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24 06, 2017

Does My Baby Still Need to Feed at Night?

June 24th, 2017|Categories: Baby Sleep|Tags: , |

Baby still need to feed at night? Here’s how to tell!

You know the drill: you have spent an hour trying to get your baby to bed for the night. You haul your exhausted body to bed, only to be woken up a few hours later to the sound of crying.

Climbing out of your warm covers, you scoop up your baby and try to feed her. She takes a few sucks and then is back asleep. Laying her back down, you try to return to sleep but you can’t-you know she will be back up in an hour to repeat the process.

And so you start to wonder;

“does my baby really need allllll of these feeds, or am I being used as a human pacifier” ?

Whether I’m teaching workshops, doing my free Q & A sessions or working with private clients, it’s a common question.
Usually it’s followed up with; ” I’m totally fine with feeding-if she truly needs it-but how do I know? She never refuses a feed and it seems to be the only way I can get her back down”.

It’s rare for a baby to not feed at least a little when offered a breast or bottle. Even older babies, who may be waking every 1-2 hours often still eat when offered. But this doesn’t always mean that they are hungry. Confusing, right?

So let’s clarify something.

A baby waking at night feeding for true feeds, and, waking at night and wanting to eat because the baby is used to falling to sleep while feeding, are two separate things.

You can have a baby that wakes to feed at night to satisfy true hunger and still knows how to fall asleep independently. The two are not mutually exclusive because sleep training does not mean forced, premature night weaning.

However, if your baby is only feeding as a means of getting back to sleep and isn’t taking full feeds, this is usually referred to as a sleep association, prop or crutch.

Confused yet?
But wait, there’s more.

It’s common for children to combine these during the night; sometimes waking because of a sleep association and other times needing to be fed.

How does a tired mom decide which category her child falls into?

To answer this question, we need to examine a few factors.

Factors To Consider

Before we start, we need to consider your baby’s;

  • age
  • growth, weight percentile (both current and past)
  • general health, and any medical concerns
  • daytime sleep routine and amounts
  • bedtime
  • whether the child is falling asleep feeding or not
  • feeding routine and
  • intake amounts; day vs. night

When I work with my private clients, I also get their opinion on where they feel they are in their breastfeeding journey (if applicable), as well as their feelings/instincts on whether the feeds are needed out of hunger or wanted as a means of getting back to sleep. (To read more about sleep associations click here.)

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It is also important to factor in any medical professional’s opinion that you value such as the child’s doctor and/or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

While we want to get a complete picture, I do find that most of the time, mama knows best. Sometimes there have been one-too-many opinions and my moms are feeling a bit overwhelmed and are just looking for some guidance. I know you’re tired, but don’t discount your own gut instinct.

How Many Night Feeds Per Age

Let’s start by looking at some common feeding patterns. Please note: this is just an average. Every child is unique and you need to consider all the factors mentioned above.
Case in point; I’ve seen 4 month olds go 11-12 hours at night without a feed, and other 4 month olds that needed 3 feeds throughout the night. But here are some average night feeding amounts.

0-3 Months: Feeds every 2-3 hours

4-5 Months: Bedtime feed, plus 1-3 more feeds through the night

6-8 Months: Bedtime feed, plus 1 feed

9-11+ Months: Bedtime feed, 0 night feeds

If your baby is feeding more frequently than listed above, she may have developed a sleep association with the breast or bottle. Use the following checklist to help you narrow it down more.

Night feeds may be needed if:

  • Your baby is younger than 8 months
  • Your baby can fall asleep independently
  • Eating solids are not a part of your baby’s regular daytime routine
  • Your baby takes a full feed at night
  • Your baby is going 1.5-2.5 hours between milk feeds during the day, and takes a significant feed at each one
  • Your baby goes back to sleep easily and quickly after a night feed
  • Crying escalates and continues for a long time if you try to wait to feed your baby at night
  • Your baby is regularly waking up at similar times for a night feed (eg: 12:30AM and 4:30AM)

When Are Feeds Not Needed?

