One of my biggest rules for parents who are sleep training is to remain consistent. Whether it’s the bedtime routine, where baby sleeps, or what the consequences are for leaving their room in the night, consistency is absolutely essential to regular nights of quality sleep.
However, there’s this crazy little thing called life that tends to get involved and throw the occasional curve ball into your routine. Special occasions, family functions, and the occasional emergency can all call for an exception to me made and for your little one to stay up past their scheduled bedtime or miss a nap.
So when can you make exceptions? Well, I would say, “As rarely as possible, but as often as is absolutely necessary.”
The truth is, is you’re visiting family or friends, and you let your little one stay up late in order to extend their visit, they’re probably going to be a bit of a handful the next day. So ask yourself, is it worth it to have a grouchy baby on my hands tomorrow in exchange for a couple of hours of fun tonight?
Another important thing to consider is how well your baby adapts to a change in routine. Some kids are quite good at dealing with a slight change in the schedule, whereas others can get thrown for a loop for the next couple of days if they so much as go down late for a nap.
But I don’t want to sound like I’m condemning parents and kids to a lifetime of repetition. It’s important to have some new experiences and to enjoy life, so yes, exceptions should be made. Just make sure that you evaluate the costs and benefits and prepare as best as you can for the situation.
In addition, I would advise against making any changes too early into the program. If you just started sleep training a week ago, don’t pick this moment to go on a trip or stay overnight at someone else’s house. Once you’ve had a month or two of really solid, quality nights, then you can start playing around with the rules on occasion.
The other piece of advice I would offer when it comes to breaking the rules is, “Try to bend them instead.”
If you’re going to be at a friend’s place when baby’s supposed to be taking a nap, consider bringing along a Pack and Play or a stroller so that they have somewhere to lay down when it’s time for a snooze, or if you have a bit of a drive involved, try to plan so that baby can sleep in the car when they would normally be going down for a nap. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than skipping a nap altogether.
This may all sound a little authoritative, but overtiredness is an absolute monster when it comes to bedtime. Kids who are overtired will have a harder time falling asleep, which leads to a bad night, which leads to more overtiredness, and so on. It’s a cycle you really don’t want to get into.
So you’re ultimately the only one who can decide when it’s okay to break the rules. If you feel your little one can handle it, give it a try. If not, I suggest you play it safe. As they get older, you’ll find they’ll be more accepting of changes in the schedule, but developing them into champion sleepers in these early years will go a long way towards that goal.
Sleep is the newest obsession. I mean, why not? It’s a literal human NECESSITY to sleep. It’s simple – if we don’t sleep, we can die. Sleep deprivation = death.
K, maybe not that literally, but there have been studies shown that lack of sleep is SO terrible for your body.
WebMD gives the top 10 surprising effects of sleep loss:
- Sleep deprivation can cause accidents. Driving fatigued and over-tired is very comparable to driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol.
- Sleep loss plays a critical role in thinking and learning.
- Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems…including (but not limited to): heart failure, heart disease, obesity, stroke, and high blood pressure.
- Lack of sleep kills your sex drive
- Sleepiness is depressing…lack of sleep can have depressive effects on your mental state.
- Ages your skin.
- Makes you forgetful
- Weight Gain
- Increase risk of death (through disease)
- Impairs judgement
Here is the full article here. Worth the read.
Author Satchin Panda wrote a book called: The Circadian Code, which outlines the biological necessity that sleep plays in our bodies. As adults, we should be getting at least 7 hours of consolidated sleep every night. Any less than 7 hours, and we are starting to rack up our sleep debt. Babies and children have higher sleep needs, therefore children under the age of 5 require a full 12 hours at night, and even some naps throughout the day too. School aged children should be getting 8-11 hours of sleep a night.
Is this happening in your home?
So we know sleep is important, but how do we do it? How do we just fall asleep and get those 7 hours?
Well – I wish it was a simple “how-to” answer.
When working with clients, I have them start by filling out a questionnaire. This helps me really evaluate the current sleep situation they are in, and if there are any tips/pointers I can give right away. Most commonly, I see the use of Melatonin in both children and adults. I have actually seen people give their children under 2 a dose of melatonin.
This feels scary and alarming to me.
Why are we supplementing a child with a hormone their body naturally produces?
Let’s dive right in to WHAT melatonin really is and what does it do for our bodies?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland. This hormone helps regulate the sleep – wake cycle in our bodies. As a supplement, it can be used to treat jet lag or help shift workers adjust to their schedules. It should not be taken as a daily supplement to your routine. In Canada and the US, Melatonin can be purchased over the counter, but in Australia and Europe, you must be over the age of 54 and have a history of sleeping problems in order to purchase.
