September 30, 2015
Contending with Bedtime Fears - Monsters Under The Bed

I’m regularly asked about how to contend with children’s fears, especially this time of year when Halloween decorations, creepy costumes and scary stories are making their way into your child’s daily experience.

“I’m afraid of the monsters under my bed” is the most common complaint I hear from families with preschoolers and beyond.  Monsters, or other fears, can cause delays at bedtime, but more often lead to night wakings and difficulty falling back asleep.

Well intending parents might use a “monster spray,” “no monsters allowed” signage or even do a magic spell to exterminate the monsters.  Think twice about using that approach.  When we validate monsters, we acknowledge they exist. Children deserve honesty, especially from their parents. Validate the fear, but not the existence of fictitious creatures.

Avoid teasing or using language like “big boys aren’t afraid” or “only babies get scared.” Feelings are always legitimate, especially feelings of fear. Older toddlers and preschoolers are developing vibrant and vivid imaginations.  Acknowledge their fears by using language like “I can see you are scared.”

Additional strategies for contending with monsters under the bed include:

  • As part of the bedtime routine, look through closets and under beds together.  Make the experience a fun one with a flashlight your child can use.
  • If there’s anything like a bed skirt, remove it.  At least for now.  Having a visual of the space will give them more confidence.
  • For a child that is showing fears of not just their bed, but their room, make sure to spend some positive time together in their room, playing.  Bring a special toy or activity you can do together.  Keep the experience positive.
  • Night lights can help, but can build shadows too. Bright night lights can limit melatonin production which can make sleep more restless and minds more anxious. Sometimes a dim light in a hallway outside their rooms, with a door ajar, is a “less scary” bet.
  • Tell your child you will check on them when they’re asleep. It’s a reminder that you’re always close and checking on them, even when they don’t think you are.
  • Eliminate screen time (including television, tablets and game devices) especially it’s late in the day.  3 year olds are highly imaginative. Even benign programming can have their imaginations running away.
  • Cut out any books that might be “scary”. You’re probably not doing a lot of “scary” anyway, but I have lots of families put away “Where the Wild Things Are” and similar books when contending with fears of monsters.
  • If they’re having bad dreams that they can articulate (this is often for kids who are more 4+ and have a better understanding of the concept of dreams), talk about the dream and how they can “re-imagine” their dream to have a positive outcome.
  • Discuss it matter of factly (away from bedtime) and see if you can get to the source.

One last suggestion: Feelings of nervousness and anxiety are normal feelings for children to encounter. Aim to have your reaction be calm and reassuring. Use of the word ‘scared’ often elicits a strong reaction from parents.  Don’t give fears more power by reacting strongly, or encourage regular use of the word “scared” to gain benefits that delay bedtime.

xxoo

Krista

About the author:

KristaGuenther Krista is a mother of 3 (+1 dog who believes she’s people), a wife to a wonderful husband, and the owner and founder of Sleeperific.  Even though she’s been in the sleep consulting biz for 4 years, she still gets really excited when she’s hired by a sleepy family.
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September 20, 2015
Identifying, navigating and preventing night terrors

Night terrors are not bad dreams. You might not even know that what you’re seeing from your child is a night terror the first time it occurs.

Typically occurring in children between 3 and 12 years of age, an estimated 1 to 6 percent of children experience terrors[1].

Some characteristics of night terrors include:

  • Timing: Early after onset of night sleep or in early morning when coming out of a deep sleep (Night terrors occur in non-REM stages of sleep)
  • Yelling, screaming, shouting
  • Thrashing, kicking, pushing away you or objects that aren’t there
  • Child appears anxious, fearful or panicked
  • Sweating, increased heart rate
  • May appear awake but will not be responsive
  • Most significantly: child has no memory of the event (if your child recalls the event, it was not a night terror)

Risk factors

  • Overtiredness and fatigue
  • Variable sleep schedule
  • Significant changes or stressors in a child’s life (beginning childcare, new school, change in family arrangements, new sleep environment, etc….)
  • Illness or fever
  • Family history of partial-arousal parasomnia ie: sleep walking

How to manage?

If your child has a terror, don’t disrupt them. Ultimately, going sleep will end the terror. Speaking to or touching your child unnecessarily will prolong the terror. Stay with your child, keep him or her safe, guide back to bed as necessary, but try to keep intervention which might disrupt sleep, to a minimum. If your child is getting up and walking around during their terror, consider a gate at their door or the top of stairs, and ensuring exterior doors are not easily opened.

Prevention

The majority of night terrors are caused by overtiredness. That means if we can get the child MORE sleep, we can often prevent the terror from occurring. The easiest way to achieve more sleep is with an earlier bedtime, as little as 15 minutes can do the trick.  Be diligent about following regularity in your child’s schedule until the terrors have stopped.

If terrors occur with regularity at a particular time of day, you can gently rouse your child (just enough so they might sigh and roll over and go back to sleep) in the 30 minutes prior to the regular terror. The goal of this strategy is to disrupt the sleep cycles just enough to prevent the terror.

If terrors persist, and recur at least 3x per week, talk to your child’s doctor. There could be contributing factors to the night terrors, like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

References

[1] Rosenberg, Robert S. Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. New York: Demos Health, 2014. Print.

