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Sweet Dreams | giggle Blogs - Part 2

Latest Posts: Sweet Dreams

September 10, 2010

eliminating night terrors and nightmares

Exactly when we begin to dream is debated in the scientific community, but it is believed that children begin to have nightmares (“bad dreams”) at a greater frequency from ages 3 to 5 years-old. This is likely due to their increasing exposure to scary themes in books, television, social interactions, etc.

We know that dreaming takes place during REM sleep and babies spend the most time in REM sleep as it required for their rapid brain development.  We progressively spend less time in REM sleep as we age (fetuses spend 100% of the time in REM sleep whereas the elderly spend 15%).

When I consult with families of preschoolers the topic of nightmares and night terrors often comes up.  The two are not the same and the response to each is nearly polar opposite.

Nightmares are another word for scary or bad dreams. Nightmares happen during REM sleep. When children are having a nightmare they can be awoken and will usually remember the nightmare the next day.  Often times nightmares are a reflection of a child’s feelings of anxiety or powerlessness in a situation.  They can happen when there is a new change in a child’s life or when they are exposed to scary situations from peers, books or television.

Solution: If you know that your child is experiencing a nightmare, try to gently awaken your child and offer reassurance and comfort.  Stay with your child until they are calm and relaxed.  Help your child imagine a happy ending to their nightmares and/or spend time during the day acting out the scenario with a positive ending.  Let your child be in the role of the scary character so s/he feels more power and control in the situation and will be able to overcome the underlying fear.  In some cases a very dim night light may also help.

Night terrors, on the other hand, tend to be genetic (includes sleep walking/talking, etc) and are often triggered by stress (including sleep-deprivation).  Night terrors occur within an hour or two of going to sleep during deep sleep and can last 5-20 minutes. Children who are experiencing a night terror may appear to be awake (eyes open), but in fact are in a very deep sleep.

Solution: Do not attempt to awaken your child.  It is natural to want to comfort or awaken your child, but this is not helpful.  Stay near your child to ensure that they stay safe.  In the bigger picture, it is imperative that you work to minimize your child’s stress and/or get your child more sleep if they are sleep deprived.  A good place to start is usually with an earlier bedtime.

August 23, 2010

No Nap? Early to Bed!

My nearly four-year-old daughter is known to miss a nap here and there.  And on the nights following those napless days, I am often reminded of how important that nap is to her body chemistry.  She almost always has a night waking if we fail to put her to bed extra early to compensate for a lack of sleep. This scenario is by no means unique to her or our family, though it can be baffling.

The cause of this night waking is the hormone cortisol.  Our bodies naturally produce cortisol when we are under stress (bodies are stressed when they are overtired).  Cortisol’s role in sleep is to arouse the brain and body from slumber, so when there is more cortisol than normal, children typically have night wakings they wouldn’t otherwise have.  The other bad news – those children often wake up earlier in the morning to start the day.

Fortunately the solutions are easy and straightforward:

1. DON’T SKIP THE NAP!  At my daughter’s age this is a little tricky because even though we put her down, she doesn’t always take the nap.  This is normal for a pre-schooler who is slowly abandoning the nap.  However, if your child is under three years of age, it is almost a guarantee that they continue to need to nap.

2. PUT YOUR CHILD TO BED EARLIER.  Often this means a bedtime that is about an hour earlier than the usual bedtime.

August 12, 2010

Rules for Toddler Naps

Whether you are eager for your child to be nap-free, or holding on for dear life, knowing when your child is truly ready to drop his or her nap can be tricky.  Here are some guiding principles to help you determine whether or not the timing is right and how to manage the nap.

1. Keep the nap at least until your child’s third birthday. If your child is under three-years-old, it is highly unlikely that he is ready to abandon the afternoon nap altogether.  Often, when children are shedding a nap, they will alternate between napping and not napping for a while.  Many children do drop their nap at 3-to-4 years-old, however some will hang on until age 5 or 6.

2. Grumpy kids need sleep! If your child seems to be crankier than usual, consider whether he is getting enough sleep – especially if you are in a nap transition.  Remember that sleep plays a big role in our mood and aside from hunger, most cranky behavior is the outcome of insufficient sleep.

3. Let your child nap until 3:30 p.m. Ideally a child should nap 1.5 – 3 hours daily.  The start time of the nap will depend largely on your child’s wake up time and age.  The end time should be the same – 3:30.  This means you will always have a consistent bedtime.

4. Quiet time rules. Don’t be fooled – just because your toddler says he isn’t tired or doesn’t need a nap doesn’t mean this is true.  Give your child quiet time every day in his room and when he does fall asleep you’ll know that he really needed it.

August 2, 2010

Eight Ways to Minimize the Risk of SIDS

Having just celebrated the first birthday of my youngest daughter on Saturday, I am reminded of the one year risk window for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  Every parents worst fear – SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a child under the age of one.  Most common in winter months and in babies under six-months of age, SIDS occurs most frequently in babies 2-to-4 months of age.

While the nature of the syndrome is not fully understood, there have been a few key scientific breakthroughs since the early 90s that provide us with guidelines to minimize risk.

1. back to sleep: Always place your infant or child to sleep on their back for night sleep and naps. The Back to Sleep Campaign launched in 1994 has yielded a 50% reduction in the incidence of SIDS.

2. use a ceiling fan: In the fall of 2008 a study came out that shows a 72% reduction in the risk for SIDS in cases where a ceiling fan was used to circulate air around the room.  The Stale Air Theory suggests that circulating the air helps to dissipate carbon dioxide that may be building in the areas around the baby.

