Monday, March 30, 2015

Struggling to Get Your Kids to Sleep? Catch the Cues to Make it Easier

If nap or bedtime at your house has become a marathon wrestling match requiring more than 45 minutes of struggle to get the kids down, there may be a simple solution.  Catch the cues – earlier.  

When children don’t easily fall asleep, it can feel like they are refusing to sleep.   The reality is they can’t.   Each of us has a sleep window.  It’s typically about 15-30 minutes wide, during which time it is easiest for the brain to switch to sleep.  

When you hit the “window for sleep” the average child falls asleep within 27-35 minutes.

Put children to bed too early and they will lie wide awake or throw a conniption.  More likely you may be putting your children to sleep too late and as a result they are over tired and too stimulated to sleep.  The trouble with children who are over tired is that they send out mixed up cues.  Instead of getting drowsy they get wired.  They squeal gleefully as they chase the cat in circles around the kitchen or jump on the bed instead of lying down. Making you think they are not tired.  When in actuality they are over tired.  Ask them to stop and the odds are they won’t even hear you, or if they do will respond by stomping their feet and declaring, “You can’t make me,” or simply fall into a heap on the floor, sobbing.  

If you observe closely however, you can learn to identify the sounds, gestures and behaviors that point out to you the ideal time to put your child down for sleep.  Initially the cues may seem way too subtle and difficult to notice. But once you identify them they are like a red flag waving in the air – sleep NOW!  You’ll know you are hitting your child’s sleep window when you are putting to bed a child who is still happy and relatively compliant and she falls asleep within that 27-35 minute time frame. 

There are 3 levels of sleep cues:

Level one is the point to put down infants birth to 9-months of age 
        o For children 10 months and older level one is a “heads up” I’m getting tired but                       not quite ready for sleep.  
Level two is when to put down the child 10 months and older 
        o Do not wait for the second yawn/eye rub etc.  
Level three is over tired – the window for sleep has been missed.  Next time plan to               begin the sleep routine earlier.  

Here are some cues to look for:

Level one
Level two
Level three
Red around the eyes
Silly and wild
Slight sagging of cheeks
Little difficulty listening but not too bad
Nothing is right
Glazed look/staring off into space
Rubs eyes or pulls on earlobe
Not following direction
Momentary slowing of motion
Goes for comfort object
Not listening
Slight drooping  of eye lids
Change in skin color/pallor
A little difficulty complying but not too bad
Unable to settle or fall asleep
Makes a certain sound
Loses focus – starts to flit from one activity to another – seems bored
Looks away from you
A little irritable
Hyper and frenzied motion

Lays head down
Falling apart

Seeks contact with you

Still relatively happy/not crying

When you see the appropriate level of cues for your child’s age group begin your sleep routine. Keep it VERY simple.  Bedtime snack, pajamas, toileting/diapering, teeth, one story or no story, snuggle, kiss, prayer (if you say prayers in your family) and good night.  That’s it.  

You’ll notice extensive reading is not included in the routine nor bath.  That’s because these activities too easily can push a child past his sleep window.  Who wants to stop reading when a child is begging for more books!  Bath and reading can be early evening activities. 

You still do them but they are not part of the sleep routine. 

You really can take the struggle out of sleep time.  Catch the cues.  Move quickly.  Keep the sleep routine simple and you will discover how much more easily sleep can come.  

Next time we’ll talk about establishing a predictable routine that “sets the body clock” and makes seeing the cues even easier.  

In the meantime if you would like more in-depth information on how much sleep your child needs or how to help your child get the sleep she/he needs check out my book Sleepless in America:  Is Your Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep?  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Shift to Daylight Saving Time Continues to Torment

Whining increased?  Meltdowns over seemingly insignificant issues pooling on your kitchen floor?   Does it seem as though your child’s communication system has deteriorated to one phrase - “No! You are not the boss of me.”  Are the kids waking up in the middle of the night and staying awake? Are they waking early?  Or, are you pulling them out of bed in the morning? Have the bedtime battles reappeared?  Do you suddenly feel like a three legged monster with a child stuck to your leg refusing to leave your side?  Has the rate of aggression gone up?  

If everyone in your family is irritable, lethargic and feeling downright nasty don’t blame it on the phase of the moon, a growth spurt, allergies or even “spirit.”  No, the odds are high that despite the fact it’s been days since we sprang forward the tentacles of daylight saving time are still messing with our body clocks leaving everyone feeling lousy.

So what can you do other than wait it out?

Slow down.  Even if it means canceling an event, or skipping a lesson or practice.  Stop.  Stay home.  Rest.  Stop pushing and rushing.

Expect to help the kids more.  True a mere two weeks ago they could happily dress themselves, finish their homework, feed themselves, go upstairs alone and get in the car independently – now they can’t.  Instead of fighting over it, expect it.  Before anyone falls apart demanding assistance proactively ask, “Is this a day you need some help?”  If the response is “yes,” help, but gently nudge by reminding them.  “Soon we’ll be through day light saving time shift and you’ll be able to do this again.”

Offer more soothing and calming activities. Back rubs, massage, rocking, holding, reading, water play, Play-Doh, listening to music and going for leisurely walks can calm everyone.

Recognize you are tired too.  Turn off the video.  Get off Facebook and go to bed.  Your body is screaming for a little respite.  If possible take a power nap after lunch.  Limit it to twenty to thirty minutes long.  Set your alarm so you don’t sleep longer and mess up your night time sleep.  Even if you don’t fall asleep you’ll feel more relaxed.

Continue to maintain your routine on the new time schedule.

Be strong.  Another two weeks and we should be back in sync.