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End Bedtime Drama!

Is this a familiar image at bedtime? Does your toddler or preschooler fightfightfight when you’re trying to get them settled for sleep? Here are three common causes and fixes to this nightmarish situation!

1) Bedtime is too late! Your child’s sleepy wave has passed, and now they are running on cortisol. They won’t be able to calm for at least another 45-90 minutes or so!

FIX: Make bedtime earlier! A good rule of thumb is that bedtime should be about 12h after they wake for the day. The ideal wake time for a young child is between 6 and 7am (some kids can handle 730), in order to be ready for their body’s natural nap times.

2) Bedtime is too early! Your child hasn’t built up enough sleep pressure to easily fall asleep. This can be especially true in children over 3 who are still napping.

FIX: Make sure nap isn’t too long (cap it at 2h for older 2s or 1h for over 3) or too late (they should be up by 3/330). Some kids need that midday nap, and are fine to chill for a while in their before falling asleep. Some kids are better off skipping the nap and going to bed earlier. If you think skipping the nap is better suited for your child, see if their daycare teachers will allow them to do a quiet activity while the other kids sleep.

3) They are not sure of your expectations! Young kids don’t know what we want them to do if they are not explicitly told. Inconsistent boundaries can also lead to this scenario.

FIX: Establishing “sleep rules” – decide on your boundaries and expectations (different for every family), and write them clearly and concisely on a piece of posterboard. Try to include more positive statements than negative, we want to tell them what TO DO, and avoid the ambiguity of what NOT to do. (Unless it’s something self-explanatory like “don’t touch the curtains”.) Let them decorate it (taking ownership), hang it in their room, and go over it every night at bedtime. Give lots of praise in the morning, even if it didn’t go well – congratulate them for trying and remind them that you know they willl try even harder that upcoming night. The poster keeps everyone accountable – it is HARD to stay 100% consistent when you are fried AF, but that’s the most effective way to get this done!

If the DIY route just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to call for help! Don’t suffer in silence.

Book a free 15-minute intro call today!

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Top Tips for Travel

As our time together draws to a close, and everyone in the house is sleeping again, I always ask parents if they have any questions about what may arise in the future. The #1 thing I get asked is “What do we do when we travel?!?!?” Traveling with Little Monsters is not always easy, but it’s doable! Here are my top tips!

Anything special I should bring?

Travel white noise machine

Special lovey/blanket/sheets from home

Black garbage bags and painters tape if there won’t be blackout curtains – tape the foil or bags anywhere the light seeps in.

Baby monitor! Make sure you have all necessary cords, too (ask me why I state this specifically…)

Pack a change of clothing for you AND baby in an easily accessible area, as well as paper towels/napkins, wipes and dipes (more than you think you need), and ziploc bags. 

All the snacks and some new toys. For toddlers and older kids, you can wrap each new toy, adding a layer of fun and another 5 minutes off the clock.

Where should I stay?

If at all possible, book an AirBNB or something similar. This is the best way to ensure having a kitchen and a second room for your Little Monster(s) to sleep in. 

If you’ll be staying in a hotel/resort, and you have the cash, try to book a suite or a larger room with some sort of nook/bend/division.

If you’ll be staying with a friend or relative, ask in advance where your Little Monster(s) will be sleeping.

How will we get there?

For children in a convertible car seat, try to drive or fly during sleep times.

Any infant in an inclined car seat needs a break every 1-2 hours. You’ll probably need to feed them, change a diaper, and get out and walk around yourself anyway! Get more travel safety tips from the AAP here.

We’re all stuck in one bedroom!

In a hotel – Is there a large walk-in closet or office nook? (don’t close the closet door all the way!!!)

Can you use a sheet or blanket to form a curtain between your sleep area and theirs? Maybe move some furniture around?

At a home – is there a laundry room or other room not being used?

How can they possibly sleep when we’re there? What do we do all night?

My #1 tip: lay out everything you need to get ready for bed BEFORE the kids go to sleep.

