Trading Nap Time for Quiet Time

Quiet time

A lot of parents I know see nap time as the most sacred part of their day; it's that break that keeps them sane in the unrelenting job of parenting.

So when your 3-year-old suddenly announces, "I don't want to nap!" and happily makes it through the entire day (with maybe a bit more fuss at supper time), it can bring a full-on state of mourning.

Look at it another way and it can also be freeing - no more rushing home for nap time, trying to keep your child awake in the carseat before you make it home.

How to know it's time to drop the nap
Starting around 3 years old, it's common for kids to no longer need a nap. Some toddlers make the switch a little earlier - they're usually the ones who sleep 12 hours a night and are on the bigger side of the growth curve. On the other end of the spectrum, some kids keep napping well into their fourth year.

You'll know your child is ready when you see signs like:

  • not being able to fall asleep at nap time, even when you push it later; or

  • taking for-EVER to fall asleep at bedtime on days when they had a nap.

(Just to be clear, I'm talking about kids who have solid sleep skills and had a regular routine of napping and sleeping through the night.)

Transitioning to no-nap days
If your child is showing one or both of those signs, then I'm sorry to say, your nap-break days are likely over.

Or at least shorter; you can start this transition by capping your child's nap at an hour (ie. wake her up!) if she normally knocks off 2+ hours in the middle of the day. (You may find that when your child first stops napping, he will still fall asleep in the car if you're driving later in the day - when this happens, I would cap the carseat nap at 30 minutes and just push bedtime a half hour later.)

When it's really time to drop the nap altogether, I strongly recommend making Quiet Time the next great thing in your house.

In the beginning, most children struggle to get the concept entirely and, depending on temperament, may even fight it. So you have to make it sound, well... awesome.
 
How to get your child to love Quiet Time
Tell your child ahead of time that instead of a nap, she can have Quiet Time. Then at lunch time, remind her about the plan:

Start with some dedicated one-on-one time: let your child choose a toy / activity and then spend the next 10 minutes sitting beside her, pretty much doing a play-by-play of her activity. Say things like "You're making the car go round and round!" or "You're making a really tall block tower!"  No praise, no direction, no questions. This is the idea behind a miraculous behavioural strategy called "attending". It's kind of like a B12-shot of Mom/Dad attention that can curb your child's need to act out for attention in negative ways (see below for more information on this).
 
Then read a book (just one!) with your child, have a snuggle, and get him excited about Quiet Time.

  • Have a few toys / figurines and books in a box that is designated only for Quiet Time. You may have to switch it up or add to this regularly.

  • Make a simple fort with two chairs and a blanket draped over it with a blanket to sit / lie on inside while he plays. A flashlight can be pretty exciting for a 3- or 4-year-old.

  • Keep it short in the beginning: about 20 minutes. You want to avoid making your child feel like he’s been banished. You will want a longer break, but you have to take the long view on this: I’m setting you up for years of quiet times!

  • Give your child choice: “Which of these two toys would you like in your quiet-time fort?” “Would you like the cars or the figurines today?” “You choose three books from this pile.”  You have to keep this part quick though.

  • Give your child a simple kitchen timer, or set the oven timer for 20 minutes; tell him that when it goes off, quiet time is over.

  • Work up to longer quiet times as your child starts to enjoy it and not protest it.

  • As soon as your child is contently playing in his Quiet Time spot, go lie down and take your break!  It will be over before you know it.

The Attending strategy can be a real miracle for parents struggling with their child's behavioural issues, or just to help build a more positive parent-child relationship. For more information on how to practice Attending, read Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long.

Is Mommy Brain Real?

As my Mom would say, “You bet your sweet bippy it is!” My Mom was born in the ‘40s. And I have no idea what a bippy is. But it basically means an emphatic yes!

Mommy brain - that fog of not being able to remember simple things or speak clearly or make decisions - isn’t just in your head. Okay, it’s happening in your head, but rest assured, it is a very real, physiological thing with a very real cause:

Sleep deprivation.

