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Is it a Sleep Regression? Or Separation Anxiety?

Does this sound like you? A few weeks ago, things were trudging along okay. In fact, you might even be as bold to say that your child was sleeping fairly well. You had a little routine, and sure it took some effort. Maybe some songs, a few stories and a cuddle to sleep…but it worked (most of the time anyways). 

But lately, nothing is working!

Or maybe you’ve been struggling all along (If this is you, I am sending virtual hugs Mama! Stick around, this blog may just help you too ;)) 

If you have a child who:

  • Will suddenly only sleep on or touching you in some way
  • Is taking foreverrrr to fall asleep – whether it is constant battles, or crying when you try to leave
  • Wake the second you leave their side… or
  • Needs A LOT more from you overnight than you’d like, with things like crying out, or sneaking into your bed

You are probably wondering what the heck is going on!?

Could this be a sleep regression?

Do Toddlers Even Have Sleep Regressions?

You might be wondering if your child is experiencing a sleep regression?

The truth is, there really isn’t even such a thing as a sleep regression!

Sure, sleep can go belly up now and again. This is quite common with babies around 4 to 5 months, and again around 7 to 9 months. Toddlers experience dips in sleep too, most often around 18 months, and 2 years old.  

But don’t get too caught up in the numbers. There really isn’t any predictability when it comes to sleep development. Scientists have been researching looking for patterns, but have had no luck!! (crazy right!?)

Sleep is not like a magical elevator where we all hop on, put in our time and eventually get to our destination. Nope, I’m afraid sleep is more complex than that.

Sleep is like a roller coaster ride through a corn maze. Only you are blind-folded, and have no idea what is to come, or when the ride will end.

In the medical world, regressions mean a loss of something. A return to a previous developmental level. Do you get less sleep, yup in some cases this happens. But your child has not actually lost the ability to sleep. 

It’s more like their brains and body are too busy working on other things. Learning and growing, developing brain cells, and forming relationships. It’s more like they’ve taken a different route on the ol roller coaster. 

Fun right!?

So no, your child is not experiencing a sleep regression?

If you’ve ruled out illness, and teething, it may actually be that your child is experiencing a developmental shift that is contributing to some separation anxiety.

How to Know If Separation Anxiety is Impacting Your Child’s Sleep?

Before you freak out, you should know that in most cases separation anxiety is normal. Pretty well all children experience it at some point in childhood. 

It’s common to see peaks of separation anxiety around 7 to 9 months, and between age 1 and 3 years. But it can happen at anytime, or even multiple times!

It has a lot to do with development and attachment, and when we think about it from an evolutionary perspective, on some level it helped to keep kids who were growing in independence from wandering out into danger.

Mother nature didn’t want all of our littles to be eaten by tigers afterall!

What Does Separation Anxiety Look Like?

During the day you might notice…

  • That your child is more clingy or whiney than usual
  • That they are less tolerant of receiving support from alternate caregivers (they only want YOU!)
  • Crying or upset whenever you leave their sight
  • Apprehension or fear in new situations, or among strangers

At night, you’ll likely notice one or more of the lovely examples I mentioned above…anything from a refusal to sleep, or increase in the number of awakenings, to a change in the amount of support normally needed.  

Fun right!?

So now what…?

How Can You Help Your Child with Separation Anxiety to Sleep Better?

Parenting is hard enough as it is, and becomes a heck of a lot harder when kids need more from us. 

So what can you do?

You’ll no doubt face massive pressure from family and friends (or even yourself) to make changes, and quickly – before any ‘bad habits’ start, or before they get ‘too dependent’ on you. 

Balarsky!

The truth is, if your baby or child is showing signs of separation anxiety, the best way to help them sleep is to support this need. 

While it is true that most kids will outgrow separation anxiety on their own. There are a number of ways that you can support them, while not losing your sanity!

Supporting Separation Anxiety Through Play

Practice mini separations – during the day – through play. Lift the flap books, and peek-a-boo for young ones, and games like hide and seek, or go, go, go stop for kids. Role play, or tell stories that resemble your family situation, but with happy, peaceful separations and reunions. Keep these short, sweet, and fun!

