Guiding children

raising children with love and respect

Sleep and rest

A good nights sleep

Life is all about balance. Balance between physical and mental activity, the nutritional food to fill up on the energy needed – and the time to rest.
We need our breaks, to relax and re-energize, to reflect and process our experiences.

First of all – sleeping patterns are reflections of our well being. To sleep well you need to eat healthily, exercise regularly,  get out into the sunlight every day and get yourselves some routines that’s working for you. We’ll come back to this.

Sleep deprivation of new born parents
A good nights sleep, however, is not possible as a parent to a newborn baby. Just give up the idea at once, and give in to parenthood. From now on, we will have to do our best, help each other out, and try to stay upright even when we can’t see straight. Because the baby needs us, it needs breastfeeding and comfort, bellymassages maybe for a tummy ache and maybe some burping too.
But we need to care for ourselves too, whenever we see a possibility to do so. It’s really important to sleep while we can, not to loose it completely (see the posts on post-partum depression). Learn to value the few hours sleep in a row that you might get, realizing 2 hours is still better than none. Then go back to sleep when the baby does, so you get another few hours. Take turns with your partner on the night duties if possible, or ask a good friend or maybe your own parents to help out sometimes. Also allow yourselves a power nap when the baby sleeps during the day. We tend to try and be super humans, doing all the chores we think we should, when the baby sleeps, when really we should be sleeping too. Washing can probably wait a while. Lower all of your standards. This is not the time to redecorate or learn cooking. This is really the time for fast food, sandwiches and quick-fixes. This is not the time for major socializing. This is family-time. There will be time for friends and relatives of your choice, as long as they keep it quick and help you out while visiting. Because you will need it.
Sleep deprivation is usually never as bad as the first two -maybe three- months of the baby’s life. This is the time you may fear to go nuts. When you feel like you might be loosing it – seek help from your partner, friends, relatives or friendly neighbors who might watch the baby for a few hours or so. If that doesn’t help, please go and see a doctor. Post-partum depression is a common diagnosis, and there is help for it.
Sleep will get better in time: When the tiny baby stomach can have milk enough to stay full for at least 6 hours, when the tiny baby nose isn’t blocked by a cold, no nightmares are disrupting the sleep and the teething isn’t too bad – then you might sleep! Just wait a couple of years and you may sleep a full night, every other night!
Following advice are meant to help you all sleep better, but there is nowhere around the fact that your baby needs you full time  and this includes some night watch.
If you sleep close to each other, the need to run around to give and seek comfort decreases significantly. Having the crib next to your bed, or your toddler sleeping on a mattress beside it or – more often than not – between the parents in it, provides all the closeness, comfort and sense of security the child needs.
– You may rescue your parental privacy by using other places in your home for those private matters. Or just throw a blanket around the crib and be really quiet…
Sleeping needs
Make sure you put your child to bed in time to get as much sleep as it needs, before you need to get up in the morning:
0-1 years: about 14-16 hours / day – although rarely more than 4-6 hours in a row. Count on 2-3 naps during the day, and, usually with a few breaks, 10 hours sleep at night.
1-3 years: about 12-13 hours / day – usually including a 1-2 hour nap after lunch
3-6 years: 10-12 hours / night.
6-12 years: about 9-11 hours /night
12-18 years: 8-9 hours / night (many teenagers sleep too little for their own good)
Adults: preferably at least 6 hours a night. 7,5 – 9 is usually advised for health benefits and also what makes us feel most rested.
Find a routine that works for the most part, which allows the child to rest and sleep as much as it needs. Be prepared for some flexibility. If your child sleeps less a day or night, it will be more tired the next. Also, sick children OR well exercised and highly stimulated children, often need more sleep, even during the day. Responsiveness and flexibility are more important than holding firm to some principles here.
Put the child to sleep when it’s sleepy – a lively child is difficult to get to sleep. On the other hand, an over tired child seems really brisky until it breaks down in tears.  Slurred speech, clumsiness, slow reactions, or when the child gets stuck in a monotonous activity, are all various signs of fatigue.
Babies and young toddlers need their naptime. After a few hours of stimulation, they are tired mentally as well as physically. Usually they fall asleep quite easily after a meal (including burping of babies). Maybe in the carriage or carrier when you go for a walk, the movements are often calming for them, and fresh air feels good.
