5 Tips for Getting Your Child's Sleep Back on Schedule

There is nothing like a rainy, cool week (and the kids going back to school) to remind us that summer is over. Done right summer is care-free and full of play dates, beach excursions, and pool days that leave your kids smelling like sunscreen, with sand in their hair and smiles on their faces. There aren’t many things I can think of that are more beautiful.

 

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I know that all this summer fun often means inconsistent schedules, later bedtimes, and unenforced rules. And I’m ok with that! I am a child sleep consultant, but I am a mom, too! Sometimes you have to relax the rules a little. No judgement! Now that fall is in the air I think most of us (our kids included) are ready to invite a little structure back into our lives. I want to help you get your child back on track so they can get all the sleep they need for a happy and productive day at school. A child who is well rested is going to better at taking on challenges and finding creative solutions to their problems. We’re talking academic, social, emotional and physical challenges. The whole package.

Below I have outlined my top 5 tips for getting your child back to a schedule!

 

1.     Set a bedtime and stick to it

For toddlers and children up to 12 years old I recommend a bedtime somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. This sounds early to many parents, but let me explain:

First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep at night. Some need up to 12 hours. If your child needs to be up at 7:00am in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9:00pm at the latest. Consider the time it takes them to fall asleep after they get in bed, the requests to use the bathroom or for a glass of water, or just one more kiss. Having them in bed at 8:00pm is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.  

A little bonus is that an early bedtime for your child is also what gives you the personal time you need to relax, recharge, and get the sleep you need in order to be the parent you want to be.

 

  2.    Establish a bedtime routine

If you had a good one before summer, try reintroducing it. The familiarity will be comforting to your child, plus you know it works.

If you haven’t tried one before, here are a few suggestions. The entire routine should be about 20-30 minutes. It should be exactly the same every night. The predictability of it is not only comforting, but when your child’s brain starts to associate brushing their teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading a book, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues melatonin production, making sleep come more easily. A calm and peaceful bedtime is a beautiful thing for everyone involved.

 

3.  Use a timer

Sometimes it is difficult to keep the bedtime routine moving. If you find yourself in this position, find a timer your child can understand (egg timers or sand timers, which are sold in packs with different amounts of time, work well) and use it for each step in the routine. Giving your child a timer to help guide them takes some of the responsibility off you. They don’t have to move on to pajamas because mom or dad said, but because the clock said! It also gives a little control to the child, which some children thrive on.

 

4.     Turn off screens

 This is for parents with children of all ages, tots to teens. A movie or TV show helps keep your child’s body still and lets you get things done, I know. The reason to stay away from screens before bedtime, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they all have blue light, which our brain associates with sunshine and daytime. Blue light makes our brains and bodies wind up even when we want them to wind down. Try to avoid any kind of screen time at least two hours before bed. It will be good for your kids, and good for you too if you’re having trouble falling asleep.

 

5.     Turn to the dark side

While we’re on the topic of light, the darker your child’s room is the better. You want to do your best to eliminate any sun or street lights that might be coming in. It is worth investing in some blackout curtains or shades. Don’t forget to minimize the light from inside their room, too. Cover light that might be coming from a digital clock, baby monitor, sound machine, etc.  

Ok, that’s it! It might take some work, especially if the concept is new to your child, and it will definitely take consistency on your end, but it will be worth it for everyone involved. I know that even though school has started and fall is beginning, not all structure is kept. There are even many three-day weekends scattered throughout the fall. My best advice is to stick to your bedtime and the bedtime routine as best you can, even if kids don’t have school the next day. Part of what you are doing is teaching your child’s body what to expect and how to respond. (Remember the melatonin?) Only doing this sometimes won’t do the trick. Am I saying that if you don’t stick to it 100% of the time it won’t work? No, that would be impossible! Just do the best you can.

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Jennifer L. Vriend, PhD Fiona D. Davidson, MA Penny V. Corkum, PhD Benjamin Rusak, PhD, FRSC Christine T. Chambers, PhD Elizabeth N. McLaughlin, PhD (2013) Manipulating Sleep Duration Alters Emo- tional Functioning and Cognitive Performance in Children - Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 10, 1 November 2013, Pages 1058–1069, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033

Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Develop- ment in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701

Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages - Gruber, Reut et al. Sleep Medicine , Volume 15 , Issue 12 , 1517 - 1525

 

 

 

Travel Tips

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How you can travel with your baby and get all of the sleep you need.

A guide to having your bed and sleeping in it too.

