EARLY BEDTIMES

If I could write a book about early bedtimes, I would. They are underrated and so important for our children. I never understood the value of them until I had my daughter. We struggled a lot with short naps, nap transitions, and early mornings. I was diligent about putting her to bed early on days when we were struggling with sleep, and I got a lot of pushback for it, which I was honestly surprised by. But early bedtimes saved us. It saved us from having a child that was overtired and from inviting new sleep problems into our life. To date, early bedtimes are the #1 thing that my clients are sometimes hesitant about. So, I decided to write a blog post to explain why early bedtimes work, when they are helpful, and why they are important. 

1.    Keeping your child awake for longer stretches does not mean a better night’s sleep. I hear it all the time from parents, and it is a big myth about sleep. Sleep begets sleep. A child who is well-rested during the day will sleep better at night. Keeping your child awake for long periods will only raise their cortisol levels and make it harder for them to fall asleep at night and stay asleep. One of my very first clients was a mom of a toddler who was “wild” at bedtime and struggling with early mornings. The remedy? Put him to bed an hour earlier. And guess what? He went to sleep without a fight, and he slept even later than usual. 

2.    An earlier bedtime does not mean your child will wake up earlier. I promise you. The better rested they are at night the later they will sleep. If you are struggling with early morning wakings, try putting your child to bed earlier. Even 15 minutes can make a huge difference. You will be surprised by the results. 

3.    Early bedtimes will get you through nap transitions. If your child is going through a nap transition, more likely than not, there are days where he/she skips a nap and is awake for long periods. The #1 thing I recommend to my clients during nap transitions are early bedtimes (as early as 5:30 pm sometimes). It will prevent your child from being too overtired and will prevent any night wakings from occurring during the nap transition. 

4.    Did you know that the most restorative sleep occurs before midnight? That is another big reason I am pro early bedtimes. I would rather a child sleep from 7-7 instead of 9-9. Why? The most restorative sleep occurs before midnight, so the more sleep they can get before midnight, the better. 

If you are struggling with early mornings, nap transitions, or a child who seems overtired at bedtime, I encourage you to try an earlier bedtime. Even bumping up bedtime by 15 minutes can be a huge help, and it will help your child make up some of that sleep debt.  

ALL ABOUT NAP TRANSITIONS

I get a lot of questions about nap transitions, and often clients come to me because they are struggling during a transition. Some babies and toddlers make the transition to fewer naps easily, and others do not. Transitions can be tough, so if you are struggling, just know that it is normal! Each day may be different for awhile during nap transitions, which can be hard on some families. Know that it will pass and you will soon fall into a new and more predictable schedule. 

3-2 transition: This usually happens at eight months. Babies either refuse the third catnap of the day or start extending/pushing back their first two naps and the third nap gets kicked out. If this starts happening, I usually recommend waiting 10-14 days to make sure they are truly making the transition. There may be days where they take the third nap and days where they do not. Sometimes it can take a few weeks to kick that third nap out fully. Don’t rush it. If your child’s second nap ends before 2:30 pm, I would suggest offering a third nap. If they do not take it, compensate with an early bedtime (as early as 5:30 pm). If they do take it, cut off their third nap by 5 pm to preserve bedtime. If your child’s second nap goes past 2:30 pm, I would offer a bedtime roughly 2.5-3 hours after their second nap ends. 

2-1 transition: The average age for the 2-1 nap transition is between 12-18 months, with the average being 15 months. If your child is 12 months and skipping his/her second nap, please keep in mind there is a “nap fake out” around this age, and it often passes. I do not recommend making the switch until your child has had at least 14 days of nap refusals. So what does the transition look like? Your child is likely napping at 9 am and 1 pm. They will either start to refuse the morning nap altogether, pulling the second nap earlier in the day. Or, they will extend the first nap and naturally kick the second nap out. As with all transitions, there may be days with one nap and days with two. Be patient and know that it is only a few weeks until the transition is usually complete. The ideal nap time for a child on one nap is 12:30/1 pm. You may not get there immediately, and that’s ok! Try pushing the nap closer to this time each day, even if you can only move it by 10 or 15 minutes each day. 

