Never Wake a Sleeping Baby?

We've all heard the phrase a million times "never wake a sleeping baby". People are usually very surprised then, when they tell me their saga of sleepless nights or napless days and my recommendation includes the unthinkable- waking their sleeping baby. I wanted to take some time to highlight a few different situations where waking a baby is ok, even necessary. After reading this, I urge you take a look at the whole picture and add the words "except to preserve the next sleep time" on to the end of that well known phrase.

1. Wake a baby sleeping in after 7:30am. Children's biological wake times vary, but the norm is somewhere between 5:30 and 7:00am. Waking any earlier than 5:30am causes the child to lose out on restorative night time sleep. On the other end of the spectrum, sleeping in after 7:30am also causes your child to lose important sleep at biologically appropriate naptimes. For example, let's say your child is 10 months old and napping twice per day. The optimal times for those naps to begin are around 9am and 1pm. In order for a child to be ready to nap by 9am, they have to be awake in the 7 o'clock at the latest. So to make sure your child's naps are on track for the day, make sure to begin your day no later than 7:30am.

2. Napping after 4pm. Along the same lines as above, napping after 4pm (for children on 2 naps or 1 nap per day) will encroach upon night time sleep. If your child naps too late into the afternoon, they will not be tired by an appropriate bedtime and will miss out on some important night time sleep. Of course there is always an exception for sick children. They should get all the sleep they can while their bodies need extra rest.

3. The dreaded car nap. I understand people have lives and napping in cribs is not always an option, but you should try to make it a priority. When a child sleeps in a car, or other moving device, they are unable to fall into the deep restorative stages of sleep. All thought they are sleeping, they are not getting the full sleep that they need and will not wake up refreshed. I hear time and time again that children fall asleep for 5 or 10 minutes in the car on the way home from activities and then cannot sleep at naptime. Inevitably, they will be grumpy in the evening and have a hard time sleeping that night as their brain will have released cortisol to combat to tiredness. Therefore, if you can help it, try to keep your children awake in the car and wait until home to get sleep in safe, non-moving environment,

Ditching the Pacifier

We all have those cute little names for a pacifier- paci, binkie, nookie, soothie, the list goes on and on. While pacifiers are great when they do their job of calming a crying baby; they are not so great when you have to wean the child off of them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies use pacifiers for the first six months as it reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The pacifier encourages the baby to suck which naturally keeps the child inhaling and exhaling while they are sleeping. After six months, the risk of SIDS is very low and the pacifier is no longer required.

So how and when do you go about ditching the paci? Six months is actually a good time to do so. Your baby is probably getting in to his or her sleep groove and beginning to develop solid self soothing methods. Taking away the pacifier now will allow them to learn how to calm themselves on their own. While it might be a rough few days, many babies adjust extremely quickly. They are still small enough to be picked up and rocked and you can give them some extra snuggles during the transition.

If your child is around 9 months, now is not the right time to wean off the pacifier. By this age, your baby is probably very attached to his or her pacifier. 9 months is when children experience one of the biggest, if not the single biggest, bout of separation anxiety. They are learning that they are a separate being from their parents. Your baby may get anxious and cry when you leave the room or whine and purposely annoy you if they do not have your full attention. Because they are going through this major separation milestone, you should not take away something that will bring them a source of comfort at this time.

Once the separation anxiety fades until about 16 months is another good opportunity to lose the pacifier. This will be harder than weaning a baby because your child is older, more aware, and likely more vocal. However, this is also the age where they are more understanding and can be calmed by your words fairly easily.

Around 18 months is another emotional milestone- the desire for independence. Your child is making the transition into full blown toddlerhood and seeking self sufficiency. However, along with the independence comes the longing to continue soothing themselves in the manner they have been. And if that's with a pacifier, they will be more determined than ever to keep it that way. Taking away their soothing mechanism at this age will prolong this emotional stage.

Try to find a time when your child seems content and is not going through any milestones. The best method is to take the pacifier away cold turkey. If your child knows there is even a chance they can get it back, it will be a very long, exhausting process full of games and bribes. Do yourself a favor and actually remove the pacis from the house when you decide to. You don't want to be dumpster diving in your kitchen at 2am when you're too tired to deal with it. Once the first night or two are over, it should get better from there. The younger you wean off the pacifier, the easier it will be.



Early to Bed, Late to Rise

One of the most common child sleep issues I hear about is children who take too long to fall asleep at naptime and/or bedtime. Parents usually report their child is playing, talking, or yelling in their bed instead of sleeping. To try and curb this, many parents move the child's bedtime later assuming they are not yet tired. However, I actually urge you to do the opposite: move bedtime earlier.

When a child is awake too long, they get overtired and their brain releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the opposite of melatonin. It's job is to keep us awake. People often refer to it as a "second wind". Once the cortisol has been released, the brain and body physically cannot fall asleep.

For example, if your child has an 8pm bedtime, but is regularly playing or screaming in bed until 9pm or later, chances are bedtime is too late. Your child is probably tired by 7 or 7:30pm when melatonin is being released in their brain. However,  if they are not put to bed at that time, cortisol is released to counteract the melatonin and keep their body awake longer. Then when you attempt to put them to bed at 8pm, they cannot calm themselves down to sleep. By moving bedtime earlier, you will catch that melatonin release, or sleep wave, and your child will have a much easier time falling asleep as his body is telling him to do so.

Another negative aspect to the cortisol release is that it is long lasting; so a child who is put to bed too late is more likely to wake during to night and wake up too early in the morning. If they are going to bed at a biologically appropriate time, there is a much better chance they will be sleeping through the night until a decent morning wake time (6-7:30am).

This same rule applies for naps. If your child seems to be fighting going to sleep for naps, it is very likely that their naps are simply occurring at times that do not coincide with their natural melatonin release. For children on two naps a day, they should begin within a half hour of 9am and 1pm. For children on one nap a day, it should begin between 12pm and 1pm.