Human melatonin production decreases as we age, but having a complete melatonin deficiency is very rare.
Melatonin is not categorized as a drug, it is in the same category as vitamins and minerals. It does not require the same FDA approval as other medication. Synthetic melatonin can be produced in factories that are not regulated by the FDA. This means that although the dose on the bottle reads anywhere from 1-5mg of melatonin, each capsule could contain a varying amount of the intended dosage.
There has not be adequate research data proving the effectiveness of melatonin. When compared with a placebo, most studies show no benefit of melatonin. The National Sleep Foundation said: “Large studies are needed to demonstrate if melatonin is effective and safe for some forms of insomnia, particularly for long-term use. It may be true that melatonin is effective and safe for some types of insomnia and for children but not for other types of sleep problems. How much to take, when to take it and its effectiveness, if any, for particular disorders is only beginning to be understood.”
On the bottle of melatonin, it says “discontinue use after 4 weeks.”
So why are we using melatonin as a way to get to sleep?
Did you KNOW that the number 1 prescribed medication in America is SLEEPING PILLS?
Did you KNOW that exposure to sunlight can be WAY more effective in regulating our circadian rhythm than taking a melatonin supplement? Regular physical activity can also have huge impact on our ability to fall asleep at night as well.
How often are you looking at a screen? Are you watching TV while in bed? What about checking Facebook while under the covers? How about checking one last Instagram story or reading one last email before finally closing your eyes.
These are all MAJOR factors in balancing our sleep.
Instead of popping a melatonin and then watching a movie, how about you dedicate 1 hour to a bedtime routine that is “screen-free” and relaxing. I bet you’d find there are huge benefits to doing this simple act of self-care.
As for your children – do you think that melatonin should be a daily supplement and that the reason your child doesn’t sleep well is actually because they’re deficient in melatonin production? NO. There are SO many varying methods on how to get children to fall asleep and stay asleep that require no supplements or medication.
Teaching your child healthy sleep habits isn’t selfish – it is a gift that keeps on giving. A baby who sleeps well will become a toddler who sleeps well….a child…then a teenager….and finally an adult who sleeps well.
It isn’t too late to teach you or your child these healthy habits. I provide a completely holistic approach to sleep. One that relies heavily on routine and consistency.
Reach out & I can absolutely get you on track to be a great, healthy sleeper.
One of the most common questions I get asked as a Paediatric sleep consultant is, “When should we move him into a big kid bed?”
Uhmmmm…..NEVER lol. Here’s a few reasons why I want to prolong this transition and keep that babe in a crib as long as possible.
Number 1 reason is – there are so many other priorities when it comes to your baby’s sleep. Establishing a bedtime routine, teaching independent sleep skills, getting your baby accustomed to a schedule, etc. These are all things that should take place before you worry about moving them out of the crib. Sometimes parents think that by moving their child into a “big kid bed” this instills some maturity and they’ll automatically start sleeping better. Let me tell you, this is not the case.
Believe me, it’s going to be a
lot easier to make the transition once you’ve got a good, skilled sleeper on
The other reason I tell parents
to wait as long as they can is because, unless you’ve got a new baby on the way
and need to make some space in that crib, there’s just no reason to push it.
Toddlers will inevitably notice
that they sleep in a different bed than their parents, or their older siblings,
and will ask why.
Once they’ve shown some
interest, and feel like they want to make the switch, I’m all for it. But don’t
look at it as some kind of developmental stage that your child should reach at
a predetermined age.
They’ll get there when they get
there, and there’s no harm if it’s later rather than sooner.
I should actually throw in a
little disclaimer here. If your little one has started the “escape artist”
routine, and is climbing out of their crib in a dangerous way, there’s
potentially some harm if they fall on their way out.
However, if they’ve got the
skills to get out of the crib safely, (and some kids I know are exceptional at climbing out of their
cribs) then, again, I once again recommend sticking with the crib.
One of the biggest reasons I
see for parents moving their kids to a big kid bed, is because they’re hoping
it will solve some existing sleep issues. Maybe baby’s gotten into a habit of
wanting to climb into bed with Mom and Dad, or they’re suddenly waking up and
demanding a glass of milk in the middle of the night.
So maybe a big kid bed would
help them feel more grown up. Maybe it would give them a feeling of security
It will not. Full stop.
In all my time as a consultant, and with all of the other consultants I network with, to my knowledge, none of us have ever seen bad sleep behaviour solved by moving baby to a new bed.
