12 Sep Good Sleep = More Good Sleep
Did you know that a baby that naps well during the day sleeps BETTER at night time?
It is always amazing reading baby forums and seeing the advice given to parents about getting their child to sleep through the night. Why? Because at least half the time they are told by other poster’s that they should keep their baby up all day so they are nice and tired by bedtime. For an adult, this makes sense. Most adults have had years of practice at sleeping through the night, and genuinely love being in bed (it really is my favourite holiday destination). But for babies and young children this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Let me break it down for you:
Babies need lots of sleep. If you can get them into their cot when they are simply ‘tired’, they will generally fall asleep and stay asleep, allowing their little bodies and super genius brains to restore enough for the next wake period. During wake times they will eat well, play well and be tired enough for their next sleep. Given babies don’t have the stamina to stay awake for more than a couple of hours (I’ll be doing an article soon on wake times), naps are needed to break up their day.
On the other hand, babies who don’t sleep well and go beyond the ‘tired’ phase become overtired. And being overtired is pretty much the devil of the sleep realm.
What does ‘overtired’ look like?
It’s not pretty! Your child may take on one of the following personas:
The main reason parents think their child doesn’t need to sleep or isn’t tired, is that their child seems to have enough energy to run a marathon at 9pm. In reality, this is one of the most obvious signs of overtiredness in little people. It defies all logic, I know, but research has proven this one time and time again.
- The wicked witch
Anyone who has even contemplated having children has been warned about “witching hour”, that not-so-sweet time between 5pm and 6pm when the house becomes a war zone. Kids are angry, parents are tired and pets are in hiding for fear of what will happen next. If your child is napping properly during the day, the witch seems to retreat back to its cavern and evening becomes all sunshine and rainbows again.
- Stage 5 clinger
Some children are just clingier than others, but you may notice that the overtired child attaches themselves to you like an extra limb. And that can be one heavy limb!
- Bright spark
Aka the meltdown. Yes, all children do this SOMETIMES. But when a child is overtired, similar to when an adult is overtired, a short fuse is inevitable. All it takes is a potato gem touching a piece of broccoli on their plate to start the biggest fight you’ve ever had with a 2-year-old.
- Kitty cat napper
Does your little kitten fall asleep the minute they get in the car or pram? That’s because every fibre of their being is trying to make up for insufficient sleep. Unfortunately, these naps are too short to be restorative, which is what an exhausted baby really needs. Look out for my article on catnapping, coming soon.
Overtiredness in children and babies results in several annoying behaviours, but they all have one thing in common – they all make the problem worse. It’s like a horrible, never-ending downward spiral into the dark depths of sleep deprivation, and creates fussy children and exhausted parents (see what I mean by it being the devil?). When a child is overtired, some (or all) of these could be happening:
- Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime
- Frequently waking throughout the night
- Early wake-ups (for the whole family – FUN!)
- Difficulty napping during the day
- Excessive fussiness or extreme hyperactivity
But how did we get here?
Dana Obleman, creator of the Sleep Sense™ program and my personal mentor, explains how overtiredness comes about.
“Typically, what I run into as a sleep consultant, are parents who have allowed their child a little freedom to sleep when they seem tired. After all, what better to gauge a child’s bedtime than by when they seem to be ready for bed, yeah?”
“First of all, kids don’t display signs of fatigue the same way adults do. We associate sleepiness with our bodies slowing down, easing off the gas and getting us ready for a snooze.
“These signs can be visible in kids, but they’re often mixed in with some conflicting signals, or absent altogether. Kids typically don’t look forward to sleep the way adults do”.
Obleman continues, “As such, they tend to want to push sleep away as much as possible, and with all of that energy they’re packing, they can really push it pretty far. Toddlers need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep in a given 24 hour period. Assuming your little one sacks out for 10 hours at night, (and that’s a big assumption) that means she needs another two to four hours of naps during the day”.
This is where it begins. By not familiarising yourself with the sleep needs of your little one, you tend to rely on them showing adult-like signs of tiredness, and that just won’t happen.
If you want your little human to start sleeping better, either at night or during the day, there are a few steps you can take right now.
- Give them the chance to get plenty of fresh air and physical activity during play time
- Keep track of how much they’re eating, to make sure they’re not hungry or over full
- Establish a bed time routine (a shortened one for naps)
- Make sure their bedroom isn’t overstimulating. They’ll have all the time to hit nightclubs when they’re older, but for now, less is more
- Make their room nice and dark. Foil over the windows won’t win you any interior decorating awards, but it will definitely darken the room enough for bubs to sleep soundly
- Teach your child the skills of settling themselves and putting themselves to sleep. This is key to fixing most sleep issues
In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Dr. Marc Weissbluth explains, “The process of falling asleep unassisted is a skill. And, as with any other skill, it is easier to teach good habits first than it is to correct bad habits later.” Dr. Weissbluth encourages parents to put babies to sleep before they get overtired, cranky, irritable and are pulling on their hair or ears.
I help families all over Australia with getting their child sleeping through the night and napping like superstars. Every parent I have worked with has told me how they have had a different child after putting their sleep plan in place, and that’s why I love my job.
If you’re experiencing sleep issues with your child, let’s have a chat.