This post comes courtesy of Erica Desper* of Confident Parenting.
Spring is upon us! And if you are at all like me, you are celebrating the fact that you made it through Winter parenting. (I am a much better parent when the sun is shining and we can go outside!) Along with the sunshine and excitement though come several challenges that can impact your child’s sleep habits. If you give some thought to them now, you won’t be calling me in September lamenting that sleep is a mess.
SLEEP TRAP #1: SHIFTING BEDTIME LATER WITH THE SUN
It is a wonderful thing when the days lengthen and it stays light out later. Suddenly I don’t feel ready for bed at 5 p.m. The drawback is that your child may not feel quite as sleepy at their usual bedtime either and your older child is very likely to complain that “it isn’t even dark yet!” Many parents let bedtime slide later as the days grow longer and, while it seems fine at first, the accumulation of over-tiredness that results often rears its ugly head weeks or months later. I get many parents coming to me in the fall with seemingly inexplicable bedtime struggles and night waking, which we eventually trace back to this cause. Keep in mind that your baby or child has an internal clock that tells her when to feel sleepy at night and when to wake in the morning. That clock does not shift seasonally with the sun so, if bedtime does, repercussions are likely. So how can you keep bedtime happening on time?
–Try dimming the house and activity 30 to 60 minutes before the bedtime routine. Draw the curtains in the main area of the home and slow things down to help your child begin to wind down. Or head into the bedroom or nursery early so he can wind down longer in that darker space.
–If the nursery isn’t dark, invest in blackout curtains so you can make it so. You don’t want your child to feel as if the whole world is still enjoying the day out there while they are trying to fall asleep.
SLEEP TRAP #2: GETTING UP WITH THE SUN EACH MORNING
Daylight signals the brain to wake up. So if sunlight begins to stream into your child’s bedroom earlier and earlier, their wake time will creep earlier as well. That can easily turn into a 5:30 wake up call. Combine this earlier wake time with the later bedtime and you’ll soon have a perfect storm of sleep struggles.
–Help your little one get their necessary zzzz’s by blocking sunlight by investing in quality blackout curtains. You want him waking when his internal clock tells him to wake and he has had enough total sleep, not because early sunlight is waking him. In a pinch, try taping some thick black trash bags to the window frame behind your existing window treatments.
–Many parents tell their child, “we sleep until the sun comes up.” Obviously that can backfire when the sun rises earlier and earlier. For children 2 or older, adding a toddler clock can help them understand when it is and isn’t time to get up without relying on the sun. One popular clock, the KidSleep Classic, has a bunny who is either asleep or awake. You can then tell your child, “we sleep/stay in bed until bunny wakes up” or “bunny is still sleeping so you need to sleep too.” Over time and with reinforcement and consistency, children can learn to either return to sleep or lay/play quietly until the clock wakes. The Ok To Wake and the Gro clocks are also popular options.
SLEEP TRAP #3: BRINGING TRAVEL HABITS HOME
One of the best things about the season is, of course, vacation. Traveling, however, can wreak havoc on your child’s sleep due to schedules and sleeping arrangements that are out of the norm. It’s very easy for vacation habits to carry over once you return home and to then be stuck with those habits. For that reason, I suggest that as soon as you set foot through your front door, you return to the home “rules” in terms of where and how you put baby to bed. For example, if you had to room- or bed-share out of necessity while away, go right back to putting your child down in her own sleep space as soon as you get back. If you were holding him to sleep for fear of disturbing other family or guests, go back to putting him down awake. Yes, they may protest for a night or two, but children are very smart and, as long as you are consistent, they will adjust. Children can understand that one thing happens while away and another at home, just as they can grasp that Mommy does things in a totally different way than Grandma! Getting right back on track will help everyone adjust more quickly and prevent having to relearn sleep habits or skills.
Taking these measures to protect your child’s sleep will help your family get the most out of the season. Happy Spring!
*About our author: Erica is a certified child and infant sleep consultant who has worked with hundreds of parents in and around the Philadelphia area and internationally to improve their family’s sleep. Having struggled with colic, feeding issues and more than a year of massive sleep deprivation with her own son, Erica launched her business Confident Parenting in 2012 with the goal of helping other parents better understand and survive their baby’s developmental stages and sleep patterns while maintaining their sanity. Erica works with parents to understand the science of sleep, to set the stage for healthy sleep habits and to remove common obstacles that interfere with sleep. Her philosophy is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution or method but rather the right one for you and your family. She offers a range of options so you can address sleep with a plan and timeline that feels comfortable for you and follows you through the process of implementing the plan through phone and email support. She also teaches several group classes including Why Won’t My Child Sleep, Newborn Sleep 101, Introduction to Infant Massage and Fussy Baby Solutions. To learn more about the options for one on one support or to see what parents are saying about their experience, visit BeAConfidentParent.com.