Poor little Elian looks miserable because, well, he is.
He fell asleep in the car at 4 pm and woke up after 5.
No doubt he needed the sleep, but the problem is that the timing was all wrong.
You know how you adult feel terrible if you take a nap at 5 pm? Cranky and groggy and miserable?
That’s how Elian was feeling too. Because the timing was off.
Our bodies produce melatonin at predictable times. For a two-year-old like Elian, his body produces melatonin the middle of the night and again in the early evening.
When we sleep at those times, we generally fall asleep easily and wake up easily (assuming we don’t have other sleep issues, of course). So a toddler who naps in the middle of the day should wake up fairly cheerfully.
When we sleep at the wrong times, we feel terrible.
I didn’t know this when my daughter, Calliope, was a toddler. I loved having long mornings to do things so I would put her down around 2 pm for her nap. And I couldn’t understand why she was waking up absolutely hysterical a couple of hours later. There was nothing I could do to coax her out of it. It was at least 30-minutes of kicking and screaming from my otherwise super chill toddler. It was horrible.
So sticking to a strict naptime schedule may be inconvenient to us parents, but if the payoff is a cheerful, alert child, I think you’ll agree it’s usually worth it. Save your exceptions to the schedule for days you really need them.
If you have optimized your child’s schedule and sleep is still a mess, set up a free discovery call and let’s get your family the rest you deserve.
My girls turned 7 months a week ago and should be napping 3hrs max at 3 naps a day. I’ve found going from 3.5-3 hrs has been hard for them. I have to wake them up from each nap and they are upset when I do.
Also when I don’t give Y at least 3.15 hrs of daytime nap, it makes putting her down for naps challenging as she screams until she falls asleep. Yesterday I gave them 3.5hrs but thought it’d affect their night time sleep but it didn’t. They went to bed at 7:35pm, and woke up at 7am. Their wake windows are also 2.5hrs which works best for Y, but I’ve put Z down a bit earlier than that and she still sleeps. How can I slowly dial it back to get to 3hrs or should I just let them be since it’s not affecting their night time sleep?
In a word, no. It’s not a problem at all. Some babies just sleep more than others.
Sleep predictions by age are just averages. Some babies will inevitably need more sleep and others need less. If you are the parent of a high sleep needs baby, you are, by many accounts, lucky.
Other parents worry that their babies don’t sleep enough. I worked with a client recently whose 12-month-old baby just wouldn’t take longer than 30-minute naps. We tried everything. But the baby’s night sleep -- after our work together -- was beautiful. Ten to eleven hours a night, with no wakings. And her mood was great during the day. She just didn’t need a lot of sleep, total, and especially, not a lot during the day.
So while it’s a good idea to have a general idea of average sleep needs and average awake intervals, try not to get bogged down with them.
Here are some general guidelines for what to expect in terms of awake intervals. I recommend switching to a clock-based schedule (as opposed to an awake-interval based schedule) by about 5 months but awake intervals are still useful beyond that age as a general guide. For example, if your two-year-old naps from 2-4 pm, she’s probably not going to be ready for bed at 7 pm because she needs 4-5.5 hours awake between the end of nap and her bedtime.
Awake Interval Details by Age *averages. In general, try to keep the awake intervals at the shorter end of the range unless you have a low sleep needs baby.)
Birth to 6 weeks: 45-60 min
2 mos: 1 hour
3 months: 1-1.5 hours
4 months: 1.25-1.75 hours with bedtime about 1.75-2 hours after the last nap ends.
5 months: 1.5-2.25 hours with bedtime no later than 2-2.5 hours after the last nap ends.
*** Most babies transition from 4-5 naps a day to 3 naps a day by about 5 months old. You can expect naps to get longer when this happens. You will likely need a very early bedtime during this transition to prevent overtiredness.
6 months: 2-2.5 hours Naps should be ending by 5:00pm with bedtime 2.25-2.75 hours after the last nap ends.
7 months: 2.25-2.75 hours with naps ending by 5:00pm. Bedtime should be 2.25-2.75 hours after the last nap ends.