A feed may not be needed if:

  • Your baby is 8 months or older
  • Your baby frequently falls asleep at the breast or bottle
  • There are a wide variety of solids being consumed, 3 times a day
  • Your baby only nurses or drinks to get themselves back to sleep
  • Your baby is going 3-4 hours during the day between milk feeds
  • Your baby stays awake for 20+ minutes after a night feed, and is happy
  • Your baby returns to sleep (after fussing/babbling for a while) if they wake at night and you don’t feed them
  • You describe your baby as a “snacker” during the day but takes long feeds at night
  • There is no consistency in night wakings; sometimes she sleeps until 3am, other times she feeds at 11pm.

Still Not Sure?

“Ugh! I’ve read everything and I’m still not sure-does my baby need to feed at night, or not?”

If after reading the above categories, you still are undecided on what your child needs, I recommend that you continue to offer night feeds but begin to document your child’s night wakings.

For 7- 10 days, record/log their daytime feeds and amounts, as well as night time wakings and intakes each time you offer the bottle or breast.

Once finished, review the information you have collected. What do you see?

Do you notice which feeds are larger than others?

Are there any similar patterns from night to night?

Babies four months and older may fall into a pattern of a feed at bedtime, and then two more after that during the night. Using that information you may find that the bigger/longer feeds may be the “true” ones and the shorter feeds may be the ones that are the sleep associations.

If you find there are several more feeds than that (and there are no health concerns or weight gain issues), you can talk to your IBCLC or doctor about weaning some of the extra night feeds.

Want to discuss the results of your night feed logs? Join the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page to participate in the weekly Q & A session, or book a private mini-consultation from the A La Carte section to spend more time in a one-on-one discussion.

P.S. Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of the Baby Sleep 101 sleep guide. Get it here.

 

 

6 04, 2017

11 Month Nap Regression; Tips for Getting Back on Track

April 6th, 2017|Categories: Baby Sleep|Tags: , , , |

11 Month Nap Regression

Finally, it seemed like your baby was settling into a good routine and then BOOM, the 11 month nap regression strikes.

As babies grow and begin to sleep more consistently, many parents feel that they are “out of the woods” in terms of dealing with sleep issues. So you can imagine how frustrated they feel when their little sleeper begins to “regress” and starts skipping their nap or having night wakings.

Overall, I think the term “sleep regression” is widely overused, but I do find there are a few certain key places where it’s appropriate and around 11 months is one of those times.

But first; let’s define what we’re specifically talking about when we use the term sleep regression.

What is a Sleep Regression?

I discussed sleep regression in my post 4 Month Sleep Regression: What It Is and How To Fix It, but here’s a quick refresher:

In order for a child to truly be going through a sleep regression, in my opinion as a sleep consultant, they would have to have been a solid sleeper for at least two months prior.

Anything less than at least two months of a solid sleep routine; long, restorative naps and sleeping 11-12 hours through the night with perhaps a night feed, is not as likely to be a regression.

But let’s say your baby has been a rock-star sleeper from months 8 through 10. Then as she approaches 11 months, you start to notice that she’s fighting naps. IF nothing else has changed-no alterations in her routine, no illness or vacations in the past few weeks, then this could be the 11 month nap regression.

What Causes the 11 Month Nap Regression?

Sleep issues start to creep up around this time due to the fact that your baby is growing stronger, developing and becoming mobile. Many physical milestones occur around 11 months and they can wreak havoc on your baby’s sleep, specifically their naps.

Whereas before your baby used to just lie around looking at the ceiling, she is now crawling, cruising, pulling up, standing or walking independently.

And as she practices these new skills, they are going to tire her out, similar to us adults when we start a new exercise routine. Using new muscle groups intently and frequently now is tough work!

The tricky part is, that because of her age, she will still appear awake and social. Eleven month old babies can tolerate longer wake periods than a younger baby can and they can engage with their environment for longer as well. But now we also factor in a baby who has discovered that she do all these exciting feats, which makes it harder to detect that she’s tired.

Get your free sleep guide here;  Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night; 5 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know.

Unfortunately for us parents, if we miss a baby’s just-ready-for-sleep window (which can be hard to detect) and they enter into an overtired state, they can get even more active due to a surge of fatigue-fighting hormones. . Add in all the entertaining and exciting new skills she can do, and she will likely keep herself awake too long if we don’t step in

When we do go to put them down for a nap, they are too wound up to sleep and continue to practice their new skills in the crib.

