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.
Video: Erika's Story: As A Single Mom by Choice, I Was Working All Day and Up Most of the Night With My Daughter
Erika, single-mother-by-choice to Marlo, 15 months, was exhausted. As a single parent, she had no choice but to work full-time. And then she was up much of the night with little Marlo. She had tried everything.
Listen to her amazing results in this short video.
And if you are ready to transform your own family's sleep just as dramatically, schedule a free consult.
PS Prices just went up! But mention this blog post on your free consult before the end of January and pay 2020 prices ($399 for a two-week coaching package instead of $450).
What have you got to lose... besides those dark circles under your eyes?
It’s that time of year again. New Year’s resolutions have rolled around again.
With some embarrassment, I admit that I love New Year’s Resolutions.
Not because I don’t like myself but because with each new year, I feel like I have an opportunity to reinvent myself. I find it fun to think about what my best self would look like! And sometimes, my resolutions actually work! In 2002, I resolved to floss daily. And I actually did it. Although I have fallen off the wagon recently. One more thing to add to my 2021 resolutions, I suppose. Luckily, it’s a lot easier to resume new habits than start new ones.
This is good news for those of you who have slipped into some less-than-ideal sleep habits. Though I am proud and amazed to hear my former sleep clients have stuck to their amazing new habits and have children who are rested, happy and sleep-loving.
Gretchen Rubin, author of multiple New York Times bestselling books including The Happiness Project, offers five tips on how to keep your New Year’s Resolutions.
Here are her tips:
Here are my own goals for 2021. Telling others about our goals improves your odds of achieving them!
Telling others your goals will keep you motivated. So please comment and tell me yours!
And if your 2021 New Year’s Resolutions include better sleep so you can enjoy your family, sign up for a free consult and learn how easy it can be to achieve better sleep in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
Many of us spent the holidays with our family like this, on a screen.
But if you are considering traveling beyond the couch in the future, you may be worried about how it will affect your child's sleep.
One of my current client couples decided to cancel their holiday travel plans so that they could devote themselves fully to sleep training. While I applaud their committment, that is not always an option for all families.
If you are considering travel now or in the future, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. The "half-life" of vacation. My friend Jess coined this term, which means that however long you were on your trip, it will take roughly half that long to get back to normal with your child's schedule. So if you were gone for 10 days, expect it will be approximately 5 days until things are back to normal.
2. The closer you adhere to your normal routine while traveling, the faster things will go back to normal. Even with the "half-life of vacation" principle, there are many things you can do to hasten (or delay) the return to normal. If you have night weaned, try not to offer night feedings on your trip... while also recognizing that sometimes, you have to prioritize the needs of a houseful of family and friends over your own family's needs. If you've stopped bed-sharing, try not to resume if you have another option... and have compassion for yourself if there are no other options.
3. Maintain bedtime and naptime schedules whenever possible. If your child goes to bed late and wakes up early (as a result of that late bedtime) every day of your trip, everyone will suffer. Limit the exceptions for truly special evenings. Keep bedtime early and naps on schedule whenever possible. If you have to have one nap on the go, have the next one in a crib or bed.
4. Schedule travel around your child's naps and bedtimes if your child will sleep in motion. My older child would only scream in the car -- it was exhausting -- so I let her take her first nap at home before we left home, if it was a short drive, or else planned for a no-nap day and a very early bedtime. We also mostly avoided car trips and took planes or Amtrak when possible.
My younger child would take naps in the car if I played the "correct" soundtrack on repeat and prevented Big Sister from talking loudly. With two kids, especially a high-energy younger sibling, driving became a much more appealing option than flying or taking the train.
Every child is different. Some children will keep on sleeping if you transfer them from bed to car at 4 am. My children would never do that. But if yours do, go for it! That's a fantastic time to travel -- zero traffic.
5. Travel with children is a trip, not a vacation. You'll be doing all the same work of parenting, but in an unfamilar (to your child) setting. Which means more work for you. Bedtimes and meal times will surely be more challenging. That's not to say you shouldn't go, just that you should have realistic expectations about how much fun you can expect to have.
6. Keep some healthy food in the rotation. Extra treats are par for the course when it comes to vacation travel... but if your child eats nothing but processed carbohydrates, you can expect him to become constipated, and that will be misery for everyone.
7. Prioritize fresh air and exercise every day. Small children need outdoor time every single day. If you're stuck in an airport, walk around and let her look at "the sights" -- the airport is a fascinating place to little ones. Otherwise, bundle her up appropriately ("there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear") and get her outside. Ideally more than once per day. Fresh air helps with naps, with general crankiness, with separation anxiety, with bedtime, with picky eating... it's just a win all around. And it doesn't have to be you pushing the stroller -- your sister-in-law will probably be an acceptable substitute for your child.
Let's face it, travel with young children is never relaxing. And there will almost certainly be times when you choose it anyway. Trying to keep your child as well-rested and on schedule as possible will help your "re-entry" pain.
