How to set a sleep schedule for your baby

Sleep Schedules for Babies and Toddlers

As a sleep consultant, I offer a lot of advice to families as we navigate through their child’s sleep challenges. There is a lot more to sleep than most people realize and no shortage of information out there for parents to try and understand-especially when it comes to schedules.

Among all of the questions we receive one of the most highly asked is always, “How do I get my child on a schedule?”

Especially with the busy-ness of our lives, always running to and from, it sometimes feels easier to let a nap happen in the car or skip one all-together because the groceries are not just going to show up at your door.

I get it. There is so much to do and never enough time, and being a new parent can feel isolating and limiting enough.

But basically it comes down to one of the most powerful biological forces on the planet...the circadian rhythm.

Regulating our daily bodily functions, the circadian rhythm plays a crucial role in sleep. It is responsible for the appropriate timing of the release of two very powerful hormones: melatonin and cortisol.

Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland, a grain-of-rice sized organ deep inside the brain. The pineal gland is triggered by our body’s internal clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (or SCN), which in turn takes its cue from the dimness of our evening environment as seen through our eyes (I mean, don’t we all know this?)

In other words, we get sleepy in the evening as cued by these two functions that regulate our sleep cycles.

Cortisol, on the other hand, is a stimulating hormone, part of our flight-or-fight response, and often referred to as a “stress hormone.” It is released in the morning around our natural wake-up time, to help us shake off the sleepies (sort of like an internal espresso). It is also released when we are under stress.

With children, common sources of stress are external situations like parental arguments, recent major changes to a routine or caregiver, and upsetting events. Probably the most common source of stress causing cortisol - the “no sleep hormone” - is, ironically enough, a lack of sleep.

You see, when your child is tired but is not encouraged into bed within an appropriate window of time, his or her body will interpret this lack of sleep as a stressful event.

If I’m not allowed to sleep, there must be something wrong. I’d better stay awake in order to be able to deal with it, says the billion-year-old evolutionary system driving the circadian rhythm.

This is the cause of the late evening hyperactive energy you may be familiar with. The mood swings, the clumsiness, the giggles, and the tears. It’s also the cause of other no-sleep experiences. Early mornings, short or hard-won naps, and sleep resistance.

But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The prevention in this case is…

An age-appropriate sleep schedule

Here are some examples of age appropriate schedules. Consider how your child’s sleep schedule compares to these...

Newborn- at this age they really should not sleep according to a schedule. Their sleep needs are unique and not until about 3 months old is when their circadian rhythm begins to emerge and their brain begins producing melatonin.

Rather than worrying about a sleep schedule for your newborn, try to encourage the development of healthy sleep habits. A few ways you can do this…

  • Respect your newborn’s sleep needs and encourage sleep whenever she seems sleepy. (Look into the Six Stages of Consciousness in newborns for more information on this.)

  • Differentiate between night and day by deliberately shifting the ambiance of your home from bright and energetic to dim and calm. Get a night light for nighttime diaper changes.

  • Practice putting your baby to sleep using different soothing techniques-such as: rocking, nursing, singing, and stroking. This is to discourage the development of a single, rigid sleep association that may cause problems down the line.

You can expect your newborn to sleep around 16-18 hours per day, in chunks of 1-3 hours of sleep, with 40-70 minutes of awake time between sleeps.

Young Infants-(3-6 months) need around 12-15 hours of sleep per day (sometimes more), including naps. Babies this age usually take 3-4 naps per day. Their wake times are a little longer than newborns, between 60-90 minutes before needing their next nap.

Here is an example of an ideal schedule for this age range:

Awake at 7am

First nap 830am-10am

Second nap 1130am-1pm

Third nap 330pm-430pm

Bedtime 630-7pm

Older Infants-(7-12 months) still need around 12-15 hours of sleep per day, including naps. Babies this age usually take 2 naps per day. Their wake times continue to get longer the older they get. Many families find that the 2-3-4 Rule is a good way of keeping track of their naps. The first nap occurs 2 hours after wake time. The second nap, 3 hours after that. And bedtime, 4 hours after the second nap.

An ideal schedule would look something like this:

Awake at 7am

First nap 9am-1030am

Second nap 130-3pm

Bedtime 7pm

Toddlers- At some point between your toddler’s first and second year, he or she will go down to one nap, from two, and have wake times as long as 5 hours. Toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep per day, including naps and usually a nap around 12 or 1230pm is what works best for most children.

It goes without saying that not everyone’s baby will sleep according to these schedules. Some will wake up earlier, and need their naps earlier. Some will have shorter naps, and might need help extending their naps or to be offered their next sleep a little earlier.