Talk about being misleading!

What we see on the surface isn’t a reflection of what is going on beneath.

Many parents mistake this behaviour as an indication that their child needs fewer or shorter nap times, but reducing rest periods, when the children is exhausted, is a one-way ticket to disasterville.

When children don’t stick to a consistent napping schedule they quickly begin accumulating a sleep debt; waking up at night and early in the morning. Now we have morphed from a developmental blip to a sleep-debt bomb.

Solving the 11 Month Nap Regression

Ok, so here’s how you get back on track. Let’s diffuse this bomb.

Step One: Start the morning nap earlier

You may be in the mindset that your child is moving towards needing later or even fewer naps, but that’s going to result in more problems. What we can do instead, especially if your child is starting to wake up earlier than 6AM, is to begin the morning nap a little earlier.

For example, if the child woke up at 6AM, and their morning nap is usually around 9AM, then putting them down for a nap around 8:30AM can assist with them settling down quickly and easily.

Step Two: Cap the morning nap

Keep this nap to about an hour in length. Keeping your child’s morning nap shorter, “protects” the afternoon nap by ensuring that your child is ready to sleep for a second nap. It also helps the second nap to not start too late, which if it does, can interfere with their night time sleep.

Step Three: Give your child time to settle down

How exciting it must be to realize you can move yourself, without needing to rely on someone else. From your baby’s perspective, it is much more interesting than napping. This explains why many children will skip their nap and instead practice their new skills during nap time.
If this happens, don’t panic and don’t end nap time prematurely. If they are happy and safe, sit down and enjoy a cup of (decaf) tea. There isn’t anything you can do at this point, so it’s better to give both of you some downtime and it allows them the opportunity to fall asleep.

I know it may not seem like it after a few days of skipped naps, but they will get back on track.

How long? Wellllll, the 11 month nap regression can last several weeks, but if you follow these tips, you may reduce it down to only a few days.

Step Four: Have an age appropriate bedtime

At this age, we’re looking at a wake period of about 3.75-4 hours after a solid second nap. It is also ideal to have it before 7:30pm. If you feel your little one is extremely tired, then you may even put them down closer to 3.5-3.75 hours for a few days and then move it out to 4 hours. If there wasn’t a second nap to base off of, then you’re looking at a stupidly  super early bedtime.

Since this regression can last a few weeks, stick with the above advice during this period to help keep on track of any sleep debt issues that may emerge.

Want more help with your child’s sleep? Join me every Wednesday night for a FREE Facebook Q & A session.

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30 01, 2017

Sleeping Through the Night; Two Mistakes Most Parents Make and How to Avoid Them

January 30th, 2017|Categories: Baby Sleep, Toddler Sleep|

Sleeping Through the Night

Whenever I teach workshops or talk to parent groups, I will hear “I just have a quick question-why isn’t my child sleeping through the night?”.

Although the question may be quick, the answer isn’t. It’s difficult to give a short summary in a sentence or two.

There are a plethora of reasons for night wakings, and in order to be able to offer advice, I need to know specifics about that child; age, personality, sleep temperament, napping routine, bedtime, plus more.

What’s Your Definition?

“Sleeping through the night” means something different to every parent. And it can look different at various ages.

We have different expectations for a four month old versus a four year old. The first one will likely still need to wake up to feed during the night, whereas the latter won’t.

If the four month old wakes up to eat twice a night but goes right back to sleep and overall sleeps 11-12 hours each night, I would consider that sleeping through the night. If the four year old did the same thing, I would not.

Keep in mind that children and adults alike, do not technically sleep straight through the night, without waking. We all wake up throughout our sleep cycles, however most of the time it is not a full, conscious, “gee, I’m awake and it’s 3am” type of waking.

We shift our position, get comfortable and go back to sleep. This will occur in children as well. This a normal and healthy sleep pattern. The trouble happens when a baby or child fully wakes up and signals, cries or calls for a parent multiple times a night.