If you'd like help getting your family great sleep so you can truly enjoy your time together, whether at home or away, book a free consult. Find out how your family can get the sleep you deserve.
I’m a big fan of asking for help. I figure it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit that we aren’t good at everything and need help. We all need help with something.
I hired a coach in December and it’s life-changing. She is working with me on multiple levels: parenting, anxiety, growing my business.
And she’s not just helping me grow as a person, as a mother, as an entrepreneur, she’s also helping me think consciously about what kind of growth I want to achieve. She’s taught me to recognize, and question, the unconscious thoughts I am thinking that are shaping my life in negative ways.
In my business self-coaching program, the coach suggests considering the cost of not coaching. If I didn’t get business coaching, how much income would I not earn as a result? If a client got relationship coaching, that could save her marriage. How much would that be worth to her? If you got weight loss coaching, you could prevent a future heart attack or diabetic amputation. How do you put a dollar value on adding healthy, productive years to your life?
And if you are a parent who is sleep-deprived and living with an overtired child, what is the cost to you of reducing your enjoyment of your parenting, your job, your spouse or friends? You work so hard to have this beautiful, perfect family and now you aren’t reaping all the benefits you deserve.
Have you considered the health impact of cortisol, the stress hormone your body produces when we are tired, on your body?
Cortisol leads to increased weight gain, depression, heart disease and other chronic diseases. I experienced weight loss, improved memory (I seriously used to wonder if I was experiencing early dementia because I forgot words so often), more energy, improved sleep, and better focus when I was able to decrease my own cortisol levels.
People hire personal trainers to make them show up to the gym and maximize their time there. Why not hire someone to strategize, reassure, and cheerlead you across the finish line to achieving great sleep and truly enjoying your family? Unlike a book or online course, a coach can help you troubleshoot the specific circumstances that arise each day with your unique child.
If you are ready to make 2021 the year you get your family well-rested, so that you can truly enjoy your time together, set up a free consult and find out more about the process. The hardest part is taking the first step.
I have a problem with my two-and-a-half year old, Frank.
He won't eat dinner because he's too busy running around and then he's melting down because he's "hangry" at bedtime. I am afraid he won't sleep well because he's too hungry but then he can't decide what to eat and bedtime just gets pushed later and later.
It's often 8:30 or 9 before he's in bed and then it takes a while for him to settle down and fall asleep. I know the dinner dishes are waiting for me and I can't help but get impatient and snap at him sometimes.
What should I do? I hate yelling at him but this routine is driving me crazy!
PS My six-month-old, Lily, seems to be developing similar tendencies! She will often take only a couple of ounces of milk when she wakes up in the morning, so then I try to feed her again before her nap so she'll sleep well, but often she'll only take an ounce, reluctantly, so then I feel like I ought to feed her again as soon as she wakes up but then she's not very hungry again... I feel like I'm feeding her constantly!
I see this pattern all too often in my clients, whether the child is 4 months, 4 years, or even older.
There's a couple of issues here.
The first one, and by far the most important, is about the mindset of the parent. Sarah is taking responsibility for her child's eating.
Guess what parents? Kids are the ones responsible for their eating. The only ones. Whether or not Frank eats is up to Frank, not Sarah. As much as she may hate that fact.
I get it. One of my children was a terrible eater, just refused to eat any solid food for the first year of her life, and took less and less milk from the bottle while I was at work (and didn't nurse during the night). The doctor was concerned about her failure to gain weight, and that, of course, scared me.
But I still couldn't force her to eat. As much as I wanted to.
(After her first birthday, she slowly, reluctantly began to eat a small number of foods and today is a healthy, skinny 9-year-old who still has a limited palate but does not have an eating disorder. Skinny is fine, healthy, even.)
You can't force children to eat. And the more you try, the more they refuse.
Even now, my 9 year old has meltdowns when she gets hungry.
And you know what helped? Eliminating snacks. Letting her get hungry for meals. Believing that she wouldn't starve. That it wasn't the end of the world for to have a meltdown.
It sounds totally counterintuitive, but the more we cater to our children's capricious appetites, the worse their appetites get. Even though the process of eliminating snacks totally sucks. Many a meltdown. But there was no other way to get through that particular river of misery. (Rather like teaching a child to self-soothe. There's no way to teach it. They just have to learn it.)
Ellyn Satter, author of Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, says that we adults control the what (is offered) and the when (timing) of meals, and children control the if (they eat) and the how much.
She points out that all humans have a genetic setpoint for weight that is very hard to change. Some children were born to be thin and some children were born to be stocky. But trying to control our children's eating will only make the skinny ones skinnier and the heavy ones, heavier. (Cutting down on junk food is healthy for everyone, however, as is increasing exercise. Both can help manage weight problems in overweight children. Without ever commenting to the children that it's about weight.)
As soon as our children realize that their parents have a vested interest in how much they eat, they exploit that power. They can't help it. It's children's job to explore boundaries and understand what pushes their parents' buttons.
There's only one way to stop it.
Drop the rope.
