If it’s been decades since you had your kids, maybe you forgot how hard it can be: getting the little ones on a good routine, how long it takes for them to consistently sleep through the night, the whole nine yards.
And then sometimes you think you're nailing it, only to find you've hit a bump in the road and you're back at square one: several overnight wakings.
This part of parenting can be really tough.
Christina Lathrop, of Sweet Pea Sleeps, in Linden, Michigan, works as a sleep consultant.
Seeing as daylight saving time begins again Sunday, we thought we’d pick her brain about all things involving babies and sleep -- especially for any parents in the thick of it this coming week!
Misconception No. 1: An early bedtime must mean an early wake-up time.
It seems like it makes sense, right? When we, as adults, go to bed later, we tend to sleep in later the next morning. The problem is, babies and adults are not the same in this regard. Babies have a harder time regulating their sleep.
Once melatonin, which Lathrop described as “that good, sleepy hormone,” starts to produce and you don’t go to bed, or put your baby down for bed, adrenaline starts to produce inside the body. That’s when people (of any age) go in the opposite direction: even getting irritable or slap-happy. And then it’s the production of adrenaline that keeps them awake. So when we’re talking about babies, the problem becomes that they miss that sleepy window and hit the adrenaline stage: This is why they can’t stay asleep or soothe themselves back to sleep.
Good sleep throughout the day promotes good sleep at night. If your baby is overtired going to sleep, he or she will likely face more interruptions in the night. So, what does it all mean? Keep those naps in place. Stay consistent! You do NOT want an overtired baby.
Misconception No. 2: You must fear the big, bad 4-month sleep regression.
Well, 4 months is right around the time when babies’ sleep needs start to change, but you don’t have to fear this time. Also, it’s not really considered a regression at all.
Here’s the deal: Every child goes through a period around 4 months of age -- usually it’s based on the baby’s adjusted age, meaning, his or her due date -- when the infant’s natural sleep circadian rhythm will change. Usually a baby who was previously sleeping in consolidated stretches will start waking in the night. Frustrating! And all the things that once seemed to work, just aren’t working anymore. But this isn’t based on fussiness or anything you did wrong as a parent. Your infant’s biological needs are just different now than they were before.
So it’s best not to think of this time as a regression. If anything, if you’re going to sleep train your baby, now is the perfect opportunity -- because anything earlier than this point doesn’t really make sense, Lathrop said.
Instead of looking for those sleepy cues that might indicate a nap or bedtime is looming, you’re going to want to get your baby on a schedule that will match his or her biological sleep needs. Keep in mind, once you see those sleepy cues, that often means your infant is already overtired.
And sure, some babies don’t seem as fazed by the four-month changes, but those infants are in the minority. So many things are changing: developmentally, socially, you name it. Don’t feel alone -- get out in front of it!
Misconception No. 3: You should probably crutch on projectors or mobiles if your baby is having a hard time getting to sleep, or staying asleep.
The reality is, there are a ton of products like this on the market, but the big misconception is that they’re going to soothe your baby, Lathrop said.
Anything that produces blue light suppresses the secretion of melatonin. And we want melatonin, remember? So let’s cool it on the electronics in the bedroom.
Similarly, just as the experts advise adults to stay away from our phones and TVs prior to lights-out, perhaps it’s best not to have your kids in front of screens before bedtime, either.
This goes for older children, as well.
“If you choose to have a nightlight, I’d make sure it’s not blue,” Lathrop said. “Red is a good tone, or maybe an off-white.”
Misconception No. 4: White noise is always best.
One clarification here: “Static white noise is best,” Lathrop said.
Otherwise, if you use noise like a heartbeat, a thunderstorm or the ocean, some environmental noise can creep into the breaks or the pauses of the soundwaves, which can be distracting to the child. Because then, they’re paying attention to the inconsistency.
So again, straight static white noise -- aim for something with constant sound -- is ideal, especially with infants, seeing as this mimics the womb. This is helpful too, if you want to go about your day or there are siblings in the house, seeing as this static white nose will block out all other sounds.
Misconception No. 5: Babies and toddlers aren't capable of sleeping through the night or clearing these hurdles.
On the contrary.
“If we give our little ones the opportunity and space to make us proud, they’re going to, especially when it comes to sleep,” Lathrop said.
Keep in mind, she added, sleep training is typically hardest on the parents, especially in the beginning. But as long as you’re able to remain consistent, your efforts will likely pay off.
Give your kids some credit, no matter how small, and keep in mind how smart they are. You can help break their habits and get to a better place when it comes to sleep, if you admit it’ll be hard and then put in the work. You can do it!
Misconception No. 6: It's not possible to sleep train an older child.
Lathrop provides services for children who are anywhere from 4 months to 7 years in age. Many of her clients’ children are 3 and 4 years old, so don’t think just because you have a difficult toddler on your hands, that it’s too late.
“(Just know) with any sleep training, at any age, the first couple days and nights are the toughest," she reiterated. "Keep your goals and motivations written down, remind yourself that your child is capable of getting on a good daytime schedule, and don’t let teething or other developmental milestones become obstacles. You have to have confidence. (Obstacles do exist), but you can get through them once that solid foundation is built.”
Sometimes you just need to hear it from an expert.
Misconception No. 7: Daylight saving time is going to ruin everything.
This time of year doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!
Lathrop offered the following tips. You could:
-- Make the transition cold turkey. If your child isn’t typically a sensitive sleeper and he’s done well with other transitions, he’ll adjust to the time change on his own in about a week.
-- Make it a slower and more gradual transition. For sensitive sleepers, you might want to try this approach. For example, if your child’s normal bedtime is around 7 p.m., it will now be 8 p.m. Start by increasing bedtime in 15- to 30-minute increments. Try putting your little one to bed at 7:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. after the time change. You can also try this transition in the days leading up to the time change by adjusting your schedule by 15 minutes.
-- Get up and get outside! Exposure to sunlight helps regulate our natural circadian sleep rhythms, which determines our biological sleep patterns.
-- Make sure your child’s sleep environment is ready for the transition, as well. Springing forward means more daylight hours. Invest in some blackout curtains if too much sunlight is coming into your baby’s room.
-- Have a good daytime and night routine, along with a schedule, well-established. By doing this, your little one should adjust rather easily, naturally. Make sure you are getting your child to bed and starting her day at a reasonable time to accommodate the new time change. This will help send a signal to your baby that it’s time for sleep and it’ll increase the melatonin release.
Remember, these problems won’t last forever. Do you remember sleep-training your children? Share your experience below.