Children’s Sleep Project

Because we all need a good night’s rest.

Summer Sleep Tips for Children

June 17, 2009 By: Kathy Category: Uncategorized

Today’s post comes from Lissa Coffey and the Better Sleep Council in response to research presented last week at the Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Please see below for links. Thank you!

lion cub sleepingSummer Sleep Tips for Children

Children need at least nine hours of sleep each night on a regular basis to be healthy, active, and able to perform their best in school, sports and other extracurricular activities. During the summer, it can be hard for parents and kids to keep a steady sleep schedule, resulting in lost valuable sleep. Better Sleep Council Spokesperson and Lifestyle Expert Lissa Coffey offers the following tips to help parents ensure a good night’s sleep for their children.

1.      Set a Regular Bedtime For Your Child and Stick to It. A regular bedtime can help make sure your child gets a full night’s rest. The Obama daughters have an 8:30 pm bedtime.  This is an ideal time to tuck children in, especially when kids need to be up early for summer activities.

2.      Help Your Child Get at Least 9 Hours of Sleep Each Night. To be their best, children need 9-10 hours of sleep every night. This is important, even on the weekends.

3.       Don’t Over-Schedule Your Child.
Too many summertime activities and commitments can keep children from precious sleep. Allow your child plenty of time during the day for outdoor recreation, summer lessons and chores to ensure that they are not up past their bedtime. And try to avoid scheduling after-dinner activities like club meetings during the week; these tend to be very stimulating.

4.      Develop a Sleep Ritual; Help Your Child Unwind Before Bed. Allow your child at least one hour before bedtime to relax and unwind.  Try relaxing activities, like taking a bath or reading with your child, to help him or her transition into sleep mode.  This is also a special time to share with your child.  They’ll fall asleep easier and faster if they can relax before bed. Avoid loud music and television prior to bed, especially violent programming.

5.      Avoid Caffeine. Consuming caffeine, found in soft drinks and chocolate, even in the daytime, can make it more difficult for your child to fall asleep.

6.      Keep Computers and Television out of the Bedroom. The bedroom should be used for sleep only. The temptation of watching television or going online can be tempting for children once you’ve tucked them in and left the room.  Also, be sure radio and MP3 ear pods are out of their ears when you say goodnight!

7.      Make Sure Your Child’s Bedroom is Dark. Create a room that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool for the best possible sleep. A small nightlight is fine, if necessary, but a dark room is most conducive for a good night’s sleep. The ideal sleeping temperature is around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Some children like the comforting feel of a heavy blanket on top of them; it’s like being wrapped up in a hug.

8.      Pay Attention to Your Child’s Mattress. Handing down an old mattress to a child isn’t a good idea. Because mattresses wear out over time, it’s important to maximize your child’s chances of restful sleep by making sure he or she is sleeping on a mattress that is comfortable and supportive enough in order to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed. As children grow, make sure the mattress is large enough for them. The Better Sleep Council recommends parents evaluate and consider replacing a mattress every five to seven years.

About the Better Sleep Council: The Better Sleep Council (BSC) is a nonprofit organization endowed by the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), the trade association for the mattress industry. With a quarter of a century invested in improving America’s quality of sleep, BSC educates consumers on the critical link between sleep and health, as well as the role of the sleep environment, primarily through an informative consumer Web site www.bettersleep.org, partner support and proactive consumer media outreach.

About Lissa Coffey: Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. An Internet celebrity, she writes for eight different Web sites, including coffeytalk.com and whatsyourdosha.com. “CoffeyTalk: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Style,” is an Internet television show seen on YouTube and iTunes.  A frequent guest on radio and TV, Lissa’s keen insight into interpersonal and cultural dynamics offers guidance for anyone looking to fill the void in their harried lives.

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Multi-Faceted Solutions to Children’s Sleep Problems

October 13, 2008 By: Kathy Category: Uncategorized

As Alan, the Dragon and I wind up our 3+ year odyssey of finding sweet sleep (fingers crossed), it occurs to me that we’ve run the gamut of suggested solutions. Many of them even worked, at least partway.

We’ve employed behavioral, nutritional, energetic, spiritual, biological, psychological and even home decorating solutions for helping the Dragon sleep. Each one bestowed a tiny bit more sanity on our family but none was the silver bullet solution we were hoping for 2 1/2 years ago, when it became apparent that the Dragon was more sleep-challenged than most children — and that we were more sleep-deprived than most new parents.