A Tale of Two Culprits

But putting those details aside, and assuming a child is healthy, and I can summarize the two main mistakes that parents inadvertently make that can cause and encourage night wakings.

First, I want to preface the information with the caveat that you should always check with your child’s doctor if you believe there may be a medical reason for the sleep issues.

This can include (but is not limited to) severe reflux, poor weight gain due to breastfeeding difficulties, insufficient transfer of milk, tongue or lip ties, snoring, mouth breathing, food or environmental allergies, restless leg syndrome or obstructed sleep apnea.

If no medical issues are present, then one of the following two issues may be at play;

  • Sleep debt accumulation: the child is chronically sleep deprived and exhausted
  • Sleep Associations: the child is unable to fall asleep independently

What is a Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep, and leaves your baby, toddler or preschooler feeling mentally worn-out, physically exhausted, and can dramatically impact their mood, thought, and behaviours.

In most cases sleep debt occurs when a child habitually does not get the required amount of sleep each day and night, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

This occurs most often when children are;

  • being kept awake for too long during the day,
  • naps that may not be occurring at the right biological times,
  • or bedtimes that are too late.

A sleep debt can be thought of like a financial debt; the more money you take out, the greater the debt becomes. If you don’t replenish the money, the debt remains.

Similarly, the longer the child goes without the proper amount of rest, the more overtired they are and the bigger the sleep debt becomes.

In both examples, if the debt is large, making a small one-time deposit doesn’t clear up the debt.

How Do I Know if My Child Has Sleep Debt?

When children are overtired, they can get revved up as their body releases more stimulating hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in an effort to counter the exhaustion.

It is common for parents to tell me that their toddler will have a ton of energy in the evening, or as they try to rock their baby to sleep, the child is crying in their arms, pushing away and arching their bodies. The harder the parent works, the harder the child resists the attempts to soothe her.

Being overtired also manifests itself as;

  • seemingly scared of or,
  • hating their crib/bed,
  • excess crying,
  • taking extended periods to go to sleep.
  • Appears to not be tired and acts hyper, almost manic
  • Clingy behavior
  • Unable to settle

Getting Out of Debt

Luckily, these issues can be resolved by adjusting the child’s routine so that they are getting more sleep. One of the easiest ways to do this is by moving bedtime earlier in the evening.

For children under the age of 5, regular bedtimes earlier than 7:30PM work best. If you suspect your child has a sleep debt, then moving bedtime up by 20 – 30 minutes may help them feel more rested.

Some children even need a bedtime closer to 45 minutes to an hour earlier. If you’re not sure, this wake time infographic below can help you determine the right bedtime for your child.

 

Can you guess what the number one follow up question is, when I suggest an earlier bedtime? Parents wonder if it means their child will now wake up earlier in the morning.

To that I say a resounding “no”.

The reason is that when a child is overtired, doing an earlier bedtime allows their brain to acquire more cycles of sleep, which is like putting money into their sleep bank and reducing the sleep debt.

Why Your Child Needs an Early Bed Time

During a child’s sleep, their brain cycles through REM and Non-REM (NREM) types of sleep.

REM sleep is light, active, helps to consolidate memories and results in dreaming.

NREM is a deep sleep that helps the body to repair itself, release growth hormones and helps to clear the sleep debt.

The structure of night time sleep is such that there are more cycles of the deep NREM sleep in the first part of the night than there are later on.

When a child is overtired, an early bedtime helps to take advantage of this.

When we put a child to bed too late, the potential maximum cycles of Non-Rem sleep that they could be receiving, is cut off.

Part of this is due to the fact that a child’s morning wake up time is biologically set. A young child that goes to bed at 7pm has a better night and more cycles of NREM than a child that goes to bed at 9pm.

They will both likely still wake up at the same time in the morning. And if they don’t, for many children, if they do sleep in (past 7/7:30am), it can be a red flag that their body is extremely overtired and the quality of their sleep is already compromised.

Naps Are Necessary For Sleeping Through the Night

How many of you have been given the advice to skip your child’s nap because it will help them sleep better at night?Did you know that doing so will almost guarantee the opposite to happen?

