Help your child sleep through the night

Help your child sleep through the night
If there’s anything a parent wants, it’s a full night’s sleep. I recently received two questions from SSBE readers asking for tips on how to help their children sleep through the night. Same request, but different situations. For instance, on our Facebook page, Jamie discussed how her 18-month-old daughter wakes up once at the same time every night:

How do I get my 18 month old to sleep through the night?… [I’ve tried] earlier nap times, bath before bed, rocking her to sleep[. I]t just seems like no matter what I try or what I do I can’t get her to sleep through the night. She wakes up at midnight every night.

On the other hand, Meghan from Ratnam Residence wondered how to wean her 9-month-old son from nightly feedings:

He will go down at 7pm, but wake up many times during the night… that’s my biggest problem – getting away from the nightly feedings. Any suggestions?

For toddler wake-ups like Jamie’s situation, my husband and I first determine whether we should check in on our two-year-old at all. Sometimes he’ll talk or whimper (even in his sleep) but after a few seconds, he can settle himself back to sleep. If we were to go in during one of these shorter wake-ups, we might inadvertently wake him up completely and needlessly.

However if he’s crying or sounds like he needs us, then we check in on him. Now that he’s verbal, finding the reason behind the wake up is much easier than before. The usual culprits are finding his Lovey, needing to be re-tucked in with his blankets, or waking up from a bad dream.

At 18-months though, he couldn’t articulate any of that, so we just did our best to determine why he’s crying: Did he drop his Lovey? Does it seem cold in the room? Could he have woken up from a nightmare? Either way, we try to keep the check-in short—at most 30 seconds—and maintain a subdued manner so that he knows that while Mama and Daddy will always be there for him, nighttime is for sleeping and staying quiet.

Meanwhile, Meghan is dealing with nightly feedings with her 9-month-old. When my toddler was about 6-months-old, I read The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack which suggested a nighttime weaning strategy that worked pretty well for us. First, we gauged the average times when LO would wake up at night for a feed, let’s say 11pm and 3am. The book then suggested setting your alarm 20 minutes before those designated times and wake the baby up for a dream feed. The idea is to beat the baby to the punch and wake him up before he cries for milk. Dream feeds try to break the association between crying and needing milk to be pacified.

We were also supposed to feed him for however long he normally breastfed and reduce that time by two minutes every subsequent night. For instance, the first night he fed for about 15 minutes; the following night he fed for about 13 minutes, and the next day, 11 minutes. We continued to decrease his feeding time until we no longer had to wake him up for dream feeds. This process helped wean him off of night feedings so that he adjusted to taking in all his meals during the day instead of waking up at night to do so.

So far we’ve been lucky in the evenings. With the exception of transitioning him to a toddler bed, most of our evenings have remained pretty uneventful since then. He’ll occasionally wake up from a bad dream or call out to us because his pillow was folded (yes, I found it absurd too at 2am, but hey it’s important to them, right?).

Those are the techniques that worked for us, and they may or may not have worked for you. Like I told both Jamie and Meghan, I wanted to see what advice you could offer as well:

How did you handle nightly feedings for infants and young toddlers? What techniques helped your toddlers sleep through the night? How did you help your child settle himself or herself back to sleep when he or she woke up in the middle of the night?

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Cranky after a nap: How to help your child wake up happier

Cranky after a nap: How to help your child wake up happier
I love when my toddler naps: we get a break, he’s rested, and there’s no pressure to bump up his bedtime. But the moment right after a nap? That can be a challenge some days.

I was talking to a friend who has a son around the same age as mine. “I love when N wakes up from a nap,” she began. “I’ll usually hear him talking or singing right after he wakes up, so that when I walk in I’ll find him sitting up and smiling at me.” Smiling?!