 

About the author:

KristaGuenther Krista is a mother of 3 (+1 dog who believes she’s people), a wife to a wonderful husband, and the owner and founder of Sleeperific.  Even though she’s been in the sleep consulting biz for 4 years, she still gets really excited when she’s hired by a sleepy family.
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September 14, 2015

Season’s change is upon us. Kids are back to school, leaves are becoming more colourful and nights have a chill that we haven’t felt for months. With the arrival of cooler weather, we need to be dress baby for bed differently than we did in the warmth of summer.  But adding extra layers can be tricky when seasonal temperature changes are subtle.  How do we go about dressing baby for sleep?

I encourage parents to keep their bedrooms cool at night. If you’ve flipped your pillow over for the cool side, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Sleep is more likely when you’re not hot. Studies show the ideal room temperature for sleep is around 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit or 15.5 – 19 degrees Celsius.  Layer up with clothing and coverings from there. For safety reasons, it is very important that you not overdress your infant.  Over heating increases the risk of SIDS. It has also been shown that using a fan can decrease the risk of SIDS by over 70%.

Keeping children too cool can disrupt sleep, and obviously too warm can do the same.  So what should my baby wear to bed?

How do I go about dressing baby for sleep?

How to dress baby for a great night sleep

A tog is a warmth rating.  Think of each tog as a thin layer of cotton. If you use fleece sleepers or have a warmer sleep sack, you’ll likely want to leave a layer (or two) out.  Use caution if you need a hat on your infant as well for sleep.  It makes more sense to keep your home slightly warmer.

As always, trust your judgement and assess your child’s comfort when dressing your baby for bed.  There’s variability in humidity, the warmth of the layers, and with your child’s own internal thermostat.  Fingers which are cool to the touch might be ok, especially in young babies.  Infants aren’t terribly good at regulating their temperature.  Icy hands or cold feet are likely to disrupt sleep.

Resources:

National Sleep Foundation

 

About the author:

KristaGuenther Krista is a mother of 3 (+1 dog who believes she’s people), a wife to a wonderful husband, and the owner and founder of Sleeperific.  Even though she’s been in the sleep consulting biz for 4 years, she still gets really excited when she’s hired by a sleepy family.

 

 

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September 8, 2015
Car Seat Naps - What to do and how to avoid them

Studies show that 98% of car naps happen within 500 metres of arriving at your destination.*

(*Made up fact from a non-existent study.  Unless the study was observed by me, from my mini-van, as we’re turning onto our street.)

That same study* indicates 10 minutes of snoozing in the car will replace a 2 hour nap in the crib.

The accidental nap.  The unintentional snooze on-the-go.  Whoops-sleep.  Napcident. Whatever you decide to call it, each car (or stroller) nap presents you with a few options:

1. Continue driving  The earthy (and busy) part of me says forget it. You’re probably a parent who needs to hustle, just like the rest of us.  I need my kids nap times for clean up, meal prep, checking in with clients, etc… not driving aimlessly.

It’s worth noting that not all sleep is created equal.  Motion filled sleep in a car/stroller/carrier is not nearly as restful as quiet, dark, non-moving crib sleep.  Think of the last time you fell asleep in a moving vehicle and how well rested you felt when you awoke?! Quality suffers with naps on-the-go.

2. Park it  Assuming there’s not extreme weather in the winter or summer which would make this inappropriate, you might try parking your vehicle and trying to sustain the nap.  This it isn’t going to work if you have other awake children who need your attention, and it still isn’t going to allow you do much else but wait for your sleeping beauty to awaken (see number 1).

3. Transfer to their crib  This almost never works, except with the soundest of sleepers.

4. Nap Drill  Gently waking the child, any trying for a crib nap again later.

“But what’s a nap drill?”

If the snooze in the stroller or car seat has been under 20 minutes, gently wake your child learn the facts here now.  Have lunch or snack if the timing is appropriate, and then play for at least 30 minutes, trusting you’re still within an hour of when your child would usually begin their nap.  Then move along to their room to go through your usual sleep routine.  We’re trying to build back that “sleep pressure” or fatigue by staying awake for that half hour.

If the nap has been longer than 20 minutes, you may find this little car snooze is a replacement for the nap they were supposed to have in their crib.  Very likely a nap drill will fail.  Simply move up the next nap or ensure bedtime is earlier.

Avoiding Car or Stroller Sleep

No matter how you look at it, this scenario is challenging to manage. Avoid car naps if possible by:

  1. Timing – Avoid trips around nap times, especially within the 30 minutes before nap time.
  2. Engagement – Chat with your baby or child, sing songs, turn up the radio and sing along or make like a tour guide and point out the scenery. Give a small toy or a book  as you’re buckling them in.  A small, minimally messy snack is a great option too.
  3. Automatic Windows – They let in fresh air and wind, but the mysterious opening and closing windows are interesting enough to stay awake.
  4. One more stop – If you notice someone nodding off, do a safe, quick pull over, or see if you can add one more brief errand or stop to your outing. Getting in and out of the car seat might be just enough to encourage more wakeful time.

Are car, stroller or carrier naps occurring every time you head out for a trip?  A child who is fairly well rested and getting an adequate amount of sleep doesn’t nod off in the car or stroller very easily. If your child is prone to unintentional naps-on-the-go, evaluate ways to get more quality sleep into your child’s schedule.

xxoo

Krista

About the author:

KristaGuenther Krista is a mother of 3 (+1 dog who believes she’s people), a wife to a wonderful husband, and the owner and founder of Sleeperific.  Even though she’s been in the sleep consulting biz for 4 years, she still feels excited and honoured when she’s hired by a sleepy family.
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