A parents' resource to research-based information on parenting

How quickly they crumble…and how I may need a vacation after my vacation April 1, 2012

Filed under: Sleep — theinvestigatingparent @ 5:35 pm
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I have personally had one of each – one child who was a trouble sleeper from the beginning, and one child who was a dream sleeper from the beginning – not to mention my clinical experience. But I really didn’t expect my perfect sleeper to deteriorate so quickly from traveling and disrupting her routine for a mere 4 days (and counting).
We arrived in Orlando, FL well past bedtime after a day of traveling, the baby had 1 skipped nap, had 1 very short cat nap, and a very late bedtime. Research (and my clinical and personal experience) shows that overtired children make for wake ups at night. Generally I can deal with that by the next night, but we started out all in one little hotel room. [As an aside, we were assured there were balconies, so our plan was to sit out on the balcony until my husband and I were ready for bed. My new question will be how deep are the balconies? They were maximum 1.5 feet deep, so I don’t even understand the point in them, except so the hotel can claim they have balconies. Needless to say, my husband and I spent a few disappointed hours “hanging out” in the bathroom.] So in an effort to save my 3 year old from being woken up by the 8 month old, I responded to every little cry the baby had by picking her up and shushing her, and even nursing a few extra times than I normally would have. Needless to say she was not quite herself the next morning having her sleep so disrupted. Given the late bedtime, they both – wait for it – woke up AN HOUR EARLIER THAN USUAL. A lot of parents (clients and friends) tell me that they try to keep their children up later in the hopes they won’t get up so early – it doesn’t usually work and I’m afraid this will have the opposite result. The evidence has shown that once the child is overtired, they will usually not only wake up earlier, but likely begin to wake up throughout the night.
My response to this is usually to put them to bed an hour earlier. One or two nights of that, and ridigly ensuring naps, usually takes care of the fallout – this is a clinical recommendation from the research and works every time. However, did I mention we’re in Orlando? We did Disney’s Magic Kingdom the next day, the baby had one really good nap but skipped the next ones, and although we had intended to be back in time to put them to bed early, it ended up being late. We did arrange to be moved to a suite while we were gone. We thought we would put the kids to bed in the bedroom, and then transfer them out into the living room area when we were ready for bed. Anyway, when we got back from Disney none of our luggage was there. Once we finally got it and got the kids bathed and ready for bed it was once again, quite late. We didn’t want to disturb the kids, so we thought we’d try it another night and keep them in there with us. Did you guess what happened? Well my 3 year old must have the sleep fairy on his side, because he was always the trouble sleeper, and he is doing not bad. Don’t get me wrong – he’s sleeping through the night – but he’s waking up an hour earlier than usual, and you can TELL in his behaviour (see one of my earlier posts on ADHD mis diagnosis). My 8 month old, good little sleeper, woke up so many times I didn’t count and couldn’t remember. I think I maybe slept 45 minutes consecutively, and then they were up again an hour earlier than usual.
All of this really shouldn’t be a shock to me, I  know the research, I’ve written a book (coming in September), I counsel parents in talks and clinically, yet I still made the same rookie mistakes. Last night when my husband and I went to bed, we moved the baby into the living room area, so my husband, myself, the 3 year old, and of course the baby too, could get a better night’s sleep. I still went into the room more than I would have if we were at home to comfort and check on her, but there was a definite improvement over the previous nights. Tonight I will have to resist even more. It’s hard. My little girl is so very perfect, and so infrequently cries that it’s really hard to just let her cry. But let me paint you a picture –  for those of you who think it’s horrible to let a baby cry and not provide comfort. My perfect little girl is normally so happy and smiley that people continuously come up to us to interact with her. She is just a joy to be around. The past few days, since I have begun to comfort her at night, her sleep has gotten more and more fragmented and interrupted, naps are ridiculously difficult for her, she is barely smiling, looks a bit like a zombie, cuddling into me at the pool earlier today like she wanted to sleep right in the water, eyes completely red rimmed, miserable and crying off and on throughout the day. This is the complete crumbling of a wonderful baby within only a few short days. It made me think about how many parents in the interest of attachment and being afraid to let their children cry, ended up causing their children more harm than good? I don’t like to hear my baby cry, but I have argued before and I argue now – it is MY need to comfort her that is affected the most rather than her need to be comforted. Her need is sleep, and she is so tired she cries. She doesn’t know any better, but I do, and I know – because I believe in the evidence and I thankfully also have the clinical experience – that it’s a small price to sacrifice on my end for the short run of hearing her cry, when in the long run she will be a well rested and happy baby that no longer really cries at night.

Mis-diagnosed ADHD or Sleep Disorder? March 12, 2012

Did you know that the symptoms of sleeplessness are so alike those of Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), that many children have lost their diagnosis of ADHD simply by having their sleep treated? For example, tantrums, hyperactivity, inattention, and other daytime problem behaviours are common symptoms of sleep loss in children (well, adults too for that matter – we just know how to control ourselves better), and also symptoms of ADHD. In fact, sleep researchers put out a call to Pediatricians in a well known journal in 2011 to encourage them to question parents about their child’s sleep habits before giving a potential mis-diagnosis of ADHD. If your child, or anyone you know has a child who has been labeled with ADHD – take a look at their sleep habits before resorting to other treatment. Are their sleep needs being met? Do they seem tired or groggy when they get up in the morning? Are they showing signs of being tired long before their regular bedtime?