Here’s what can happen at our house: We’ll hear our toddler either start whimpering or flat-out screaming at the top of his lungs when he wakes up. We rush in with his milk in hand, and that will placate him for maaaaybe the thirty seconds it takes him to down the whole thing. He’ll either demand more, or proceed to crying right away and complain. Sometimes he’ll say he wants to go back to sleep but protests when we make arrangements for him to do so.

The funny thing is that he doesn’t wake up cranky in the mornings; he actually wakes up like my friend’s son; talking, singing and yes, smiling. Apparently grouchiness is reserved for mid-day. I don’t blame him—I tend to feel out of sorts when I wake up from a nap and can imagine that he feels the same. Either way, my husband and I have gotten better with helping our little guy wake up happier—and less cranky—after his naps:

  • Have milk and snacks ready. Okay, so this didn’t exactly solve the problem by itself because clearly he can still wake up cranky even when handed a cup of milk, but I imagine he may be even more cantankerous if we were to withhold his beloved drink.
  • Don’t change his room too much. I remember we would walk in to his bedroom and one right after another brighten up the room for wake-up time: pull the curtains back, turn off his fan and start playing with him. It’s easy to do this; after all, we’ve been sitting out in the living room wide awake in bright sunlight, talking and completely coherent. Napping kids, not so much. They need more time to transition to awake time. Now, we’ll turn off his fan and pull the curtains back just a tad—and that’s it.
  • Along the same lines, keep conversation to a minimum. Not only would we abruptly pull the curtains back, we would start talking to him right away, animatedly and everything. Again, with a bit of empathy, we could see that he clearly wasn’t ready to jump in on conversation, answer questions or even hear our voices just yet.
  • Give him time to wake up. Another mistake we did was rushing to our toddler the minute we heard even the slightest rustle or whimper from his room. I found that when we gave him a few minutes or even seconds to compose himself and realize that he’s awake, he’s in a much better mood when we walk in. Of course if he wakes up hysterical as if he were frightened from a dream then we rush in, but for softer sounds, we give him a few moments to wake up.
  • Offer a comfort item. Our little guy sleeps with his lovey, but we make sure to find him in his bed in case he’s not holding on to him. We’ve also given him a favorite toy or book that he can play with or read on his bed.
  • Soothe. When all else fails, just be there for your little one. Assuming she’s not pushing you away or making unrealistic demands (a potential tantrum trigger), sometimes all she needs is a good rub on her back or to sit on your lap.
  • Expect the inevitable. If your child was grouchy before the nap, he’s likely to be grouchy after. Since my toddler isn’t exactly thrilled at having to stop his midday activities to go to sleep (he’s probably thinking, “Nap? Booooring!”), he tends to fuss and cry before a nap. When this happens, almost always does he wake up just as cranky, if not more. I’ve learned to accept this fact because I know he’ll get over it eventually, and the rest his nap offered is usually much needed.
  • Realize that this happens to the best of us. Like I mentioned, I’m not exactly chipper the minute I wake up from a nap. Since naps tend to be short, we don’t get the full deep sleep cycle that night time affords. When you’re ready to lose your cool, try to put yourself in his shoes and understand that it’s perfectly normal to wake up cranky sometimes.

As with anything with kids, nothing is ever guaranteed. Just today, we spent 45 minutes consoling a cranky toddler after a long nap. It was just one of those days. But with a bit of comfort, more subdued transition and a ton of empathy, we can help our babies and toddlers wakes up happier and less cranky after a nap—and keep ourselves a bit more sane.

How do you handle your kids when they’re cranky after a nap?

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Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep

Flashback Friday: Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep
When I was pregnant, a co-worker advised, “Don’t rock your baby too much—he’ll get used to it.” As I nodded my head and smiled politely, all I could think was, “Cruel woman! How could she suggest such an idea?!”

Well… six months, two broken knees, and one sleep-deprived mama later, I knew exactly why she suggested not to rock my baby to sleep. (I’ll get to the broken knees later.)

