And What To Do About It
Most nannies with any length of experience can tell you that sleep can be a huge issue for families. Whether it’s a bedtime that takes hours, a non-existent schedule, or a cranky, overtired baby, you pretty quickly get in-tuned to how well a baby or child is sleeping, and whether or not the family has instilled good sleep habits.
Some amount of fussiness is normal, and bedtime is hard for most babies at some point, so how do you know if the issues you’re currently observing are just temporary glitches, as opposed to a chronic problem that needs to be addressed? Read on to find out how to discern the difference between normal sleep disturbances verses chronic sleep issues, and learn simple changes you can tactfully suggest to help everyone get more rest.
Baby is cranky when he wakes up in the morning or after naps.
Sometimes it can take a while for a baby or toddler to become fully awake, and grogginess can cause a bit of grumpiness. But if a baby or toddler wakes up crying and fussy in the morning and after naps, or is especially cranky in the evenings before bed, this is a tell-tale sign that his/her schedule is off and needs to be adjusted. Babies and toddlers should typically be waking up around 7am and going to bed between 6-7pm for babies, and between 7-8pm for toddlers, depending on their exact age. If the children in your care are staying up late every night, they will probably still be waking up at the time their natural biological rhythm wakes them, around 7am, or even earlier if they’re overtired. This means they will be missing out on 2-3 hours of sleep overnight, which will steal from their body the rest it needs to restore, heal, and grow.
Baby is falling asleep at random times and places.
The occasional car seat or stroller nap is to be expected, but if the children in your care are constantly falling asleep on the go, in strollers or car seats, but don’t take good, long naps at home, this is a sign that something needs to be adjusted. One client I worked with wouldn’t take longer than a 30 minute nap, but would constantly face-plant in his dinner plate, sound asleep. His parents thought this was cute (and posted hilarious pictures to Instagram), but were unaware of how overtired their toddler was. When babies and toddlers chronically miss out on sleep, their brains don’t have a chance to rest, get rid of “waste”, or to transfer their short-term memories to long term memory, seriously inhibiting their learning ability. Some children have such amiable personalities that they will make the best of their situation and just steal sleep wherever they can, but this really isn’t optimal for their development.
The child in your care gets very hyper, “bouncing off walls” instead of going to sleep.
This often throws parents and caregivers for a loop, thinking the child is actually not in need of sleep because they are seemingly so full of energy. However, really the opposite is true. When our bodies are lacking sleep, they go into survival mode, and start producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can result in hyperactivity. A child that isn’t given the opportunity to go to sleep at age-appropriate times for adequate amounts of time gives his body a message that it needs to push through the tiredness, so the body is “tricked” into producing hormones that help the body stay awake. Sleep consultants often wonder how much of the increase in ADHD diagnoses in the past several decades actually correlates with the average decrease in sleep for children in the past several decades. What we know for sure is that getting good sleep is essential for a child to be able to control their impulses, stay calm, and follow directions. (Link: https://scienceofmom.com/2012/02/13/why-sleep-matters-to-babies-and-parents/) The average 12-month-old, for example, needs around 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period (12 hours over night, and 2-2.5 hours of nap sleep), but the average 1 year old gets far less than this.
Bedtime takes a very long time.
Whether you’re spending hours rocking a baby to sleep for naps and bedtime, or fighting with a toddler whose excuses seem to go on without end, a child who is fighting sleep she truly needs is almost definitely overtired. For the same reasons as mentioned above, an overtired child will have a very hard time settling to sleep at night or for naps, resulting in massive efforts by caregivers and parents to finally get baby to sleep. Fights at bedtime for toddlers may also indicate the lack of a structured routine, as the uncertainty of each night lead to battles and testing to see if he can find the boundaries he needs for security.
Baby or toddler is still waking up multiple times per night.
After the first few months of life, there is no good reason a baby needs to be up every 2-3 hours. As long as he is getting enough calories during the day and growing well, he doesn’t need to feed more than once per night after 6 months, and usually not at all after 9 months. So, if the child in your care is still waking up more than this, it’s a sign that he probably needs to learn to fall asleep independently and/or needs a schedule adjustment.
So, what are some simple changes that you can suggest to help the child in your care get on top of this overtiredness and get caught up on sleep?
Suggest an early bedtime.
If your baby is showing some or all of the signs above, it’s almost always helpful to institute an earlier bedtime. For a baby under a year, a 5:30 bedtime for a while can give her a chance to make up for lost sleep. For a toddler, a 6-6:30 bedtime may be in order for the sleep debt to be paid. Parents may worry that their child may suddenly start waking up too early, but usually the child just sleeps longer and more deeply, because they are getting the rest they need.
Follow a consistent schedule.
You must allow a child’s body to get in a consistent pattern, to set their circadian rhythm and to help their bodies regulate internal patterns, which will help them fall asleep and stay asleep much more easily. Usually, a 7am – 7pm schedule works well for babies, give or take a half hour for toddlers. Naps should start during biological naps windows, which occur between 9-10am and 12-2pm. For instance, a 12 month old would wake at 7am, nap from 9:30-10am, 12:30-2:30, and have a bedtime around 6:30. A 2 year old won’t take a morning nap any more, but will nap about 12:30-2, and sleep 7pm-7am. Regardless of what the exact schedule, the schedule should remain consistent each day, as much as possible. Even when traveling or on vacation, do whatever you can to encourage consistency and adequate sleep. This will ensure the days are spent with much more pleasant, well-rested children.
Suggest a chat with a sleep consultant.
If you observe many of these signs detailed, you may want to suggest a chat with a sleep consultant to the child’s parents. Chronic sleep issues will usually not be solved simply by a few schedule adjustments, and can certainly cause long-term problems. A more comprehensive plan with support may be needed. Most sleep consultants offer free consultations, and it’s a great chance to get an expert’s eyes on the child’s sleep habits, to know if something truly does need to be done. If the child has never learned to fall asleep independently, a sleep consultant can suggest ways to work towards this. If certain family schedules and dynamics create challenges to the child’s schedule, a good sleep consultant can work to find a plan that fits the individual family.
Be positive and hopeful about sleep changes.
Sometimes, the biggest thing you can offer your family is hope that things can be better! Many times, families have been in their sleep deprived state for so long that they’ve given up hope, and begrudgingly accepted that this is the way things are always going to be. Be confident that with positive changes, pretty much every (healthy, developmentally normal) child can and will sleep better given the opportunity and help they need, because their bodies are wired for good sleep.
Have specific questions about the family you’re working with? Email me directly at Lindsey@sleeplittlelamb.com, and follow Little Lamb on FB/IG for more tips: @sleeplittlelamb