Alright, let me just start off here by saying, honestly and sincerely, no judgment for what might have gone down in the last month or so.

I know... I’m a child sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to chastise you for the late bedtimes, unenforced rules, inconsistent schedules, or any of the many “inadvisables” that may have taken place over the school holidays.

But I get it. I really do. You want to squeeze every minute of joy and togetherness you can from these glorious days. So keeping a consistent bedtime or bedtime routine may not have been a priority during the holidays.

So no matter what might have happened over the school holidays, all is forgiven. The mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get back to sleep at a reasonable hour the day before they head back to school.

So I hope you’ll keep reading without fear of any finger wagging or talk of what you should have done differently. I promise you, it’s not in here.

Set a bedtime and stick to it

So first things first. What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7 and 8pm at night.

They’re even more surprised when I tell them that I suggest they keep that bedtime until their child is about 12 years old.

There are two reasons why I think kids should be in bed, and by that I mean sleeping, by 8pm at night.

First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night. An extra hour or two on top of that is never a bad thing, but you obviously have to make those adjustments based on your own observations.

Regardless, if your toddler needs to be up by 7am in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 9pm at the latest. Factor in the time it takes them to get to sleep after they get into bed, plus the inevitable request for a glass of water or a totally bogus insistence that they need to use the bathroom half an hour after you close their door, and 8pm is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.

Second, you, as a parent, and your partner if there’s one in the picture, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day. You need to be able to watch TV with swear words and sexual innuendo, to be able to eat some junk food without fear of being spotted, to just do grown-up things and to recharge those parenting batteries. It’s vital to yourrelationship with your partner and with your kids.

Alright, so now that we know when to put our kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.

Don’t leave it to the last minute

Hopefully you’re reading this while there’s still a couple of weeks before school gets back in, because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little.

If they’ve been going to bed at around 9pm for the better part of their holidays, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.

Establish a bedtime routine

If you had an effective bedtime routine before the school holidays threw everything into upheaval, then try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.

On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life. When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier. I seriously can’t recommend bedtime routines highly enough.

Use a timer

Of course, things like baths and stories are super fun, so there is a tendency for your toddler to try and negotiate for more time in the tub, or one more story. If you find yourself constantly having to play sheriff, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule, and as silly as it may sound, takes the blame off of you and puts it on the timer. Mom can be reasoned with, but the timer is downright unwavering.

Turn of those screens

Along with the slack enforcement of bedtimes during the school holidays, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding TV, video games, or otherwise staring at screens in the hours leading up to bedtime. After all, there’s no homework to be done, so maybe we can allow a little leeway for an extra episode of a favourite TV show.

The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light.

If they’ve been going to bed at around 9pm for the better part of their holidays, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means. ht, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn in.)

If they’ve been going to bed at around 9pm for the better part of their holidays, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.

Turn to the dark side

And while we’re on the subject of light,  the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is... y’know, actual sunlight. If you wish your child to sleep past the time when the sun comes up (or go to bed that night a little earlier and before the sun goes down), then I highly recommend investing in some good black-out blinds.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. There is a decent range of black-out blinds you can purchase on Amazon which are reasonably priced. Whichever way you choose to do it, get that sunlight out of the bedroom. It’ll make a world of difference, I promise you.

One final thing to add here: Having experienced some leniency regarding bedtime can suddenly transform your child into an astoundingly sharp lawyer. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days and, potentially, the next eight or ten years. Luckily, parenting is not a democracy. It is a glorious dictatorship where “Her Highness, the Mama,” makes all the rules. Don’t give in to the pressure, because as I said earlier, this 8pm bedtime is going to be in place for several years. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their holidays are a special circumstance, the easier this whole bedtime thing will be for you and for them.

So there it is, folks! I promise you that, no matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep. They’ll be:

1. happier;

2. more socially outgoing; and

3. ready to learn.

1 Jennifer L. Vriend, PhD Fiona D. Davidson, MA Penny V. Corkum, PhD Benjamin Rusak, PhD, FRSC Christine T. Chambers, PhD Elizabeth N. McLaughlin, PhD (2013) Manipulating Sleep Duration Alters Emotional Functioning and Cognitive Performance in Children - Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 10, 1 November 2013, Pages 1058–1069, [https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033](https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jst033)

2 Mindell J, Lee C, Goh D, Leichman E, Rotella K (2017). Sleep and Social-Emotional Development in Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 46:2, 236-246, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2016.1188701

3 Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages - Gruber, Reut et al. Sleep Medicine , Volume 15 , Issue 12 , 1517 - 1525

I get asked this question a lot, and I have two answers for you.

First of all, the clinical one. If your child’s six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says you’re okay to end nighttime feeds, then go ahead and give it a shot.

But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? Because that information is readily available on about a thousand different websites. If that was all you needed to know, you’d know it already.

Chances are, what you’re really asking is, “Why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?”

Because if you’d pulled his night feeds and he just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. You’d either be in bed, enjoying eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little guy gave up night feeds, and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze!

(Don’t do that though. Moms hate that.)

So let’s discuss the real question. Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if they’re supposedly ready to give up night time feeds?

The reason is actually probably pretty simple. That’s how they get themselves to sleep. 

Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is just about the biggest sleep prop I see as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of it as a “sleep prop” because of how natural and necessary it is. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.

So if you’re still feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime, chances are, that’s where you need to make some changes. 

“But I’m not!” I can hear you saying. “I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!”

Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this fairly often. Mom is doing everything right at bedtime, BUT is still feeding baby to sleep when they wake up in the night. 

Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not that they’re hungry, or in need of calories. They’ve just managed to associate bedtime sleep with waking in the night, and if Mom’s still willing to give up some breast milk in the night, well then, so much the better!

The bad news is that you’re going to have to break this association by giving up night feeds. That’s going to mean some protesting, which won’t be fun for anyone.

But the good news is that, since your baby’s learned to sleep without props at bedtime, that means he’s already got some strong sleep skills, and the protesting should be over within a couple of nights.

So what’s the strategy for this? The same as it is for quitting just about everything else. Cold turkey. Stop tonight and don’t start again. The sooner your little one learns those skills, the sooner he’ll be sleeping through the night. That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for baby! More uninterrupted sleep means baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!

Of course, if you would like detailed guidance and support on how exactly to get your baby getting good nighttime sleep and naps, give me a call. And Let’s Get Your Little One Sleeping Well!

What is it about you having a lousy night’s sleep that makes everyone else so awful?

It seems that way, doesn’t it? You have a night of broken, interrupted, just plain lousy sleep, and the next day people around you just seem far more irritating. This covers family members, other drivers on the road, colleagues, clients etc. A challenging situation is suddenly upsetting you more than it normally would.

Researchers from the University of Arizona released a study back in 2006 which, forgive me, I just discovered last week, that showed people who were deprived of sleep over a 55 hour period had...

- An increased tendency to blame others for problems
- Reduced willingness to alleviate a conflict situation by accepting blame
- Increased aggression
- Lower willingness to behave in ways that facilitate effective social interaction

I know this might not seem like especially earth-shaking news, but it speaks to a broader point.

So let’s imagine that you and your partner are the proud parents of a new baby. Your lives are undoubtedly blessed, but let’s not kid each other; a new baby is a mammoth responsibility, and they require their parents to make countless decisions a day.

And for every decision that has to be made, you and your partner need to come to some sort of an agreement that it’s the right way to go.

What time should we put him to bed?

What do we do when she starts crying?

Are we going to breastfeed? Are we able to?

Those are all questions that need to be agreed upon and then re-evaluated if things aren’t going smoothly, and those are just 3 of an infinite number of choices you’ll make in the first few weeks alone.

And every one of them presents an opportunity for disagreement.

Now, you and your partner might have a great method of solving your disputes, and you may have already agreed on a lot of these questions before you even got pregnant, but as any parent knows, all of those decisions are up for renewal the second things start going off the rails.

So here you are, faced with all of these decisions, all of which need to be approved by you and your partner, you’re frustrated because things aren’t going smoothly to begin with, and to top it all off, your ability to recognize and respond to each other in a rational, civilized manner has been seriously compromised.

Two people forced to debate the most important decisions they’re likely to make in their lives, and they’re psychologically primed to blame one another, get angry, and less likely to play fair or accept responsibility.

Nightmare, right?

On top of that, couples who don’t get enough sleep are less likely to show gratitude towards each other, and significantly more likely to feel unappreciated, according to Amie Gordon, a doctorate candidate in social-personality psychology at UC Berkeley.

And as though that’s not enough, consider the fact that lack of sleep decreases libido, which means you won’t be having sex as often, if at all. Many of the parents I’ve worked with have told me they’ve stopped having sex altogether, since one of them is sleeping on the couch, or sleeping next to baby, and in those rare opportunities where they get the opportunity to fool around, they both say they’re too tired and just not in the mood.

Loads of couples get through this period in their lives with their partnership intact, and I’m not trying to suggest that sleep deprivation is going to be the end of your relationship. A baby who isn’t sleeping isn’t necessarily going to result in divorce, but I can say without reservation, it’s certainly not going to help.

Babies are amazing, right? I mean come on. What can possibly compare with those first few months when you and your partner stand over the crib together and look down on that precious new life that the two of you created together? It’s the most romantic experience I can envision, and it’s a period in your life that deserves to be cherished. That’s not so easy to do if you and your partner are constantly fighting with each other because neither of you are getting enough sleep.

There are so many reasons to make your little one’s sleep a priority when it comes to their well-being, but I’d ask you to take a selfish little detour for a moment and consider what it can mean for you, your partner, and your relationship. After all, if there’s one gift your kids always appreciate, it’s seeing their parents happy, united, and in love.

So before you commit to couples therapy, before you move to separate bedrooms, before you even get into one more heated argument over which route to take to daycare, try taking a week to commit to getting your little one sleeping through the night and see how you feel once you’re all getting the rest you need.

The results, I promise you, are nothing short of amazing.

References:

Kahn-Greene, E. T., Lipizzi, E. L., Conrad, A. K., Kamimori, G. H., & Killgore, W. (2006). Sleep deprivation adversely affects interpersonal responses to frustration. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(8), 1433-1443. [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.06.002](https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.06.002)

Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2014). The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict: Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(2), 168–175. [https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613488952](https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613488952)