8 months: 2.25-3 hours. The last nap should end by 4:00pm and bedtime should be 3-3.75 hours after that.
9 months: 2.5-3 hours. The last nap should end by 4:00pm. Bedtime should be 3-3.5 hours after that.
*** Most babies transition from 3 naps a day to 2 naps a day between 7 and 9 months old. You will likely need a very early bedtime during this transition to prevent overtiredness.
10 months: 3-3.5 hours awake between 2 naps with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
11 months: 3-4 hours awake with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
12 months: 3-4 3-4 hours awake with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
12-18 months (2 naps): 3-4 hours awake with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
12-18 months (1 nap): 5-6 hours awake before the nap and bedtime 4-5.5 hours after the nap ends.
*** Most babies transition from two naps a day between 15 and 18 months but some children transition as early as 12 months or as late as 21 months. When this transition happens, move bedtime earlier to prevent overtiredness.
18-24 months: 5-6 hours before the nap and bedtime 4-6 hours after the nap ends.
24+ months: The nap should end by 3:00-3:30pm or even earlier if you are finding that bedtime is too late. It is normal for bedtime to become later the longer the child keeps their nap. You may cap the nap to keep bedtime from getting too late.
For most children under age 6 (yes, a huge range of ages!), the sweet spot for bedtime is between 6:30 and 7:30 pm.
Don’t be afraid to try a much earlier bedtime if your baby or toddler seems overtired! If your preschooler is still napping (yay!), you may need a slightly later bedtime but if your little one is up until 9 pm or later, cap or eliminate the nap.
Again, these are just guidelines. If you are worried you child is sleeping too much or too little, schedule a free chat and we can figure out what is the best individualized schedule for your little one.
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.
Check out my first weekly Facebook Live to hear more about the ideal bedtime for your child, how teething can affect sleep, bedtimes for school age children, hear the story of how I came to be a sleep consultant and more.
I also talk about my peaceful parenting style and how incorporating "special time" can make bedtime separation easier. For those of you with toddlers, preschoolers or older children... fear not, instituting new bedtime routines doesn't have to be a miserable experience for anyone in the family.
Set up a free consult with me to learn more. There's no committment.
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:
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.
"They each got up and intermittently played and cried. Clementine was okay. Cecilia acted exhausted. They ate once, or maybe twice, each. I tried to get Cecilia to nap in her swing. She cried desperately. I gave up. They played, and whined. Cecilia fell into a bottomless pit of despair and I carried her up to her crib, where she settled happily and admired her jellyfish and sucked her thumb. I came downstairs. Clementine was trying to sleep on the floor. I carried her upstairs. She rolled over in her crib, spun 180 degrees so her feet was where her head should be, and shouted. I tried to wait it out. Cecilia started occasionally crying (wouldn’t you?). I went upstairs and removed Clementine. Cecilia saw me and sobbed. I put Clementine in the swing. She fell promptly asleep. Cecilia cried for several minutes, remembered her jellyfish, and then fell asleep. From the time they needed that nap until they fell asleep was an hour and a half. That’s insane."
Twins are tough! I recently wrote another post with tips for sleep training twins and higher order multiples. Today I'll delve a bit deeper.
Identical twins usually have similar sleep needs, while fraternal twins' sleep needs are are different as any other set of siblings. This means it will be more challenging to get your twins on a similar schedule if they are fraternal... but there are things you can do to help the process along.
In any given set of fraternal twins, there is typically one who is considered one who is the more sensitive sleeper and another who is considered the more challenging sleeper. The sensitive sleeper is more reliant on routine and can't adapt well to changes in the schedule but generally sleeps well. The more challenging sleeper struggles with falling asleep independently and tends to take shorter naps.
In order to prevent overtiredness -- which makes it harder for children to sleep -- parents should generally focus on prioritizing the sleep needs of the more sensitive sleeper, the one with apparently higher sleep needs.
If the children will be sharing a room, it is generally recommended that parents sleep train their twins in the same room. Yes, they may wake each other initially, but it's the only way they will eventually learn to sleep through each others' noises. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that twins do not share a sleep surface. Room-sharing with parents for at least the first six months, but ideally until one year, can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 50%.
