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. 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.


How Hot is Too Hot?

The best room temperature for your baby's sleep is between 16 and 21 degrees celsius.

The best room temperature for your baby's sleep is between 16 and 21 degrees celsius.

How hot is too hot for your baby's bedroom? Here's the short answer: anything above 21 degrees celsius.  Babies are most comfortable sleeping between 16 and 21 degrees.  The rule of thumb to keep them warm is to dress them in one more layer than you feel you need to sleep comfortably. 

But what to do in the summer with no air conditioning?

Therein lies the need for the long answer.

One thing is certain: it is safer for baby to be too cold than too hot. Babies will wake and cry if they're a bit chilly, and you can solve the problem then. But they won't likely do the same if they're too hot. And while I don't like to spark fear, especially when the summertime heat is beyond our control, overheating is a risk factor for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). 

If you're one of those parents whose home is just stifling and you can't seem to cool baby's room, here are some ideas and tips to help keep your baby safe and comfortable:

  • Dress baby as lightly as possible (see rule of thumb in the first paragraph). Sometimes this could mean nothing but a diaper or just a light, sleeveless sleep sack.
  • Keep a fan running on high in the room in the hours before bedtime. Turn it to low, direct it away from your baby and keep it far from his reach before you put baby down.
  • Remove any waterproof mattress coverings while the weather is hot as it doesn't breathe as well.
  • Invest in good window coverings for baby's room and keep them closed all day with the windows open to prevent the sun from heating the room more.
  • If your baby falls asleep in the stroller, keep a close eye as she can easily get too warm in there. And don't cover the stroller with a blanket - this can trap more heat inside.
  • If your baby falls asleep in her carseat, keep the car running and air conditioning on. I know, I know, more greenhouse gasses, more climate change and more hot temperatures. But you have a pretty good reason; all those other idlers should get with the program. (And car seats are for cars - don't let baby sleep in the car seat at home.)
  • Here's a great idea from Babycenter UK's web site: hang wet towels over chairs and window frames (never over baby's crib railings!) as the evaporating water can cool the air.
  • Give your baby a cool bath before bed.

If you think your baby may be too hot, feel his belly; if it feels overly warm or he's sweaty, remove a layer; it's worth waking him for.  Remember that it's normal for your baby's hands and feet to be cooler than the rest of his body, so don't check there.

While we move through the lazy (or busy!) months of summer, don't forget to keep yourself and your baby well hydrated. For babies under 6 months, breastfeeding to meet demand should be sufficient; just be sure she's having a normal number of wet diapers. If your baby is a little older, offer water from a sippy cup more often than usual. 


Giving your baby a cool bath before bedtime can help keep him cool for sleep in warm temperatures.

Giving your baby a cool bath before bedtime can help keep him cool for sleep in warm temperatures.

What’s holding you back?


Sometimes the universe sends us messages. For example, we think about how we really should call that friend we haven’t been in touch with, and an hour later, out of nowhere, we see them driving down the street.  (The message there being, yes, definitely call them.)

If you’re anything like me, you’re a little slow at picking up on these messages and sometimes you pretend you didn’t hear.  It’s an evolved habit to pay attention and listen, and it often takes a big leap to follow where the message seems to be guiding you. But when the same thing keeps popping up over and over from different angles, even my ears perk up.

For me lately the message has been “what’s holding you back?” Whether from a business webinar or a chat with an old friend, the same question keeps coming up. A wonderfully wise American Buddhist teacher I know – Lama Marut – calls this “holding on to our burning coal.”  We want to change or live differently, but we’re not willing to let go of the burning coal in our own hands.  We clutch on to our current ideas and our existing self concepts, despite wanting change.

Change is hard.  Which brings me to the point where I need to make this relevant to babies’ sleep.  :) When your baby has always gone to sleep with a “prop” – on your chest, in a swing, at the breast, on a bottle, with a soother, etc. etc., the day that that has to change (and of course it has to change) will probably be hard for your baby.  There are some gradual ways to warm up to it, to make it less sudden and stressful, but there will still be a big shift one day. 


And human beings don’t like change, by nature. If you don’t believe this, you probably don’t have a two-year-old yet (just try giving them a different spoon at dinner time, I dare you).

The shift is also big for parents, especially mothers.  If baby has a sleep prop, chances are Mom is either somewhat involved or is the outright human pacifier.