1-0 transition: Toddlers drop their nap anywhere between the ages of 3-5. On the days your child does not nap, I recommend early bedtimes (I’m talking 5/5:30 pm). I encourage you not to give up that “nap time” even when your child shows signs that they are dropping their last nap. Turn that nap time into quiet time, where they can play or rest quietly in their room. If they sleep, great! If they don’t, that’s okay too. Just because they are not napping does not mean they do not need to rest (or that you don’t need a break), and turning their nap time into quiet time is beneficial for them. Toddler clocks are a great tool to use for nap time/quiet time and can help them understand that they should stay in their room for the entire duration of quiet time. I recommend at least an hour of rest time each day. Stick with it and remember to do an early bedtime when your child skips that nap.

FIVE SLEEP TIPS FOR TRAVELING

By the time my daughter was two, we had taken 21 flights with her. Yes, you heard that right. I get asked all the time by friends and clients for travel tips, so here they are! 

1.    When possible, give your child their own sleeping space. We will often opt for a less expensive hotel or an Airbnb so that we can get a suite or a two bedroom apartment when we travel. Another great thing about Airbnb’s is that you can have your own kitchen, which makes life with babies and toddlers so much easier, and it’s a great way to save on eating out.

2.    Make the sleep environment as familiar as possible. Whatever your child typically sleeps with, bring it. Make the room as dark and quiet as possible, and bring your white noise machine. This is also when having a bedtime routine comes in handy because it’s a great way to cue your child that it’s time to sleep even though they are not in their typical environment. 

3.    Time change. If you are traveling for just a few days, you may find it easier to keep your child on their regular schedule and time zone. You can do this by making the room as dark as possible to prevent sunlight from creeping in. They make travel blackout curtains, but foil and tape work great too. Just ask my parents and in-laws about all the times we have foiled their windows! If your trip is longer than a week, avoiding the time change will be much harder to do. Your child will start to adjust to the new time due to the sunlight. Let them adjust as best as you can and try and go with the flow. When you return home, try to wake them up at their normal time or put them to bed at their normal time. Avoid letting them take extra-long naps when they get home so that they can go to bed at their usual time. They may be overtired for a few days, but they will get back on track. The more time you can spend outside in the sun, the quicker they will adjust. On average, it takes about one day per hour to adjust to the new time zone. 

4.    Avoid old habits. If you’ve recently stopped feeding at night, avoid the temptation to feed if your child wakes up while traveling. If sleep gets off track go back to your original routine as soon as you get home. Avoid bringing new habits home with you! 

5.    Do your best and relax. Sleep may not be as great as it is at home, but that’s okay. Your child will get back on track, and all is not lost. If you need to do stroller naps while you’re out and about, that’s ok. Do the best you can and remember if it’s a bad nap day you can always compensate with an earlier bedtime. Most of all, enjoy your trip and make great memories!  

EARLY MORNING WAKINGS

Nap struggles and early wakings are some of the most common issues I see in babies and toddlers. What is an early morning waking? Generally, I consider anything before 6 am an early morning wake up. If your baby is consistently waking up early, here are some things you can try. 

1.    Sleep environment. Is it dark enough? Is there a white noise machine? If your child’s room is not dark enough, they will often rise with the sun. Try blackout shades and make it as dark as possible. If you do not have a white noise machine, consider getting one! For us, it is essential. I get up pretty early every day, so I can work before my daughter gets up (and also enjoy a little quiet time), and if we did not have a white noise machine I know she would be more likely to hear me! 

2.    Bedtime is too late. This is a big culprit. As your baby gets older, bedtime should be earlier. I know that it is counterintuitive, but I see this all the time. A child that’s going to bed at 8:30 pm and waking up at 5:30 am. If your child is going to bed past 7:30 pm, consider an earlier bedtime (especially if you have a toddler on one or no naps). I know you probably think that they will wake up earlier, but this is often not the case. More often than not they will either sleep later or, wake up at the same time. If they still wake up early, let them catch up on sleep and continue to put them to bed early. 