3. do not smoke: This is key.  Mothers should not smoking during pregnancy. Fetal exposure to smoking may contribute to impairment in breathing and heart rate. Parents should also have a no smoking policy in the home where the baby sleeps and lives.

4. avoid overheating: While it is our tendency to want to bundle little babies, it is important to realize that overheating is a leading risk factor for SIDS.  Babies need only one layer more than adults and should sleep in a room that is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. I often suggest to parents that they use a lightweight sleep sack (aka wearable blanket) in lieu of a blanket to keep a baby cozy and comfortable, but not too warm.

5. breastfeed if possible: A German study has found that babies who are breastfed for at least six months are at a lower risk than those who are formula fed.

6. use a pacifier: The British Medical Journal published a study in 2005 concluding, “Use of a dummy/pacifier seems to reduce the risk of SIDS and possibly reduces the influence of known risk factors in the sleep environment.”

7. keep the crib bare: Babies’ cribs/bassinets/co-sleepers should be free of toys, stuffed animals and blankets as these things pose a danger for suffocation and SIDS.

8. share a room with your baby: It is recommended that mothers and babies share a room (not a bed) during those first months.


July 17, 2010

Sleep: the Best Medicine

My sweet baby girl has caught what our pediatrician diagnosed as hand, foot and mouth disease (not to be confused with foot and mouth disease).  This common virus starts with a high fever and includes either sores in the mouth or blisters/rash on the hands and feet, or some combination of these symptoms.  In short, it is not a pleasant virus.

The reason I am mentioning this is because her nap schedule and night sleep has been off as a result.  When children aren’t feeling well, the “rules” we typically follow for sleep need to shift.  I find that the following guidelines work well with sick children:

1. Make quality sleep a priority. This means that you should avoid napping on the go and stay home as much as possible (and under these conditions, that is probably a given). We know that when children nap on the go they tend to stay in lighter stages of sleep.  The healing effects of sleep are triggered during deep sleep.  This is when growth hormones are secreted, which faciliates absorption of key nutrients while also stimulating bone marrow, where immune system cells are.  Furthermore, melatonin (more on this hormone in a future post) inhibits tumor growth, prevents viral infects and stimulates antibodies.  Surely this is the best remedy for recovery! Best of all, it’s free and readily available.

2. Do not awaken your sleeping baby – unless advised otherwise by your pediatrician – even if s/he is sleeping longer than usual. If you do, you’ll likely have a pretty miserable child on your hands.  And, as you now know from point #1, sleep is the best healing agent.

3. Consider and earlier bedtime. Expect your child to need more sleep so consider an earlier bedtime to help *fill* your child up on sleep.  If you’re worried that putting your child to bed earlier will make him/her wake up earlier in the morning, I can assure you that it won’t.  If anything, it will help your child to sleep more soundly and possibly even sleep in a little later the following morning.

If you attend to your baby’s needs while they are sick, but get back to your routine as quickly as possible once they feel well, most children won’t skip a beat in their good sleep habits.

July 11, 2010

The Comfort of White Noise

Noise and sleep aren’t usually an association we make – especially when talking about babies.  However, research shows that babies sleep better with noise.  And, this makes sense.  In utero, babies are bathed in constant white noise — the sound of mom’s heart and other organs hard at work, the outside world, and the muffled sound of loved one’s voices.  These are all comforting sounds to a baby.

Have you ever met someone who swore that the only way their baby would fall asleep is next to a hairdryer or on top of a clothes dryer (safely, of course), or with a vacuum cleaner running?  I know it may sound absurd, but I have worked with countless families who have learned the power of white noise the hard way!  My point is, these things work because they provide constant white noise and babies are conditioned to find comfort in this before they are born.

In addition to soothing babies to sleep, white noise will also help to keep babies sleeping.  A white noise machine will produce noise at every frequency so it is most effective at masking or muting those sharp, unexpected sounds (squeals of a sibling, neighbors dog barking, car honking). I prefer white noise machines that play static white noise, as opposed to mp3s or cds as they are often looped white noise and that can actually disturb sleep.

While the white noise from a fan isn’t as helpful in terms of preventing sleep disturbances from noise (fans don’t create noise at every frequency), they are a terrific sleep aid.  The biggest benefit of a ceiling fan or a box fan is that research has shown that circulating the air in a baby’s room may reduce the risk of SIDS by 73%.  This is a fantastic discovery in the arena of SIDS.

Finally, I find that white noise is helpful when parents are getting siblings used to sharing a room or being in bedrooms near to one another.  When using white noise, be sure to place it between your child and the noise you are hoping to mute or dampen (ie closer to the window if the noise is coming from outside and closer to the door if the sound is coming from inside).

July 7, 2010

Welcome to Sleepy Time!

Hello! I am so excited to be here blogging on the topic of sleep.  As a sleep consultant and mother of two young daughters, ages 3.5 and 11 months, I am very familiar with the many joys of parenthood, as well as the total exhaustion that is often the hallmark of the early weeks and months with a newborn or the day-to-day challenges with a sleep-resistant child.  I intend to draw on my everyday experiences from home and work to bring you tips, advice and the latest research to help all of you have well rested families.

How one goes about getting their child to sleep well is often a divisive and controversial subject.  My goal is to offer scientifically based evidence and tips so that each of you can make the best choices for your children and families.  I truly believe that there really is no one right way to nurture healthy sleep habits, though there are common threads that can take us all to the same restful place. Ah, doesn’t that sound good?!

Sweet dreams!