When developing a sleep schedule that works for your baby, the most important thing you can do is to pay attention to his tired cues and encourage sleep before the cortisol kicks in.

After a week or so, a consistent pattern should emerge. This is your baby’s natural sleep schedule, the expression of a healthy circadian rhythm.

Your schedule need not be rigid. 15-minutes of wiggle room on either side of a scheduled sleep time is appropriate.

When parents are resistant to scheduling their child’s sleep, it’s often because of a fear that their lives will become unbearably limited when in reality, their lives will open up.

Knowing when your child naps means you can plan to do important tasks around your home during nap times. (Or take a nap yourself, you deserve it!) AND you can schedule outings and activities during times that you know your child will be alert and happy.

Remember: as in life, the only constant in parenting is change. Your baby’s sleep schedule won’t last forever. But the healthy relationship with sleep you are encouraging in your baby just might.

Parent and sleep expert Susannah Ritchie knows that when a child has sleep issues, it affects the whole family. Her mission is to empower families like yours with the knowledge and confidence to make positive, long-lasting changes to your child’s sleep. Using an holistic approach, Susannah’s methods get to the root of the issue while honouring the uniqueness of your family.

The truth about sleep regressions

It finally happened: Your baby is sleeping through the night, taking naps and exhaustion is no longer your reality. No doubt there were moments when you thought you might never sleep again. Yet, here you are—on the other, much more rested side. How glorious it feels to be able to form full sentances again and get through the day without stress-crying.

As a certified infant and toddler sleep specialist, I’ll be the first to admit a good night of zzzs is a wonderful thing. So I totally don't blame you if the very thought of having another wakeful night is enough to bring on some major angst. But it’s hard to avoid this nagging term that seems to float around in the sleep world. It describes a period of time where—out of nowhere—midnight wakeup calls from baby seem to pop-up again: sleep regression.

To be honest, sleep regressions are probably the reasons I have as many clients as I do. Parents in the middle of it and those trying to prevent it—they all come to me with the same conerns and just can't fathom not sleeping again. As a parent myself, let me just say I get it.

But, unlike the many methods, steps and practices that accompany sleep challenges, there is only ONE thing I want you to know about sleep regressions: They arent real.

Let me clarify. Your baby suddenly not sleeping through the night or the abrupt change in her positive sleep habits? That’s real. Your baby who decides to start protesting naps? That’s also real.

But, let's for a moment break down the very definition of this term: regression is “the act of going back to a previous place or state, return or reversion.” While it might seem that your baby is returning to previous sleep habits that were less than stellar, it is important to know that she is also going through huge developmental milestones for the first few years of life—all of which can and most likely will affect sleep.

Wait, you think. I’ve heard this word over and over, read about it in books and even talked with professionals. So surely sleep regression must be a thing, right?

If you haven't already, go ahead and Google it. I remember doing this for the first time and wanting to cry. On second thought, maybe don't do this and just let me summarize. Basically, you will find a list of sleep regressions that could occur every four months for the first year of your child's life.

What I realized after years of studying this term is that there are many stages in your child's life when sleep patterns may shift. Somewhere along the way, these changes were coined as “regressions.”

Here's what is really happening...

Your baby is growing and developing quickly and experiencing many exciting firsts. In just one year she will likely go from crawling to walking, rolling over, developing her own sleep cycle, laughing, responding to words and sounds, sitting without support, eating more foods and the list goes on and on.

That is a lot of action for a little human and certainly enough for her sleep habits to shift a little (or a lot). And guess what? That is totally OK!

Even though these phases sometimes come with less sleep, they are important to your baby's emotional and physical development. In other words, they need to happen.

And while you may be happy to welcome these transitions, you are probably still wondering how to handle them. I got you, mama.

Here's what you can do...

First, ditch the term regression. Doesn't it just sound yucky? Instead of regression, I like to call these transitions.

Transitions can bring challenges at any point in your life and, trust me, they will never stop happening. But rather than resist them, you can embrace them. #perspective

If your 4-month-old suddenly goes from sleeping six straight hours per night to waking up every hour—congratulations! She is moving out of the newborn sleep cycle and starting to develop her own unique cycle.

Maybe your 8-month-old is suddenly refusing naps, meaning she could be in the middle of transtioning to a two-nap schedule. Or her nighttime sleep could be causing earlier wake-ups than normal. You can help her by trying to provide as much consistancy as possible. (This isn't a great time to move or adopt a puppy.)