Ensuring your child is taking long, regular naps is a crucial component for a healthy, debt-free and sleeping though the night, routine.

This is much easier said than done, I know. Helping a child to nap better can be a challenge because it takes much longer for a child’s brain to consolidate naps than it does for night time sleep. Whereas night sleep starts to get on track within a week of dedicated work and problem solving, naps take closer to 2-3 weeks.

 

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The good news is that it absolutely can be done! By maintaining a regular napping routine that matches a child’s natural sleep rhythm, we can help a child get the maximum amount of sleep cycles they need for a healthy nap.

The timing of when a nap happens is just as important as how long the child naps. This important fact is often overlooked when sleep problems are discussed.

To begin with, consider how long your child can stay awake in between naps. It will slightly increase the older your child gets, but only slightly.

For more tips on napping, see here and here.

The Skill of Falling Asleep Independently

The second area that commonly causes sleep problems in children over four months of age are sleep associations. Around four months of age your baby’s circadian rhythms will begin to mature, allowing your baby to develop the ability to fall asleep on their own. However, sometimes as parents we don’t realize that this transition is taking place. Out of love, we continue to “help” until our child becomes so dependent on our methods, that it feels like they “need” it to get to sleep.

These can include:

  • Physical stimulation, such as rocking, holding, or bouncing
  • External props, such as feeding, soothers, or bottles

When we begin to remove the extra help, this can produce tears of frustration in our little ones. If you’re a parent overwhelmed with sleep deprivation yourself, it can be difficult to recognize this. But keeping the context of the crying in mind can be helpful. If you’ve taken your child’s daytime routine into proper consideration, have fed and changed your child, then the crying that is happening is a result of being frustrated.

Consistency is Key

Once you’ve determined which external factors are at play you can start to remove them. This is the act of sleep training.

Sleep training is ONLY helpful in these situations. It does not fix a child that is waking and crying at night because of a poor daytime routine-that will continue to happen long after a sleep association has been weaned if the sleep debt is not first addressed.

Now, I know that the term most people are familiar with is Crying-It-Out (CIO) (AKA Extinction), but that isn’t your only option. You can choose to wean sleep associations slowly or quickly, depending on your preferences.

The key here is consistency: every day, every nap, every bedtime, and every night waking (minus the one or two that are for true nutritional purposes). For more information see my sleep training series here.

Ensuring that you remove bedtime “associations” not only helps establish a healthy bedtime pattern, but children who fall asleep without a sleep association experience better night sleep cycle transitions. This, combined with an age-appropriate daytime routine, in turns leads to children sleeping through the night.

Compare the dotted line with the solid line in the image below and you will see how a child that can move through sleep cycles easily has a deeper and more restorative sleep.

 

 

 

Removing all the sleep associations in the world won’t help if you don’t address an underlying sleep deficit and keep your child on a healthy sleep routine. It’s also important to introduce these changes during times when you are distraction-free and can focus on the task at hand, so avoid attempting to implement any changes during vacations, travel, when you are hosting visitors or doing home renovations.

If you find yourself slipping back into old habits then break the changes up into small, manageable steps. The easiest first step is to make sure that your child is napping at appropriate intervals, and that bedtime is consistent and meets their needs. This is the foundation for any sleep training that you may want to implement later on.

If you have a child that isn’t sleeping through the night, you may be too tired to make any changes yourself. Are you feeling overwhelmed and want someone to make a plan for you and guide you through the process? Book your consultation today and save yourself time and frustration or join me during one of my free Q and A sessions every Wednesday night from 8-9pm CST on the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page.

 

 

1 09, 2016

Help Your Child Adjust to Daycare

September 1st, 2016|Categories: Daycare and Sleep, Uncategorized|

Help Your Child Adjust to Daycare (Daycare Series, Part 3)

Whether you’re going back to work after 6 weeks or a few years, knowing how to help your child adjust to daycare can be a challenge.

This transition can be a stressful time for any family, and in my Daycare Series I’ve already outlined how to choose a day care which respects your child and sleep, and best practices when it comes to helping your baby adjust to napping at a daycare.

