I have noticed that there’s an aspect of our babies’ sleep that goes unnoticed and is extremely important nonetheless. Without it our floors would shake, our children would be extremely bored and the fine line between reality and fantasy would blend to the point of becoming inseparable. I am talking about the conspicuous yet critical lack of OUR sleep. Without rested parents, where will the babies of the world be?
Throughout the past six months, apart from learning how to be a mother I have been working on living without the same quantity of sleep I got before. I now understand we are men of habits but that doesn’t expunge the fact that I have been tired for the majority of the days of the past six months. So, apart from researching about healthy baby sleeping habits, I have been evaluating about how to be a healthy rested mommy.
I found an amazing post on lifehacker called “Use Science to Get Better Sleep (And Need Less)” which I definitely recommend reading. But the gist of it is as follows: . In order for us to optimize our sleeping habits we need to track our sleep and find our perfect bedtime. We also need to build good sleep habits, get the sleep we need when our bodies need it and fine-tune our environment to sleep better. I am, beyond doubt, applying what I read in this post in order to make the most of the 5 to 6 hours I do get to sleep. What about you? How do you make the most of your sleeping time?
So, after a month of sleeping through the night, Noah decided to wake back up, two to three times per night. Sometimes gabbling, sometimes crying, but always very well awake. He used to go to sleep by himself at bedtime but was not able to soothe himself back to sleep at these middle-of-the-night awakenings. Which is why I immersed myself yet again in the bottomless pit of the Cry-It-Out method studies. I was ecstatic when I found a new study that gives the green light for parents applying the Cry-It-Out Method: an apparently harmless way to teach them to sleep and recover our sleep independence.
Lead by Weinraub, an expert on child development, the study found a couple of very interesting things not taken into consideration in other studies. It appears that the majority of babies that awoke in the middle of the night were boys, who also had a tendency to have a difficult temperament. The findings of the study include (1) the possibility that genetic factors implicated early sleep problems (2) the need for babies to learn how to self-soothe, critical for creating healthy sleeping habits and (3) the likelihood that prenatal depression may affect neural development and sleep awakenings. It is important to note that Weinraub comments: “Families who are seeing sleep problems persist past 18 months should seek advice.”
Of the three important findings, only the second one resonated with my personal experience but I’m sure there are many parents out there trying to find solutions to their baby’s sleeping problems and I hope this study lightens up their findings. I do believe that the most important finding of the study is that we should resist the urge to comfort our babies when crying at night, (for babies over 6 months old). After we gave Noah the opportunity to self-soothe in the middle of the night, without entering his room and giving him a pat or his pacifier, he discovered he could do it on his own. For the past 4 days at least…
It turns out that catnaps, commonly called “Power Naps,” are great for us. For babies? Not so much. A short nap for babies reduces feelings of sleepiness but doesn’t offer the physical and mental nourishment that a longer nap grants.
After much effort, Noah became a pro when it comes to falling asleep on his own on bedtime. The naps are still the problem. Sometimes he falls asleep without crying, sometimes he cries for 6 minutes, sometimes for 30 and sometimes he just doesn’t want to go to sleep. And worse, he sleeps for 40 minutes and wakes up like he recharged his batteries. Right? Wrong. Two minutes outside his crib and he starts crying all over again. Our pediatrician told us that some babies sleep less and some more, but I know that Noah needs at least an hour and half of nap time, twice a day, for him to be himself; the Noah that smiles and talks, not cries.
My mother got me Elizabeth Pantley “the no-cry nap solution” as a gift. I couldn’t figure out if the “no-cry” solution was either for Noah or me. In her book, Pantley gives various solutions to different nap problems, one of them being “Making Short Naps Longer”.
Pantley argues that most catnappers suffer from what is called the OCSS (One Cycle-Sleep Syndrome). These babies can’t put themselves back to sleep on their own so they finish their nap at the end of the first cycle. (A baby’s full sleep cycle ranges from 40 to 60 minutes).
She asks us to think about what would happen if we fell asleep in our room and woke up on the kitchen floor. Would you be able to fall back asleep?, she asks. (Me? No doubt, I could sleep while walking if I wanted to). Well, this is what happens to a baby who is aided to sleep and wakes up in the coldness of his crib, all alone.
She believes that the key for many short nappers, who are mostly between 2 and 8 months old, is to “identify the differences in conditions between falling asleep and waking between cycles”. She also believes that a one-cycle nap is not always a problem. If your baby is a natural catnapper, he will wake up happy after a short nap, stay cheerful until the next one and go to sleep easily at naptime.
Pantley asks us to make sure that our babies have the optimal conditions to fall soundly asleep: Keep the environment dark and add with white noise or a recording of relaxing music, build a more comfortable bed, check wet diapers, temperature, dress him in comfy pajamas. And very important: Interpret correctly signs of tiredness. If you put him down when he is too tired or not tired at all, it can mess up Nap time.