Providing extra comfort and soothing through this transition is perfectly OK. Just keep it simple and try not to introduce any major changes in sleep habits, such as starting to co-sleep.

Part of the beauty of parenting is watching your baby experience the world, one stage at a time. And I know first-hand it is a lot more fun with a full night's rest. But try not to worry. Before you know it, you will be exiting one phase and entering another.

Along the way, sleep WILL fall into place for you and your little one—promise.

How to adjust to Daylight Savings with small children

How to adjust to Daylight Savings with small children

I can’t wait until daylight savings is here-said no Mom ever.

Prior to Motherhood I actually looked forward to “falling back” and gaining that glorious extra hour of sleep (ahh to be young). But as a parent, this time of the year basically means it will be dark well before dinner time, everyone will be confused about what time it is for a few days, and little children will be knocking on our door at 5am instead of six.

What’s even more fun is trying to navigate your baby’s sleep schedule during the time switch. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just explain to her that she gets a “free” hour of sleep?!

I remember as a new parent feeling so overwhelmed each time fall or spring rolled around because it meant dealing with yet another time shift that might de-rail sleep schedules.

While you may find that your baby actually adjusts naturally to the time change and you don’t have to do much of anything, if you’re like the rest of us you’ll likely need a few sleep-hacks to help your child through this transition.

Here are a few ways you can do that…

1)      Start practicing a slightly earlier bedtime now. This can be an adjustment your entire family follows as well. You may notice you actually feel a bit sleepier in the fall which is due to your circadian rhythm adjusting to the change in daylight. If your child’s normal bedtime is at 730pm try starting your routine at about 7:15, then a couple of nights later 7pm, and continue letting your child slowly adjust over the next couple days to an earlier bedtime. You may find that a bedtime that is an entire hour earlier is what your child needs, or it might be closer to 30 minutes.

2)      Be aware of your child “crashing” during naps. It is true with any schedule shift that your child might feel a bit off for naps and end up crashing in an attempt to over-compensate for lost sleep. If you notice that one nap suddenly becomes unusually long, you can try to wake her up at her normal nap length or slightly later (maybe the only time you should wake a baby) and attempt to keep other naps as normal as possible throughout the day.

3)      Try not to make any other major changes right now. I recommend treating daylight savings like development leaps-making sure to put an extra emphasis on rest and avoiding too much at once. If you’re thinking of potty training or switching up sleep environments, it might be best to put that on hold for a couple weeks until everyone has adjusted.

4)      If early wake-ups still happen, encourage your child to stay in bed for quiet time before getting up. If your child is able to stay in her crib/room without getting overly upset, this can help remind her internal clock that more sleep or quiet time is needed. If you have a Toddler you could consider a fun stoplight clock that turns green when it’s time to get out of bed!

 Daylight savings time is going to happen no matter what so no need to stress when it comes to your child’s sleep. Making some of these minor adjustments could make all the difference and you might actually find your child is much more adaptable than you think!

 

 

5 ways to know when your toddler is telling you it’s time to give up that nap

Naps are an integral part of your child's day for the first few years of life. For many children, they physically cannot make it through the day without a nap. For others, going without a nap will affect their mood, behaviors and sleep habits at night.

So who says our kiddos should ever get rid of their nap? I mean, couldn't we all benefit from a little midday snooze?

And let's be honest—do we actually want our child to drop his nap? For many of us, this is the time of day we get stuff done, so it might actually be harder for parents to accept that it is time to move on without naptime.

The good news is—there is wiggle room throughout this process and you'll have plenty of time to make the adjustment.

While there are general recommendations around when your child should drop his nap, it does vary from child-to-child, and ultimately you will be the one who determines the appropriate time to make the transition.

Fortunately or unfortunately, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there that instructs parents on when and how to drop the nap—leaving many parents feeling less than confident about how to take on this endeavor.

Truthfully, it is actually quite simple, your child will start to show a handful of shifts in his sleeping habits, along with changes in his schedule, that will be a sure indication it is time to start thinking about dropping his nap.

Here are five ways you will know your child is ready to graduate from nap-time:

1. He is able to make it through the day with minimal behavior changes or melt-downs.

This is usually a pretty easy one to read. Once your child seems generally happy throughout the day without a nap-this tells you that he doesn't necessarily need it for his emotional well-being. Sure-he still might throw a tantrum mid-day, but it may not be related to being over-tired. If there is a specific situation that contributes to a tantrum, chances are it isn't related to lack of sleep unless it is happening more often than normal.