This 3rd installment of the Daycare Series I’ll share my tips on how to help your child adjust to daycare with its new and unfamiliar routines:

Be Up-Front with Your Daycare Provider

Before you begin taking your child to a new daycare it’s critical that you communicate openly and honestly with the day care providers about your little one’s sleep, feeding, and eating requirements so that you can ensure that you are on the same schedule.

Keeping this pattern consistent will help your child feel more secure because they are following a familiar, established routine, and it also helps the daycare workers make sure that your child is happy and comfortable.

Bring a Comfort Item for Your Baby

Check to see if the daycare will allow your baby to bring a comfort or “lovey” item with them, such as a special stuffed toy or blanket, which can stay at the daycare for all naps. For young infants, there should not be any items in the crib, but for the older ones, your daycare may allow a small, soft lovey. It shouldn’t have any parts that can come off such as buttons, nor should it be stuffed to prevent a choking hazard.

If you can, have Mom or Baby sleep with the item for a few days before bringing it to daycare for the first time, so that the item has familiar scents attached to it.

Do a Gradual Introduction

If your schedule allows, ease your child into daycare alternating days when they are at daycare, and when they stay at home. One alternative that I recommend (if possible) is to do the morning nap at home, and then bring the baby to daycare for their second nap, or vice versa.

If your child has already gone through the 2-1 nap transition, then you may want to again bring him or her for only half a day for the first week and then alternating full days in week two.

Adjust Accordingly

The first several weeks at daycare are usually a bumpy time for families, and it’s common for a child to resist napping, or to skip napping altogether at the start.

In order to help your child adjust to daycare the quickest, I suggest that parents reschedule bedtime for earlier in the evening to accommodate any sleep loss which may be happening the day. Sometimes it may feel like you are barely able to spend any time with your little one because they are needing to go to bed earlier, however, if this helps everyone to continue to sleep well at night, then it’s worth the initial sacrifice.

Usually by the end of the first month, our little ones are doing much better with the new routine and are able to return to their regular bedtime. (Keep in mind that for children under 5, bedtime is often between 6-7:30pm)

Continue to Communicate Consistently

Some day cares provide daily logs, or summaries, of each child’s behaviour and routines throughout the day. If your daycare doesn’t provide one for you, make sure to communicate about their naps every day, and ask questions like:

  • Did your child nap?
  • How long did they nap for?
  • How long did it take for them to fall asleep?
  • What was their mood like pre and post-nap?
  • Did the provider have to do anything to help them fall asleep?

These answers will help you understand how your child is sleeping, and assist you in determining if you need to adjust bedtimes accordingly.

Remember; the best thing that you can do to ensure a smooth transition for your baby, and to help keep them as well-rested, happy, and healthy as possible, is to communicate with your daycare.

Would you like more tips on how to help your child adjust to daycare?Join me during one of my Q and A sessions on the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page and ask a question.

 

 

 

13 07, 2016

Wake Time Per Age; From Newborn to Toddler

July 13th, 2016|Categories: Sleep Training, Wake Times For Children|

Wake Time; Are You Keeping Your Child Up Too Long?

“What is a good wake time for my 5 month old?”

“How long should my child be staying up between naps?”

“Once my child transitions to one nap, how long should they be awake for before bedtime”

I hear these types of questions all the time from concerned parents, and for good reason.  Getting the timing of sleep right can mean the difference between struggling for an hour or having your child quickly drift off.

We know kids need their sleep, and a lot of it.

For small children two years and younger, sleep is a critical part of their development process and it’s important to develop healthy sleeping and napping patterns in order to help them grow and develop at a safe and healthy rate.

For parents? Well, it maintains your sanity. 😉  It gives you some much needed down time.

But let’s be honest here; for some parents, having a child that sleeps well, without a lot of fussing, is akin to having a unicorn. They hear about it, but they don’t think it really exists. Having a child that goes down for their nap or bedtime quickly, easily and sleeps long stretches without having to rock, bounce, feed, drive around or lay down with, seems like a mythical creature.

But I’m here to tell you that this isn’t the case. Your child wants to sleep and they want to sleep well. But part of the success comes from understanding your child’s biological processes.

Why do babies and children need naps?

