Bonus February Sleep Tip
Don’t mess with the rhythm!
If there’s anything that can send your child’s sleep off the rails or there’s any one arch-enemy for sleep training, it is, without a doubt, the dreaded condition of overtiredness.
Kids, as with all people, have a natural (circadian) rhythm when it comes to sleep and awake times. Our bodies secrete hormones (mostly cortisol and adrenaline) to keep us up and running during the day, and different ones (mostly melatonin) to help us rest at night. This cycle is dependent on a variety of factors, but timing is the most prevalent.
When the trouble starts.
So what happens when your little one stays awake past the time when these natural cues to sleep are activated? Well, the body assumes there is a reason that it hasn’t been allowed to get to sleep, so it infers there is a need to stay awake, which causes it to fire up those daytime hormones again.
This is when the trouble starts because once those signals to stay awake get fired up, they’re tough to shut down, and your little one is already tired. So less sleep leads to more awake/daytime hormones, and the cycle perpetuates itself. And like most cycles, this one can be tough to break!
So, the best way to prevent this situation is to get your kiddo to sleep before they get past that window of opportunity. But most babies, and even toddlers, are a little bit cryptic when it comes to signaling when they’re ready for bed or a nap. However, if you know what to look for, it can work wonders in assessing the right time to put them down.
What does tiredness look like, anyways?
Some good signs to watch for include tugging at their ears, or rubbing their eyes and nose, arching their back, and turning their face into your chest.
Now, those are all strong signs that your little one is ready for bed, but they’re also easily mistaken for signs that they might be hungry, so it’s best to combine your keen eye for signals with a careful eye on the clock.
How long is too long?
Newborns can usually only handle about an hour of awake time in a stretch, so make a note of the time when they wake up and set a reminder or make a mental note that they need to be headed down for a nap around 60 short minutes after that.
Babies will be able to stay awake for longer stretches as they get older, but even one year olds should only be awake for around three and a half to four hours at a time, so stay aware of the this schedule and error on the side of more sleep, not less.
And then there are toddlers… They have their own quirky little habit when they get overtired. The sudden influx of those daytime hormones can actually make them quite manic, so they might seem to be super happy and giggly for a while; just the opposite of what you would expect from a child who needs to get to bed. But you’ll see before long that their mood will take a big shift into crankiness, and then you’ve probably got a bedtime battle on your hands.
That seems like a lot of sleep.
I know that this schedule can sound a little rigid for parents who aren’t used to it. After all, an hour at a time is barely enough time to get a diaper changed, a feed in, and a little bit of playtime before baby’s got to get back into their crib and down for another nap.
This can also seem like a lot of sleep, as the days may shift to revolving around naps, rather than time spent awake. But I can assure you, no client I’ve ever worked with has ever come back to me after implementing these ideas and said, “I have a feeling that baby’s getting too much sleep.”
So give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it works. I can almost guarantee you’ll be seeing a happier kiddo. And what parent doesn’t benefit from extra time spent napping?! Fire up the Netflix, sit back and relax – you’ve now got a sleeping little one and plenty of time for yourself.
Cheers to you, and cheers to melatonin!