3.    Your child is overtired. Also a big culprit! If your child isn’t napping well during the day or going to bed too late, consider a shift in your child’s schedule or an earlier bedtime. An overtired baby is less likely to sleep well. 

4.    How are you responding at 5 am? In the same way that our responses matter with short naps (see previous blog post), our responses matter with early wakeups. If your child is getting up at 5 am, and you are responding to them immediately and then letting them “wake up” for the day (e.g., letting them play or eat), consider trying to leave them for a bit. They will either go back to sleep, or they will learn that they need to play in their crib for a bit. Either way, it should eventually give you a little extra time in the morning. 

5.    OK to wake clock. If you have a toddler who is struggling with an early morning wake-up, consider getting a toddler clock. The ok to wake clocks work by showing a green light when it’s time to wake up and a red light when it’s time to be sleeping. You can set them for naps and bedtime. The best way to do this if your child is waking up early is to set the clock to turn green when they are normally waking up. Get them excited about following the clock. Then, once they are waking up to the green light, slowly start setting it ahead by 15 minutes every few days until you reach the desired time. 

6.    Developmental milestones/teething. I used to blame all of my daughter’s sleep problems on teething! Teething does not account for as much as you’d think. However, developmental milestones and teething can account for someearly morning wakings. If your schedule is appropriate, you are doing early bedtimes, and not responding immediately to your child’s 5 am call, there could be some developmental milestones he or she is working on or a new tooth popping through. Whenever babies are working on something new (crawling, walking, talking), it can temporarily affect sleep. My best advice is to stay consistent and do what you can to help them stay on a good schedule and not get overtired. It will pass! 

SHORT NAPS AND HOW TO FIX THEM

Short naps seem fitting for my first blog post because my daughter was the queen of short naps. I mean, truly, the queen. If you are reading this because your child is struggling with short naps, you are not alone. I will preface this by saying that naps are hard. They are often much harder to fix than night sleep, but that does not mean that it’s impossible or that all hope is lost. Below are some things to consider or try if your child is struggling with short naps. 

1.    Is your schedule age appropriate? If your child started taking short naps all of a sudden, it may be their way of showing signs they are ready for a nap transition. For example, if your 8-month-old starts taking short naps, that may mean they are ready for two naps instead of three. I usually see the 3-2 nap transition around 8 months and the 2-1 nap transition around 15 months. If your child is taking short naps and around the age of a nap transition, consider a schedule change.

2.    Nap at the right times. Make sure that you are watching your child’s sleepy cues and not letting them get overtired during the day. If you are putting them down too early or late for a nap, it could affect how long they sleep as well as the quality of sleep. For babies on three naps, I recommend nap #1 around 8:30/9 am, nap #2 around 12-1 pm, and a shorter cat nap in the afternoon. For babies on a two nap schedule, I recommend 9 am and 1 pm (naps could be as late as 10 am and 2 pm). And for toddlers on a one nap schedule, I recommend 12:30/1 pm.

3.    Don’t go in the second they wake up. This is a big one. If your child is waking up after 30 minutes and you are going in their room immediately, I encourage you to give them a few minutes to see if they can settle back to sleep. Often, if we offer a child some time to transition into the next sleep cycle, they will surprise us by going back to sleep. Give them a chance to practice their self-soothing skills and lengthen those naps. 

4.    Sleep environment. Is it conducive to sleep? Is it dark? Is it quiet? Consider blackout curtains and a white noise machine. 

5.    Patience and consistency. Be patient, and know that eventually, naps will get better. Be consistent with your baby’s schedule. Create a conducive sleep environment. And have a little faith! 

If you are struggling with short naps and need help getting your baby on an age-appropriate schedule, please contact me. I would be happy to help you.