Someday soon, I hope to write a longer piece covering the entire spectrum of our experience. I hope it will be helpful for parents just starting out the struggle. I hope it will shorten some families’ journeys toward better sleep.

But in the meantime, we have one more situation to tackle before we reach real success: the Dragon’s need for sustained skin-to-skin touch in order to get to sleep.

Please don’t get me wrong. We love kisses and hugs and won’t give them up until he pushes us away in adolescence (I hope it lasts that long!). I don’t even mind lying down to cuddle with him for a few minutes before he drifts off. But I still cannot leave before the Dragon falls asleep without inciting the poor child to panic. He must be touching me until he’s unconscious, or he will lie awake for hours. For my own mental health, and for the good of our marriage, it is time for this last difficulty to fall away.

By sheer dumb luck, once again, I was presented with a resource that gave me some insight into this issue. An occupational therapist who’s part of an online parenting community I frequent posted a general comment about her work on a recent thread. So on the off-chance she could give me some insight, I e-mailed her about the Dragon’s need for touch at bedtime.

“[The Dragon’s] sleep patterns are atypical,” she responded, “especially to still have them at 36 months and after years of concerted effort from you and Alan.” Since I’d told her that the Dragon was assessed as “highly sensitive,” including some issues with tags and textures, she gave me this insight:

When a person with sensory defensiveness is confronted with their triggers, it’s not just a “yuck! pudding is gross!”  or “dang! annoying itchy tag!” It becomes an autonomic fight or flight response…terror. [The Dragon] may not feel comfortable enough to let go, let his state of regulation change and relax into a calm arousal state unless he feels the skin contact from you.

She suggested we seek out an occupational therapist with training in sensory integration and ask about specific interventions that would “bolster his calming neurotransmitters during the day.” Having been helped so much by other experts in various fields of child development — nutrition and temperament, specifically — I’m encouraged that there may be things we can do to help our child learn to self-soothe his way to sleep.

For the record, we tried lots of the techniques suggested by the many great books out there for parents of sleep-challenged children. But I suspect the Dragon’s challenges relate to his early separation trauma. My instinct says that being highly sensitive and highly relational, and not getting that constant touch a newborn would expect and need from the get-go, created in him an intense need for lots and lots touch that eventually became a habit.

While I hope he always enjoys human touch, I also hope we can now help him self-regulate so he can get to sleep anywhere, anytime, without need of my body to get him there.

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Throwing Out the Rule Book

August 22, 2008 By: Kathy Category: Uncategorized

We’ve thrown out the rule book.

Books.

Most of them.

It’s not that they weren’t helpful, and I still recommend them to anyone looking for a baseline or starting point with their children’s sleep challenges. At least read one or two so you can go the party line for a while, and know what you’re deviating from if you have to. If you don’t have to, you’re lucky and the books will help you.

But it turns out that a lot of the expert advice didn’t apply to our son, or our family, at all.

Just after my last post (nearly two months ago now — sorry!), I found a book called The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. — a treasure-trove of information about children’s psychology that I’d never before come across, not even in graduate school. Though the book obviously focuses on sensitive children in particular, it was the first I’d ever read that addresses the child’s temperament as a major factor in how he or she experiences the world and reacts to stimuli.

The Highly Sensitive Child touches only very briefly on sleep per se, but really the entire thing opened a whole new perspective on sleep for me — so much so that I didn’t really need a separate section on it. Rather than trying to fit our sleep approach/solution into a particular parenting philosophy, or into prescribed and pre-set routines and interventions, the book made us more observant of our own child and our interactions with him — and, importantly, how his temperament and our reactions to it might be challenging his sleep.

It also prompted us to call a temperament therapist for more assistance. She had us fill out an assessment that ranked our son on nine different temperament scales, such as sensitivity, adaptability and intensity. Then we talked about how the results on each scale could impact sleep.

