I hear so many tired parents who are desperate for sleep tell me they've tried "everything" to get their baby or toddler to sleep. They rattle off the list of things they've tried. They say to me "I let him cry at bedtime to get to sleep... now what do I do when he wakes up at night?" or say "I let her cry for 15 minutes, then I went in to get her because it wasn't working." I hear parents say they have given up on sleep training after a few nights, because while it did seem to improve their child's sleep at first, it then got worse again, so they gave up or gave in. The reason it's not working for every one of those parents? There's one reason, and it's by far the biggest mistake I see in sleep training:
. . . Inconsistency. Trying too many techniques, or giving up after only a few wake-ups or a few nights, or responding differently to every wake-up - that will only make sleep training harder for your child and confuse your child.
If you're planning to do sleep training, don't just wing it. Come up with a plan. Study all of the sleep training methods and choose one you're confident with and can be committed to, and then stick with it. For every bedtime, every night waking, every early morning wakeup, and every nap.
If you start the night with a sleep training method, and then give in, all the progress and learning your child did was wasted, and it will likely lead to even worse sleep. This sounds harsh, but if you're not going to be consistent, don't start sleep training, because it will only confuse your child.
Before you start sleep training, here are five things to do:
If you're still not sure what to do, or want a baby/toddler sleep expert to walk you through the process with an easy step-by-step plan, reach out to me! I would love to help you walk through this process, and I offer free 15 minute phone consultations. I write personalized sleep plans for clients, based on your baby's needs and challenges, your sleep goals, and your personalities, and tell you exactly what to do.
The self-quarantine is giving lots of people extra time at home with their kids. As a work-from-home and stay-at-home mom full time with two preschool-aged kids, we have lots of time to get creative during our playtime.
While a little screen time isn't harmful to kids, and we do allow screen time during the day, it's important for their bodies and minds to get moving, and being active during the day also helps kids sleep better! If possible, cutting screen time within 2 hours of nap time or bedtime can help them sleep better. The blue lights emitted from screens can inhibit melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep.
If you're home with your preschool-aged kids and looking for fun activities to do with your kids to get them moving and keep them engaged, here are a few fun ideas that have been kid-tested and approved by my own 2 year old and 3 year old.
*Optional Idea: Write a few options on pieces of paper and let the kids take turns drawing one out one at at time. Do that activity for 15-25 minutes, then switch to the next activity.
1. Hide and Seek - Take turns hiding while one person counts to 20, then they go find the people who are hiding.
2. Hot and Cold - Have your kids go into another room while you hide something, then tell them to find it as you say "hot" when they get close, and "cold" when they aren't close to finding it.
3. Simon Says - Tell your kids different silly things to do, saying "Simon says" before you give each command. If you don't say "Simon says" before a command, and they do it anyway, they're out (for young kids, nobody is out, we just keep playing).
4. Flashlight Dance Party - When it's dark out (or if you have a room that gets pretty dark, pull out flashlights and turn on dance party music and let the kids go crazy. You can also move the light all around the room and have them chase it and jump on it.
5. Freeze Dance - Play fun kid music and stop the music at various times. When the music stops, the kids have to freeze. You can tell them specific dances to do, to make it more silly, or have them copy you as you do silly dance moves.
6. Red Light, Green Light - Have the kids stand on one side of the room while you stand on the other. When you call out "green light" they should run or walk toward you. When you say "red light," they have to freeze.
7. Hot Potato - Optional: Use a real potato! Play kid music and sit in a circle (or just back-and-forth with the parent and the kid) and pass the potato back and forth until the music stops. Whoever is holding the potato when the music stops, has to stand up and do a silly dance.
8. Paper Plate Skating - You can use plastic kids plates or paper plates (or even construction paper). Let them stand on the paper plates on hardwood floors as you pull them around the room, or allow them to "skate" on the plates on their own. You can also pretend the plates are "stepping stones" to help get across a river.
9. Build a Fort - Use sheets, blankets, chairs, and couches to build a fort.
10. Sidewalk Chalk - If the weather is nice enough to go outside, lay down and trace each other on the ground with sidewalk chalk (or draw pretty pictures).
11. Blind Taste Test - Have your kids close their eyes and give them different foods, and have them guess what they're eating.
12. Snowball Fight - Make snowballs from crumpled scrap paper or socks, and have a snowball fight.
13. Go Noodle Dancing or Cosmic Kids Yoga - Play the Go Noodle songs or Cosmic Kids Yoga on your TV and dance with the kids!
14. Cooking Show - Choose something easy and fun to cook together, and make your own cooking show. Examples: pancakes, biscuits, muffins, mini pizzas.