There are all sides to the argument of whether sleep training is a dream come true or downright awful (especially online!), and that can make it tough for some parents to make the decision.  Plus, the ones who really need it are sleep deprived, so double-whammy in the decision-making department.

So when you haven’t slept more than a few hours in a row for months (or years!) on end, and you so desperately want sleep, maybe this is a helpful question to ask: what is holding me back? This is always a tough question for us to answer about ourselves.

I’ll start.  My issue isn’t around sleep, but more general lifestyle. What’s holding me back from living the way I want to live?  The answer (I think) is my own negative self talk around the time excuse: “I don’t have time. I’m a working mother of two young children; I can’t.” 

So yesterday I threw dinner into the pressure cooker and went out for a bike ride and we ate a little later than usual. As my mother likes to say, “Your kids are never going to thank you for staying home.” This is in relation to travel, but in this case, they’re not going to thank me for being out of shape and bluesy about it. 

In another example of us banging our parenting heads against the wall for way too long, my husband and I finally read up on how to tackle the incessant mealtime struggle with our three-year-old.  We ordered a book, read the expert advice, started an entirely new approach to eating and suffered through the two-week change phase.

We are now blown away on a daily basis by our child happily coming to the table and eating things she never would have before. It’s shocking.  Kind of like high-fiving your spouse for an entire year after sleep coaching because you still can’t believe your child just accepts the new norm and happily, easily falls asleep in their little bed every night and for every nap.

Time can be a big excuse.  So can money.  We have to first value ourselves to make change.  And we have to be happy ourselves in order to help others be happy.

Anything is possible. We usually just have to listen up, trust and get ourselves out of the way.

Is White Noise Safe For Your Baby's Ears?

I use white noise in my children's bedrooms. I recommend it to my clients to help their little ones get to sleep independently and stay asleep all night.

But is it safe?

Here's the short answer: probably, but it depends.


White noise - like ocean-wave sounds or a fan - can help block out household noise that either prevents babies from falling asleep or wakes them prematurely.  Some say it's a soothing sound that can help lull them into sleep. I'm not so sure about that - we can't ask the babies.

But how much is too much?

It's not clear whether a baby's threshold for noise-induced hearing loss is lower than that for adults, but as a conservative measure, neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are recommended to keep ambient noise levels to 50 dB-A (a-weighted decibels) or less. (FYI that’s really quiet – the ambient noise in my home with computer on and refrigerator humming is higher than that.)

A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that of 14 infant-sound machines tested, all of them were able to reach noise levels over 50 dB-A. No surprise there – it has to make some noise.

But what's concerning is that several of them, when placed on the crib rail, were able to produce sounds exceeding 85 dB-A at baby’s level. That's over the limit for adult occupational noise – the level at which hearing damage is known to occur on chronic exposure (picture the guy who spends 8 hours a day operating a jackhammer).

Before you panic and run to turn off the fan in your baby's room, 85 decibels is really loud.

When I first read this study, I did panic, and I did run to turn off the running-water-sound device in my daughter’s room. At the time I read it, she had been suffering from obvious hearing loss (which we had initially thought was selective toddler hearing, until we started testing her by offering chocolate and videos, to no response). Turns out she had a middle ear full of fluid; her hearing resolved as her head cold cleared, but not before I brought up my concerns about white noise with my family doctor.

His immediate thoughts were that a) I was crazy, and that b) the white noise would have to be insanely loud to cause hearing damage. A few days later, he bumped into a colleague specializing in Pediatric Ear Nose Throat and asked her about it.  Her answer was that there was no way my daughter’s hearing loss could have been caused by white noise.

Sigh of relief (and shedding of massive amounts of useless guilt).  But I still turned our white noise down, and I follow the Pediatrics article’s recommendations of keeping the machine on the opposite side of the room from our child’s bed and turning it down or off when my husband and I go to bed and the house is quiet. (See below for the researchers’ recommendations.)

Now, what about creating a dependency on white noise?  I get this question a lot when I recommend it in seminars or to clients.  White noise is not what we call a “prop” – an external person or object (like a pacifier or Mom in the rocking chair) that baby doesn’t know how to sleep without.

It’s also easy to wean.  Once babies have solid sleep skills – they can fall asleep independently and soothe themselves right back to sleep as they stir in the night – you can gradually turn the white noise down over the course of weeks or months.

In the meantime, I am still recommending it. My doctor can probably find lots of other reasons to think I’m crazy.