For example, the Dragon is highly perceptive and highly active but a bit less adaptable than the norm. That means he’s very aware of his surroundings and loves to be constantly engaged in learning and play. But he has a hard time moving from one activity to the next — in part because he’s taking in so much, that it just takes time to leave one thing and start the next. Transitions themselves are activities to be embraced, investigated and acted upon. Rushing through transitions overwhelms and frustrates him. If you’ve ever spent 20 minutes getting your toddler from the front door to the car, you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, armed with this information, our empathy and tolerance levels went up. Our views of “misbehavior” and “resistance” were recast as we understood why he might be fighting bedtime, fighting sleep. Suddenly we understood his behavior not as manipulation or intransigence but as our child’s effort to get his needs met. He was, in effect, telling us, “I can’t go as fast as you want me to go. I need time,” and, “I need less stimulation. I can’t be seeing and hearing so much, or making so many decisions, when you want me to calm down.” We were able to craft our evenings and behaviors — and even small interactions — to help the Dragon prepare internally for a peaceful bedtime.

At first, we tried to be more stringent about the routine: everything exactly the same, every night, so he’d know what was coming and could worry less about adapting and transitioning. It worked alright, in part — at least we all knew what was coming, what to do next; the runup to bedtime got better — but there was still major resistance to actually going to sleep. When the lights went down, there was crying, screaming, running for the door. There were attempts to sleep on the floor, the Dragon rolling across his carpet, back and forth, back and forth, arranging and rearranging his pillow and blankets, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable. If I tried to leave the room, he screamed and cried. If he tried to leave the room, and I didn’t let him, he hit me and kicked me. All of this would go on for an hour, for two hours. We knew children of his temperament take longer to get into a new routine than others, so we breathed deep and tried to be patient.

But one night, I got so exhausted, and so frustrated, that I just quit. For nearly three years I had poured all my energy into doing it by the book, into following the experts’ advice to a T.

And then I hit a wall. I just couldn’t do it anymore. There was a single moment in time, sitting up against the wall in the Dragon’s room, going through the whole routine of fear, anger and resistance, when I finally realized: This isn’t the right way. We’re all exhausted. We’re angry. We dread the evenings. We’re working against each other. This is wrong.

So we started experimenting with things the books say not to do. For example:

  • Many books warn against decreasing or eliminating naptime as a strategy to ease bedtime: “Sleep begets sleep,” the say. Not in our case: The Dragon’s mind is always going, so less naptime gives him more time to take in what he feels he needs to know and experience.
  • The books warn against a later bedtime for the same reason. But guess what? The Dragon sleeps better if he goes down a little later. He’s a really relational kid who needs to feel connected to Mama and Daddy before sleep disconnects him for the night. Since we both work full-time, we need our family time in the evening to stretch a little later.
  • The books, by and large, also put the kibosh on pre-bedtime TV. You know what? As much as I try to minimize TV in our family, he’s been easing into sleep better with a little managed tube-time in the evening. I don’t know why. But it’s true. So I don’t resist it anymore.
  • I’ve been preaching to the masses for years about the importance of consistency in the bedtime routine. And it works for many, many, many people. But we’ve found out that it’s not so necessary with our child. Again, I’m not sure why — the temperament folks all say it is. The logic is not flawed. But every family, every child, is different. And we had to experiment a lot to find that out. Our routine is so flexible that the Dragon has even slept in the living room a couple of times!

Though lots of my personal beliefs are pretty unconventional, I tend to follow the rules and trust the “experts” (well, in many areas) much of the time. Now I know I waited way too long to buck convention in this case. Boy, do I regret it.

Now, it’s true that the dishes don’t get done nearly as consistently as they did before. And, yes, Alan and I need to carve out other times to veg out alone and take care of the couple. And, no, I don’t get as much business-building done in the evenings as I did before. We’ve even had to engineer a massive shift in how we even think about our evenings, because the Dragon is now up with us until about 9:00 or 9:30. Before, family time was winding down by 7:30.

But he gets to sleep only a little later than he used to — without the screaming trauma. We’re having a lot more fun as a family: playing together more, taking walks, bonding, appreciating, forgiving. Our evenings feel less engineered, more natural. We’re learning to be flexible, to let activities be fluid, to move in and out of each other, not to compartmentalize life so much. There’s room for spontaneity: A few nights ago, we piled into the car way after dark and drove up the mountain to see the city lights. We would never have done that before. And we all get a lot more — and better — sleep.

And that expands our family’s cycle of happiness much more than a strict bedtime routine and fighting to get him down ever did.

