Thursday, November 17th, 2011
My fellow blogger Jill Cordes recently shared that her daughter Fia is waking up at night, after nearly 20 months of sound sleeping. And as a parent who dealt with this myself not that long ago, I had a good (sympathetic!) laugh at Jill’s take on Fia’s new sleep tent. Although Jill’s family is in the middle of big transitions (like moving from the East Coast to the West Coast), what caught my eye was Fia’s current age – she’s 23 months. And the reason for that is toddlerhood is a developmental period when the biology of sleep starts to change dramatically, and as a result, sleep methods often need to be revisited. Here’s why.
When babies fall asleep, they tend to fall into the REM phase – which is the part of the sleep cycle where you can dream, but your body doesn’t move (you are zonked out). As babies turn into toddlers, they start to adapt more adult-like patterns of sleep, in which they cycle between light and deep sleep. The result is that the perfectly sleep-trained toddler (it doesn’t matter how they have been trained) starts to experience the part of the sleep cycle when they wake up out of nowhere – sometimes repeatedly. It can be very disorienting for them, particularly since they don’t have much experience in getting themselves back to sleep when they wake up from light sleep. So they do what any rational toddler would do – they cry for you. (Click here if you want to read more about kids’ sleep issues).
As Jill discussed, there are lots of other things that go on with toddlers that can mess with their sleep. In addition to life transitions, the newly independent toddler may want to rebel against sleep (amongst other things). But it’s good to keep in mind that there is some biology that is driving this, and so even though it’s discouraging when it happens, it’s not unusual. And one more thing – what worked before doesn’t necessarily work as well now. So sometimes those inclined to use Ferber find they need to modify it some as their kid gets older (not all do, of course). And some who used alternate methods sometimes gravitate more to the Ferber end of the spectrum (not all do, of course). I’m no sleep expert, but this is why my mantra is “sleep outcomes – not sleep methods – matter most” – whatever gets kids to get the amount of sleep they need is good for them and good for their parents.
So I hope things go well for Jill and Fia. I look forward to following their story. I’d like to offer some specific tips or advice, but the thing is, when I was dealing with this, we ended up throwing our hands up in the air and headed for the nearest pediatric sleep clinic. It worked wonders.
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Thursday, June 30th, 2011
In my last two posts, I presented recent evidence that, on average, kids today are getting an hour less sleep per night than prior generations, and that shortened sleep in toddlerhood leads to metabolic changes that increase fat gain and signal risk for type 2 diabetes.
The accumulation of study after study documenting sleep loss in childhood and risk for serious physical disease suggests to me that we (experts and parents alike) have been debating the wrong issue when it comes to sleep. So much emphasis is given to debating the pros and cons of the various sleep methods, I think we are all missing the big point: what really matters is not the method, but rather the outcome of getting our children enough sleep.
The reality is that there is a wide spectrum of sleep training methods — cry-it-out, co-sleeping, and nearly infinite variations that combine some elements of each. Rather than debate the finer points of these approaches, I suggest that parents try whatever methods seem to suit them and their children best, and then determine if the chosen method is getting their child the required amount of sleep (graded by age group) on a consistent basis. If it is, then a parent has found the best method for them. If it isn’t, then the method should be revisited and revised. The only thing that matters in the end is the outcome, because we are in the midst of a sleep epidemic that can be observed in toddlers, children and adolescents. And the many potential consequences of sleep deprivation do not bode well for our children’s long term health.
I remember when we used to call sleep methods “bedtime routines.” I still like this phrase — it sounds soothing and purposeful. Rather than debate sleep methods, I’d love to know what parents are doing for their children’s bedtime routines, especially if they are finding that it is getting their children enough sleep. Remember, the issue is not to critique other parents’ routines - I want to know what works in your household. The fact is that if we can get as many parents as possible to find their own ways to ensure their children are well-rested, then we can start to combat the sleep epidemic that is putting more and more children’s health in jeopardy. And, by the way, if you evaluate your own situation, and determine that your child is not getting enough sleep, I suggest you do what I did when my then 2-year-old daughter rebelled and resisted sleep (night after night and then week after week) — I sought out the expertise of a sleep clinic, which worked wonders (and was covered by insurance)!
Image by Arvind Balaraman via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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