Being Prepared for Sleep Disruptions
Whether your child’s sleep schedule is disrupted by the spring time change or by a new baby, here a some suggestions to get everyone back to bed.
The idea of sleep and the lack thereof has been on my mind lately since I’m expecting two new babies in the house by April. If you have ever been responsible for a newborn in your home, even if only for a few days at a time, you know what I’m thinking.
Then, bam! A bundle of joy takes away your zzz’s and you never again forget the priceless value of a good night of slumber. Add to that if you have older children in the home when the newborn comes, and the bigger kiddos fall out of the good sleep habits you tried so hard to instill in them. Now the whole house is sleep deprived!
But you know, newborns aren’t the only causes of sleep disruptions within the family. Seemingly innocent events such as switching to Daylight Saving Time, children beginning to share a room, or that exciting spring break vacation can also put a dent in our families’ sleep cycles if we are not prepared.
I spoke with Tara Hess, a Tulsa-based certified Gentle Sleep Coach and founder of Tulsa Pediatric Sleep Consulting, about how we can protect our sleep schedules when one-time and short-term events threaten to get our kids and ourselves off track.
On Bringing Home Baby
We already know that parents of a newborn will lose sleep. It is a given, which you can only mediate by adhering to long-established advice like “sleep when the baby is sleeping” and “ask for help from family and friends” during those first exhausting months while your baby establishes a sleep schedule.
Let’s focus on this situation from your other children’s perspectives, particularly big brothers and sisters ages 4 and younger. For them, Hess says the introduction of a new child into the family routine is similar to disruptions caused by moving to a new home or illness.
“Most children will experience some regression which will vary depending on their temperament,” Hess explained.
When Hess’s second daughter was born, her first was about 3 years old, and it took her a few months to adjust to the new household dynamics.
“She sometimes had tantrums when she hardly did before,” Hess said.
Suddenly, toddlers and pre-kindergarten children may go back to babyish ways. These big brothers and sisters may have trouble getting themselves back to sleep if awakened by the baby’s crying or other noise.
When you hear the pitter-patter of young feet during that midnight feeding, Hess advises that you simply walk your older child back to his bed, and explain why the baby is up. For instance, say, “Your baby sister is awake because she needs to be fed. Newborn babies need to wake up in the night to eat sometimes, but soon she will learn how to sleep through the night like you.”
Hess also reminds us that how we interact with our older children during the day affects how they sleep at night.
“Set aside time during the day to spend with them one on one,” she said. “If they feel like they’re not getting that time during the day, they’ll seek it out at night.”
Small Children Sharing a Room
At some point, you may want or need your children to share a room, but if possible, Hess recommends that babies be able to sleep through the night before moving in with an older child. Otherwise, expect that the baby will wake up the older child. Yet, how disruptive this will be to the older child depends on temperament.
Once the siblings are in a room together, white noise and/or room dividers may help each child get a good night’s rest regardless of the sleep state of the other child. Hess also suggests establishing a soothing bedtime routine that engages all of the children. However, it is okay to have individual bedtime routines, especially if the children have different bedtimes.
Daylight Saving Time (March 11)
In the spring and summer, it may still be bright outside at your children’s bedtime. The light may beckon young ones to stay awake, but you’re the boss. Switch bedtime forward automatically according to the clock.
“Most children will have a few days when they will wake up early,” Hess said. “Usually after a few days of being consistent, they will get back on track.”
Long Vacations (Spring Break)
Everyone in your home may be looking for a break from the daily norm, but when on vacation, try to keep key routines such as eating and sleeping consistent with what you do at home.
“Having a routine is comforting to children. Routines help them feel like they have some control over the day,” Hess said.
She recommends bringing the favorite bedtime stories, “lovies,” or other sleep aides your children use at home on vacation with you, and getting them tucked in at their usual bedtime. She reminds us that this rule applies to weekends, too.
“Don’t get too far off of the normal sleep schedule, by more than 30 minutes to one hour,” Hess said. “Any more is enough to get some kids off track.”
So next time life throws your family a curveball — or a bouncing baby — remember these tips. Until then, sleep tight.