Thursday, May 10, 2012

straight talk for shut-eye

ask just about any parent (novice or veteran) what’s on their mind and you’re likely to hear the same answer over and over: sleep!  even expectant parents have sleep on the brain - along with anxiety, terror, and denial - after well meaning friends and relatives have warned them for months about the long road of unrelenting sleeplessness that lies ahead of them once their little bundle arrives.  one of the cruelest jokes of parenthood has got to be the persistent and defeatist declaration that sleep deprivation is a “rite of passage.”

ha!  the reality is, poor sleep habits are not a given…unless you make them so.  the reality is, many families suffer sleepless nights for months (or even years) and the toll it takes on children and parents is no laughing matter.  many parents believe that adequate sleep for themselves and their children is negotiable, a “nice to have.”  my response?  are eating, shelter, education or medical care  “nice to haves?”  of course not!  and neither is sleep.  babies and children need sound, restorative sleep and are happier, healthier, and more able to learn when they can do so successfully.  the important thing for families to understand is that sleep problems, while very common, don’t have to happen.  

so here’s what you can do now to start creating healthy sleep habits for your children:

  • start early: take a prenatal class on newborn sleep.  hire a sleep consultant once your baby is born.  as soon as you possibly can, start preparing and setting the stage for your child’s sleep health before poor habits take hold.  tackling sleep hygiene early is the most important step in avoiding sleep problems later.

  • rule out feeding &/or health concerns: many sleep challenges will resolve naturally once adequate daily nutritional requirements for growth are met during daytime hours and once any underlying health concerns are identified and treated appropriately (e.g., reflux, gerd, protein sensitivities, allergies, apnea, pyloric stenosis, etc.).

  • set an early bedtime: the best time to put your child to bed is sometime between 6-8pm.  

  • sleep in the same place every night: this lets them know they are safe and in an environment where sleep is expected of them.  

  • create a predictable bedtime routine: repetition and predictability are what let your child know that he or she will soon be expected to fall asleep.  

  • put your child to bed awake!:  it’s only by letting them fall asleep without your help at bedtime that children can learn the skills necessary to stay asleep through the night.  

  • be patient: if your child wakes up during the night wait a few minutes before intervening.  many babies and young children can figure out how to get back to sleep on their own when given appropriate time and space to do so.  

so there you have it.  no more excuses.  go get some rest!

~ elizabeth is a professional sleep consultant, certified lactation counselor (clc), and licensed clinical social worker (lcsw).  through her private consulting practice at sleep parenting solutions, pc, she helps parents across the country get their families the sleep everyone needs.  through her role as co-founder and managing director of the association of professional sleep consultants (apsc) she helps connect the international sleep community with education and resources.  she lives in denver with her well-rested family.  you can also find her on facebook and twitter.

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