After bringing my baby home from the hospital, I quickly realized how easily he dozed off after a few bouncing and rocking in my arms. Somehow he only fell asleep in mine—a fact that I actually took great pride in: “Only mama has the special touch!” I employed all sorts of crazy rocking, from the side-to-side stepping to the bob-and-weave rocking. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant that my arms were exhausted.

When my toddler was about four months old, I visited my sister when I noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I try to see if I can bounce LO on the ball?” Not only did she agree, but she lent us the ball—a curse in disguise as I would soon learn. The ball seemed to work miracles: not only were my arms given a break, but the ball seemed to conk out my baby quicker than ever. But with our ever-growing dependence on the ball, my baby grew to rely on motion to fall asleep, so much so that we would have to bounce him for several minutes before gingerly placing him on the crib.

This rocking business wasn’t working out for us. A few months ago, SSBE reader Mommy Organics asked me what I would do differently if given the chance to do it all over again, and hands down I would not have rocked my baby to sleep. Perhaps with another baby or different techniques I wouldn’t have this sour experience with rocking, but as it is, below are the reasons why I wish I didn’t:

  • My baby relied exclusively on external sleeping aids. We all have sleeping aids, some of them as common as sleeping in a dark room or hearing white noise. But my baby’s sleeping aids were not only unsustainable (we couldn’t rock him the whole night) but prevented him from falling asleep on his own. He could have explored self-soothing techniques to fall asleep, whether it’s rocking his head side to side or sucking on his thumb. But because we did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop that ability on his own.
  • Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family was all tired. Not only was our baby not sleeping on his own, he also didn’t know how to help himself fall back asleep when he woke up in the middle of sleep. And since our baby was a light sleeper, that meant waking up every hour and a half to two. We hardly reached deep sleep; even though we technically clocked in eight hours, our bodies weren’t rested.
  • My knees gave out. Our baby required at least 10 minutes of ball bouncing per sleep session. Considering that he was still napping three times a day in addition to the evening where he would easily wake up three times a night, that’s a whole lot a bouncing. All the bouncing took a toll on my knees, and considering that my mom and two sisters already had knee issues, I didn’t want to exacerbate the pain and need surgery as well.
  • And lastly, my baby got to the point where he still cried despite all that rocking. In what is supposed to be a nurturing act—a bonding experience between parent and child—brought us both misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and he ended up crying in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.

We ended up sleep-training our baby at six months old. While it’s not for everybody, sleep-training worked for our family. After two days, my baby was falling asleep on his own sans rocking. Considering that he was barely clocking in three-hour stretches of sleep, I just about died when he slept for 11 hours straight. He woke up more energetic, and we were so much happier for it.

Were I to have another baby or travel back in time, I wouldn’t jump to sleep-training as the first and only solution, but I probably could have employed a few techniques to avoid sleep issues to begin with, such as:

  • Put him down drowsy but awake. I had heard of this advice, and perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Instead, I ended up rocking or nursing my baby to drunken oblivion. Not only was he more likely to wake up confused as to how he ended up in a crib when he remembered being in someone’s arms, but he also wasn’t given a chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own.
  • Give him a chance to lie awake on his back. I felt this pressure to always carry my baby, and that if I even so much as lay him down I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Letting him enjoy time on his back probably would have helped him feel comfortable in his crib.
  • Nurse him when he just wakes up, not to fall asleep. I forget where I had heard of the E-A-S-Y technique (eat, awake, sleep, you), but the general idea is to feed your baby after he wakes up. We didn’t really have a routine in the beginning, but once we started getting into a rhythm, we eventually followed this technique.
  • Decrease or eliminate sleeping aids that I planned to wean him off of anyway. Darkened rooms and white noise is fine by me, but I wouldn’t have rocked, swaddled, or nursed to sleep if I intended on taking those away from him down the line. I’d rather that he didn’t need so many external sleeping aids and instead practice his own self-soothing skills.

You now know why my blog is titled the way it is. While parenting presents many challenges (ahem: tantrums), sleeping was by far the most difficult for us. I think we did our best knowing what we did, but boy if they had that time machine, I would have done a few things differently.