As discussed in my previous post, put the cribs as far apart as possible. Put a white noise machine on the floor between them. Use blackout curtains for every nap as well as at night. If one baby wakes at night for a feeding, wake the other for a feeding also unless they are past four months and your healthcare provider has given the okay for night weaning. In that case, don't wake the sleeping baby for a feeding. I know this can be scary because it might mean twice as many night wakings for you! Try to delay the first feeding until after midnight.
Fraternal twins typically do not consolidate naps at the same time. But you want them on the same schedule. This can be tricky! When one wakes after a short nap... don't let him get up! He needs practice putting himself back to sleep. Even at the risk of disturbing his twin. Give the catnapper at least 15-30 minutes to fall back asleep, for at least a total of 60-90 minutes in the crib. If he still won't sleep, get both babies up and out of their cribs so that they are sleepy at the same time for the next nap.
Night sleep training typically takes about 2 weeks for twins and naps can take even longer to fall into place. But don't despair, with time and consistency, things will get better.
I love working with twin families! You guys amaze me. Let me help you get your little ones sleeping through the night. Let's set up a free chat and see how I can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Weekends. Gloriously free but hectic, too. So much you need to do. And so many things you just want to do.
Grocery shopping. Errands. Cooking. Catching up with friends and family. And then the ever-elusive sleeping in.
Surely a later bedtime on weekends can't hurt?
Well, only if you and your child don't mind the occasional jet lag.
The truth is, children don't do well with a lack of consistency in their routine. Children thrive on predictable wake times, nap times, and bedtimes. Putting them to bed later feels to their bodies like changing time zones. You know that doesn't feel good.
And the even uglier truth? Adults do better with consistency, too.
Part of the reason you so desperately want to sleep in on weekends is that you are accumulating sleep debt by changing your bedtime and wake times so frequently.
It's hard to give up those occasional late nights, but if you do, you will feel less tired. Even if you get a bit less sleep, overall.
Before you accuse me of being a Grinch... I get it. I truly do.
This past weekend, I kept my children up late to go see the newly-lit Christmas tree in town. My little one got to bed an hour and a half late.
Sometimes, we have to prioritize life over sleep. It's important to balance the needs of the entire family, including the parents, with the sleep needs of your child.
I encourage you to limit exceptions, though, to no more than twice a month. Plan ahead so you save those later nights for the most important of occasions.
Here are some other ways to limit the impact of the occasional late night:
Watch your child and see how she reacts to the occasional late night. As she gets older, she will be more able to tolerate that occasional exception. A younger toddler may be better off staying home with a babysitter and getting to bed on time, rather than going out with the family. It may also be a lot more enjoyable for you that way. Rest assured, she won't need this early bedtime forever.
Need some help adjusting your child's bedtime? Set up a free consult and let's chat!
Holiday travel and sleep schedules.
You had the best of intentions, right?
And then it all went out the window. Because you weren't in control of mealtimes, and thus couldn't control bedtimes. And now your little one is going to bed too late and waking up too early and maybe even sleeping in your bed. You are afraid that all your hard work with sleep training has gone out the window.
Deep breaths, tired parents.
It hasn't all gone out the window.
And no judgment. We've all been there. Me too.
Once you have done the hard work of sleep training the first time, it'll never be this hard again. I promise!
Here are some tips for getting your little one back on track quickly:
Rest assured parents, we've all been there. Travel, and visiting family, is a beautiful thing. Even when it messes with their sleep. If you follow these tips, you should be back on a predictable, restful schedule again very quickly. Don't forget to include an early bedtime for yourself, too! All that travel and social interaction is exhausting for everyone.
Need some help getting back on track? Or maybe your child's sleep wasn't ideal to begin with? No worries. I'm here to help -- no judgment. Just schedule a free consult and we'll get your family the rest you all deserve.
Now that we’ve all theoretically survived the transition back to Standard Time — I know some of you are still struggling! — the next challenge many of us face is traveling with small children for the holidays.