Not sure how loud your white noise is?  Download a decibel-meter app on your phone and place it next to your sleeping child while your white noise is on.

Recommendations from the Pediatrics February 2014 study:

1. Place the ISM as far away as possible from the infant and never in the crib or on a crib rail.

2. Play the ISM at a low volume.

3. Operate the ISM for a short duration of time.

An End To Bedtime Battles?

Is it 7:00 yet?

This is the question I asked my other half as we sat at the dinner table the other night with our two children.  We love them dearly, but honestly, we don’t always love their company.

Each was refusing to eat in their own way – the one-year-old wanting to bang the spoon and fling food with his new-found motor skills, his older sister unnervingly exhibiting behaviour that friends have described to me as the “threenager”.

It was all run-of-the-mill parenting stuff, with a few things we could probably work on (okay, we’re actually failing miserably at French parenting à la “Bringing Up Bébé”).

But I look forward to bedtime; it’s the easiest part of my day. Since we embarked on sleep training our first child (we hired a Sleep Sense consultant three years ago), bedtime has been pretty much a cakewalk.  I’m not bragging here  we did way more than our share of late-night laps around the neighbourhood. Also see previous paragraphs.

A phrase I often hear with respect to children’s sleep is “bedtime battles.” I shudder at what that might look like for some families, especially with multiple children. But I don’t believe there are inherently good or bad kids; just well-rested ones and overtired ones. Battles ensue when overtired kids get wound up and just can’t co-operate. Often there’s just a subtle lack of routine or boundaries. And even the most energetic parents can hit the wall and not be at their best at 6 p.m.

Was sleep training hard? Yes. Were there moments of doubt while I sat beside my baby whispering to her as she learned to fall asleep on her own? Yes. Do I have any regrets? Hell no! I barely remember the one week it took to change all our lives. By all accounts, neither does she. There has been so much LESS crying ever since we sleep trained.

Before sleep training, our baby’s overtiredness from not having independent sleep skills – being breastfed to sleep, carrier-walked to sleep, car-driven to sleep – created ear-piercing wail-a-thons on a regular basis. That all pretty much ended after three nights on the job.

My second baby gradually learned how to sleep independently from the beginning with just a few simple ideas (we weren’t going down that exhausting road twice). He’s not been perfect, but putting him down for nap or nighttime is simple, gentle and easy.

So when 7 p.m. comes, I know that all will be calm and quiet, and my husband and I will get some time to relax, read, talk, work and – oh yeah – sleep.

So perhaps you’re thinking what I thought: “Fine for you but that would never work for my child!”

That’s what we've all thought ("we" being those on the other side of sleeplessness). Mine had a strong will, a set of lungs that would bring the house down and an apparent congenital disdain for shut-eye.

But all healthy babies have it in them to sleep well. Even those with physical or mental challenges can learn when given the opportunity and the right guidance.  As well-meaning parents, we often get in their way; then the well-meaning strategy becomes habit.

And then it stops working.

The number one mistake we as parents make is thinking our high-energy child isn't tired enough at 6:30 or 7 p.m. and so we keep them up later to "tire them out". When kids get overtired, they get wired (likely just the first of many ways they will yank our chains over the course of 18 years).

The second biggest mistake is varying the routine, or not having one, often because we're losing steam at the end of a long day. But cultivating your inner drill sergeant and keeping the list of to-dos ticking along before bedtime will do wonders if you keep it up.

And definitely no screen time at least 90 minutes before bed.

If after using these tactics you still have a nightly ritual of bedtime battles, whether they involve driving a baby around the block 45 times or wrestling a toddler into pyjamas, there is a way out. And everyone wins.

Call me and we’ll chat about it. 15-minute consults are free. 604-789-0850.

We've lost our village, and it's making us tired

We've lost our village, and it's making us tired

I just read a great article that cuts through the cultural attitude of "mommy martyrdom" around the issue of sleep deprivation and its effect on postpartum mental health.

We've all joked about having "mommy brain" and falling asleep mid-feeding in the rocking chair at 4 a.m., but as a society, it may be time to wake up. Pardon the pun. The Canadian Mental Health Society names sleep deprivation as a contributing factor to postpartum depression - a condition 10-15 per cent of new mothers will experience, some to the level of psychosis.

Having a newborn baby is blissful, joyful and exciting. But it's also constant - not to mention critically important - work. If women are lucky, family members pitch in with meals and grocery runs in the first week. But then what happens? 