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Instinct is About Everything

June 09, 2008 By: Kathy Category: coping, tips

I wholeheartedly believe in following your instincts when you parent — day, night and all points in-between.

But instinct is not just about the big decisions. It’s about all the little things, too. Things like pajamas.

It’s been pretty hot here in L.A. the last few weeks, so hot that Alan and I now kick the covers off our own bed before falling asleep. But the Dragon’s temperature always runs a little high or a little low, so when he begged to wear his flannel fireman pajamas, I relented.

Bedtime that night wasn’t horrible, but it took a long time, a lot of tossing and turning, and a lot of lullabies to get the Dragon to settle down. I kept feeling his neck, and I kept feeling low, damp heat. I kept asking if he was too hot, and he kept insisting he wasn’t. How can you not be? I thought. Your neck is clammy. But he insisted, so I did nothing.

After about 45 minutes, the Dragon started clutching at the buttons of his pajama top, clearly trying to unfasten them. I jumped into action, helping him change out of his beloved PJs and into ones more weather-appropriate. He was asleep within five minutes.

We try to give the Dragon the benefit of the doubt. He’s a smart kid, he makes lots of great choices, and he tends to recognize and vocalize what he needs quite readily. But he is still a little guy who needs guidance about appropriate decisions. And I’m still the mom who can rely on observation, experience and instinct about when to intervene in his decisions.

Instinct isn’t something to be pulled out and brushed off for the big decisions only. It should be up at all times, testing the winds, ready to move in when necessary to facilitate a better bedtime — and other life experiences.

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Returning to Normal After Sleep Interruptions

June 04, 2008 By: Kathy Category: Uncategorized

Our sleep routine during two of the last three weeks has been thrown off a bit by house guests. We love to have them here, but we can’t do bedtime exactly as it goes during “ordinary time.” We cobble together an alternate routine that works well enough on a temporary basis.

But the first night back has killed us both times. In part, I think it’s been because the Dragon has returned to his bedroom after sleeping in with us for a week. But another part, I’m sure, is missing the loved ones who he’d grown used to having in the house.

His cousin left town this morning, and he howled at bedtime — squirmed, stormed, raged, kicked, threw things at Alan for a good 45 minutes. Finally, Alan asked gently, “Do you miss your cousin?”

“Y–y–y–yeeeeessssss!” the Dragon sobbed. Then he fell quiet, allowing his upset to drain out of him. Within five minutes, he was asleep. He just needed an acknowledgment of his upset with the change, but he didn’t have the words to put to it himself. As soon as Alan voiced it, the Dragon felt heard and acknowledged and could settle in.

Granted, this was number four in a string of major departures, so it was probably worse than a one-off transition would have been. But within the last month, his friend moved away, then his teacher left his school, then his grandparents’ visit ended, then his cousin’s. We have two more major transitions to get through — change of classroom and my four-day business trip — before things settle down for a while.

Tonight, Alan and I realized that the first night after a major change should be as “baseline” as possible: the most familiar PJs, the most familiar stories, and Mama accompanying the Dragon to sleep instead of Daddy. The normalization of regular life after such excitement may feel boring but it is clearly more important than the picky details such as which adult’s “turn” it is to manage the transition to sleep.

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Self-Soothing a Developmental Task

May 25, 2008 By: Kathy Category: Uncategorized

In talking with a friend last night about our adventures with a sleep-sensitive child, I circled back once again to the mantra of many sleep books: Children are not born knowing how to self-soothe; they must learn the task in order to sleep independently.

Self-soothing is a critical skill not only at the beginning of sleep, but throughout the night: We all wake up multiple times during a period of sleep, but most of us learn how to fall back asleep quickly — so quickly that we don’t even recognize or remember that “partial wakening.” But the baby or child who doesn’t know how to self-soothe is prone to waking fully during these times and then needing the help of the parent to return to sleep.

(NB. One mistake some parents make is responding to every cry immediately, without waiting a moment or two to see if the baby settles back down on her own. When I started waiting, I realized the Dragon actually had more self-soothing skills than I realized.)

The books offer a wide range of prescriptions for how to teach your child to self-soothe, from “extinction” (i.e., cry-it-out with no parental intervention) to co-sleeping. My opinion is that the best approach for each child probably falls within this range and is largely dependent on the child’s needs, personality and environment. (Though I have yet to be convinced that extinction is the best approach for any child.) Many books also give laundry-lists of things to try within their basic approach, things like transitional objects and ambient sound.