I would recommend waiting until your child is close to 3 before making that transition into a bigger bed. But again, this is just a guideline. You can ultimately make whatever choice is best for your family.
So, now that I’ve told you to
wait as long as possible, how about those of you who have done that already,
and are now making the switch?
The first thing you might
notice is how quickly and easily your little one makes the transition. Your
little one climbs into the new bed, loves the cool print on the new sheets, and
sleeps happily straight through the night.
So maybe you’re in the clear….or maybe you’re not.
There’s typically a honeymoon
period with the big kid bed. Kids initially think they’re great, but then,
after a couple of weeks, they start to wake up and leave their room in the
middle of the night, asking to get into bed with mom and dad.
You may be tempted to comply with this request, but I strongly suggest you put an early and absolute boundary on bed sharing at this point. If your child starts leaving their room in the night, walk them back, tell them it’s not allowed, and let them know what the consequence will be if they do it again.
Again, regardless of how sweet the request is, or how easy it might be to just flip back your comforter and let your little one climb aboard, don’t give in. You really need to make it clear that it’s not allowed, or you’ll be dealing with nighttime roaming for months.
If you’re thinking this transition feels all too scary and your child sleep wonderfully in a crib – keep them there.
I’ve never seen a 13 year old still in a crib, so they’ll easily transition one day 😉
Have questions? Comment below and I’ll be sure to answer them!
Want to book a free 15-minute consult? Check here for my booking availability.
I just want to start off by saying…whatever happened with routines and bedtime this summer, I hope you at least had a great time 😉
During our too-short summer months, we have a way of letting our routines become flexible and for bedtime to become later and later.
“But mom, it’s not even dark outside!” – every child ever
Our daylight hours have a LOT to do with our body’s natural production of melatonin. Here in Northern Alberta, we have daylight from 5am-11:30pm all summer long. 6.5 hours is not enough rest for our little kiddies, and especially not enough rest for us.
Believe me, I GET IT. I want to be out enjoying the warmth and sunshine just as much as you. And I did.
And now I have some sleep stuff to fix within my own household lol.
So as the summer comes to an end (sadly) and you look back on the fun & sunny memories made, the barbecues, the camping, all of that ice cream – so much ice cream….it also means that with this sunny finale, you need to get your children back into some sort of routine so that the night before their first day back to school isn’t a nightmare.
So what should you do? How do you get back on track?
You don’t. You’re hooped.
- Don’t wait until the night before school starts to try to implement your old routine. the excitement of the new year and the anticipation of seeing their friends will make things too difficult to have everyone in bed and sleeping by 8pm. SO START NOW with early bedtime.
- Give yourself 2 weeks to slowly move bedtime back to the usual time. If your kids have been going to bed around 9:30pm every night this summer, then start by moving bedtime up by 15-20 minutes for 3 days, etc. This way, by the time school starts, your child’s internal body clock will be adjusted to the school time.
- Bedtime should be anywhere between 7-8pm. This is true for pre-school, school aged, and adolescents. If YOU need to be your child’s alarm clock in the morning, then that means they are going to bed too late. If your child is going to bed early enough, there will eventually be no need for an alarm clock as their internal body clock will be set to wake. Putting your child to bed at the same time every night helps teach their bodies the appropriate amount of sleep needed during those night-time hours, so they can wake feeling refreshed and energized.
- Let them help! Let’s get those kids involved. You could even make a bedtime routine chart that includes the steps to their routine, so they feel in charge of it. Some good routine activities can include (but are not limited to): a bath, getting pjs on, reading a story, singing a favourite song, a light snack (nothing sugary or caffeinated), 3 good things about their day, a warm glass of milk, etc.
The reason routines are SO IMPORTANT is because they act as a cueing mechanism for your child’s body and brain. It lets them know that sleep is near. Once you do decide on an appropriate routine, it should be in the same order every night, as to not confused your child. A good routine length is between 30-45 minutes. Setting a timer can be helpful to ensure you don’t get distracted.
- NO screen time within an hour of sleep. Playing video games, or watching Youtube on the iPad/TV right before bed has been linked to an increase in the amount of time it takes a child to wind down and fall asleep. These activities should be stopped at least an hour before bed, ideally 2 hours.
- Make sure their room is dark enough. The level of darkness really plays a role in the amount of melatonin produced. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you), your child’s room should be anywhere from an 8-10. The darkness will help with the transition back to school, with both the morning and the night. The early rising sun plays a huge role in waking us up too early, so the use of blackout blinds are very helpful.
