The start of the new school year is fast approaching. Toddlers will be beginning preschool, and preschoolers will be starting kindergarten. It’s not too early to start adjusting your child’s sleep schedule. To take advantage of the extra daylight and evening family activities, children are often allowed to stay up a little later during the summer months than they are during the school year. Without the pressure of school schedules, children can sleep in or nap longer during the summer months to get the 10 to 12 hours of daily sleep they need.
Once the school year starts, however, the luxury of sleeping in or taking long naps disappears. With the family on the move earlier in the morning, children need to go to bed earlier to make sure they get the amount of sleep they need to stay happy and healthy. Sleep training for toddlers and younger children prior to the start of school can help children adjust to new daily rhythms successfully.
It’s best to help your children make the transition to an earlier bedtime gradually over several weeks. Beginning 3 to 4 weeks before the start of school, start your child’s normal bedtime routine half an hour earlier each week until you reach the desired bedtime. Bedtime videos for toddlers and other toddler sleep aids such as soothing musical CDs can help your toddler wind down and relax so he is ready for sleep at the new bedtime.
Children are creatures of habit. As the parent of any toddler will attest, they love to play the same games over and over again and bed to hear the same bedtime story night after night. Parents may become bored, but children find comfort and stability in repeated routines, especially bedtime routines.
Successful toddler sleep training hinges on an orderly progression of post-dinner activities consistently repeated until they become a dependable part of the child’s bedtime routine. But when families go on vacation, the disruption of normal bedtime routines can send toddler sleep training success out the window. Packing favorite sleep aids for toddlers — blankies, stuffies, favorite storybook, Nighty Night CDs and videos — can help you maintain the bedtime routines your toddler has learned to rely on and ensure that your child (and you) receives the restful sleep needed to enjoy vacation activities.
When traveling with their children, savvy parents download soothing Nighty Night bedtime melodies onto iPhones, iPads or iPods (for iPods remember to pack a player with external speakers) so they can play them when babies or toddlers need to nap or go to sleep at night. They also take along Nighty Night DVDs — the ultimate toddler sleep aids — to play on their laptop or in hotel or relatives’ DVD players to help their children relax and fall asleep.
The more closely you stick to normal bedtime routines when vacationing, the easier it will be for your children to fall asleep in strange surroundings.
More than 2,000 babies in the U.S. die mysteriously every year, their cause of death inexplicable. Called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, it is a tragedy without symptoms or explanation, a heartbreaking diagnosis offered when all other possible causes of death have been ruled out.
Based on field experience, research and statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pediatric forensic specialists have come to believe that many of the deaths previously attributed to SIDS may actually have resulted from unsafe infant sleeping conditions. As reported in a July 15, 2011 article on NPR.org, public health programs that encourage safe sleep environments have been successful in reducing infant deaths.
In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that babies sleep on their backs. In less than a decade, the ensuing Back to Sleep public health campaign reduced unexplained infant deaths by 50% nationwide. Further evidence of the link between presumed SIDS deaths and infants’ sleep environments was uncovered by Baltimore, Maryland pediatric forensic investigators. Investigation of infant deaths between 2002 and 2010 found that 90% of the suspected SIDS deaths in Baltimore were actually caused by unsafe sleep environments.
The Baltimore investigation led to the development of the ABCs of safe sleep campaign (see our previous post) to educate parents about infant sleep hazards and teach them how to create a safe sleep environment for their baby.
Alone-Back-Crib are the ABCs of safe sleeping. Developed by public health officials to prevent infant fatalities, the ABCs of safe sleeping remind parents how to protect their baby from accidental death by creating a safe sleeping environment.
- Alone. Babies should sleep by themselves in a crib, not in their parents’ bed. When infants sleep with parents, there is serious risk of suffocation if during sleep the baby’s face is inadvertently pushed into the bed covers or parent’s body or the parent rolls on top of the infant.
- Back. Babies should be put to sleep on their backs. Pediatricians agree that on the back is the safest sleeping position for infants and, despite parents’ fears, will not cause choking. Babies that are put to sleep on their stomachs can suffocate if bed linens or clothing impairs their breathing because they are unable to lift their heads away from the obstruction. Side sleeping can allow the baby to roll onto his stomach, placing him at similar risk.
- Crib. The baby’s crib should be completely free of toys, pillows, blankets, bumper pads and stuffed animals. These items can be permitted when your child is older and has achieved complete mobility, but for babies they present suffocation and entrapment hazards.
Keep your baby safe all through the night. Practice the ABCs of safe sleeping when you lay your child down to sleep.
Continuing our previous post, here are more baby sleep training tips from British “Baby Whisperer” Alison Scott-Wright, author of The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan:
- Learn to differentiate between your infant’s cries of distress and cries for attention. Always respond quickly to distress cries, but ignore cries for attention for a short time to give your infant the opportunity to comfort himself. Periodically during the night it is normal for babies to fuss for a few minutes then fall back asleep. Babies need opportunities to learn to comfort themselves and soothe themselves to sleep.
- If your baby awakens during the night, place your hand firmly on his back and tell him it’s time to sleep, then leave the room. Consistent repetition will train your baby to go back to sleep.
- Limit the number of stuffies, toys and blankets allowed in the crib. Toys can be over-stimulating and distracting. Teach your baby to associate his crib with sleep, not playtime.
- When you put your baby to bed, turn off all the lights, including the nightlight; draw the drapes and close the door. Even dim ambient light from LED clocks or open doors can interfere with your baby’s sleep.
- Scott-Wright recommends putting babies into bed while they are still awake. This gives babies an opportunity to practice soothing themselves and falling asleep on their own.