But the conversation with my friend last night also reminded me that — like walking, talking and eating with a fork — self-soothing is a developmental task that takes some time, creativity and attunement. Simply implementing a prescribed solution may not be enough, especially for a sleep-sensitive child. When I told her that the Dragon still cries out for me when his dad tries to tuck him in, my friend — a therapist and early childhood expert — said, “It sounds like he’s just not yet convinced that his dad can soothe him as well as his mom. You need to let Alan show him that his soothing is just as good as yours.” Then, after that happens, we can work on helping the Dragon see that even he himself is capable of self-soothing.

What I left with is that, whether it’s mealtime, playtime or bedtime, when a particular function is closely associated with one person, or when the child believes that only that person can perform a certain task, it may be difficult for the child to grasp that she can take on those challenges herself. A loosening of the reins is necessary. It is definitely hard for me not to respond when the Dragon cries for me. But what’s important, I believe, is not that Mom soothes him, but that somebody does, until he is ready and able to take on that mantle himself.

This same friend once told me that “Mom” or “Mama” becomes the child’s name for the mother because “Ma” is often the earliest sound uttered in search of comfort; when the mother responds, she becomes “Ma” or some variation. So if you’re a mom whose heart aches when her baby cries “Mama!” while in someone else’s arms, you might understand it as a call for comfort. And if the child is getting it, you can release your guilt and feel good that your child is learning to widen her circle of support and comfort — to a circle that will soon include herself.

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Baby Sleep Can Be a Moving Target

May 23, 2008 By: Kathy Category: coping, tips

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t believe there’s a magic wand for children’s sleep problems. Good sleep depends on so many different factors that, especially with a “sleep-sensitive child,” it is easy to thwart it – often without even knowing it!

Compounding the problem is that what works at eight months might not work at 18 months, and that “solution” will probably be completely wrong at seven or ten or 15 years old. So not only is there no silver bullet or magic wand, but the pursuit of your child’s consistently good sleep can also feel like a moving target.

Many sleep books on the market are divided into “ages and stages” sections, which provide specific developmental norms and advice on how to help your child sleep during this period of his or her life. This way of sectioning a whole sleep solution book can be very helpful because it gives you a context for understanding where your child falls within the standard expectations. It also makes it easier to reference when you’re bleary and frustrated!

But your child’s age isn’t the only context for observing changes in his or her sleep needs. Nor is it, probably, the fastest-moving target on which to fix your awareness when dealing with sleep issues. Regardless of age, a child’s sleep is impacted by his or her developing personality, emotional and interpersonal shifts, physical changes, and life experiences, events or situations that span days, weeks or longer.

  • A simple example is that the Dragon spent his first two-plus years falling asleep to music or other ambient sound. It seemed to soothe him, and it definitely muffled other household sounds. But suddenly, at around 30 months, he asked us to turn it off: He’d rather have it quiet now. I’m thankful that he has enough language to articulate that need. If he didn’t, we might still be searching for this particular source of his frustration.
  • Another example is a recent visit from the Dragon’s grandparents. Not only was he displaced from his bedroom, his normal routine was interrupted by lots of excitement and naptimes that seemed to fall off-schedule each day. We had to adapt our typical evening, watching our son more closely than usual for sleep cues and building more calm-down time into the bedtime routine. Now that our houseguests are gone, things are relatively back to normal.
  • A final example is the Dragon’s fear of monsters, which started around two years and peaked at 28 months. For a while, our bedtime routine included a ritual to scare the monsters away and help our son feel protected through the night.* After about six months, his need for the ritual faded out.

The “moving target” concept of children’s sleep may be one reason parents of sleep-sensitive children can feel so frustrated. Just as one routine seems to be working, something happens – sometimes we don’t even know what it is – to throw a wrench in the sleep pattern again. We feel like we’re starting over at square one.

My premise here is that awareness of the child’s changing needs – not just over months or years but even from day to day – can mean the difference between whole-family sleep deprivation and a better (if not perfect) bedtime. If a child is sleep-sensitive, one off-the-shelf solution may not work forever. As I’ve mentioned, the books have a lot of great information. But our job with “nighttime parenting,” as Dr. Sears calls it, is to be consistently attuned to our children so that our responses ebb and flow with their sleep needs.