15. Shark Bait - Have the kids stand on one side of the room or yard, while the parent pretends to be a shark and the kids are the fish. Tell them to swim across to the other side without getting caught (and eaten!) by the shark.
16. Scavenger Hunt - Tell the kids to find and bring you specific things. Set a time limit (such as 10 - 20 seconds) to find each item. You can use descriptions like: something... yellow, round, fluffy, shiny, you eat, that goes on your head, etc.
17. Bathtub Party - Getting a daytime bath just to play is extra special! Use shaving cream (optional: with food coloring!) for fun finger painting in the bathtub, or just fill up the bath and give your kids some goggles and/or cups and measuring cups to play with the water.
18. Rescue Mission - Hide a stuffed animal somewhere in the house and draw a map for the kids to find it and rescue it before the 5 minute timer runs out. Play several times and take turns hiding the stuffed animal.
19. Build a Town - Use magnet tiles or blocks (or cardboard boxes) to build a town and make up stories about the town and the people in it (ours always involve cars that are speeding and get sent to jail, or fires that a fire truck needs to put out).
20. Zoo Charades - Tell the kids to pretend to be each animal you call out, such as: elephant, bear, lion, seal, monkey, etc.
21. Pillow Sack Races - Let the kids race while hopping in pillow sacks.
22. Hot Lava Floor - Pretend the floor is covered in hot lava, and they can't touch it, but have to hope across pillows and cushions to get around the room.
23. Freeze Tag - Tell the kids to run around as you try to chase them, and tag them. If they get tagged, they have to freeze for 10 seconds.
24. Follow the Leader - Walk around the house or yard doing silly motions as the kids copy you. Then switch and let someone else be the leader.
25. Beanbag Toss - Have one person hold a bucket or a bowl while another tosses a ball or beanbag into it. Have them step back to make it harder.
After playing these games and fun activities, it's important to do a calming pre-nap and pre-bed routine (5-10 minutes for nap time and 30 minutes for bedtime) to help your kids wind down when it's time for bed. Getting enough exercise during the day and enough sleep at night will help boost their immune systems and help keep them healthy.
What are your kids' favorite games or activities to do at home?
If you had a baby in 2016, you might have tried the Cheerio Challenge at some point. I did, and you you can see my attempt in the pic. The idea was to stack as many Cheerios as possible on your sleeping baby. I remember as new mom, wondering how they all got their babies to sleep soundly enough to stack Cheerios on them! If I could get my son to take a nap, I would have done ANYTHING to preserve that nap. I mean, for new parents, naps are life.
I discovered how to help my baby get good naps, and we got into a rhythm. He became a champion napper, and I finally got a chance to try the Cheerio Challenge, even though I didn't do very well with it.
Are you struggling with getting good naps? Not sure how many naps your child should be taking each day, and how long each nap should be? I shared a blog about how many naps a day your child needs, and how long each nap should be. Today, we're talking about wake windows, and how to use them to get good naps.
Wake windows are the amount of time your child is awake before they need to be asleep again. The wake window starts when your child wakes up (not when you get them out of the crib). Every child is different, and their wake windows may vary slightly, so it can take some trial and error, but if you pay close attention, you can find your child's sweet spot, and put them down for naps without being overtired or under-tired.
How to Use Wake Windows for Naps
If your child is put down for a nap when overtired or under-tired, it could be harder for them to fall asleep or take longer, and could cause short naps. Instead of just winging it or laying your child down for a nap when they start to yawn or get fussy, use wake windows to determine when to start each nap.
For infants, the first wake window of the day is typically the shortest. For older toddlers with one nap a day, the first wake window of the day can be longer than the second wake window.
After they wake up from their nap, determine when the next nap should start, and lay them down just before their wake window is over.
If you've found your child's sweet spot, they should fall asleep within 5 minutes of being laid down. If you wait until your child is fussy and has droopy eyelids, you've missed the wake window, and they have become overtired, which causes it to be harder for them to fall asleep.
Here are the wake windows for each age:
To find your baby's sweet spot, start with the shortest wake window for their age and keep a log for three days, tracking how long it takes them to fall asleep. If it takes longer than five minutes, lengthen the wake time by ten minutes. Lay your baby down five minutes before the wake time ends, with he goal to be asleep by the time their wake window has elapsed.