Travel is never easy with little ones, who are thrown off kilter by any change in the routine. Most of us can expect extra sugar and processed carbs, extra screen time, limited opportunities for exercise and structure, and as a result, extra tantrums. (To those who are able to avoid those “necessary” evils of travel: I applaud you!)
The first thing I suggest to any parent who is traveling with a small child, especially over the holidays, is lots of kindness and forgiveness for yourself. Please don’t start sleep training or do anything else challenging while you are traveling.
That said, if you have already established good sleep habits for your child, trying to maintain them as best you can — while not making yourself too crazy — will really help the whole family survive this challenging time AND the ensuing aftermath when you get home.
Here are some ideas:
1. Try to maintain as early of a bedtime as you can. Explain to your relatives that if Johnny goes to bed late, he wakes up extra early… and the rest of the extended family will be up extra early as a result, too! If you make an exception and let him stay up late one night, try to get him to bed early the next night. Little ones can handle one exception a lot better than night after night of them.
2. Consider feeding Alicia an early dinner at your temporary new "home" before you go out to a meal with relatives. She will eat better if you offer familiar foods in a less stimulating environment. If she’s starving when you arrive at a restaurant, it’ll be stressful for everyone and she’ll end up filling up on less healthy food. Better to give her chicken and green beans, for example, at home and then the buttered roll when you arrive at the restaurant.
3. If your little one is used to sleeping by herself in her own room, try to maintain that while traveling… even if it means setting up her Pack n Play in a closet (leave a door open a bit for ventilation) or bathroom. These spaces are great, too, for keeping her sleep environment dark and quiet.
4. Consider bringing his car seat on the plane if you think it may make him more likely to sleep there. Some children do better in that familiar cocoon. Others prefer to curl up on the airplane seat. (Of course it’s always safest for a child to travel in a car seat on an airplane… but many families are intimidated by the thought of lugging a car seat onto a plane. If your car seat at home is heavy, consider a lightweight travel car seat like this one -- I use it myself for travel with my preschooler).
5. Bring your white noise from home. If you don’t have one you love, or if yours is bulky, I love this one by Homemedics. It’s lightweight and can be powered by batteries if the power goes out.
6. Pack light — I’ve learned the hard way that my kids never play with the toys I bring when they are in a new environment — but bring along a few favorites. Make sure to pack any loveys and pacifiers your child uses at home. I keep a couple of nightlights in my travel toiletries kit so that I can instantly transform any “too dark and scary” bedrooms and bathrooms. I also bring along my kids’ owl nightlights — they are battery powered and turn off within a few minutes, so I know the nightlight won’t keep them awake. But being able to carry the nightlight to the bathroom makes my little ones feel a lot more secure.
7. Get your little one outside for fresh air and daylight every single day. Even if it's just in an empty parking lot. This will help him adjust more quickly to a different time zone. Fresh air and exercise also tire kids out, helping them nap better and sleep better at night.
8. Limit screen time. With the caveat that all bets are off with on travel days. Whatever keeps them quiet is great. But once you arrive at our new destination, turn off the screen and encourage exploration and movement. Screen time tends to make children's brains wired, even while it keeps them quiet. And screen time in the hour before sleep can make it harder for children to fall asleep. Let them play and run and interact with Great Grampa Joe instead. Save the screen for when you really need it.
9. If you have the opportunity to do so, stay in a hotel with a pool. Pools are amazing for wearing little ones out. And with a pool around, you really don’t need toys.
10. Be prepared to “abort mission” if your little one is falling apart at the family dinner. Children act out as a way to communicate that their needs aren’t being adequately met. It's not their fault. It’s not your fault. It’s just hard for little ones to accommodate the needs of their older friends and relations. They will be more flexible as they get older.
11. And when you get back home, revert back to the old routine immediately. You may experience some protest crying, especially if you indulged in some less than ideal sleep behaviors while you were traveling — like sharing a hotel bed — but if you revert back to the old ways as soon as you get home, your little one should be back on track within a few days. Until the next trip, anyway!
Need some help getting back on track after the time change or recent travel? Totally understandable -- it's not easy! Let’s schedule a free chat and get your family back on track.
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.