There is perhaps no greater affront to the system than the loss of a good night’s sleep in the hazing ritual that is Freshman Parenting. It’s not for nothing that sleep deprivation is recognized the world over as an “enhanced interrogation tactic” of the highest order. And why didn’t anybody tell you that “sleeping like a baby” meant being rudely awakened every two hours?
From how to scare off monsters under the bed to getting your own monsters to stay in theirs, from feng-shui to Ferber, here are 50+ tools for helping little ones learn their ZZZs.
- Allison Pennell
How to Handle Bedtime Escape Artists
A recent study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that a free pass may be just the ticket to a sound sleep. When kids strongly opposed to bedtime (you know the ones) were put to bed with the free pass, parents reported a substantial decline in flight risk and much less crying out. Follow-up studies after three months showed sustained gains.
Sleep: By the Numbers
Infants (3-11 months)
What They Need: 14-15 hours
What They’re Getting: 12.7 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)
What They Need: 12-14 hours
What They’re Getting: 11.7 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
What They Need: 11-13 hours
What They’re Getting: 10.4 hours
School-Aged Kids (1-5th grades)
What They Need: 10-11 hours
What They’re Getting: 9.5 hours
The Case for Early Bedtimes
We know, it’s hard to stick to early bedtimes, but the consensus of current research shows that they’re key to better sleep and happier kids.Research by the National Sleep Foundation found that 69% of today’s kids aren’t sleeping enough. Just an hour less sleep a night has been shown to put the ability to concentrate on par with children two grades younger. Beyond meltdowns, less sleep is linked to attention problems, dulled memory, hyperactivity, and obesity.
Arrange Your Kid’s Bedroom for Maximum Relaxing
Keep the room dark for sleeping. The body makes melatonin at night in the dark. Light makes the body think it’s daytime.
Let a child sleep with the TV on or keep a nightlight on all night. Use one with a timer if a little bedtime light is necessary.
Use ambient sound or white noise machines if street or household noise is a problem.
Have aquariums or other moving water features in the bedroom. They might sound soothing, but they can make it hard to sleep.
Display happy family photos, accomplishments, and favorite picture’s at kids’ eye level.
Hang any negative images like sharks, tigers, monsters, war toys, evil rulers of the universe, etc.
Keep clutter to a minimum.
Let your kids have access to all their toys at once.
Source: Robyn Bentley, Feng Shui Diva.
How to Scare off Monsters
Armed with a flashlight and some magic monster repellant (eg. a spray bottle filled with water you can use for a little bedtime exorcism), you’ll have those monsters out from under the bed in no time.
How to End Musical Beds
When she gets out of bed, calmly, peacefully and lovingly put her back to bed. EVERY TIME. Kiss her, hug her, rub her back. Even sit or lie next to her until she falls back to sleep if necessary. Don’t talk much, and don’t turn on any lights. Do choose a key phrase to repeat to her a few times, such as, “It’s night-night time now. Mommy loves you. Please stay in your bed and have sweet dreams.”
Source: Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution
How to Help Him Fall Asleep (And Stay Asleep)
• Serve up a (mostly-banana) banana split for an early evening snack. The high content of potassium, magnesium and serotonin found in bananas promotes relaxation. Other good bedtime snacks: calming carbs. Try a bagel melt with cheese or some peanut butter and honey on toast.
• Teach the art of belly-breathing. At bedtime, have your kids lay down on their backs with eyes closed and tell them to take slow, deep breaths, with their belly pushing out on each intake. You can rub your hands together to heat them and place them on their bellies, a couple of inches above the belly button and then replace your hands with theirs. A couple of minutes should do the trick.
• Calgon, take my child away. A nightly bath helps set the mood.
• Try an eye pillow. It is a novelty for kids and it keeps their eyes closed long enough to fall asleep.
• Exchange back massages and head rubs. Just don’t fall asleep while getting yours.
How to Evict a Kid from the Family Bed
Pimp that room. A little redecorating will go a long way to transitioning a kid to his own room. Think: his own hand-picked cool new bed or bedding, a sign for the door, some new wall art, a special transitional object like a little silk blanket or stuffed animal.
Bedtime Rituals. Start with a week of jammies and books in his room, not yours, but let him keep sleeping with you. Next, have him set up a sleeping spot next to your bed week two (as opposed to in it).
Make your move. Set a date for the big move of one week later. Mark your calendar. Talk it up. And make sure that along with the heave-ho, you give him lots of kisses, lengthy cuddles at light’s out and return as needed for reassurance. During this transition period, welcome your kid back into your bed if he comes calling in the middle of the night.