2. Night-time sleep increases. For example: your child all-of-the-sudden goes from an average of 10 hours of sleep per night, to 12 hours consistently, this is a sign that he is relying on night-time sleep to fuel him throughout the day. If your child isn't getting enough sleep at night, he will most likely need that mid-day siesta. But if he is getting solid sleep at night (11-12 hours +) you can feel confident that he is ok without a nap.

3. He doesn't actually fall asleep during a nap attempt.

Quiet time is encouraged for any age at some point in the day. But if your child rarely sleeps when you put him down for a nap, it can be a sign his body no longer needs it.

4. He is in an all day school program that doesn't schedule nap-time.

Sometimes nap-time no longer becomes an option because of school or day-care schedules. While it is recommended that children still nap until the age of at least three-their bodies can often adjust to new schedules if nap-time is no longer an option. Be cautious though-if his behavior proves otherwise, you might need to consider an alternate school or program that allows for naps.

5. He keeps up energy throughout the day.

Energy levels are a pretty big indicator when it comes to your child's sleep. If your child is crashing (such as in the car), it is fairly obvious that he is not ready for no-nap days. If he is able to sustain adequate energy throughout the day, then that's a good sign! Something to keep in mind here is that you may have high activity days when your child may be worn out-thus a good idea to still have quiet time or a lay down in these situations.

Dropping the nap is meant to be a transition. There will be days that still call for a nap months or even years after making the transition. It is important to stay in-tune with your child's moods and behaviors and let that drive your decision to try for a nap or not.

Be prepared to adjust bedtime if needed to fit your child's new schedule. Even though your child might be ready to rid of naptime, he still might not be able to make it 12+ hours awake.

You know your child best, so follow your instincts on whether now is good time for your child to drop his nap or not.

How to establish a bedtime routine with your baby

 

As a new parent, it is probably true that bedtime feels a little less structured than you hoped it would be. The days tend to blur together into a series of feedings and unpredictable sleep times leaving bedtime to fluctuate each day and routine feeling near impossible.

Although your baby actually sleeps a lot in the first few months of life (17-20 hours per day) it is not the type of consolidated sleep that would allow for a full night's rest-for either of you. So you might be thinking-what is the point of going through a bedtime routine, if my baby will just be awake in an hour?

I hear you Mama and I want you to know one very important thing about establishing a bedtime with your baby-it will actually make your life so much easier.

Even at a young age, your baby is starting to form her own sleep habits. As time goes on she will learn to distinguish daytime and nighttime sleep and her body will start to operate on a 24 hour sleep cycle. Even though it might not feel like it now, starting to establish healthy sleep habits, like a bedtime routine, can make a good impact on her sleep overall.

When babies have consistancy and a sense of what is coming next, it can help them to feel secure and well taken care of. Forming a routine around bedtime also helps to prepare your baby for sleep and gives you the opportunity to bond with her.

Here are a few steps to take into consideration as you establish a bedtime routine for your baby...

Choose a time that seems natural to your baby's current sleep cycle. Your child will usually start to show you signs that she is feeling sleepy during a certain timeframe each night (rubbing eyes, fussing, yawning, etc). Catching her in that window or even before is important in order to avoid her becoming overtired. If you know your baby normally starts acting tired around 7pm you may want to consider starting to help her wind down around 630pm in order to help prepare her for rest.

Establish a routine that promotes a calm environment. Throughout the day your baby is likely exposed to a lot of stimulating activities. She is experiencing a lot of exciting firsts and learning so many new things. The best thing we can do for our bodies (even as adults) is to calm down and feel relaxed before sleep. Some examples of this are reading softly to your baby, singing, rocking her, and shooshing in her ear. Of course brushing teeth and bathtime are also things to include in your bedtime routine, but I reccomend starting off with these, rather than trying to transition straight from splashing around to laying in her crib.

Ease in. There is no need to try and implement everything at once and the best approach to take is a gradual one. You might find that your baby doesn't respond to each part of the routine the way you expect and that you find yourself two steps in and she is already asleep! Try to be patient with yourself and with your baby during this process.

Try to be as consistant as possible. Once bedtime starts to feel like a natural process your baby will actually want to go to sleep at this time-amazing right? Our biological clocks become used to falling asleep and waking at similar times each day and while I encourage practicing the 80/20 rule with sleep, it is important to try and stick to your child's bedtime most of the time. This might mean occassionally leaving a family dinner early to get home or saying no to a late night activity.

Establishing a bedtime isn't going to happen overnight (pun intended) and there will likely be adjustments made along the way. But once you start to incorporate the routine that works for you and your baby, you are already on your way to a happy and healthy sleeper!