Now, just because you don’t feel like you’re in a World War II interrogation with a bright light directed at your face 24-7 doesn’t mean you’re not sleep deprived. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night (I tend to need closer to the higher end of this range). And they need those hours to be uninterrupted.

Enter baby.

Interrupted sleep is a fact of life with a new baby that needs to feed every 3-4 hours. Somehow, with the help of grandparents and friends dropping off the odd meal we can manage to get through those first few months. But if your baby gets into some funny sleep habits and doesn’t start stretching his night sleep out longer, you can find yourself six months later waking up every 2 or 3 hours to feed or rock or bounce him back to sleep. Or pop that soother back in for the 27th time.

So what does interrupted sleep do to a Mom’s brain? When we sleep, our brains don’t shut off; they get very active doing some pretty important jobs that only happen during our nightly snooze.

When we don’t get “consolidated sleep” (7-9 hours straight), we miss out on some sleep phases that help us take in new information and store it in a place where we can retrieve it later (so, we end up forgetting stuff all the time).

We also miss the parts of sleep when our brains do their nightly “clean up” - getting rid of all the fluff and information we don’t need anymore, making room for new, useful information. During this deep, restorative sleep, our brains are also busy doing a literal clean up; the lymphatic system actually flushes away waste products that our brain cells produce when they’re doing normal tasks throughout the day. So that “foggy feeling” is probably an accurate description of what’s going on in there!

By the way, this could be Daddy brain too. If Dad is just as involved in those nightly wake ups and bedtime struggles to get baby to sleep, his brain is missing out on the nightly storage and clean-up action too. As one sleep-reformed Dad put it after his 2-year-old went from waking 5 times a night to sleeping 12 hours straight, “I'm not even sure I knew what a wreck I was until things started improving.”

So how do we get rid of Mommy brain? You guessed it - get enough sleep. Every night. It’s actually not enough to have a catch-up nap once a week when Grandma can take baby out with a couple of bottles for a nice, long walk. We need to be getting that restorative, cleaning-up sleep every night.

And if Mommy (or Daddy) is feeling sluggish, how is baby feeling? Our little ones need that memory-storing and brain-cleaning sleep too. There are countless research studies showing the effects of sleep on a baby or young child’s ability to learn and retain information. And not enough sleep for a young child has also been linked to an increased risk of childhood obesity, poor attention and hyperactivity (the kid version of Mommy brain?).

Why some babies start knocking off 12-hour nights at 3 months old and others still wake 4 times a night a year later is usually (if not always) a result of how they’re falling asleep. If your baby needs a “prop” - something outside of herself to help her fall asleep, like a soother, breastfeeding or Mom or Dad’s shoulder to lie on - then she’s likely going to wake up several times a night looking for that thing that got her to sleep in the first place.

So, get rid of the prop, and baby will develop his or her own, internal method for falling asleep, just like we learned when we were babies. But it’s obviously not as simple as it sounds (or you would have done it already); your baby isn’t going to be too thrilled with this major shake-up in routine (and kids love routine). So it’s important to use a proven method that supports your baby through the process, with or without help from a sleep coach to guide you through the ups and downs of what is usually just a two-week process. (Think about that - in just two weeks you could get your brain back!)

Sounds too good to be true? Don’t believe your child has it in him? Can’t quite get around to making the big move? Of course you can’t - you’ve got Mommy brain! It’s hard to make change and take in new information when you’re just not getting the sleep your brain and body needs.

My advice: be easy on yourself; value your sleep; honour your baby’s need for sleep; and, if you don’t feel like winging it or going it alone, call in some help.

How much sleep is enough for your child?

In case you only have 10 seconds to read, I'll cut right to the answer on this one: children between 6 months and 6 years need 11-12 hours of sleep a night, straight. Every night. 

Young children need 11-12 hours of straight sleep each night for optimal health and development.

Young children need 11-12 hours of straight sleep each night for optimal health and development.

