Month: July 2015

Sleep is a Learned Skill: Wait…what?

This might surprise you: sleep is a learned skill.  Did you know that? Putting ourselves to sleep independently is something we must LEARN how to do and is not an ability we were born with! Isn’t that completely unexpected!? Being able to put oneself to sleep is an important skill and a pretty awesome one at that! It requires great self-regulation and the ability to self-settle and soothe. It’s not something we were born with the ability to do.  As you probably know,  many babies are able to sleep, but they need major assistance FALLING asleep.  Usually this assistance of getting baby to fall asleep,  comes from a caregiver. This is where Mom & Dad come in.  Of course in the early weeks/months, we do whatever we need to do to get our babies to sleep and feed them when they need to be fed.  We may nurse or bottle feed, bounce, rock, hum, sing, jiggle, dance, twirl, drive, or stroller walk to get our little peanuts to sleep.  This may feel perfectly fine in the beginning, which it absolutly is!  

What happens over time though, is that however baby falls asleep at bedtime, is how they will need to be put back to sleep once waking in the night.  This doesn’t sound like such a problem, and for a little while, it’s not a big deal.  But the science behind baby sleep is a little bit different than that of an adult. A newborn baby’s sleep cycle last about 40-50 minutes!  This means that very shortly after they drift into a nice deep sleep, they begin to wake (45 min mark), entering a partial arousal.  During this partial arousal, they may wake just a little, take a good look around and realize that their sweet milk, pacifier, or the calming bouncing, or rocking is gone and immediately wake fully out of frustration! “Wait a minute! Where are you!? Where is that milk!? Get back in here, how am I supposed to do this on my own!?”  (This is what I always imagined babies would say if they could, in the middle of the night :))  What ends up happening, is in order for parents to get their little ones back into that peaceful slumber at 2, 3, 4 AM, they end up having to repeat a particular action over and over again! The more we do it, the more our babes depend on it and the less they learn how to put themselves back to sleep without Mom and Dad’s constant help. 

As time goes on, and babies develop and grow, they begin to form sleep associations which are little cues telling them “oh ya, we are going to go to sleep now!”  The bottle may be a strong sleep association, or breastfeeding or being bounced on a bouncy ball.  And there is truly nothing wrong with any of these actions themselves.  Many of these daily rituals are some of the greatest joys of becoming a new parent.  

 I can tell you from experience, that nursing a baby to sleep is something so special, well, there are no words to describe the beauty of  it.   However that being said, having to nurse every hour through the night, month after month because baby will only fall asleep while eating, is a whole different story in terms of enjoyment.  Baby is not sleeping and therefore neither is Mom or Dad- and for me and my family, that just didn’t work for anyone.  And don’t get me wrong,  it might work for some people which is just great.  But for us it didn’t.   So, what’s important to remember is that there is nothing “bad” about rocking, nursing, feeding, bouncing, or the like but just know that if we consistently use these associations to put our children to sleep they will need the same response upon waking.  (As humans, we all wake many times in the night as we come out of a sleep cycle.  The difference is as adults, we are SO good at self-regulating and self-soothing that we often don’t notice or even remember many of our own night wakings, because we simply fall back to sleep.)

So I guess my point is rather simple: we can give our children and babies a chance to learn how to fall asleep independently by making new sleep associations that do not require Mom and Dad’s assistance all night! AMAZING, right!? (that means you’ll be sleeping while your child is quietly falling back to sleep after waking, connecting one sleep cycle with the next). New associations may include some of the things I have mentioned in previous posts such as introducing a lovey or blankie to provide comfort and security, using bedtime routine consistently, and putting our little ones in bed awake so that the when they wake in the night, the environment in which they are waking is exactly the same as when they fell asleep at bedtime.

To me, sleep is vital to my family’s health and well-being.  It recharges my battery and gives me the energy to make each day count.  Getting proper sleep is the same for our little bubbs in fact, it’s arguably even more important.  So don’t be afraid to help teach your baby how to sleep well so that they wake each morning with a smile and have the life-long skill of sleeping like a champion!  We as parents can give our children this gift. Sounds pretty good to me 🙂

Sleep & Travel: How To Plan For The Best

Summer is upon us.  What a faboulous time to relax and spend time with loved ones under the sun. For many of us, this means we’re hittin’ the road and taking a much needed vacay with the family.  For many parents, this raises a variety of questions regarding sleep and how to plan for the most relaxing and restful trip possible.  Very few families (if any!) want to be up all night bouncing their baby, or dealing with a screaming child in the wee hours of the morning.  Below are my Top 5 Travel Sleep Tips to help make the transition to a new sleep enviornment as smooth as possible for your little sleeper while away from home:

1) Recreate a similar sleep environment

We want to make our little one feel as comfortable as possible, while away from home.  Try to recreate his own peaceful sleep environment that he is used to at home.  If we bring special sleep items from home that your child is used to, your sweetie will recognize these and it will provide him with a sense of security and comfort.   Although the actual place may be new and different for your child, he will feel at ease knowing he has a few familiar pieces that he is used to.  So, make sure you bring along with you the following special sleep items (or others that you use consistently for sleep):

* familiar lovey/stuffy

* white noise

* books used at bed time (if you read books)

* comfy, familiar jammies

2) Stick to a familiar sleep schedule

It is to be expected that the schedule and routine will look a little bit different during a trip away from home.  However, we do want to try to stick to a similar sleep schedule as the one your child is on at home.   So for example, if your baby is currently taking an afternoon nap everyday, try to give your child the opportunity to have this nap, around the same time as back home.  This doesn’t mean you need to be stuck at the hotel for 2 hours every single afternoon, but perhaps if you have a really ” on the go” day, you can plan for a 1PM stroller nap or a car ride so that your child doesn’t become over-tired at bedtime.  But try not to stress- If the schedule gets off track one day, do not get discouraged.  Do your best to get things back on track the next day.  

