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the crib sheet

sleepy jitters - a paradox worth fixing

Brooke Nalle

No matter how old your sleeper is you have probably encountered a situation like this:

My (insert age) was outside all day, playing, rolling, running, climbing, and more.  He had a great dinner, a calm bath, and now instead of acting sleepy is super animated and showing no signs of being tired.  

For young children, missing the sleep window is a big deal.  In fact, the probability of bedtime quickly fades and is replaced with a mini-version of the London Olympics in your living room.  For older children, missing the sleepy window is very much connected to missing the chance to truly wind down from the day.  You might not get physical hysterics.  Instead, you might find yourself dealing with bedtime anxiety.    

I have named these scenarios the sleepy jitters, and I find this combination both paradoxical and very frustrating.  Your 4 month old should have been asleep hours ago or your 7 year old has to get some sleep because he has to wake up by 7 to catch the bus and pay attention in school all day and more.  In both cases, you know what they need and in both cases you need to be proactive rather than reactive to avoid this mixed bag of anxious/energy filled jitters at bedtime. 

Here are a few tips for young sleepers ...

 

  • Pick a bedtime based on the nap schedule of your sleeper.  You should pick an age appropriate 'awake' window between the last nap and bedtime.  For example, a 10 month old, can probably go about 4 hours between the end of his last nap and bedtime (if he had two good naps that day).  A 6 month old baby will have a 2 to 3 hour widow, and a 22 month old might have a stretch closer to 5 hours.  These are just guidelines and examples from families I have worked with recently.  Observe your sleeper and design your own 'awake' window, you can always adjust.
  • Do not start your routine when your sleeper is tired because by the time you are finished she will be over tired.
  • Allow plenty of physical contact in the pre-bedtime hour or so.  It settles a young body for sleep and reaffirms a secure attachment.
  • If you were gone all day and want to spend time with your child before bed, do so keeping in mind the quality vs. quantity approach.  Attachment theorists have said that even 20 solid minutes a day between parent and baby solidifies the attachment.

 

Here are a few tips for older sleepers (who worry, get anxious, and struggle to fall asleep):

 

  • No screens at least an hour before bed, ideally more.
  • A good long bath even for an older child is very calming, restorative and a great addition to a bedtime routine.
  • Tight hugs, pressure orientated touch.
  • No rich, caffeine filled, or sugary desserts after dinner.  Instead offer a treat after school and something a little more sedate after dinner.
  • End your routine with a happy story about your little sleeper.
  • Introduce a family photo book featuring joyful memories (not pictures of everyone at Grandma's funeral).
  • Address what is making them nervous, let them talk about it and process it out loud.  Validate your sleeper's feelings and then put a sleep friendly plan of action into place.
  • Introduce a worry doll or pillow to tuck anxiety away for the night.  I just found out about hushlings and think they are a great idea!

 

So as summer wraps up and back to school begins, hope these tips help de-stress bedtime and make going to sleep a little more sleepy -