Known as the “Baby Whisperer,” former British maternity nurse Alison Scott-Wright has developed a practical baby sleep training plan that has sleep-deprived new parents calling her a miracle worker. Her book, The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, is a best-seller in Britain where Scott-Wright has a huge following and is quickly developing an American fan base.
Like methods advocated by TV’s British Supernanny Jo Frost, Scott-Wright’s technique is part parent training and part baby training. Many new parents do not realize the importance of consistency and repetition in helping their infants develop good sleep habits. By following the same bedtime routine every night and same wake-up routine every morning, Scott-Wright says parents can train their infants to sleep through the night.
Here are some of the Baby Whisperer’s baby sleep training tips:
- Don’t keep your baby’s crib in your bedroom. When infants sleep in their parents’ room, neither baby nor parents sleep well. Introduce independent sleeping immediately, using baby monitors to alert you to any problems.
- Resist the temptation to wake and cuddle your baby before you go to bed. It’s normal for new parents to want to reassure themselves that their baby is okay; but waking your baby when he is in deep sleep stimulates your child, making it more difficult for him to go back to sleep.
More tips next time
Sleep is the one thing new parents crave most. Getting up in the middle of the night to change and feed their new baby every 3 to 4 hours takes a toll. New parents are warned to expect their sleep to be disrupted for the first few months of their infant’s life, but pediatricians reassure them that the nighttime merry-go-round will eventually stop.
By 8 to 12 weeks of age, the majority of babies are sleeping through the night, typically giving parents a much-needed 11- to 12-hour break. But some babies are poor sleepers. Well past the 3-month mark, they continue to wake up several times during the night, fussing, crying and demanding their parents’ attention.
Distraught and exhausted, parents of problem sleepers log long hours rocking their fretful infants. In desperation, parents will try anything to get their baby to sleep, from letting him cry it out to popping him in the car seat for a nocturnal cruise. It doesn’t take long for sleep-deprived parents to reach the end of their rope and call for help. And the person they call is former maternity nurse Alison Scott-Wright, the British woman grateful parents call “the baby whisperer.”
Author of the sold-out new book, The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan (available on Amazon), Scott-Wright uses a practical approach that relies on repetition and learned expectations to train babies to fall asleep and sleep through the night.
Next time: The Baby Whisperer’s sleep training tips
In many American homes, the typical bedtime routine for children is: dinner, bath, TV, bed. As discussed in our two previous posts, watching television before bedtime increases children’s sleep problems. Researchers postulate that the quickly-changing images on television screens may be more responsible for disturbing children’s sleep than program content. The screen’s flickering images appear to over-stimulate the brain’s frontal cortex, making it difficult for children to “turn off” and relax when it’s time to go to sleep. Pediatric researchers are unanimous in their recommendation that television viewing be excluded from children’s bedtime routines.
Use the following tips to establish a healthy bedtime routine for your children that will minimize potential sleep problems:
- Go for a walk or bike ride before dinner to allow children to expel excess energy.
- Turn off the television during dinner and invite children to share their daily experiences.
- After dinner, encourage your child to engage in quiet play. Older children might enjoy board games, jigsaw puzzles or card games.
- Allow your child to play in the water for a few minutes after bathing.
- Cuddle up in a rocking chair or the child’s bed and read a story.
- Tuck your child in and watch the Nighty Night bedtime video together.
- Say goodnight and turn on the Nighty Night Bedtime Melodies CD as you leave the room.
Watching television right before bed can cause sleep problems in young children. A recent study by researchers at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute found that in families where watching television was part of the child’s bedtime routine, children consistently had trouble falling asleep, experienced nightmares, were slow to wake up the next morning and were tired and cranky the next day.
The research study tracked the TV viewing habits of 600 families and resulted in some interesting revelations:
- The closer to bedtime children watched television, the greater its impact on sleep. A direct relationship was found between bedtime TV watching and children’s sleep problems.
- Watching TV shows with violent content, whether during the day or close to bedtime, increased sleep problems. Interestingly, it didn’t matter whether the violence was animated or live-action. Nor did it matter whether children watched with or without their parents.
- Watching television of any kind after 7 p.m., even non-violent programs, increased sleep problems among young children ages 3 to 5.
- Nearly 1 in 5 children (18%) who watched TV near bedtime exhibited sleep problems at least 5 nights a week and frequently every night.
- Children who had televisions in their bedrooms watched more TV. They also experienced the highest incidence of sleep problems and were most likely to be tired the next day.
Next time: Healthy bedtime routine tips
Like the proverbial elephant in the room, many parents tend to ignore the importance of reports linking television viewing to children’s sleep problems. Television has become such a constant component of American life that its ever-present drone has faded into the background noise of everyday life. In many homes the television is always on, its continuous soundtrack providing companionship and relief from the monotony of daily chores.
Adults are so used to television’s comforting background rhythm that they tend to tune it out for long periods of time. But children find television mesmerizing and will spend hours entranced by its flashing images and undulating soundtrack. Parents seldom realize how much time their children actually spend glued to the tube.
While television seems harmless, it can interfere with children’s sleep and have a negative impact on their health, particularly when young children are allowed to watch TV right before bedtime. Television watching is part of the normal bedtime routine in many homes during the summer months when school-aged children are on vacation. Being allowed to stay up a little later to watch a popular sitcom is a traditional vacation treat in many families, and preschoolers are often allowed to watch along with older siblings to keep the family peace. Unfortunately, television watching is a vacation treat that can turn a pleasant evening into bedtime nightmares.
Next time: The effect bedtime TV has on children’s sleep