In my son's two little years he has been on more airplanes than I can count. There have been times that he has averaged at least one round trip flight a month. We travel a lot. The main reason is because we live far away from family and friends. This doesn't even include the weekend car trips we take...which happens pretty often too. We are a family on the move! That said, I have a lot of personal experience that comes with traveling and have put all of my sleep consulting travel tips to the test. I've rounded up my top three for you. I first wrote these for a lady I love over at Busy Little Bee. You can find it under the resources tab. If you're a Fairfield County mom and haven't been to this site yet I would recommend checking it out!

 

1. Bring something familiar from home. If your child sleeps with a lovey (a special blanket or stuffed animal) then bring it! If she doesn’t I would recommend trying to introduce one for future travels. You can also bring pajamas, a sleep sack or even crib sheets that are unwashed so that they still smell like home. This is a good one for babies who are not old enough for lovies yet (American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until babies are one year to put anything into the crib with them). 

 

2. Try your best to stick to your child's normal schedule. Skipping naps will almost definitely result in a night with a lot of wake-ups or an early morning wake up the next day. A normal routine will also provide her with a sense of security in a day full of new and exciting experiences.

 

3. If your child is sleeping in the same room as you create some kind of physical barrier between her crib and you. You might have to get creative for this one! I recommend packing an extra sheet and some painters tape, push pins, or a clothesline. You are trying to prevent her from rolling over half asleep at 3am, have her little eyes flutter open for a second, and realize her favorite people are right next to her and it is time to party.

 

The only tip I would add would be to try to stay relaxed. A year or so back, when I was worrying about an upcoming trip with my son, my friend reminded me that sometimes things don't go as planned and that is when we teach flexibility. I wouldn't want to count on this every day of a vacation, but last night when our flight was delayed a couple hours, then they kept us on the ground for an hour and then we didn't get home until midnight - we were just rolling with the punches. Mostly I kept him happy with any trick I could come up with (ok, with downloaded movies and snacks), stayed calm when he was fussy, and just got him to bed as soon as I could. Today is about long naps, an early bedtime, and getting back on routine. 

Happy travels to all of the other mamas, dads and babies on the move. 

EARLY WAKE UPS

3 TIPS FOR YOUR EARLY RISER

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EARLY RISERS

FOR LITTLE ONES WHO ARE UP BEFORE THE SUN

 

Early wake ups. If this phrase makes you shudder then you're on my team. The moms who dream of a world where they could sleep in until the sun is up (and then a few...) every morning, or at least on the weekends - please, please, pretty please! By nature I am not a morning person. My son is like me in so many ways (we share a deep love for popcorn and ice cream, for example), but he didn't get this trait. I have seen more sunrises in the past 20 months than I have in my whole life combined. And you know what? I kind of like it. He has, in a way, turned me into a morning person. But that's only because he now sleeps until at least 6am and I have learned to go to bed earlier. Even now that he has some amazing sleep skills, and a mom who is a sleep consultant, early morning wake-ups are the biggest sleep struggle in our house. I am here to share some of my best tips on helping your little one sleep later. These tips come from research and experience as a consultant, and from a mom who has been in the trenches of an early riser. Here we go...

1. Dark isn't dark enough

I want you to rate the level of darkness in the room your baby sleeps in on a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being as light as day and 10 being pitch black. If you did not say 9 or 10 it is time to make some changes. If your baby rolls over at 5am and notices even the slightest amount of light that's their cue to wake up and start they day, even if they haven't gotten all of the rest they need! There's no crazy like mom crazy, and here's your chance to shine. Blackout shades alone might not cut it, I recommend Blackout EZ Window Covers. I also recommend covering any light that is in your baby's room, like a light from the baby monitor, noise machine, digital clock, etc. You can tape a piece of folded black paper over the light. Somewhat extreme measure, but also an easy way to control how late your baby sleeps. 

2. Put a pause on the morning snack

Set up a 10 minute buffer between when your baby wakes up and when you give them their milk/formula. This one is hard, and I have been guilty of breaking the rule. Your baby is up, you are tired, and sitting in a cozy chair quietly feeding your baby sounds pretty nice. I am here to tell you don't fall into the trap. It will not help your early riser case. Just 10 minutes is enough, though. 

3. Early Bedtime

One of the biggest sleep myths out there is that if you want your baby to sleep later you put them to bed later. Makes sense, right? At first glance it seems logical, but if you try this it will almost certainly backfire. The truth is a later bedtime usually equals an earlier wake-up time. Yikes! Of course your little one should be tired at bedtime, but avoid overtiredness at all costs. Early to bed, later to wake is how the saying goes, right?

Bonus tip: If your little one is sleeping until at least 6:00am and they are getting all of the sleep they need at night (10-12 hours), then you might have an early riser, and that is just who they are. The best thing you can do in this case is what we as parents do all of the time - adapt. Even better, embrace it. As it turns out, sunrises are actually kind of beautiful.