Source: Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night
5 Short Stress-Breaks for Sleep Deprived Parents.
Rub Down. For an endorphin shot, try these pressure points: Ears. Gently tugging and rubbing your ears will relax you and clear out your sinuses. Shoulders. Deep kneading with your fingertips releases tension from tissues and gets the oxygen flowing.
Mix It Up. Studies say a change of tunes can mean a change of moods. Type in an artist or song you like at Pandora.com and listen to a free custom playlist.
Treat Yourself. Re-charge with snacks high in stress-busting antioxidants like a handful of almonds or blueberries or that ideal chill-pill, vitamin C.
Stay hydrated. When your energy is dwindling, drink a glass of water or juice.
Power Nap. It only takes 20 minutes to do the trick. Human circadian rhythms make late afternoons a more likely time to fall into deep sleep, which will leave you groggy, so better to nap just after lunch or late in the morning. Set the alarm so you don’t sleep too long.
Baby Sleep Solutions
From Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No Cry Sleep Solution.
When: Night is Day and Day is Night
Do This: To help reset her body clock, have your baby nap during the day in the main area of the house, with all the family noise and light that implies. At night, think dark and unexciting. White noise is good for newborns used to the hum of the womb, where it’s even louder than a vacuum cleaner.
When: Morning Reveille is Too Early
Do This: Black-out curtains and a white noise machine can help. If your baby is waking up still tired and cranky, treat a predawn wake-up as you would a middle of the night one and don’t get up for the day until sunrise. If they’re raring to go, sorry, but five may just be a respectable hour if you’ve been sleeping for ten hours already.
When: Baby’s Making Weird Sounds
Do This: Expect lots of grunts, whimpers, outright cries that don’t necessarily signal awakening. Wait a minute or two before you do anything. If you’re worried, check with your doctor to make sure it’s not sleep apnea.
When: Your Good Sleeper’s Gone Bad
Do This: Blame growth spurts, teething, developmental milestones. Just continue with usual bedtime routine and keep overnight interactions short and sweet. Without picking the baby up, place a comforting hand on her chest for a few minutes and make gentle rocking motions and repeat “shhhh” close to her ear.
When: The Pacifier Keeps Getting Lost
Do This: Have several spares strewn around the crib.
When: The Kid Only Wants to Sleep in the Car Seat
Do this: Create a cozy nest with a crib divider. And swaddle; a tight swaddle often stops newborns from startling themselves awake. If it’s motion he seeks, try a baby hammock, a rocking cradle, or vibrating crib accessories.
When: She’ll Only Fall Asleep While Being Held
Do this: When your baby begins to fall asleep transfer her to her crib or cradle – but keep your hands on her, pat and rub her, and even keep your face near her making a “shhhhh” sound. Babies adjust to new sleep routines, but it does take more than a day or two for this to happen.
Beyond Good Night Moon
There’s no more restful pre-bed ritual out there than storytime. Here are favorite bedtime reads from Lisa Von Drasek, children’s librarian at Bank Street College of Education. Her top ten:
1. Time For Bed, Mem Fox
2. The Sleepy Little Alphabet, Judy Sierra
3. Kiss Good Night, Amy Hest
4. Owl Babies, Martin Waddell
5. Llama Llama Red Pajama, Anna Dewdney
6. Bear Snores On, Karma Wilson
7. Once A Lullaby, B.P. Nichol
8. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, Bob Shea
9. A Visitor for Bear, Bonny Becker
10. The Going to Bed Book, Sandra Boynton
Best Baby Sleep Aides
No, we don’t mean Nyquil. Our must-have list of sleep paraphernalia:
• Security Blanket (aka silkie, blanky, lovie)
• Black-out shades (for early reveille prevention)
• White noise machine if there’s household or street noise
• Swaddling blankets for newborns or sleep sacks for older babies
• A co-sleeper (easier to manage for feedings than a bassinet; lets babies learn to sleep in their own space)
And Finally, In Defense of Crying-It-Out
Dr. Judith Owens, pediatric sleep expert and Director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, RI, weighs in:
“No matter what anyone says, there’s really no sleep training for getting babies and toddlers to fall asleep on their own that doesn’t involve some crying. A certain amount is inevitable; it’s the way non-verbal babies protest, and it’s perfectly understandable that they will do so for a few days when the regime changes.
Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain (like 99% of parenting). Sleep deprived parents aren’t at their best during the day. And keep in mind that your average two-year-old would probably also like to eat ice cream 24-7, but we as parents recognize that this is probably not a good idea, and can stand our ground on this one despite the protest.
There’s no evidence that “ferberizing” (and Dick Ferber actually hates the term) will be psychologically damaging to anybody except perhaps parents, for whom the wailing will live on. And if you start by putting the baby to sleep “drowsy but awake” from four months on, you’ll probably avoid having to do any formal sleep training at all.