If I’m to think of the biggest culprit for throwing out a child’s sleep schedule, or the Achilles Heel of sleep training .. it is without question, overtiredness.
Children – just like us – come to develop a natural daily rhythm for sleep. The human body releases hormones on a constant cycle to ensure we are running at optimum capacity throughout the day, and are well primed for rest and recuperation during the night. Ensuring this cycle of hormone production runs as required relies on a number of things – however timing is by far this most important.
So, what happens when your child stays awake past the time the body has started to release hormones to prepare for sleep? Well, the brain then decides there must be a good reason for still being awake (right?!) and begins to then release hormones to support this wakeful state.
That moment right there is where the trouble start.
Once the body begins releasing hormones that support alertness it then becomes very hard for your little one to relax and settle into sleep. So then with sleep still not arriving, more of these stimulating hormones are released and the vicious cycle repeats over and over.
The best way to prevent this state of overtiredness is to have your child ready and settled in bed before that widow of opportunity has past. Easier said than done, right?!
Babies – particularly newborns – can often be quite cryptic with their tired signs, so knowing what to look out for can work wonders for success with bedtime. Some key signs to look out for include
· Tugging at their ears
· Rubbing their eyes and nose
· Arching their back
· Turning their face into your chest
All of these signs can also be taken as signs that your baby may be hungry, so it’s important to consider your baby’s feeding schedule when you notice they are starting to display a few of these behaviours. Both breastfed and formula fed babies can manage 2-3 hours in between feedings. When it comes to sleep, on the other hand, a newborn can usually handle only about an hour of awake time in one stretch.
So if your bay has fed within the hour and they’re starting to show some of the signs above, it’s a good idea to try for a nap or bedtime before you offer another feed.
Of course, as they grow older they will begin to manage longer and longer wake periods, but even toddlers should only be awake from around two and a half to three hours at a time. So be aware of your child’s sleep schedule and err on the side of more – not less – sleep time.
While we’re on the subject of toddlers, they too have their own quirky little behaviours when they become overtired. If you have missed that golden window of opportunity, the release of hormones supporting alertness can cause your toddler to become quite manic – which often looks like a very giggly and playful kiddo (the complete opposite of what you would expect to see in a child who needs to go down for bed). You’ll see before long, though, that this mood most often takes a sudden turn to crankiness and all of a sudden you’re met with the ‘battle of bedtime’.
I know that watching the time and setting a sleep schedule can seem quite rigid for parents who aren’t used to the idea. After all, and hour of awake time leaves barely any time for play once you’ve given your bub a feed and changes their nappy. However, I can assure you with complete confidence that no client I have ever worked with has come back to me with the complaint that their child is ‘getting too much sleep.
So, give it a try! Be consistent with a schedule for 2 – 3 weeks and see how it works. I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll notice a change for the better in your child.