It’s not uncommon for a well-meaning relative or friend to advise the parents I talk with to skip a nap in the hopes that it will make the child sleep better. However it is a myth that skipping naps results in a better night’s sleep. In fact, the opposite is true.  Poor quality or non-existent naps will result in a child that is overtired, cranky, prone to more crying and night wakings.

When your baby or toddler is napping their brains are processing and making sense of all of the physical and mental inputs they received while awake, and since our tissue regeneration and growth happens while we sleep it’s important to help babies settle into a healthy cycle where these processes can occur.

This is why babies need to nap often: their bodies are growing and processing a high level of external inputs.

Homeo-What?

As a result of all the learning your child’s brain is going though, the feeling of needing to sleep builds up throughout the day. This need to sleep, or sleep “pressure” builds up quickly, requiring the need for frequent naps. This pressure is known as the homeostastic sleep drive.

The homeostatic sleep drive is basically how long the body can stay up before it starts to feel sleepy. Another way to think of it is as wake time; how long your child can stay awake before needing a nap or bedtime.

However the sleep drive is not the only component that comes into play. Otherwise we would likely be taking short naps all day long. For babies, this is common in the first 3-4 months, but after that point, a child’s sleep matures and other factors come into play.

Tick-Tock Goes The Circadian Clock

Your child’s sleep drive is also influenced by their sleep/wake circadian rhythms which controls the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and cortisol (the awake hormone, among other functions) over the course of 24 hours.

The circadian rhythm influences the timing of when your child’s body is biologically ready to sleep.  It is regulated by the brain based on the amount of light that the brain receives. The daylight signals the brain to keep releasing cortisol. At certain points in the day however, other circadian rhythms begin to prepare the body to sleep by lowering core body temperature and releasing melatonin.

Then, as evening approaches and the sunlight diminishes, the brain begins to release melatonin and allows your child to really feel the pressure to sleep. This is why bedtime tends to be the easiest sleep period to get a child to fall asleep.

To summarize, in children, the sleep drive creates the need to sleep, but the circadian rhythms influence the timing of sleep.

The trick to having a well-rested child is not only to time their nap with the sleep pressure building up *just enough*, AKA their wake time, (not so much that they are overtired which results in a super short nap and a lot of crankiness) but to also match the timing of the circadian rhythm.

Signs That Your Child is Getting Tired

To help you determine what your child’s wake time may be, look for subtle sleepy cues:

  • Staring into space and seeming disconnected from the surrounding environment
  • Turning away from you or another caregiver
  • Rejecting toys and food
  • Jerky, sporadic limb movements
  • Periods of quiet rest followed by vocal fussiness as they become overtired

The Downfalls of Being Overtired

If your baby or young child is being kept up too late, or is frequently missing nap periods, they may become overtired. This means they are in a state where they are sleepy and feeling fatigued, but are unable to sleep. Some of the issues which can arise from overtiredness are:

  • Waking up often throughout the night
  • Waking up very early
  • Short, or broken naps
  • Resisting naptime and exhibiting crying or giddiness
  • Night terrors
  • Battles at bedtime surrounding getting the child to sleep

Guidelines for Wake Times

Therefore, to avoid a multitude of sleep issues mentioned above, timing your child’s nap or bedtime just right can help to not only have them go to sleep easily, but also have a deep, long and restful sleep period.

One way to help this to occur is to follow wake times. Recommended wake time by age are:

 

BS101-WakeTimes-v2 (2)

Tips For Wake Time

  • Calculate wake time from eyes open to eyes closed, especially in the young babies.
  • If your child is overtired, begin with the shorter amount listed and slowly increase it as needed.
  • Requiring shorter intervals of wake time in the morning but a little longer in the afternoon is common.
  • Newborns naps will naturally be erratic and unpredictable, even with the same wake period.

 

Examining the amount of wake time your child is experiencing between naps and bedtime is a great step to take in solving their sleep issues.  It can take some trial and error to find your child’s sweet spot, but when you do, you will find that those unicorn children really do exist.  😉

For more tips and advice on how to help your child sleep better, download my FREE sleep guide.

Have a sleep question? Join me Wednesday nights for my free, live Q and A session on Facebook.