If the child sleeps for too much, or too long during the day, it often becomes more alert at night. Maybe it wakes up really early and wants to play. Or maybe it doesn’t fall asleep until you yourself need to go to bed, and so miss out on your much-needed parental alone-time. In these cases you may try to keep your baby awake a little longer between naps, or wake your child up a bit earlier after the lunch nap. Try a “power nap” for the toddler, about 20 minutes of sleep works wonders, but doesn’t allow you to go to deep-sleep-mode.
Perhaps the 3 year old must quit those naps too and stay up all day long. This will cause some trouble though.
Without a nap there might be serous tiredness, whining or symptoms of stress and hyperactivity (over tiredness) in the afternoon. Try and provide some rest for the child midday or early afternoon, with a period of low stimulation in a quite and calm place. Use plenty of relaxing breaks to get your child some rest. E.g. read a book with the child in your lap, listen to soft music while doing some jig saw puzzles or sing some lullaby together.
Over tired children are in hyperactive-mode. They are over excited, they don’t want to go to bed, giggle a lot, tease you, and finally loose their temper (and maybe you loose yours too). They see no reason in this stage. They just need to calm down, not being argued with or banned. It’s just no use, making them more stressed. Overstimulated kids also sleep lightly, have lots of nightmares and wake up easily.
Sometimes parents confuse the symptoms, believing their children need more activities, more stimulation, in order to get really tired. The tricky thing is that a child that doesn’t want to sleep by bedtime, might be too well rested already from a long day time nap – OR  it might suffer from too short a nap, or too intensive stimulation during the day. In short, it might be stressed.
Stress affects sleep badly. A child that is sleeping too little during the day, can have a very difficult time to settle down, and sleep more restless at night. The same goes for kids that haven’t had enough exercise during the day. Stress within children may also be caused by e.g. separations or conflicts, or other changes in their life.
Reducing stress for children is helpful for them, and us.
– Most importantly, being well cared for by mostly the same person (-s) during the first years of life creates a close connection and bond of security called attachment. This relationship is key to future social developements and skills, and also reduces stress. Separations from the main caregiver is always (when the bond is strong and healthy), causing anxiety and stress, so keeping separations relatively few and short before age 3-4 helps reducing stress too.
– Using routines that makes them know what to expect, helps them see patterns in life, and understand relationships between events.
– Staying mostly in a well-known environment is comforting.
Of course we can take our children out to see new places, visit friends, and show them the world! One little experience at a time. But we need to realize the stimulation and experiences causes stress, and stay focused on comforting them, keeping recognizable routines and go back to where we started for safety and comfort between adventures.
-Don’t leave your child in a new environment, with a new caregiver, and expect it to feel safe or good about it.
If your stressed child reacts with hyperactivity, help it calm down by:
1) releasing their energy! Find a way. They need to run around, jump, play-wrestle, play hide-and-seek or be chased around, preferably by you. If you have a garden or play ground close, fantastic. If not: your bedroom will never be the same again. This is all to make them giggle and laugh and get that ants-in-the-pants out of their system.
2) relaxing afterwards. Relaxing is easier when you have channeled your spill-over energy somewhere. Stop playing when the child seems happy and relaxed, or tired. Evening games can’t go on for long. Make a clear ending of the game (“Make 5 really big jumps now, then we’ll go to bed“), finish off with a friendly handshake or something. Exhale, preferably in each others arms.
Closeness and body contact, like a hug or massage, reduces stress.
Bed time routines
Try to hold on to a bedtime routine that calms the child down in time. Usually it’s best to plan for peaceful activities during the evening, to come to rest more easily. Puzzles, story reading, building blocks etc. may be appropriate.
A full stomach always help to sleep better, but avoid sweet deserts and drinks.
Some toy-time that allows your child to collect its thoughts for a while, is a good start. A bedtime story and a lullaby and good night hug makes a perfect end of the day.
Stay close the last hour, let the child sit in your lap or put your arm around him when you sit next to each other.
Fill your child with the feeling of love before bedtime. And even then, it’s nice to stay close until the child sleeps soundly. This is safety for children.