Does your monitor have a signal in the lobby/bar/business center? If the Little Monster is sound asleep and you know they’ll stay that way, you can scoot out for a bit. DON’T do this if you feel the least bit uncomfortable about it!!!!!! Take turns going out with another adult in your party.

Use social media to see if anyone you know can help you get a reliable, trustworthy babysitter in the area.

Worst case scenarios – sit in the hallway or bathroom until the kiddos fall asleep. Then watch TV on your device using headphones – you and your partner can always watch them separately together!

What should my child sleep in?

Instead of dragging a Pack N Play, see if you can borrow one at the hotel. CAVEAT – drop-side cribs or any cribs produced before June 2011 can be very dangerous, so ask the hotel manager for more details, including a photo.

You can also check for local agencies renting out baby supplies. Again – read reviews to make sure these items are up-to-date, well-maintained, clean, and safe to use.

For older toddlers (2+), you have a few more options.

A small inflatable airbed

A large, thick duvet folded up to make a comfy sleep surface, covered by a fitted sheet.

What about our sleep schedules?

The week before you travel – 

Start shifting your family’s sleep schedule later or earlier if you’ll be crossing more than 1-2 time zones. (Some kids are more sensitive than others).

Stock up on sleep! Keep the schedule as clear as possible and focus on nailing those sleep and bedtimes. A well-rested child can handle a few schedule deviations!

While you’re there –

Know your child. Some can skip naps but need to be in bed ON TIME. Others can go to bed later but need that nap! 

If you have multiple children, base your day on the most sensitive sleeper. Or, divide and conquer based on the adults in your party. (My dad and littlest brother, both ride haters, went to Bear Country Jamboree about 17 times one year at Disney while the rest of us went on the rides!)

You can do a hard break of the schedule a couple of times, but don’t go overboard – a cranky child is just as much of a downer as missing the fireworks, and lasts way longer!!!

Balance your home boundaries with survival mode. Do what you have to, but don’t go overboard! Example – while away, you may have to sit by your child’s bed until they fall asleep, but don’t let them sleep in your bed if they don’t need to.

If you’re in a hot climate, and/or doing theme parks, consider leaving for the hottest hours of the day. Lunch is cheaper and probably tastier outside the park, a trip to the hotel pool will cool everyone off, and a family siesta is usually much needed.

Moving naps are now your friend. Nothing < a cool, calm rest period < moving sleep < regular crib/bed sleep. Make sure your infant is taking their moving naps on a flat stroller attachment if at all possible!

When you get home – 

Go back to the schedule and boundaries as hardcore as you did when you first mastered sleep training. Everyone will be tired, cranky, and thrown off by the disruptions to their regular routine. 

Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Every developmental phase has its own highs and lows, but they all come to an end. 

If this trip didn’t go well, learn from your experience and take solace in the fact that it will be different next time!

(And feel free to ask me about the awful trips we took when Little Monster was truly little!)

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The Sleep Doctor

I just moved to a new neighborhood, and while running my daily errands, I noticed a sleep medicine practice. What serendipity! I called the office and the receptionist kindly scheduled a meeting for me to chat with the doctor.

Dr. Ahmed Fadil of Northeast Insomnia and Sleep Medicine is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonology, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine. After his residency in Internal Medicine at Penn State, he took on a fellowship in Pulmonary-Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at University of Texas. According to Dr. Fadil, about 90% of sleep medicine practitioners have a background in pulmonology. He bemoaned the “appalling” lack of education about sleep in medical school and in residency.

I asked him some questions about his practice. He sees mostly adults, but a good number of children too; most children are referred by an ENT or pediatrician because they are snoring. Dr. Fadil said that many pediatricians don’t look into snoring as a symptom of sleep apnea – parents are frequently told that the snoring is a phase that the child will outgrow. Referrals to an ENT or sleep study aren’t done until behavioral and developmental issues emerge. He asserted that sleep apnea needs to be ruled out – guilty until proven innocent! – because it is an easy diagnosis to make and an easy treatment to prescribe.