Now, the long answer:

If your child is still of napping age (younger than 3), this could be less - 10-11 hours at night - as long as they're taking a good, long nap(s) of 2-4 hours during the day. The American Pediatric Association says 11-12 hours of total sleep in a 24-hour period is the minimum.

But in my experience, babies and young children who have good, healthy sleep habits and learn their own strategy for falling asleep (i.e. they don't need to be rocked or fed, or have a soother or a parent lying beside them), will sleep much more than this, simply because they have the ability to sleep as much as their bodies need.

So maybe you’re thinking: “That’s for other people’s kids,” or “My child has never slept well,” or maybe, “He hates being in his crib.”

I’ve heard it all (and used to think all those things too!), and I’ve seen these babies and toddlers completely turn around.  If your child is healthy, well and neurologically normal, then I can say with 99.9 per cent certainty that your child has it in her to sleep through the night. 

But it’s not enough to just add up a child’s bits and pieces of sleep in between bouts of calling out, downing bottles of milk or coming into your room twice a night and call it 11 hours. It’s the straight part in “11-12 hours straight” that matters.

What we all need to feel refreshed, productive and emotionally stable (which is a relative thing for a baby or toddler) is consolidated sleep.

In the beginning, this is impossible; newborn babies need to feed every three to four hours. We can usually manage this in the short term.  But then life goes on, and we have to function.  And we all had a better idea of what kind of parent we wanted to be.

Now it's also possible that you think you're functioning just fine on 7 hours of sleep with a little one waking you up once or twice (or five times?!). That's no mistake either: research on adults has shown that one of the hallmarks of sleep deprivation is that the sleep-deprived person underestimates their impairments and overestimates their abilities. In other words, they do poorly on memory and reaction-time tests, but think they're doing just fine.

And if our children never learn to sleep through the night and have the deep, restorative sleep their brains and bodies need, how must they feel?

Research has shown that children who don't sleep enough have:

  • higher risk of obesity
  • lower IQ than children who sleep well
  • decreased memory or skill retention
  • tendency to exhibit hyperactivity (boys in particular)
  • lower scores on several areas of school testing including math and literacy.

Some kids weather the blips in regular sleep better than others; there’s a lot that depends on your child’s overall temperament. But there’s just no question that adequate sleep is critical to every child's health and well-being.

Even with a long, consolidated stretch of sleep, my own preschooler is noticeably calmer and more co-operative (and generally nicer to be around) on 12 hours of sleep than on 10-and-a-half.  And on broken or jet-lagged sleep? Forget about it. Let’s face it: parenting is hard enough.

As a sleep coach, my absolute favourite part of the job is hearing parents who have finished a two-to-three-week sleep program talk about the difference a full night’s sleep makes for their child.

Here's one example:

Braeden, a two-and-a-half year old, had been taking an hour or more to fall asleep, waking several times a night (sometimes for a long stretch) and eventually ending up in his parents’ bed.  Every night.  His parents were exhausted and exasperated.
Within a week or two on the plan I created for them that addressed sleep habits, timing, behaviour, and the boundaries around what happens at night versus what happens during the day, Braeden was putting together 12 straight hours every night and napping every afternoon. It was a life changer for his parents.
But one of the most telling pieces of this story was the change they saw in their son: he had been seeing a speech therapist for delayed speech.  Within a few weeks of finally getting adequate sleep, his speech was exploding.  He was counting, singing the alphabet and getting much less frustrated as he could finally start to express his needs. The speech therapist told the parents she had no further need to see their son.

Children need consolidated sleep, just like we do. If they don't get it, it will show up in subtle ways or possibly a big way, like for Braeden. The biggest effects may not even show up until years later, when your child has chronic sleep issues.

The good news is, your child can learn. In fact, they're learning machines; we just have to give them the chance. And when everyone is getting the sleep they need, many other behavioural challenges and parenting problems just melt away.

So, if your child is already falling asleep independently, but continues to wake in the night, how you respond to this waking will make all the difference. If you know they've been well fed and aren't in any discomfort, your first step is to wait. Ten minutes is the magic number for giving your baby or toddler the chance to put themselves back to sleep without your intervention; that will go a long way to seeing those sporadic wakings stop altogether. 

