Friday, May 15, 2015

Sleep tidbits part two/ Shifting nap times and bedtime routines

Here is a quick reference for the average sleep needs by age group per day:

Age 1-2       13-14 hours (includes 1 or 2 naps)
Age 2-3       13 hours (1 nap)
Age 3          12-13 hours (1 nap)
4-5 years     11-12 hours (hopefully 1 nap)

Sleep requirements vary from person to person. Hopefully by the time your baby is one, they have a reasonable nap schedule and the entire family has been routinely getting a good night's sleep. Ah, but time passes, kids grow and solid routines start to shift.

Kids need naps. If they don't get them, they get overtired and actually don't end up sleeping as well at night. Generally a good napper is a good sleeper. Someone who is overtired from missing naps has an even harder time with bedtime. I know it is counter intuitive, but sleep begets sleep.

One of the things you will be faced with is that between 12-18 months many kids start dropping their second nap.  Hold onto it as along as you can but it is going to go the way of all things. When you realize it is inevitable, try to delay the morning nap as long as possible. Ideally, when they are down to the one nap, it is best timed for early afternoon. Do your best to avoid the late afternoon crash that wreaks havoc with bedtime. Try to be firm about at least one nap a day in their crib/bed. I realize that if you have more than one child, the baby might be doing more naps while out and about. It is what it is; do the best you can.

Assuming you have the luxury of a schedule that allows for a firm nap time, be consistent. Have a brief routine leading up to the nap, make the room dim, consider having a little quiet music play list that you can set for a certain amount of time (there are great bedtime play lists that you can find online.) For the kids old enough to get it, they can be taught that it is naptime/quiet time in bed until the music stops. Toddler clocks can also be set so they know when it is time to get up. When they are older and claim not to be tired, continue to insist on the quiet time even if they don't fall asleep. It is really common for some kids to nap way better for a nanny or at daycare than they do with the more inconsistent parents. Kids can follow rules fairly well as long as they know what they are.

With any sleep training, including naps, your job is to be very clear and follow through. First step is to enforce that your child will be in be in their bed/crib for naptime for a certain amount of time on a reasonably regular schedule. If your child is really resisting, it may be that initially you need to sit there, gradually move your chair further and further away until you don't need to be in the room. Do a quiet activity to keep yourself occupied while you are in there.
For the record, I would like to think that I have a lot more knowledge and experience now than I did then, but I personally  failed 'Naps 101'. My first time around I somehow couldn't allow myself to simply place my daughter in her crib and have a little "down time" for myself. My older daughter Lauren made the rules. Naps would be in my bed with me.  She had tight hold of my hair, and as part of this routine, I had hold of her foot. I wasn't going anywhere.
If you are able to take a nap with your child, enjoy. I actually loved it. The important thing is that you figure out what works for you. Just don't ignore the importance of naps.

*Safety tip: If you are both sleeping and your child is not in a crib, make sure you have a bell or alarm on door so you will be woken if your child gets up and starts to wander.

For night time our ultimate goal is to have your child be able to drift off with minimal intervention and sleep well until the morning. If possible, start winding down at least 30 minutes before the nighttime ritual starts. Don't give anything with sugar or caffeine. Avoid roughhousing, or stimulating screen time. It is important to find a bedtime that works for your family and accounts for your child's sleep needs. I know it can be challenging with working parents. Many folks want to spend precious time with their kids at the end of the day, but it is important to start the routine before your child is already overtired. Forty five minutes is good length of time from the start of the bedtime ritual until sleep. Keep this time consistent except for special occasion exceptions.

My husband was the bedtime enforcer. One night when he was out of town, even though it was a school night, I kept the girls out late at some friends' house. They started getting crabby as our evening was wrapping up. I said, "Hey look, I let you stay up late as a special treat, so you need to stop being grouchy." They both essentially responded "We are grumpy because we are tired and you should have made us go home. Mommy should know better."  Betrayed!!!

Create a ritual that your child will look forward to. This might include reading a book or telling a story. Have a set number of books you will read, or a set limit to story time and STICK TO IT! Once you go down the slippery slope of "just one more" you are stuck.
(Coming soon will be a post with  details on how to make a special bedtime ritual book.)

Perhaps talk a little about the day or a pleasant upcoming event  that you are anticipating.
A few minutes of massage are a lovely way to end the day. Hands, feet and earlobes have relaxation points (find the reflexology maps online.) Make sure the environment is a safe and soothing one. Use light to your advantage and get the room dimmer and dimmer throughout the bedtime activities. Some families like white noise in the room, such as a HEPA filter or fan. It may create a habit, but so what. It is not something that I have issue with. Just as I suggest for naps, there are also lots of lovely lullaby CD's available that set a nice ambiance for the bedtime ritual that you are creating.

Some children sleep better with a special blanket or stuffed animal. Once they are over a year I am fine with these, although I would still avoid things that are super cushy until they are two.

Next week I will address issues that surface as you make the crib to bed transition.

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