Could you imagine your child being labeled with ADHD and medicated, on an IEP at school, having many behavioural problems, when all along it was due to a sleeping problem? This is not to say that all cases of ADHD are not real cases of ADHD, but it’s significant enough that it’s worth a second investigation.

My son is a little more flexible with his sleep now that he’s getting a little older, but still has his moments. If he got to stay up really late because of a holiday or a family get together, my husband and I always know we are going to pay for it later. Last summer his cousins came out to the lake to visit us one day, and they were having so much fun together we let him stay up until 9:30 (bedtime was usually 7). The next few days were filled with CRAZY tantrums every time he didn’t get something he wanted, or didn’t want to do something. Needless to say, he went to bed early several nights in a row, and all was fixed within a week. But imagine what his behaviour could have been like had we let him stay up past his bedtime night after night? If I didn’t know what his sleep needs were, that could very well have been our life. And I wouldn’t have known what to do with him or how to cope, and it’s very easy to see how that would spiral into a case of ADHD when I took that complaint to the Pediatrician. Because I have been so diligent with my son’s sleep needs, when he starts to behave that way I know he either needs to go to bed early at night, or he has a possible ear infection (that’s another story).



Getting them to stay in bed once they’re in there! February 28, 2012

Filed under: Sleep,Uncategorized — theinvestigatingparent @ 2:24 pm
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When my son was 18 months he started to absolutely hate his crib. My husband and I decided to get him a bed so bedtime and sleep didn’t become this awful place for him. The first night we put him in the bed I was terrified! I imagined that he’d be running out of the room continuously and I had a plan ready in case. To my amazement, he stayed in bed and continued to go to bed pretty much perfectly. A lot of parents aren’t so lucky, and I’ve certainly seen my fair share of that in my work! In the sleep seminar I gave a few weeks ago, one of the common problems that came up was “how do I get him to stay in bed once I say good night?” There are 3 components to this answer:

1. It’s so important to make sure kids are in bed at their optimal sleep time. Remember that sleep experts indicate the optimal bed time for young children is between 6-8 pm, with 8 pm being on the late side. (For more on this topic see my previous post on Feb. 17 called “sleep needs for children.” If your child is up past his or her optimal sleep time, you’re likely to see an overtired child pulling out all the stops and not going to sleep properly at bedtime. I can always tell with my son when it’s just a little past his sleep window as he asks for everything under the sun at bedtime “I need another cuddle,” “drink of water,” “just want to tell you something,” “I’m hungry”… When I get him to bed on time, he’s an angel and there’s not a peep.

2. Be prepared by the door and give as little attention to him or her as possible. Particularly if you are trying a new sleep routine or moving from a crib to a bed, be prepared to hang out outside your  child’s bedroom until he or she stops coming out. As much as we like to blame our little rug rats for their behaviour, I’m sorry to say, but the majority of  child bedtime problems are well-meaning parental attention maintained. So have a little camp out by your child’s door, with your book or laptop and a glass of wine (as necessary of course!), so that you can nip the fun out of their bud. With as little attention as possible, walk him back to bed, put him in therand leave the room, and close the door. If you need to say something, keep it simple – e.g., “it’s bedtime, I love you, good night.” The first time you may need to repeat this several times (or 65), but don’t worry, be consistent and it will pay off soon.

3. Did I mention be consistent? This is THE most important tool in your toolbox. Kids are smart little cookies and they know when mom and dad are going to give in and exactly which buttons to press. Don’t underestimate them! Stick to your guns. Don’t bring them to bed with you, read 12 more stories, allow 4 more glasses of water…. Have a set routine and stick to it and they will believeyou when you say “it’s bedtime, I love you, now go to sleep.”



Sleep needs for children February 17, 2012

Filed under: Sleep — theinvestigatingparent @ 12:48 pm
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Thanks to everyone who came out for the free seminar in honor of Psychology month on Wednesday “Getting your child to sleep and stay asleep.” It almost felt like a support group! Everyone had such common concerns, and I think most parents who have difficult sleepers probably do. I know it would have made me fee better when my son was a baby, to know there were so many other parents with similar experiences. For some reason, whenever I complained other parents would say to me “oh really? My baby has been sleeping through the night since she was 6 weeks old!” I have finally come to the conclusion that most of those parents were fibbing at least a little bit.  Since I started telling people I’ve been investigating sleep and writing a “how-to” book for parents, people have been coming out of the woodworks with the same problems!

Probably the most important thing parents should know and learn to figure out in their own child is what the sleep needs are. Sleep experts indicate that on average (so some need more and some need less) children 3 and under need around 13 hours of sleep per day (including naps), and from 3-18 it’s around 9-10 hours. Further, optimal bedtimes are between 6-8 pm, with 8 being on the late side for young kids. Just by getting your kid to bed and to sleep at the right time can lengthen their sleep and reduce nightly wake ups. My kids are currently both in bed by 6 pm. It’s early, but they are ready, already getting cranky, my 3 year old is starting to misbehave, etc. and then they sleep a solid 13 hours. If my 3 year old goes to bed at 7, he’s just not quite himself the next day, wakes up at the same time in the am if not earlier, and only ends up with 11-12 hours. And then I pay for it all day. So if you can, take a look at getting your children to bed a little earlier, and all sleep a little easier for it.

I’m considering opening up another seminar in April if there is enough interest, so please send your requests through the contact page!



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