If your little one is still struggling after the 10 minutes, then go in and soothe them in some way that doesn't develop an association - one they will learn to associate with getting back to sleep (like an 18-month old learning to need a bottle in the middle of the night). Keep it quick and keep it simple. Having a 20-minute playtime with their favourite person might be enough to entice them to keep the midnight-waking habit going.

If your child is old enough to get out of bed and pop into your room for a nightly visit (or two or three), again, your response will dictate whether this goes on for years (yes, years) or stops now.  I always recommend as a first-line defence to gently, quietly lead them back to bed, tuck them in and leave again. You may have to do this a lot on night one, but keep your poker face and persevere for a few nights; the fun should be over for your little one soon. 

There is plenty of time for fun during daylight hours, and you will have a lot more energy for it.

3 Steps to a Better Sex Life

This was my family doctor's idea for a marketing slogan when I told him about my sleep-coaching business. He's a funny dude (and thankfully a top-notch doctor).

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He was speaking from experience of course. 

There's nothing like a little person in your house waking up every few hours, or a not-so-little person insisting you lie down with them in order to fall asleep twice a night, to send your libido into the basement and totally kill your marital sex life. 

I remember feeling like I finally understood what it was like to be a man, thinking about sex every 10 seconds; in the initial post-partum months, all I ever thought about was sleep. It became an obsessive, invasive thought that would cast a glaze over my eyes whenever someone spoke to me. I would nod and say an appropriate number of "mm-hmm's", but would be really thinking, "When can I sleep? When's the next nap time? I hope she sleeps in her crib so I can nap.... I need more sleep. I'm soooooo tired. Mm-hmm."

Now, there's no avoiding this bleary-eyed sleep obsession in the earliest stage of your baby's life. Your sex life will (and probably should) take a hit; there is a pretty significant physical recovery that has to happen for Mom, not to mention your top priority is keeping a new little human alive.  But often months and even years can go by without that shift back; couples can drift apart in the absence of intimacy when their child isn't sleeping through the night.

Those precious hours between 7 and 10 p.m., when a healthy, happy baby or young child is fast asleep, give Mom and Dad time both for themselves and each other, and that time can save a marriage.

I've had more than a few moms who've called to ask for my help tell me they haven't shared a bed with their partner in months or years. One mom of three said the extent of the quality time she and her husband have is "high-fiving each other" when they meet in the hallway. Another mom told me she finally understood why so many of her friends got divorced when their kids were two and three years old (at the time, she and her husband were in marriage counselling).

Intimacy isn't a luxury. And it isn't something we can afford to sacrifice after having children. Yes, our children need us and sometimes their needs outweigh everything else, but a wise friend told me years ago (several years after her own divorce), that children need parents who love each other. I would add that they also need parents in love with each other. A healthy, happy relationship between a child's parents gives them security and a happy home environment, not to mention a shining example for their own future relationships - these little people are modelling us in every moment and will continue to throughout their lives.

Now I'm not talking about neglecting your baby's needs for your own or your spouse's. This is about keeping your whole family thriving. There's just no question that a healthy sex life is one of the cornerstones of a healthy, happy marriage. (If in doubt, ask your spouse.) When we're too tired and too busy and we let intimacy slip - the same intimacy that brought you together to create this beautiful family in the first place - everyone suffers: one or both partners aren't feeling happy or fulfilled, tension builds and dissatisfaction seeps in.

And your children will pick up on the tension; they always do.

Now, back to my doctor's idea: so what are the three steps to a better sex life?  I'm fumbling through the early parenting years with two kids myself, but let me take a stab at it:

1. Decide that your marriage / partnership is a priority and a critical part of your whole family's happiness.

2. Help everyone in the family develop healthy, independent sleep habits so you actually have the time, privacy and energy for sex.

3. Once your child is consistently, happily fast asleep at 7:30 p.m., carve out time for each other, and bring back those connections that brought you together in the first place. Then settle down for your own 8 hours of sleep. 