When babies are between 5-12 months, their wake windows change frequently. When it's time to adjust wake windows, start by adjusting by 15 minutes at a time. If you see these signs for more than three days in a row, these are the signs your baby's wake windows are changing:
If your child has a nap shorter than 40 minutes, a rough night of sleep, or an extra-early morning wakeup, the next wake window may need to be adjusted and shortened. If you're on a set schedule, don't adjust your child's nap by more than 30-40 minutes based on early wake-ups, or you will reinforce the early wakeup, and confuse your child's internal clock, which was used to getting sleepy at a certain time.
When your baby starts nailing those wake windows and naps, give that Cheerio Challenge a try when they're in their deepest sleep (after they've been asleep for 20-30 minutes) and share your pics!
How long should my child nap?
It can be tempting as parents to let our babies and toddlers dictate their own daytime schedule, and allow them to fall asleep whenever and wherever they starting yawning and getting fussy, and let them sleep as long as they want. You might be nervous that strict daytime schedules will be constricting and hard to plan around. But the truth is, babies and toddlers do better with consistency, routines, and set schedules. It's also easier to plan your life and outings around a predictable schedule than an inconsistent one. A new blog post is coming soon with more details about how to create and set up the right daytime schedule for your baby.
How do you know if your baby or toddler is napping too long or not long enough?
These are the guidelines - keep in mind some children may need slightly more or less daytime sleep, but in general, this is what to expect at each age:
(I define "day" as the 12 hours between morning wake-up time and bedtime)
How long should each nap be?
Before 4 months old, naps are typically between 30-45 minutes - 2.5 hours long, and can be unpredictable. After four months, it's typical to see more predictable schedules, and naps start to consolidate and lengthen, ranging anywhere from 1-2 hours each, with a cat nap (usually the last nap of the day; between 30-45 minutes) until they move to a two nap schedule between 6-9 months. The time between 3 months and 12 months is filled with almost constant transition with nap lengths, needs, and wake windows. With two naps a day between 8-18 months, each nap can be between 45 minutes - 2 hours long. Once you transition to one nap a day, it should be between 1-2.5 hours long (a 3 hour nap may be needed for some kids, especially toward the beginning of the transitional time).
Should I ever cap a nap (wake my child up early?)
If your child is napping longer than 2 - 2.5 hours at once, you should wake them up. For infants, this will help ensure they eat every 3 hours during the day, and help them get their long stretches at night. For toddlers, this ensures naps don't interfere with bedtime (*a toddler who is transitioning to 1 nap a day may need a 3 hour nap, as long as it's not interfering with bedtime).
Why are naps important?
Helping your child get good naps is important, because daytime sleep affects nighttime sleep. You may have noticed that on days when your child doesn't get good naps, they usually sleep worse at night. We might think it would be the opposite, but for little ones, sleep begets sleep. Instead of just winging it when it comes to naps, make a plan for you child's naps, help guide them into the schedule, and stick with it as much as possible, while still allowing for flexibility at times, because life happens.
Want to know more about how to set up a daytime schedule, when and how to drop naps or make nap transitions, how to get your child to take longer naps, what to do during a nap regression or a child resisting naps, or how to do naps on-the-go? Stick around for more posts about naps, a LIVE Question/Answer session all about naps in the We Love Sleep Group on Facebook, and a new downloadable guide, the all-inclusive Baby and Toddler Nap Guide, coming out this week!
Do babies get scared of the dark? Should you use a nightlight projector with images of the stars and night sky? Will it help them sleep?
Sleep-deprived parents are often willing to buy whatever new product or device promises better sleep for their kids. But in reality, a nightlight isn't likely to help your baby or toddler sleep better. If they are having trouble falling asleep, or are waking up in the night, sleep training is the best option to help them sleep. Kids don't develop a fear of the dark until a minimum of 2.5 years old; typically not until they're old enough to articulate that they're scared of the dark.
Before that, they don't need a nightlight, or any light, at all. In fact, babies and toddlers will sleep better if their room is as dark as possible, for naps and bedtime. I recommend completely dark bedrooms, using black-out shades, such as these, or curtains like these. Complete darkness stimulates melatonin production (the natural sleepy hormone). Even a little light can suppress melatonin production, and the blue light emitted from screens (TV, phones, tablets) can disrupt sleep even more than light from lightbulbs.
If your child is struggling to get to sleep at night, cut off all screens two hours before bedtime, and make sure their bedroom is completely dark.
If your child is at least 2.5 years old, and has said they're afraid of the dark, you can introduce a night light. Make sure it's not too bright. We often think of blue as a calming color for sleep, but blue light is the most disruptive color for sleep because it stimulates the body and inhibits the body's production of melatonin. The colors that are best for sleep are red and orange (interestingly, the same colors in a sunset).
Choose a nightlight that is ...
Here are a few I like . . .
Pediatric Sleep Consultant