under 6 years old is a bedtime between 6:30 and 7:30 pm.
PS If you would like help figuring out if your child is overtired, schedule a free consult and let’s discuss it. Prices from 2020 ($399 for a two-week package) will be honored until the end of January, 2021 -- just ask on the phone call.
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.