Dr Fadil laid out a few of the major ramifications of a chronic lack of sleep.

  1. The release of growth hormone peaks while we are in deep sleep – lack of sleep can lead to stunted growth. Sleep apnea can also contribute to failure-to-thrive diagnoses.
  2. The release of the hormone prolactin, which stimulates the production of breast milk, i enhanced by getting adequate amounts of sleep. (see this study for further detail)
  3. 50% of sleep apnea patients have type 2 diabetes. Our body adjusts insulin levels and circulates glucose while we sleep – those who are not getting adequate sleep get diabetes at an “astounding rate”. Not to mention that we choose sugary, carby foods when we’re tired, and then we overeat!
  4. Many developmental disorders such as ADD, ADHD, and Down’s Syndrome also come with apneas. Recent studies suggest that up to 25% of children diagnosed with ADHD may actually have obstructive sleep apnea, which would be the true cause of their learning and behavior difficulties. Overtiredness affects our executive functioning skills such as flexibility, self-monitoring, planning, organization, and mood regulation – difficulties with these skills are usually linked to ADHD. (I used this page to add some extra detail to this point.)

We also chatted about common behavioral issues I see when working with clients. Dr. Fadil said that it is normal for kids to have parasomnias like sleep walking, sleep talking, and night terrors up until age 15. Age fifteen is also when the number of apneas and the degree of severity start being measured on the adult scale. He sees a lot of too-late bedtimes and poor sleep hygiene, especially using electronics in our bedroom or right before sleep (guilty!). I asked him about sleep associations, like feeding or rocking a baby to sleep. Dr. Fadil said, and I quote, “Waking up to go to your children, or them waking you up, IS THE WORST THING FOR YOUR SLEEP AND THEIRS.”

Now, I’m a parent of a crappy sleeper too, so I know we can never be fully free of bedtime battles, night wakings, and early risings. There will always be developmental changes that require re-training, or illnesses, or nightmares, or a hundred other scenarios kids cook up. But together we can change your family’s sleep behavior and get you all the rest that you deserve!

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Parents are still people

There are plenty of blogs and websites that will give you tricks and tips to help your family get better sleep, and I will be happy to point you in their direction. But instead of repeating what you can easily find elsewhere, I want to dedicate MY writing space to the shared feelings and experiences of parenthood, beyond and around the science. We make parenting choices every day – some conscious, some out of necessity or desperation – and they are strongly driven by our past, our feelings, and our beliefs about what is “right” and “good”. How and when your child should sleep is just one of them, and the fact that sleep training is seen as controversial means big emotions and decisions, and a lot of potential for judgement.

On the surface, sleep training is about implementing biologically appropriate sleep schedules and setting boundaries and expectations around sleep behaviors, in order to help families achieve restful nights and peaceful days. This is what I am certified to do and the backbone of my business. However, having been through the process as a beyond-exhausted parent, I feel strongly that it goes deeper than that.

Sleep training is about restoring a shred of sanity, one that has been whisked away by endless sleep deprivation, barfed-on shirts, poop explosions, temper tantrums (especially in public), inane cartoons, the simultaneous information overload and scarcity. Why must we hear so much about non-essential topics, but no one tells us the important stuff (in this case, baby’s sleep cycles)???

Sleep training is about ignoring the people telling us that anything we do for yourself is selfish, that every thought, dollar, and minute must be spent on your child, or heaven help your soul.  I want to remind parents that we are still people – it’s crucial, not selfish, to engage in self-care, now more than ever. A new little person (or more) is counting on us to guide and nurture them, and we need to be at our best, especially when it comes to making tough choices.

I am here to hold your hand during the emotional and mental struggle that accompanies the decision to reshape your family’s counterproductive  habits, knowing that it will be painful in the short term, and so so worth it for the future.

I’m here to help parents set limits and boundaries, both for the child’s growth and development, and for their own well-being.

If I can help one parent feel less alone in their struggle with sleep, and parenting, and life, it’s a banner day.