Make sure to get out and get direct sunlight for a while every morning. Look to the sky (no, not directly into the sun of course) and take in the light. It helps your body wake up and take the hint, it’s tomorrow. If you can’t really wake up in the morning, it’s also harder to fall asleep at night. A daily rhythm helps.In winter, the light is often a bit too weak in the northern hemisphere for the sun to wake us up enough. That’s when we go into mental hibernation, get tired and in several cases suffers more or less from winter depression. Daylight bulbs is good compensation.

When it’s time to sleep, a darker room gives better sleep. For naptime, some curtains will help provide shadow for the child. Nighttime, most children will need a subdued lighting source to prevent nightmares, or find their way to the bathroom or to thir parents bed.

Exercise and fresh air may sound nauseatingly briskly, but it can’t be helped: it provides better sleep. Be sure to move around in the open air, every day, with your child. (Sick days do not count, but do try and take a tiny walk even then.) Ants in the pants makes it nearly impossible for a child to sleep.
Please note! Exercise for a nursing, exhausted mother, or one that has recently given birth, may be taking a walk around the block, or perhaps just going out to the nearest park bench. Be kind to yourself! Listen to your body and take it easy – you need to recover more than anything else!
For a baby it is hard work to wave arms and legs about under something colorful and gripping friendly. Or to be placed for a short while stomach-down on the mothers chest for some cuddling while working those swaying neck- and backmuscles.
A six year old requires a lot more activity, such as running around at playgrounds and ball fields, climbing trees, riding bikes, or go ahead with general pillow fighting.
Aerate well before bedtime. Cool night air is nice to sleep in.
Make sure the child is not too cold. The thin skull might need a babycap, and the tiny feet should always wear socks, as they have a bit bad circulation initially and need the extra warmth.
Many children kick around a bit while sleeping, and loose their blanket. It’s a good idea to have a pair of pajamas and socks on the childrens feet, it will keep warmer if – or when – the cover comes off.
When you freeze you wake up more easily. If the child is sleeping against a cold outside wall, perhaps you can put up a blanket against the wall like a little extra insulation against the child’s small back.
If it is cold inside, perhaps you should consider co-sleeping because of the heat?
Don’t embed he child too hot either! If you have warm temperature indoors a thin blanket can be more pleasant than a thick cover.
Make sure the child is well fed before bedtime. A full tummy sleeps well. Milk or a cheese sandwich can have almost a sedative effect. See the food chapter for more advice.
Avoid sweets for a few hours before bedtime. High blood sugar level gives ants in the pants. Dessert in the evening is not a good idea either, if you want to put the child in bed soon after. Keep this in mind if you like to have cosy family evenings: popcorn, crisps or fruit is better for your sleep than candy in front of a night movie.
Consider your diet, to make sure you and your children gets enough of vitamin-D and kalcium. Vitamin-D supplements during winter might be a good idea if you live in the northern hemisphere or if you for some reason can’t get out in the sun every day. Without exposion to direct sunlight we will be likely to suffer deficiency. Deficiencies gives a variety of symptoms, including insomnia, stress and anxiety. Lack of vitamine-D may also cause osteoporosis, as we need vitamin-D to get the kalcium into our bones, which is why those often comes in the same supplements.

1 Comment


    1. Beyond post-partum depression: part 2, Stepladder « Guiding children

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