Typically, Dad goes back to work and Mom is up three to four times a night feeding and soothing baby so that her partner is well rested enough to function at the office. Then chronic sleep deprivation really starts to kick in - chronic because there's no time to catch up on lost sleep.

As new moms, we're often told to "sleep when they sleep". But that's assuming someone else is cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and taking care of your other children. (Notice there's no time in there for showers or relaxing with a heating pad around your shoulders.) Not many of us have a super-grandma down the road who gives up the next six weeks of her life to take care of household business while her daughter (or daughter-in-law) feeds and bonds with her new baby. And almost no one has a village to rally around them any more. 

According to a Huffington Post article on birth traditions in other cultures, the Japanese have a concept around post-natal care called Ansei, or "peace and quiet while pampering." Um, yes please. Traditionally, Japanese women spend the first three weeks after the birth of their baby at their parents' house staying in bed, recovering and bonding with their baby.

In Nigeria, the mother, or mother-in-law, gives the new baby its first bath, symbolizing the care she will give in the early part of the newborn's life.  Maybe that sounds worse than labour to you; that depends on the mother-in-law. But we're talking about a concept here.

Just four decades ago, my mother spent a full five days in a hospital bed after each of her babies' natural, uncomplicated births. For one birth, she was sharing a room with an Irish-Catholic woman who had just delivered her 12th or 13th child. "I love coming in here," she said. "It's the only break I get all year." 

Another interesting read outlines the culture shock that a Korean nurse had when giving birth in the United States. In her article Postpartum Beliefs and Practices Among Non-Western Cultures, Yeoun Soo Kim-Godwin, PhD, MPH, RN says, "It is interesting that women’s status has been considered relatively higher in Western cultures than in non-Western cultures, yet paradoxically less recognition seems to be given to new mothers in the United States."

True - for baby showers and the postpartum period, the focus is most often on the baby.  Now, I'm not saying we should ignore the miraculous new bundle of joy, but we need to take care of moms so that moms can be fully present to take care of their babies. Don't get me started on the insanity of some countries that require women to be back to work after six weeks. 

So what to do?  Reach out. Make food - lots of it, and often. If you have a friend or family member who has just given birth, show up with two containers: one for tonight and one for the freezer. Ask the mom (and/or dad) if they would like you to watch the baby while they take a shower or have something to eat. Then bugger off. 

I'll never forget visiting my friend Jean a week after the birth of her first baby. Not yet a mom myself (and admittedly out to lunch on the whole thing), I brought flowers. You're welcome. And I stayed for an hour (total rookie). About a year later I had my own baby, so by the time Jean had her second, I had smartened up. I showed up with a big pot of nourishing soup, held her baby for five minutes and then left her in the capable hands of her husband-on-paternity-leave to rest.

That said, if you know someone who is really suffering, treat it seriously. Get them to talk to their doctor, and connect them with a local women's mental health or postpartum depression group. Make sure they're being followed by health professionals. And if they have a difficult baby who literally keeps them up all night, gather the troops, step in, and take shifts. She needs to sleep.

If you need a great platform for organizing postpartum meals or other support, check out Lotsa Helping Hands to make your own online signup calendar.

So what is sleep training?

So what is sleep training

This is the question a mom in the park asked me the other day when I told her what I do for a living. She had joked “we’ll sleep some time” as she gently pushed her seven-month-old in the swing for the first time.

There seems to be a lot of talk about it, but I realized there are probably a lot of new parents who don’t know what it means to “sleep train” their baby. I was one of those parents; although in the months after my first child was born, I dreamed of walking into the room with a clipboard and whistle to command her it was time to sleep. For the love of….

Simply put, sleep training is giving your baby (or toddler/child) the opportunity to learn self-soothing strategies.  We all have self-soothing strategies – I lie on my left side in the fetal position and pull the covers up to my shoulders. Ahhh… now I can fall asleep. And I stay asleep, all night. Even though it is completely normal to wake three to four times a night, we don’t remember waking because it’s so brief. Somewhere in our infancy, we learned self soothing. We wake, shuffle / turn over and go right into the next cycle of sleep without being consciously aware of it happening.

Babies need to learn how to fall back to sleep in between sleep cycles. It helps (or is essential, actually) if they’ve learned to fall asleep independently, meaning, not while breastfeeding, sucking a pacifier or being rocked in mom’s or dad’s arms.