If you would like some printable bedtime routine charts or other “kid friendly” facts about sleep, check out www.sleepforkids.org
If you have any other questions about getting back into routine, or have any sleep-related concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to getting babies to sleep through the night. Mixing baby cereal with breastmilk or formula and giving it to your child in the bottle as a means for them to become more full.
It has been recommended by doctors and used by parents for generations. I have a close friend who was given cereal at the ripe age of 4 WEEKS OLD. Not only is cereal not suitable for babies so young, their stomach is not prepared for anything other than milk at that age. (Read more about this here)
As adults, we know that sleeping on an empty stomach is challenging, but we also know that staying awake after a big, hearty meal is also next to impossible. Thinking this doesn’t apply to you…where were you after Thanksgiving Dinner? Christmas Dinner? I know where I was…rubbing my eyes and yawning on the couch. Overstuffed and very satisfied.
So, the notion that a little cereal in a baby’s bottle should take longer to digest than breastmilk or formula, which will keep them feeling full for longer periods, and therefore help them sleep through the night, seems reasonable at face value.
Any parent (myself included) who has experienced a baby who isn’t sleeping well is probably anxious to find the reason why, and is likely to try anything they deem as safe and potentially effective in order to remedy the situation. Even sometimes when we look back into the “newborn stages” of our child’s life, we realize that sometimes what we thought was safe, really wasn’t.
(Side note – I recently saw a picture of a baby sleeping in a vibrating chair on top of a stove…*shudder*. That’s called desperation)
Unfortunately, the vast
majority of parents who use this trick find that, even if it’s successful at
first, the results are only temporary, and here’s the reason why…
Once your baby reaches a certain age and weight, (I’ll just use the 6 month mark here as a happy medium) waking in the night isn’t about food, it’s about sleep! I’ve heard from parents who were getting up with their little ones 5-10 times a night, claiming that their baby was waking that often to eat.
Sure, baby might have nursed a little every time they were offered the breast, but that doesn’t mean that they were hungry. One sleep cue that newborns show, is often mistaken for “rooting” even after a full feed. This is simply because your newborn baby is rooting their head into your chest to find a dark place to rest. The darkness of their eyes on your chest is exactly what they are looking for. This means – time for bed!
I have also had worried moms come to me saying that their baby must not be getting any milk as she feels like her breasts are empty after feeding on demand all day and all night. This makes sense! If you aren’t giving your own body the proper rest it deserves, it can’t produce effectively and efficiently!
So this being said, what is much more likely is that babies become dependant on nursing as a method to get to sleep.
After all, if they’ve nursed to
sleep every time they’ve woken up for the first six months of their lives, it
only makes sense that they won’t be able to get to sleep without that familiar
The cereal in the bottle works
on the idea that babies fall asleep at bedtime and don’t wake up until morning,
assuming there’s nothing bothering them, but that’s not how sleep works. Not
for babies, and not for adults. We all cycle in and out of deep sleep, and at
the end of every cycle, we tend to wake up. Maybe not fully, but we do attain a
certain level of consciousness.
In babies, that cycle is
usually about 45 minutes, so even on a good night, they’re going to wake up a
lot. And if the only way they know how to get to sleep is by nursing, they’re
going to cry to get your attention, and wait for you to come in and help them
So if it’s got nothing to do
with hunger, how can you help them sleep through the night?
The solution to the issue, not
the “hack” or quick fix, but the actual remedy, is teaching your baby to fall
That might seem like a tall order for a 6 month old, but I assure you, they’re fully capable of learning this invaluable skill, even at an earlier age. It’s natural, and they typically take to it faster than you would expect.
Lots of babies will babble to themselves for a bit, or rub their feet together, or suck on their fingers, or some combination of all three. Almost every client I’ve worked with has had some new (and often amusing) trick that their baby has adopted as a sleep strategy. Let them discover these strategies on their own, and then let them practice them a little. It’s a skill, and skills take time to master. My own son loves to suck his thumb and snuggle into his bunny, to fall asleep.
Now, I’m not saying that you should leave a crying baby to sort themselves out without any comfort or attention. You should feel free to attend to them, let them know you’re nearby and available, but don’t rock, nurse, or cuddle them until they fall asleep. Let them find a way to do it on their own. That way, when they wake in the night, they’ll have the skills they need to settle back down on their own.
These skills will help them throughout their entire life! A baby who sleeps well becomes a child who sleeps well, who becomes a teenager, and then an adult who sleeps well. It is the gift that keeps on giving!
Definitely one that I’m grateful to pass on.