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When Can My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

It's the question we've all asked within weeks of our beautiful bundle's birth.  Once the bliss of having a newborn starts to wane under the cloud of sleep deprivation, thoughts of sleep (more sleep, please more sleep!) begin to take over.

Some babies are natural sleepers; these little angel babies can knock off 10-12 hours a night at about three months old with little-to-no concerted effort from their parents.  You don't hear about them much because their parents know not to mention it in public.

For the most part, babies will need to have calories in the night for up to six months of age*, beginning with feeding every three hours as a newborn to just one feed per night at four-to-six months. (*Your baby may need one night feed for a little longer if he is on the small side, and definitely longer if baby isn't holding his growth curve - if that's the case, seek the advice of a pediatrician.) 

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The idea of baby sleeping 12 hours straight may sound absurd to the mom of a 10-month-old who wakes 3-4 times a night for her self-declared snack time. But these wakings are not physiological. In a healthy baby, night wakings at this age are in the realm of habit and a lack of self-soothing sleep skills.

For example, babies who are breastfed to sleep or use a soother will wake fully, crying out, when they come to a normal awakening at the end of each sleep cycle. These mini-awakenings are a normal part of sleep; we all have them with little or no recollection in the morning. Babies who have already learned to self soothe wake only briefly and simply reposition themselves before starting their next sleep cycle. Babies (or toddlers) who need a "prop" - something external like a soother or breastfeeding - to fall asleep wake fully, crying out for the "prop"  they intially fell asleep with.

In the case of a baby who is dependent on a sleep prop, it will take some encouragement and habit-breaking to help her learn not to wake in the night once she's past the age of physically  needing night feeds. The good news is, there are more compassionate methods now than the old-school cry-it-out technique (which essentially means saying good night to your baby and not opening her door until 7 a.m. - apparently effective, but jeesh...). 

The method I recommend to parents is one in which you are beside your baby supporting them with voice and touch as they learn this ever-important new skill of falling asleep. And it works, virtually every time.

So if your baby is healthy, beyond the newborn stage and is still waking every 2-3 hours, or beyond four months and waking more than once or twice, or beyond 7-8 months and is waking at all, you can assume it's an issue of habit, not physiological need. Babies will always make up the calories during the day to get all the nutrition they need.

With the right advice and a proven plan, your baby could be sleeping through the night within a week.  Then you'll be the one keeping quiet at the Mommy group. 

Sleep Is A Dream

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Sleep is a dream, too good to be true

Because I am a Mom of not just one but two.

 

For those parents of three I shudder to think

Of how brief their shut-eye – the span of a blink?

 

If not one then the other. If by chance they both snooze,

My body’s forgotten just what it should do.

 

I lie awake staring, growing even more tense;

I know all too well that the peace will soon end.

 

From the moment of birth until now four years on,

It’s been work through the day and a job all night long.

 

I’ve tried everything – read five books or more,

Ferberized while they cried, and camped out on the floor.

 

I am so tired now. It’s all that I know.

My patience is thin, my body moves slow.

 

I try to carve out some time for my spouse;

When he speaks, sleep is all that I’m thinking about.

 

It’s become an obsession, a fix I can’t get –

It’s dragging me down, I can’t focus or think.

 

Is this the best that it gets? This is life as a mother?

A string of hangovers, one after the other?

 

I love my kids dearly, they’re the reason I live,

But at the price of my sleep I don’t have much to give.

 

So I’ll slog through the day, enjoy second winds,

And hope that tonight, my new life begins.

 

I’ve hoped that before, yet it goes on and on.

To sleep through the night is for other kids’ Moms.

 

I don’t sleep well or much, not nearly enough.

My kids don’t sleep either, and it’s all the more rough.

 

I know that there’s more, for them and for me.

We can have much more joy, so much more “joie de vivre.”

 

The life in my head I am too tired to lead.

Will my kids ever know the fun, boisterous “real" me?