Stop caring about how much your child eats. Stop thinking you can control it, and that they are "sure" to have a sleep problem if they don't eat.
Set some boundaries and let your children explore them. Let them have tantrums. Trust that the world won't come to an end if they are hungry for a night. In fact, the only way to get them to eat better is to let them experience hunger and not solve the problem for them until the next scheduled mealtime.
Here's what this looks like in practical terms. Sarah decides what is served for dinner. Ideally, she includes at least one thing that Frank likes... but perhaps serves a first course of the things that she most wants him to eat. So if he loves mac n cheese and Sarah is willing to serve that, she serves a first course of chicken and vegetables. He's more likely to eat the chicken and vegetables when he's more hungry. After he's eaten some of that, she serves the mac n cheese. She lets him have as much or as little as he likes, without comment. There is no praise for eating a lot nor scolding for eating a little. They sit and eat together and talk cheerfully about other things.
Sarah decides ahead of time if dessert will be served and if so, what it will be. She serves it with dinner or at the very least, makes dessert non-contingent on eating the rest of the meal. There is no "reward" for eating a "good" dinner. Because Sarah doesn't care if Frank eats or not, remember?
When Frank gets up from the table, after one warning, "Frank, remember, if you get up, the meal will be over," the meal is over. Sarah doesn't make a big deal about this. She just says, kindly, "Since you are up from the table, I see you are done eating." She takes the plate away.
Frank has a meltdown. Sarah sits patiently and waits. When the meltdown is over, she says sympathetically, "you're frustrated that the meal is over. You wish there was more food." She doesn't argue with his feelings or try to convince him to feel differently. She lets him feel his feelings. She recognizes that big feelings aren't a problem. She also knows that he isn't that hungry, or he would have eaten, and that he certainly won't starve before morning. She remembers that she occasionally goes to bed a bit hungry and still sleeps well.
If bedtime is more than 2 hours after dinnertime, Sarah may decide to offer a bedtime snack. If so, she decides whether or not to offer a snack as well as what the snack is. Ideally it is something healthy (so as not to convince Frank to skip dinner and wait for the bedtime snack). It is definitely not a food that is designed to entice him to eat, like ice cream. She offers it to Frank in his chair at the table. If he gets up from the table, the snack is over.
Frank may have another meltdown. Sarah waits patiently. Then it's bedtime. If Frank cries that he is hungry, Sarah reminds him that they can have a delicious breakfast together in the morning. She doesn't see his feelings or even his possible hunger as a problem.
In the morning, Sarah continues to maintain clear boundaries. She invites Frank to the table for breakfast. She has chosen to serve a nutritious meal with several items to choose from. She sits with Frank while he eats breakfast and reminds him that this will be all the food that is served for breakfast. They have a pleasant chat. When he gets up from the table to play, she reminds him again that this is it for breakfast, is he sure that his belly is full? The next time he gets up, she quietly takes his plate away.
Sarah plans the next eating opportunity, either a healthy snack 2-3 hours later, or lunch. She does not pack processed carbohydrates (squeezable fruit pouches, Goldfish crackers, dry cereal) for him to graze mindlessly on in the car or stroller as she knows these will dull his appetite for healthy food at lunch. If he complains of hunger mid-morning, she makes sympathetic noises and promises lunch is only an hour away.
Rinse and repeat.
After just two to three days of this, Frank is used to the new routine. Meals are pleasant and hunger meltdowns are much less frequent.
The other issue at play in this letter is that the child is overtired. Overtired children don't eat well.
Rest assured, they don't starve. They just make up for it in the morning. Or next Tuesday. Toddlers and preschoolers are famously capricious eaters. They are said to "live on air." But unless your healthcare provider has told you that your child has a growth or feeding disorder, you don't have to worry.
The best cure for this is sleep. So offer a meal or snack and if your child turns up his nose at it, start bedtime. Don't cave when they beg for food 15 minutes later. My then-four-year-old didn't eat dinner for a year. I did not offer a bedtime snack. I just put her to bed at 6 pm. She's alive and well to this day.
And as for six-month-old Lily? The same rules apply, even if all the meals and snacks consist of milk. Stop offering snacks. Every three hours should be sufficient after the first three months (in the NICU, babies never eat more often than every 3 hours) and some babies actually eat and sleep better with every-four-hour feeding schedules. Both of my children did.
Infants don't need to eat when they wake up and when they fall asleep with every nap. If you like to offer more often and it's working for your family, great. But if you are struggling with short naps, night wakings, and poor feedings... try consolidating those short feedings.
Picky eating and overtiredness often go hand in hand. But they are both solveable problems. And your family will be so much happier when you have eliminated both.
If your family is dealing with picky eating and sleep issues, set up a free consult and find out how your family can be sleeping better in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
Join me during your child's nap time (I hope!) to learn more about how to stop bedsharing peacefully and to ask all your sleep and parenting questions. As always, former clients get first dibs on questions! (Current clients, you don't have to wait for Facebook Lives to ask me questions -- fire away via text or email!)
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.