As for that yoga ball, we promptly returned it to my sister with the intention of never wanting to lay eyes on it again.

For parents who rocked their babies to sleep: did you love it or hate it? For parents who didn’t rock their babies, how did you get him or her to fall asleep?

p.s. If you liked what you read, you can subscribe and receive free full-text posts from Sleeping Should Be Easy in your email inbox. Or, tell us what you think about this post on Facebook and Twitter.

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How late is too late for your child’s bedtime?

How late is too late for your child's bedtime?
We’re those parents who put their kids to bed at the same time every day, so that by 7:30pm, our toddler is tucked in and ready to sleep. Once in a while, he’ll take a late nap and we’ll extend his bedtime, but the latest he has slept has been 8pm. So far this routine has worked well for us. LO usually wakes up at 7am, clocking in nearly 12 straight hours of blissful sleep.

There are times though when I wish we had more flexibility. Take the holidays, for instance. Apparently Filipinos and Mexicans have no regard for children’s bedtimes because both my husband and I have grown up celebrating Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. For as long as I could remember, I stayed up until midnight and then some, along with every other kid and adult. Everyone in my family continues this tradition… except me. For the past two holidays, we skipped the midnight celebration and instead opted to join them the following day (a.k.a. the B-list festivities of leftover food and groggy attendance).

The same applies to Fourth of July. My most favorite fireworks show happened when—before having a kid—my husband and I drove to the local high school and along with hundreds of other people, laid down on the football field and gazed at the fireworks exploding literally right above us. Since our baby was born, we’ve had to bypass fireworks (or pretty much any festivities that occur in the evenings) because they start at 9pm—far too late for our toddler’s bedtime. This doesn’t even count for the time the fireworks finally end as well as waiting for hundreds of cars to file out of a small parking lot.

Having a regular bedtime routine helps keep our toddler’s temper at bay, so I only half-mind that we miss out on evening events. He seems to thrive with consistency and appreciates that he knows what to expect and when.

This year, though, we might venture out and try a new strategy for Fourth of July. We’re lucky—we can actually see some pretty decent fireworks from our patio. We don’t hear the explosions, but they’re large and amazing to watch. Perhaps now that our toddler is all of two-and-a-half, we could try putting him down for a late nap so that he can stay up until 9pm, watch the fireworks for half an hour or so, then head straight to bath time and sleep. We would still have to brace ourselves for any sort of “I didn’t get enough sleep” grumpiness the next day, but considering that we’re fortunate enough to watch fireworks from our patio, this may be the best we can hope for at his age.

As far as Christmas Eve and midnight revelry, we’ll have to wait a few more years for that.

What time do your kids go to bed? Do you have any plans for Fourth of July fireworks? Do you have a set bedtime every night, or are you more flexible with when your kids turn in for the night? If you have a set schedule, when have you made exceptions to bedtime?

p.s. If you liked what you read, you can subscribe and receive free full-text posts from Sleeping Should Be Easy in your email inbox. Or, tell us what you think about this post on Facebook and Twitter.

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Settling in

Whenever LO cried in the middle of the night, we were always hesitant to check in because what usually ensued was even more crying and zero chances of going back to sleep. So I’ve been so pleased the past few weeks that whenever LO cried as if he were afraid, I was able to go in there and help him back to bed. I would put his blankets and stuffed toys on him, kiss him and tell him that I’ll come get him at 7 when it was time to wake up. And he doesn’t go stir-crazy! He usually doesn’t actually go back to sleep anymore; instead, he’ll stay awake in bed, or walk around his room and play. But at least he’s not crying hysterically for us at the door like how he used to.

He still has his cries where we wait a while before going in. It’s more like cries of complaint. But I do go in when he’s crying as if he’s afraid, and I’m glad to know that my going in (or rather, my leaving the room afterward) won’t cause him any more tears.