It’s so much harder to parent when you’re exhausted—5 ways to get more sleep

shutterstock_140049202__1409058563_142.196.156.251.jpg

This won’t be news to other moms reading this: I'm basically tired most of the time. But the beautiful truth also exists that the undeniable joy of motherhood (sometimes) overrides the exhaustion somehow.

If I'm being honest, part of that exhaustion is completely self-induced. I go to bed too late. I take on too much, and worry unnecessarily about anything and everything—-especially at bedtime.

The other part is that being a mother means you are so many things to so many people and sleep always gets pushed further and further down on the priority list.

Plus, with each new stage of motherhood comes new opportunities for sleep deprivation.

Newborn mamas: you are likely in the thick of sleep deprivation, trying to remember what eight hours of sleep even is and why you can't stop crying.

Toddler moms: the process alone of figuring out pre-school registration is enough to put you into hibernation mode.

Moms with school-aged kiddos: There is not enough coffee in the world to keep up with the constant activities, school functions, sports schedules and did I mention activities?

And don't even get me started on teenagers—I'd rather take care of triplet infants and a brood of chicks.

That is a lot of years with no sleep, but here you are doing it all. And you’re doing a pretty fantastic job. Since you're doing it, it has likely become your new norm—you’re able to laugh at yourself for putting your keys in the microwave or when you forget where you're driving to exactly.

But laughter aside, the epidemic of exhaustion is on the rise and whether we want to admit it or not, it's affecting us.

According to the CDC, not getting enough sleep is linked to some serious health issues: diabetes, heart disease, depression, and much much more.

Lack of sleep can also slow down cognitive function, alertness, concentration, and reasoning. As if that isn't enough it is linked to weight gain and premature aging of your skin—there’s a reason it’s called beauty rest!

Like eating healthy and exercising regularly, getting enough sleep has to become a consistent and regular priority for mothers. Our jobs depend on it.

Here’s how to do just that:

Ask for help

I’m the first to admit that asking for help is challenging, but just like any other profession, parenting was not meant to be a one-person job.

We expect our children to ask when they need something, or our co-workers, so why wouldn’t we reach out when the need is there?

It can be as simple as asking a friend to grab you a coffee or a parent to watch the kids while you grocery shop. Your village is there for a reason and despite the guilt that you let creep in for whatever reason, asking for help doesn’t make you any less of a rockstar mom.

Take time to unwind—whether with a bubble bath or just 10 minutes of quiet time to yourself

There’s an understanding in our household that my husband and I set aside time to be alone each day. We’ve come to realize that, without this, we cannot be the best spouses or parents we are capable of being.

I know your to-do list is endless and you might be wondering how on earth you can squeeze in 10 minutes when you can barely go to the bathroom alone, but trust me, the time is there. It might mean literally blocking it off on your calendar, or getting up 10 minutes earlier than your household, but you can find the time, I promise.

Set a bedtime for yourself

I’m willing to bet you have bedtimes in place for your children to ensure they get enough rest—so why not implement this same rule for yourself? Without a bedtime in place, you are far more likely to push your body beyond its ideal sleep window, which can potentially lead to insomnia and exhaustion.

Cut out screen-time at least an hour before bed

Okay this one is so hard for me. Especially because I often find myself laying in bed unable to sleep and the first thing I want to do is grab my phone and catch up on Instagram. Don’t.do.that.

Light that is projected from screens suppresses melatonin and will only make it harder to fall and stay asleep. Giving yourself time to unwind is crucial right before bed, since most of us don’t fall asleep the moment our head hits the pillow. Reading, journaling, practicing deep breaths or deep stretches are all great ways to do that.

Slow down

We live in a culture where being busy is embraced. And as moms it seems like there is always so much to do with so little time to do it.

It’s why it can take days to get a text response from your mom friend and why it might take three days to mail that letter on your counter. We are all just so busy.

Don’t be afraid to say no.

No to the dishes when you got three hours of sleep last night.

No to the workout that you just “have” to get in.

No to the school project you think needs to be perfect.

Your body needs downtime to restore and feel less-stressed. Plus, there’s something amazing—and rejuvenating—about having days where you have nothing to do.

There will always be a zillion reasons why we let sleep take a backseat as moms— but no matter what your circumstance, remember that sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessary and vital part of your overall health.

I know your drive and determination to be a great mom is enough to convince yourself you can run on fumes, but when everything in your bones is telling you to sleep, put the dishes down and go to bed.