Tuesday Tip: Sleep Questions Answered by a Pediatric Sleep Consultant

This week’s #TuesdayTip includes an interview with Michelle Winters, who answers a few sleep questions. Michelle is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant trained by Kim West, aka The Sleep Lady, as well as the International Maternity Institute.  She enjoys working with parents to create a gentle, respectful plan to help their children get the sleep they need so everyone in the family can be happy and healthy. If you have more questions, you can reach Michelle at Sleep Well Sleep Solutions.


Questions and Answers 


1.  In the book “Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, Druckerman mentioned that French babies start sleeping through the night VERY early on. She said babies wake up (and cry) at the end of their sleep cycle, which is part of how they learn to connect the cycles. Therefore, French parents take a “pause” which means waiting five minutes to let the baby fall back asleep on his/her own. Do you agree with this?


I do agree that babies wake up at the end of their sleep cycles. In fact, we all do.  The difficulty comes at bedtime when babies do not know how to fall asleep on their own. They will likely need assistance falling asleep when they switch through sleep cycles. One of the issues with this is that young babies do need to eat at night, so I am not sure how young parents are doing this.  I would also be interested in knowing what happens if the baby does not fall asleep at the end of that 5 minute pause.  One caveat – sometimes babies who are helped to sleep at bedtime do start sleeping on their own at night, as my daughter did. So if your baby is sleeping all night and you are nursing or rocking them to sleep, I am not saying you need to stop that.


 2. How would you tell a first-time, expectant parent to plan for having a baby? 


First, I would say get as much rest as you can now!  The idea that having trouble sleeping when you are pregnant prepares you for being sleepless when you have the baby just isn’t true.  Nothing but getting extra sleep when you can, really prepares you for not getting good sleep.  Also, when you first have the baby, do what you need to in order to get sleep and enjoy time with your baby.  Don’t worry about laundry or cleaning the house.  Try to spend the first 6 – 8 weeks mostly bonding with the baby and trying to rest when you can.  Do try to help your baby get the sleep they need, when they need it.  So do not think keeping them up and not allowing them to nap during the day will make for a better night’s sleep.  However, when they are awake during the day, make sure lights are on and depending on the weather, see if you can get them outside for a bit during the day.  This will help them start to differentiate night and day.


3. What’s the best advice you give parents who have a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night or night and day?


I want parents to know that overtired children sleep worse than those children who are well rested.  So, if your baby is taking short naps, one likely cause is that they were overtired when being put down.  Push those naps closer together.  If you are waiting for your child to show signs, you may be waiting too long. Some babies are very good at hiding those sleepy cues (yawning, rubbing eyes or ears, etc) until it is too late.

As for not sleeping through the night, there are several factors to think about.  If you help your child fall asleep at night by rocking, nursing, bottle feeding or some other way, then when your child has a partial wakeup during the night, they may likely need your help putting them back to sleep.  If your child is getting fed at night, then, even if they are at an age where they may not technically need the calories, their bodies are used to getting those calories and they will continue waking.  And, if your child is not napping enough during the day, or if bedtime is too late, they may be waking because they are overtired.  So, make sure bedtime is not too late, push those naps closer together, work on coaching your child at bedtime to start falling asleep on their own, and remove the feedings (if their pediatrician agrees).  There are many different ways to accomplish these goals, so pick a way that works with your parenting philosophies, the temperament of your child, and what you feel will work with your situation.


4. What do you advise parents whose toddler or older child is waking up and coming into their room?


Some of this advice is the same as a baby waking during the night.  Make sure of the following: the child is napping during the day if they are still at an age when they should be napping (up until 3 – 4 years on average), bedtime is not too late, and the child knows how to fall asleep on his/her own at bedtime.  If the parents are generally okay with the child coming into the room, I have some clients who will create a small bed on the floor for the child.  The rule is that the child can come into the room and sleep there, but they cannot wake the parents.  If they wake the parents, the child has to go back to his/her room.  This way if the child is really scared or just needing to be near someone in the middle of the night, he/she gets what he/she needs without disrupting the parents’ sleep. If this doesn’t work, or the parents would rather not do this, then I like using “Sleep Manner Charts” to show the children exactly what behavior is expected of them.


5. Are there things parents can do to ensure a better nights sleep for their child?


The biggest thing is not letting the child get overtired.  Overtired children sleep worse, unfortunately.  Also, never make bedtime a punishment. Try to make it as calm and relaxing of an experience as you can.  Even if you are dreading it or are stressed, try not to show that to your children as they will pick up on it and associate bedtime or sleep with negative feelings.


6. How do you get your baby to develop good sleep habits?


Start by having a calm, relaxing bedtime routine to start the process off on a good note.  Try dimming the lights and turning off electronics about an hour before bed.  Try not to let your baby get overtired.  Try working on having your child fall asleep in whatever they will sleep in at night.  So if they sleep in a crib, work on having them fall asleep in the crib at bedtime so they know where they are when they wake during the night.


7. How do you plan for the pesky daylight savings time?


Daylight savings time was so much easier before we had kids, wasn’t it?!  With younger children, I like doing a gradual change, starting a few weeks before the change.  Start changing your child’s bedtime and naptimes by 10 – 15 minutes every 2 days.  For older kids, I often just do the change right away.  For example, for my 8 and 10 year olds, I just changed the time on the day.  We didn’t do the gradual change this time.


8. Do you think it’s OK for a child to sleep in his/her parent’s bed? If not, how would you advise parents to stop it?


As long as everyone is getting the sleep they need to be happy and healthy, I believe pretty much any sleeping arrangement is okay.  If parents or child are not getting the sleep they need, or one parent does not like co-sleeping, then I like to use a gentle approach to move the child to his/her own room.  I like to encourage spending time in the child’s room during the day so it becomes a comfortable, safe place to be, and then I normally have the parents sleep in the child’s room for the first few nights of the transition.


Thank you, Michelle, for your tips and expertise!! I know my kids (and Husband) like me TONS more when I’m well-rested.


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