Changing Your Sleep Mindset

Re-Write your Story. Remind yourself that your child needs you. No, you are not spoiling them or making them more dependent! Reassure yourself that this is likely just another temporary blip that will restore itself in time. During the more challenging moments, it can help to use a mantra. I am a big fan of: “They aren’t giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.” And don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate being loved so much by such an adorable little human!

Meeting Your Child Where They Are At

Don’t force it. This isn’t really a rip the Band-Aid off type of situation. Now is not the time to make big changes, whether to do with sleep, or daytime. Avoid sneaking away, or  pushing them to spend time with others. If you can, focus instead on meeting your child where they are at. For sleep this might mean cuddling them to sleep, or shifting to bed-sharing for a while. I know it’s tempting, but making changes with a goal towards independent sleep right now is likely to be a whole lot harder than it needs to be. 

And lastly… Just give it time 💕

Meeting your child’s needs in a gentle, supportive way is without a doubt the quickest and easiest way through this – for both of you!

If you are looking for more practical tips for your child’s sleep routine, then click here to sign up for my free Peaceful Bedtime Mini-Course. 

Maisie xx

Categories
Sleep Tips

Top 3 Quick & Easy Sleep Tips for Toddlers

Today I am going to chat a bit about sleep hygiene. Sleep whaaat?

No this is not about fresh pyjamas, and clean teeth….though those are certainly beneficial aspects to your bedtime routine 

(CLICK Here to download my FREE bedtime routines guide)

If you are like Most Mama’s that I work with, you are tired! Fearful of starting bad habits, and anxious get your child sleeping better. 

You also want something QUICK so that you can get some much needed rest – like right meow!

Sleep hygiene is the fancy, technical word I have been taught to call quick wins!

Read….Quick and easy sleep tips!

Better sleep doesn’t have to be complicated. A lot of this stuff is common sense, but somehow life with kids rids us of our common sense (#mommybrain)

We sometimes forget the little things. But these little things can add up, and make a world of difference. 

Let’s get them working in your favor!

These are my top 3 Quick Wins

3) Get moving!

We all know that exercise is important. Problem is, the chaos of our everyday lives does not leave enough time for most families to meet the daily recommended exercise requirements. 

According to the Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines, children between the ages of 1 and 4 should spend – at least – 180 minutes moving!  We want this physical activity to be spaced throughout the day. For children 3-4, we want some of this to be “energetic play”

I haven’t yet met a kid who had too much exercise!

Though, it is not just about exercise. We don’t neeeeed to be in perpetual motion. (Though calories burned does help us build our sleep pressure)

Source: https://csepguidelines.ca/

My second tip, builds on the previous. {I am already preparing for the eye rolling…But here goes nothing}

2) Ditch the Screens. Or at least limit them to no more than an hour a day (less is better). This includes television, phones, tablets, etc.

There are a couple reasons for this. It mostly comes down to the fact that we don’t want our kids to be spending too much time sitting. Ideally, kids should avoid spending more than an hour at a time sitting. This includes being in a stroller, car seat, and screen time. 

The best sedentary activities are learning activities, like reading, and art work which utilizes concentration and  fine motor skills.

Screens can also hinder sleep because of  the light they emit. This is especially problematic in the evenings.  

When it comes to my twins, I find that TV turns them into little tele-loving zombies, and all too often I “miss” that sleepy window because they are quiet. Turn that TV off and the rambunctious munchkins return! Problem is, it’s then suuuuuuper difficult to get those hyper monkeys into bed!

My number one quick tip 

1) Spend loads of time outdoors!

The outdoors is so beneficial for our circadian rhythms. See our internal clock can get a bit outta whack because it is slightly longer than the earth’s 24 hour cycle. 

The sun basically helps to regulate us and keep things in check. 

You know how electronics and routers sometimes start to act a bit persnickety and need to be reset sometimes?

The sun is our refresh. It resets us

Without this our biological rhythm shifts forward. 

Meaning bedtimes get later!

In theory, you might think that this means mornings will shift too. And they might! But I find shifting bedtimes can also lead to dreadfully early mornings.

So it’s important to get your timings right.

See….The sun is good for vitamin D, sleep, mood and so much more!

The sun also helps us to collect all the building blocks needed for the release of Melatonin come evening time. Melatonin is our sleepy hormone, and we want it working in our favor.

For another quick Melatonin tip, check out the video above! where I talk about the role of the sun on sleep 😉

Sleep well Mama,

~ Maisie Zzz

Categories
Bedtime

What Time Should I put my Kid to Bed?