So why do so many babies have a hard time putting that together? It seems an anomaly these days to have a baby that just sleeps through the night after the first couple of months of life. Often parents intervene too soon with baby's every fuss and cry; their little one doesn't have a chance to develop the ability to soothe themselves back into another cycle of sleep.

Another possible contributor is "back to sleep". This is the educational campaign that has literally saved babies’ lives. Since government programs have urged parents to put babies to sleep on their backs rather than on their bellies, as had been done for probably a millennium, the rate of infant deaths due to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has dropped by 50 per cent. But when not sleeping on their bellies, babies will startle themselves awake more often (that jazz-hands-looking reflex present in early life).

Just to be clear, I strongly advocate putting babies to sleep on their backs. It is the single biggest factor in reducing cases of SIDS. But that means many of us have to work a little at helping our babies learn the critical life skill of independent sleep.

Sleep training can take on many forms.  A lot of people assume this means “Cry It Out” or CIO as it’s called in sleep literature. Many of our parents did this, and a lot of experts recommend it for exhausted parents and overtired babies, but it can be pretty hard on the heart – the parents’ figurative heart as they put their child down and close the door on their crying baby, not to open it again until 7 a.m. It can also have less-than-lasting success compared to other methods.

Then there’s increasing check times, often called “Ferberizing” as it was popularized in the 1980s by Dr. Richard Ferber. Using this method, you put your baby down awake and return at predetermined amounts of time to comfort them with gentle pats or rubs and a soothing voice; those intervals gradually increase in length until your baby falls asleep.

Then there’s “camping out”. This is the method popularized by Sleep Sense founder Dana Obleman; she calls it the “stay-in-the-room method”. This is the method I most often recommend to parents.  Using this method, you are beside your child for them to see and hear you, and occasionally feel your soothing touch.  The method then progresses and changes over the ensuing nights to allow your child to learn complete independence. In my experience, it’s a game changer.

If you Google 'sleep training', you'll find strong opinions from online moms on all sides of the discussion; everyone is absolutely entitled to an opinion. But one fact always remains: if you’re sleep deprived, you’re not at your best. At worst, you could be unable to properly attend to your child, unsafe to drive or even heading into depression. And parenthood is all hard enough.

We're all just doing our best

We're all just doing our best

I’m a sleep coach. It’s where I’ve decided to put my efforts and attention to help kids and families. Sleep training worked for me, and it’s worked beautifully for my kids. The research on the effects of sleep training on children’s future emotional health and well-being alleviates any second guessing I had about my decision. My kids sleep in their own cribs through the night and they fall asleep independently (i.e. no “props” like breastfeeding-to-sleep, rocking or pacifiers). That was my choice, and it’s worked for us.

Then there’s my friend C, whom I just bumped into on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning – she with her two kids and me with mine. Both of us have relatively new babies. She said something about her littlest one napping for three hours every afternoon and my heart swooned.  “You hear that?” I said to my baby. “Three hours – want to give that a try?”  She said she puts her almost-three-year-old on one breast and her baby on the other and they all fall asleep for a family nap every day. Sometimes it’s one hour, sometimes it’s two or three. And it works for them. Her kids get sleep, she sleeps and she feels good about her parenting decision.

So who’s right?  The answer is, both. From what I can tell, my friend C seems wholly committed to the Attachment Parenting philosophy made famous by the Dr. Sears group. I was too until three or four months into my first child’s life when I had to admit the bed-sharing part wasn't working for us.  No one was getting enough sleep.  And if I breastfed my baby to sleep, she’d have a guaranteed, crappy 30-minute nap and continue the vicious cycle of overtiredness.  My baby and I were getting by on snippets of rest but we were both chronically sleep deprived.

While the Sears family write at length about the benefits of co-sleeping, demand-feeding and baby wearing, they also say very early in their Attachment Parenting book that the best sleeping arrangement for any family is the one in which everyone is getting a good night’s sleep.

So while my heart wanted the co-sleeping cuddles my friend C had, it changed its tune when I learned how much consolidated sleep my child was missing out on. And while C is happily feeding her babe to sleep, she’s recommending me to friends who need a sleep coach. She understands that every baby is different, every family is different. As mothers, we have to support each other and respect that each of us is doing our best and what we truly believe to be best for our children – it’s the one and only thing parents have in common.