 

For now I put one foot in front of the other

And hope that a new path I soon will discover:

 

To tuck my sweet ones into bed with a kiss,

As we all drift off fast to a full night’s sleep bliss.

 

And wake with eyes bright, full of wonder and magic,

Greeting each day like an artist’s blank canvas.

 

I want that for me, for my children of course,

An end to the stream of emotion outbursts.

 

To be one of those families hand-in-hand on the beach,

Not corralling their kids or dragging their feet.

 

Or the ones in the park full of giggles and smiles,

Running after kids like they could do that for miles.

 

Sleep is a dream? Too good to be true?

It’s happened for them, maybe one day, me too.

 

Inspired by comments from the parents I meet who have suffered months or years of sleep deprivation, and yes, my own experience too. I want to help every one of them.

Sleep is possible for every child, every family.

Adventures in Sleeplessness - stories from sleep-coached dads

Dads often suffer as much as moms when their baby or toddler isn't sleeping.

Dads often suffer as much as moms when their baby or toddler isn't sleeping.

Moms definitely feel the brunt of post-partum sleep deprivation – those newborn months are a blissful slog.  But (thankfully) modern dads are often very involved in soothing their restless little ones, especially as they get a little older, and they too pay the price of sleepless nights. Here are a few of their stories about getting to the other side of sleeplessness:

Zac

Ok. 

Some parents have good sleepers.  You ask them how they do it and they tell you that they just put their kid to bed and they sleep. They look at you like it's a silly question. 

It was honestly pretty hard not to resent parents like that because we didn't have one of those kids.  

By the time our daughter was two, Melanie and I had developed a lengthy, complicated and totally useless bedtime routine.  It was a combination of nursing, dancing, singing, voodoo, stories, more dancing, patting, loveys, no not those loveys, new ones, not those ones, the other one ("it's in the car.  It's in the car!"), bouncing in fifteen different ways, bouncing while patting and dancing and singing, high humming, low humming, and finally like another hour of nursing.  Every night our ritual seemed to get longer.  Wake ups were still happening two to five times a night, quenched only by more nursing and the kind of bed sharing that wasn't good for any of us.  We were exhausted, barely coping, and very deeply unhappy.  The idea of sleeping through the night seemed impossible - hearing about it felt like a cruel joke being played on us. 

Hiring a sleep coach turned this around for us.  She simply taught us how to teach our daughter to sleep.  We may never have done it without her. Things changed very quickly for the better.  I think it honestly took about a week or two and our toddler was sleeping through the night.

What can I really say about having sleep come back to you and your partner's life, to your kid's life?   It's incredible.  All of us were (and are) happier.  Our daughter stopped acting up.  She was well rested for literally the first time in nearly two years and so were we.  I started being able to hold adult conversations again without forgetting words like "car" and "house".  I'm not even sure I knew what a wreck I was until things started improving. 

A year and a half later things are still good with us. The skills we all learned have not gone away.  We are still happily sleeping through the night. We seriously got our lives back. 

 

Brandon

Sleep training has been amazing for us! Before we started, we were co-sleeping with Gus, and we were both turning into zombies; Gus was waking up almost every hour and Justina would nurse him back to sleep. None of us was getting enough sleep; I even noticed that Gus was starting to get grumpy during the day which was unusual because he is a pretty smiley guy.

I had been holding out on hiring a sleep trainer, but co-sleeping just wasn't working. Then we saw that Hilary was holding a public seminar. We had other plans that weekend, but we changed them and went. I couldn’t believe it when she said most babies on her plan learn to sleep through the night within a week, two at most.

We signed up that day.

It took two nights of sleep training and Gus was sleeping through the night! It was unbelievable. It changed our lives.

We like to camp, which has still been a bit of a struggle for Gus as he often wakes up during the night while we're camping. We worry that we'll ruin everything he’s learned, but Gus picks it back up again as soon as we’re home and back to the routine.

It's been great, and I think our little boy is happier now that he is sleeping through the night.