This suggestion does not preclude the consistency that’s so important in many of the popular books: Look back at our responses in the three situations I described above. We didn’t change the basic approach. We pruned and adapted as the Dragon’s needs changed – and we’ll continue to do so – but we didn’t throw out the entire bedtime routine and make up something brand-new. And sometimes the need for change is more subtle: Something suddenly shifts, and we have to observe more closely, make adjustments, try again. When we do, the Dragon’s sleep almost always improves once again.

*Some professionals advise parents to simply tell children that monsters don’t exist, but I believe in meeting the child where he or she is. Perhaps there are not literally monsters, but something feels scary to the child, and using “monster spray” and a “monster whacker,” as we have done, gives some power back to the child and validates his experience that something frightening lurks in his midst.

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Magic Wand for Baby Sleep

May 14, 2008 By: Kathy Category: coping, Infants, Solutions, tips, Toddlers

For a long time, it felt like I was looking for a magic wand — the one, solitary change we would make that would finally, and for good, make our child drift off quickly and peacefully, and sleep deeply all night long.

It took more than two years for me to realize that such a thing doesn’t exist, at least not for our baby.

It’s true that some children might actually just need an adjustment to the environment or some tweaking of the schedule to reliably bring about good sleep. But our son is so sensitive to change, environment and other factors that this hope has seemed to vanish into thin air, after we thought we glimpsed it quickly, dozens upon dozens of times.

We’ve had to change our expectations dramatically. We spent a long time listening to advice and reading books about how to change our child’s sleep habits for good. The books and advice were not bad — in fact, they had lots of information and insight that we rely on today to shape bedtime and nighttime better. But the full off-the-shelf solutions weren’t for us.

What we realized was that there was no single thing that was keeping the Dragon awake. Yes, there were logistical issues, such as thirst and temperature. There were also scheduling issues: Feeding him dinner earlier and learning to read his sleep cues were especially helpful steps. Making sure he got enough outside time throughout the day also turned out to be very important. Many other things, seemingly small turns in behavior — from putting him in the same pajamas every night to recognizing that a certain story ramped his energy up — contributed to a better night’s sleep.

What’s more, with each passing month, it seems, there is another new sleep obstacle to attend to. Recently, it’s been monsters; we’ve devised ways to help him deal with his fears. (The game Go Away, Monster has been especially helpful!) We tried to help him learn to self-soothe so we could leave before he fell asleep (and there are several excellent books that tell you how to do so), but his attention was so attuned to us, his reaction to our departure so panicked, that we couldn’t go there.

So we started to understand that we must remain attuned to this child, that there was no silver bullet, no magic wand that put him to sleep. We understand and accept now that we can’t just settle the Dragon into bed, kiss him goodnight and leave. We have to help him ease into sleep, at least while he’s still young. The transition is too alarming for him to make on his own. He needs accompaniment and reassurance for his fall into unconsciousness.

I don’t know whether this is because he suffered a trauma at birth that separated him from Alan and me, or simply because the sleep sensitivity is inherent in his personality. It’s probably a combination of the two. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

But since we’ve acknowledged and accepted that trait in him, bedtime has seemed easier for everyone. The Dragon feels more able to ask for what he needs: a retelling of his day, a pat on the back, socks. I don’t take these as manipulation; I take them as the small adjustments we all need to move from wakefulness to sleep. And he falls asleep faster and usually awakens only once now, to stumble into our room and sleep out the rest of the night between Alan and me. Considering where we’ve been — at 16 months, he was still waking ten times a night — this feels like a very, very good place to be.

My bedtime dread, too, has slowly diminished over the last few months. As a result, I’m now much better able to stay connected to the Dragon throughout the evening. We can have fun playing games and reading books all the way up to bedtime. My temper no longer flares at the first sign of his struggle to sleep. I’m able to maintain my own sense of calm and that certainly helps him feel more supported as he works his way into sleep.

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Falling Asleep Not Always Peaceful

May 11, 2008 By: Kathy Category: coping, Toddlers

When I put the Dragon down for nap or bedtime, he often spends a lot of time arranging himself on the bed, collecting the stuffed animals he needs, getting a drink of water, turning and tossing and turning some more, trying to find the right spot.