What Time Should I put my Kid to Bed? The answer is not that simple. There are cultural considerations, sleep requirements, and individual characteristics that come into play. 

In many cultures later bedtimes are common for babies and children! But in Western society those evening hours are sacred. I think it has to do with the fact that we are such a fast paced, high achieving society.

We are just plain burnt out by the day’s end and need some quiet time!

So what does science have to say about the time that I should put my kid to bed?

https://youtu.be/ApBjsuNcVFE

A research team, headed by Hoyniak and colleagues (2019), discovered something interesting. 

They followed 500 tots over time, from the age of 2.5 to 3.5 years old. It was a longitudinal study looking at cognition, and socioeconomic status, but they looked at a number of other things as well – like bedtimes! 

So what did they find?

They discovered that on average kids were not asleep until 9:30pm (even though the average bedtime was 8:50pm) Say…..what!?

Okay, why is this!?

To really understand, it’s worth taking a minute to remind you what averages mean (insert math class flash back here!)

In science there is something called a bell curve, which is commonly seen when researchers plot data from large groups of people. It helps us to understand averages. 

Within the bell curve, “most people’ will fall within 95% of average. This 95% is generally thought of as “normal.”

Some people – the 2.5% on either end of the curve, will fall below or above that normal range. In general. 

The bell curve applies to alllllll sorts of things. Anything from height, to weight, or even letter grades in school. 

When we think about sleep this makes sense. Some kids will have early bedtimes, and others will have late bedtimes, but most will fall asleep around the same time (still with me?). 

One thing to keep in mind here, is that our own sleep is an average too. We don’t sleep the exact same amount of minutes or hours each night.

We all have good nights, and bad nights.

Kids are no different!

So before you freak out that your child slept poorly, or was up late last night. Stop and think about the last few days. Or even the last week or month.

How do kids sleep on average?

Later bedtimes have a lot to do with naps

Naps for toddlers and preschoolers are super beneficial, despite being under utilized in Western society. 

Problem is….too long, or too late of a nap and your child might not be tired enough to sleep come bedtime.

Too nap, or not nap your child is an individual question. It really comes down to whether your child can tolerate a dropped nap. Many kids get cranky, wired, or emotional. 

While your following child’s lead, and monitoring their mood and behaviour is always going to be your best bet. There are a number of sleep recommendations and guides spammed all over the web that can give a rough guideline on sleep. Like this one 😉 

Best Sleep Times for Kids

what time should i put my kid to bed

When reading guides like these, all I ask (or beg of you) is to pleeeeease keep those averages in mind.

Sleep is not one size fits all!

But, the reason I am sharing this with you today, is to illustrate another point. The kids in Hoyniak’s study were sleeping on average 8.18 hours a night at 30 months, up to 8.51 hours at 42 months old. 

They were IN bed around 10 to 10.5 hours though. They just weren’t sleeping this entire time. The difference can be accounted for by the time spent falling asleep, or awake during the night. 

Still, this is WAY different than recommended 10 to 13 hours of sleep (*in a 24 hour period) by the National Sleep Foundation. 

In sleep and parenting groups, I often read about parents cutting naps short, or stopping them all together, so that they can get their child to bed “on time.”

On the whole there is nothing “wrong” with this practice. But, I really think our society needs to rethink this whole bedtime thing. 

So the next time you “fight” to get your child to sleep by a specific time, so that you can enjoy that glass of vino in peace and solitude please keep all of this wonderful knowledge in mind.

What is the Take Home Here?

Take home message – Don’t worry if your kid is up late.

It’s normal, and perfectly healthy to put your child to bed at a time that works for you AND your family.

When in doubt, look to your child. If they are happy and healthy you probably have nothing to worry about. 

If you truly are concerned, then reach out and I will give you an honest opinion of whether I can help. Let’s plan the best time that you should put your kid to bed.

Oh any by the way, I have a FREE bedtime guide! Click HERE to learn more of my top tips. 

Sleep well Mama!

~ Maisie Zzz

References:

Hoyniak CP, Bates JE, Staples AD, Rudasill KM, Molfese DL, Molfese VJ.  Child sleep and socioeconomic context in the development of cognitive abilities in early childhood.  Child Development 2019; 90: 1718-1737.