 

Jeff

Before our twin girls arrived, I was an active, energetic, guy who thought that he could handle any challenge these two little ladies might throw my way. Well within a week of their arrival I had to concede that I was wrong – the feedings and diaper changes felt like a constant tick-tock of the clock: tick – get the formula heated, tock – help my wife double breastfeed the girls, tick – get the formula heated, tock – change those diapers.

Please sleep now… please…

Fast-forward eight months to when we met Hilary, a sleep coach, and her family in the park. Our girls were still feeding at least once during the night.  We were tired. Very tired. We hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since the girls arrived. 

We had an initial consult and signed up for a full sleep-training plan. Four or five nights later, they were sleeping through the night. We couldn’t believe it. Seriously, it happened that quickly.  Pretty soon, all was ironed out like a smooth, starched shirt: their 5 a.m. waking turned into 6, then 7, and now, almost two years later, they sleep until 7:30 or 8 every morning. Double WOW (one for each of them!).

Our lives are still very full with our lovely girls, but we are all happier, healthier and more energetic with a good night’s sleep every night. Hilary’s thoughtful and thorough approach, which was tailored to fit our girls’ sleep history and patterns, made all the difference for myself and my family.

 

Sleep Hygiene – it’s not about washing your sheets

We’ve probably all heard the term "hand hygiene" – the sanitation police are all over hospitals and doctors offices plastering posters about how important it is to wash our hands. 

But what’s “sleep hygiene?”

You'll often see this term when reading sleep guidebooks and research. Dictionary.com defines the word hygiene as “a condition or practice conducive to the preservation of good health, as cleanliness.”  So, sleep hygiene refers to the practice of sleep habits that lead to optimal health, not how often you wash your sheets (although I’m sure there’s a minimum on that too).

So what constitutes good sleep hygiene for our kids?  According to the American National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the “key features” include:

  • having a consistent bedtime routine
  • a bedtime before 9 p.m. (*more on that in a minute)
  • falling asleep independently
  • no TV (or other screen devices) in the bedroom
  • no caffeinated beverages
  • enough total sleep
  • not taking too long to fall asleep
  • no night wakings

A 2004 study by the NSF found that the two biggest factors in poor sleep hygiene for children of any age (newborn to 10) were:

  • having a parent present when the child falls asleep, as this resulted in more night wakings, and
  • a late bedtime – this resulted in children having a harder time falling asleep.

Wait – shouldn’t putting them to bed later make them more tired and help them fall asleep faster?!  That’s not logical!

Therein lies the problem. These little people aren’t logical. Just try explaining to a toddler that saving the last cookie means she gets to enjoy one tomorrow. Sleep begets sleep. That goes for all of us but it’s really obvious in babies and young children.

*It's important to note that "bedtime before 9 p.m." is a very general recommendation for children of all ages.  9 p.m. is simply way to late for a baby, toddler or preschooler.  These young ones should be tucked in with lights out by 7:30 at the latest in order to get an age-appropriate amount of sleep. It's also been found that the hours of sleep before midnight are more valuable than those after - so it's not enough to go to bed late and sleep in later to make up for it.

Back to the NSF study: for the 3-years-and-older age group, not having a consistent bedtime routine resulted in less total sleep time. That’s why tens of thousands of families have had remarkable success (and often claim happier children) after a sleep-training program with their baby, toddler or preschooler.  That melting down, crying-out-in-the-night child is craving routine and an ease of sleep.

Like anything that’s good for us, it takes an adjustment period to get there. Take, for example, getting fit.  Those first workouts, laps or runs don’t feel good. You can even get injured if you don’t start properly.

If your child has a prop like a soother or will only breastfeed to sleep, or needs you lying beside them in order to fall asleep, there is a gradual way to help them adjust. All you really need to give your child good sleep hygiene is a proven, effective plan and consistency on your part in carrying it out. Having a sleep coach guide and support you through the process virtually guarantees quick success.

We teach our kids how to wash their hands because it’s good for them. We can also teach them to sleep well – it is immeasurably good for them, not to mention the rest of the household.