This all seemed logical to me from the get-go: I do similar things when I first get into bed as well. I adjust the pillows, straighten out my t-shirt, maybe jump up again for a quick drink of water or to make sure the back door is locked. So I’ve been pretty tolerant of the Dragon’s adjustment needs overall. Going to sleep is a transition, and transitions take time and attending-to.

But the Dragon does a couple other things that, for a long time, drove me batty. First, he whispers to himself. It’s a kind of under-the-breath whisper, fast and rambling, and I can’t usually tell what he’s saying. Second, he doesn’t just toss and turn; he actually kicks his feet against the bed and wall repeatedly.

I used to get mad. I used to say sternly — sometimes through clenched teeth, sometimes louder than polite — “Stop kicking! Stop talking! Keep quiet! Keep still! Close! Your! Eyes! Go! To! Sleep!

This tactic definitely quieted and stilled our child, but it didn’t help him go to sleep. He’d lie there in the semi-dark, eyes wide and shamed, while I stabbed myself with guilt. A wide gulf lay between us. After ten, 20, 60 more minutes, he’d finally drift off. I’d sneak away and come running back in guilt the next time I heard him cry out.

One night, after it was Alan’s turn to manage bedtime, he emerged from our son’s room contented and kind of amused. “I just let him kick,” he said. “He just needed to kick. He must have had some extra energy.”

It seemed to obvious, then. Of course. He wasn’t kicking the walls or mumbling under his breath to stay awake. He was doing it to process his day, to move the unspent energy through his body so he could settle into sleep much better. He was actually trying to comply with my wishes but got confused and hurt when I wouldn’t let him.

I’m trying to find a study I once came across that said introverts tend to need more time to fall asleep than extraverts. As I recall, it’s because introverts get their energy internally, so lights-out in the bedroom doesn’t automatically lead to lights-out in the brain. I can see this in the Dragon: He’s not completely introverted, but enough so that this may be the case with him. And it’s not the only reason he has trouble sleeping, but perhaps one of the clues to our struggle over the last 2 1/2 years.

If anyone has seen this study, please send me the link! Thanks.

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Breathe Deep to Cope with Kids Not Sleeping

May 08, 2008 By: Kathy Category: coping

Our toddler has had trouble sleeping since he was born.

Though his struggle isn’t fully resolved, it’s a good sight better than it was six months ago, a year ago, two years ago.

Nevertheless, some nights are still so difficult that it takes all my emotional reserves just to get through bedtime.

These are the nights that I do deep breathing.

Inhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) … Exhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) … Inhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) … Exhale ( 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) …

And so on. It helps me relax, remember what’s important and quiet my energy.

There’s a wonderful, if small, study by Dr. Sears that suggests that babies sync their breathing to their mothers’. After I read it, I started paying attention to what happened to our child’s breath when I remembered to breathe deep during frustrating nights.

It was true! It was especially noticeable when the Dragon was younger, the most dramatic example being when he first came home from NICU. At night, we put him in a bouncy-seat next to our bed, but his breathing was ragged and labored and kept everyone awake. As soon as we brought him into bed with us, his breath evened out and quieted down.

But I even notice it now, if more on an energetic level than a physical one. When I’m agitated, the Dragon’s energy is equally wired. The more wired he gets, the more anxious I get. I snap at him and treat him harshly; he fragments a bit and gets needier. It’s like he’s searching for the thing I’m supposed to be giving him but can’t in that moment.

It’s hard to change course in the middle of a dynamic like this, when we’re both attached to our anger and frustration. Deep breathing makes it much easier. It’s hard to be agitated, upset or short with someone you love when you’re inhaling slowly, exhaling slowly, inhaling slowly, exhaling slowly. (Though a cautionary note: Deep breathing can easily slide into heavy breathing that communicates anger. Awareness is important!)

Without a word (or perhaps with one or two to soothe both of us back into alignment), deepening my breath turns the tide of the evening. It might take just as long for the Dragon to fall asleep as it would have with all the agita. But at least, when he does, he’s drifting off on a feeling of being connected and supported, not one of anger and isolation.

And I’m able to enjoy the rest of the evening without guilt, regret or the need to “come down” from another frustrating bedtime.

(Photo credit)

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