3) Keep the bedtime routine going!

Keeping the bedtime ritual fairly consistent can go along way for your child while you are in a new place.  Not only will this routine make your babe feel safe and secure because of its familiarity, but it will trigger the same sleepy response as it does at home (see my post from last week regarding “The Bedtime Routine”).  So if and when possible, try to keep the bedtime routine going.  It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but as long as you have a few predictable, familiar activities that are normally being done at home, your child will respond well to this and will feel more relaxed and calm when going to sleep for the night in a new environment.

4) Spend some time in the new sleep environment

If you will be bringing your own pack n’ play with you, it doesn’t hurt to get your baby familiar with their new sleep environment even BEFORE the trip has started.  Let her take a few naps in the new sleep space before you leave and then once you arrive,  give her a chance to get familiar and comfortable with the new environment by giving her 5-10 minutes of play time in the pack n’ play as you sit close by.   Giving her a chance to become comforable with her new sleep arrangment may reduce negative bedtime battles that may could come up if your child does not feel familiar with the sleep environment. 

5) Don’t stress!

Do your best to follow and implement these tips while travelling with little ones, but if sleep does not quite go as you hope, its ok.  Consider your child’s schedule and familiar rituals but also be flexible and try to relax when things don’t go as planned.  When you return home you can put more energy into getting everyone back on a regular schedule. 

Safe & Happy Travels!

The Beauty of the Bedtime Routine

I’ve decided that for my first blog post, I’d write about something that I value very much and believe acts as a foundational starting point for promoting healthy sleep habits.  It may sound a bit silly at first, but bedtime in our house has developed into our absolute favourite time of the day! It has become a ritual so predictable and joyful, that we all feel a sense of coziness and comfort as we get ready to end the day with a few simple calming activities.  In our house, bedtime has become a real bonding time for my husband and I and our daughter.  Its nothing fancy or elaborate.  Its actually rather simple and basic.  But its a unique time in the day when a loving, peaceful ritual is in place. And in many ways, that’s very comforting to have. 

That being said, I have noticed that “bedtime” does not always produce such heavenly, blissful feelings for many young families.  In fact, it can be quite the opposite.  For many parents, bedtime is when the day REALLY starts to get crazy.  Bedtime is filled with fear and frustration, and as I begin to work with more families I hear more and more of the same thing: “Bedtime is the hardest time of the day for us.”

But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be.  Bedtime can be a quiet, peaceful time that helps calm and relax our children and babies before they head into a deep slumber.  But the question is, how do we make it that? This sounds like one of those things thats easier said than done. What every parent should know is that a simple bedtime routine is a must.  It just is.  Children and babies need a chance to unwind and prepare for sleep.  They need time before bed to quiet their bodies and minds.  I suggest that every child has a stable bedtime routine, every night from as young as 8 weeks old. 

But it’s not just about creating a time that’s quiet and less stimulating than the rest of the busy day.  It’s also about consistency and predictability.  What makes for an extremely successful bedtime routine is it’s predictability.  Children and even young babies thrive greatly when they have a bit of structure and routine in their day.  When they are able to understand what’s coming next, this makes the older kids feel empowered and in the know, and the younger ones feel a sense of security and comfort because the activities taking place are familiar and therefore,  safe.  When babies and children are able to think “ hey we are taking a bath, I know next we get our jammies on, then a bottle! We must be getting ready for sleep!” they feel less surprised and more secure.  Its all about doing a few simple activities in the same order, every night. 

Bedtime routine works so well because it 1) allows for babe to unwind and relax and prepare for night time sleep, 2) allows child/baby to feel safe and secure knowing what’s coming next and 3) acts as a strong and powerful sleep association (when used consistently, often the act of say a bedtime bath, or the reading of the bed time book/ singing of a song, can be enough to literally trigger sleep and make the child feel sleepy and tranquil in the process).   Bedtime routines do not need to take an hour to complete, and they do not need to involve 25 elaborate “wind-down” activities. They just need to be calming and consistent. 

Tips for an Effective Soothing Bedtime Routine: 

*Keep it peaceful: Keep the lights low and tones quiet during the entire routine. 

*Keep it simple: Choose a handful of simple activities to carry out each night.

*Keep it consistent: Once you have a routine, stick to it!  This consistency will make it so that anyone can run the bedtime routine; grandma, auntie, babysitter etc.  (This means date night IS possible!)

*Keep it predictable: Carry out each activity in the same order every night. No surprises for your little babe. 

So give it a go! Its never too late to start implementing a bedtime routine.  Often once you do, you will find that bedtime changes from a time of stress and chaos to a time of real bonding and connecting- the most awesome way to end the day!

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