Adapted from Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler and Preschooler (Wiley) by Ann Douglas*
Sleep is a lot like sex. If you’re not getting as much as you’d like, it can become an obsession. Suddenly, all you can think about is when you last had it, how great it felt, and what you can do to get some again. And it’s not just new parents fantasizing about scoring more shut-eye: there are toddlers’ night terrors to deal with, and sleepless anxiety over when your teen is going to come home. If you consider that moms and dads can lose up to 400 hours of sleep per parent by the end of baby’s first year alone, it’s a wonder that most parents are even functioning!
Barely, that is. Consider that losing just one night of sleep causes a 30 per cent decline in cognitive performance. Two nights and you’re down 60 per cent. Other effects of too few zzzs: no energy, less patience, mood swings and some serious tension between you and your partner. “There were nights that I hated my husband, when I had to get up and he could stay in bed, drooling and snoring into his pillow,” recalls Amanda, 24-year-old mom of two-year-old Jace. Before you file divorce papers, try these sleep solutions to help the whole family get more rest.
Your baby’s popping up more often than a horror-flick villain
Sleep solution If your baby is a newborn, being hungry in the night is perfectly normal. Even at six months and beyond, when many babies start sleeping for a five-hour stretch or more at night, she may wake up for a feed whenever she’s going through a growth spurt. Encourage night sleeping by ensuring that she’s getting naps and enough to eat during the day, maintaining a regular, soothing bedtime routine and choosing an absorbent diaper brand, as well as warm sleepwear free of scratchy tags and lace. Talk to your family doctor —and supportive friends who have been there—if problems persist.
Your wee one is up with the birds every morning
Sleep solution Believe it or not, babies and even older children who wake up as early as 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. are generally overtired. Try shifting baby’s bedtime so it falls a little earlier in the evening, and he might sleep in longer in the morning. (I know, it’s counterintuitive, but it works.) Then toast the dawn with non-alcoholic champagne and orange juice the first day she sleeps past 6:00 a.m.—a decent sleep—in time for a baby. Other triggers of early-morning waking may include noises, separation anxiety, teething or illnesses like ear infections.
Your once fabulous sleeper is now up crying once or twice a night
Sleep solution This is fairly common in older babies. She’s figured out that the two of you are separate human beings, but for her, out of sight means gone forever. So she wants to check that you’re still there. Separation anxiety may also coincide with any major change in baby’s life, e.g., a new daycare provider or Dad or Mom re-entering the workforce. Minimize anxiety by keeping her with you as much as possible when you are home, encouraging attachment to a toy or blanket and responding to her in the night— whether verbally (“It’s okay. Daddy’s here, but it’s sleepy time for Kellie”) or physically (walking into your baby’s room so that she can see you).
Your crib-liberated toddler is playing nighttime explorer
Sleep solution Decide whether or not having him hop into your bed is a major deal for you, because these visits could become a repeat performance. “Think midnight raves in your bedroom when your child learns he is free to roam the house at all hours,” says Dani, a 36-year-old mother of two. Soothe him when he comes into your room and guide him back to his own bed with minimal fuss. Or try sleeping in his room instead of yours. Let your toddler know that wandering around the house is dangerous. Use baby gates and other safety devices.
Your child is having regular nightmares or night terrors
Sleep solution First of all, know that many preschoolers’ parents are still regularly awakened in the night by their child. But nightmares and night terrors affect older kids, too. If it’s a night terror, she’ll still be asleep, even though her eyes may be wide open. Your presence is barely registered, and the terror isn’t remembered. Hold and reassure her, even if you’re not sure she can hear you. If your child wakes up frightened from a scary dream, explain that the dream wasn’t real. In the morning, get her to rewrite the ending. “Luke told us of a monster in his closet,” says Jennifer, a 38-year-old mother of three. “We decided the monster didn’t like being laughed at. Saying, ‘Ha ha’ would keep him away.”
Your kid has more excuses to delay bedtime than any other child on the planet
Sleep solution Help him understand that everyone needs sleep to feel their best the following day. Also, avoid sugary, caffeinated drinks, such as chocolate milk, and any high-energy play after dinner. Give your child advance warning that bedtime is coming or let a cheap alarm clock be the bad guy. Don’t ask him if he’s ready to go to bed, just let him choose his pajamas. After a regular 20-minute pre-bed routine of reading or quiet talk, settle him in for the night.
Your tween is wired at bedtime – literally
Sleep solution You may want to consider pulling the plug on the TV, games or im at least an hour before bedtime (and limiting total screen time to no more than two hours a day). If all her favourite electronic gadgets are in her bedroom, find them a new home. And while you’re at it, take the TV out of your bedroom, too. You’ll be more credible and may reap significant dividends, too. Less TV time means more nookie time, right?
Your teen doesn’t have time for sleep (or so he claims)
Sleep solution While it’s wonderful to have a jam-packed schedule, remind your teen that sleep is required for fuel. Otherwise, he risks performing under par at the track meet or chucking a bottle of ketchup at the next demanding customer in his line at Freddy’s French Fry Emporium. Another point to raise: according to the U.S National Sleep Foundation, 55 per cent of accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel involve drivers under 25.
You’re so exhausted and afraid of being woken up again that you can’t sleep
Sleep solution Consider a relaxing bedtime routine for you, too. Dump all your worries into a journal and jot down tomorrow’s to-do list so that you won’t lie in bed trying to remember them. Skip excessive alcohol and caffeine—no matter how much you deserve them—and choose your bedtime strategically. If your child’s longest stretch of nighttime sleep is between 8:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., rethink your 11 p.m. lights-out habit.
You and your partner bicker all night long about who’s on duty
Sleep solution Some midnight wake-up calls are inevitable, so decide who’s on duty before you hit the hay and then stick to the plan. And if your partner’s on duty, don’t intervene unless asked. “The off-duty parent should wear earplugs,” says Cathy, a 38-year-old mother of one. Rather than keeping a mental score card, think of your parental energy as a pooled asset. That way you’ll see each other’s naps and breaks as something that’s good for you both. This fresh perspective should lead to less tossing and turning and, as the chill begins to leave the bedroom, some very good nights for you both.