Solutions? Intervene before the cycle-change awakening: put baby down for a nap. About 5 to 10 minutes before the usual wake up time go into the room and gently touch or pat baby for about 10 minutes to prevent him from fully awakening. If baby’s naps are not always consistent, wait until baby stirs and then use whatever technique helps him to fall back to sleep. She believes that after a week or so of this intervention, baby should be taking a much longer sleep without help from you. You can also try these adorable ways to help babies sleep and see if they help!
Anyone out there knows what to do with those (oh-so-sweet) mini catnappers?
Regardless of my Cuban descent, I learned about circadian rhythms after my baby boy was born. I kept hearing these two words over and over again during gathering of friends and not necessarily in the same context as being on a beach and drinking a cocktail while listening to a bongo-band.
It seemed that my friends, all of those who had baby sleeping problems, meaning all of my friends who had babies, hold circadian rhythms to blame for their lack of sleep during their baby’s first months.
You see, circadian rhythms are biological cycles that repeat every 24-hour or so and control a variety of biological process such as sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, and hormone release. It is easier for us to fall asleep when our body temperature and levels of adrenal hormones are low and to wake up when these are high.
One of these hormones is melatonin, the one that makes us feel drowsy. Located just on top of our optic nerves, our body’s biological clock receives information about incoming light and sends it to our brains. When there is little light –at night, for example- our brains receive the order to produce more melatonin in order for us to feel drowsy and fall asleep.
Another interesting fact is that our body temperature, when we awake, starts rising. At the end of the day, when we fall asleep, it falls. This means that when our body temperature is high, our bodies are more awake.
The circadian rhythms of babies may take up to a year to be fully developed. At this time they wake up every 3 to 4 hours and have disrupted sleeping patterns. For 80% of all babies, it may begin to regulate by 4 months of age, when they start sleeping 8 to 12 hour stretches.
You can’t fight circadian rhythms. However, you can help your baby create healthy sleeping patterns by opening the blinds during the day and allowing the light to come in so her circadian rhythm may set early on. I also followed my doctor’s advice to maintain Noah’s room temperature between 65 and 70F, the optimal range for him to balance his body temperature and fall asleep easier. When we did this, Noah began skipping his 4-5am feeding! While helping your baby create healthy sleeping habits, try not to encourage bad habits such as holding him while falling asleep. It will be another habit to crack later on.
Do you know of any other way we could help our babies create healthy sleeping habits? I would love to hear them!
Day Three of Ferberizing our child: Hell on Earth.
What can I say besides that at that moment I thought Noah hated me for leaving him alone in his crib every time he had to nap, he hated napping, his room and our whole house. I had to take him out of his crib on two consecutive naps after one hour of crying because he still did not want to fall asleep on his own.
I began feeling like a failure. Then I thought the “Cry it out” method was a fiasco and juggled the idea of putting an end to all this madness. A firm believer of the benefits of sleeping, I even felt it was too much crying, for both of us, and that he would learn to sleep eventually. However, I only had to remember his tiredness and the importance of naps to calm myself down.
Did you know that a NASA study found that naps gave military pilots and astronauts a boost in mental keenness; improved working memory, performance and sharpness. Not enough?
Naps help babies recover from a bad night’s sleep.
Naps increase learning capacity. A tired baby looses concentration. A well-rested child uses his time awake to learn.
A nap improves brain development. When babies sleep, their little brains convert new information into memories, thus leaving more space for more learning. Because babies are able to absorb more information, naps also increase their attention span.
Naps also provide the time for their bodies to release growth hormones and repair bones, tissues and muscles.
Naps turn that little monster throwing tantrums back into your adorable sweet angel. This is because when babies nap, they release cortisol, a stress marker, avoiding a build up of uncontrollable levels of unpleasant behavior. A rested baby is a happy baby, and behind every happy baby, there is a happier mom.
Quick summary: Noah had been sleeping from 11pm to 4-5am for the past month, with the exception of two days before Day One when he began skipping the 4-5am feeding. That’s how we realized he was ready to pull an all-nighter.
The problem is not the night sleep. He falls asleep during feeding and doesn’t wake up when we put him in his crib. He can’t fall asleep on his own during naptime. He cries desperately before each nap because he is too tired to fall asleep on his own. I know, some people say we should leave it at that, if he sleeps so well at night, then why force it? As I wrote in my previous post, I’m positive that learning to self-soothe is a skill that will help him in the long run. Better sooner than later we say.
If for the past two days Noah woke up at 8:00 am, on the first day of his ferberization he decided to wake up again at 5:40am. At first, in a zombie-like manner, I did as I had been doing for the past months: I went into his room, took him out of his crib and rocked him to sleep. When I realized my lethargic self had betrayed me, I put him down in his crib drowsy but awake. When I left the room, at 6:15am, he began to cry. We each went in at 5min, 7min and 10min intervals until we felt that maybe it was because he was hungry. He had been asking to eat at 8am, but maybe, we thought, that day he was hungry before. So at 7:00am we gave in. Forty-five minutes of suffering is enough.
That’s the thing about sleep training methods: we are so confused and so affected by our baby’s cry that we doubt everything. Are we doing it the right way? Are we a failure for feeding him? Is it hunger? Is he super tired? Does he hate us for doing this?
Have you felt this while sleep training your child?