Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Toddler sleep struggles and solutions

I wrote this post a few months ago and somehow it got lost in my drafts.  I expect I was waiting to really test out our plans before I hit 'publish', but for whatever reason it was saved for today.  So here you go… Another post on sleep!

I had a hard time coming up with a creative title for the post, but I blame it on sleep deprivation.
I had to take some of my own advice and re-evaluate our situation after the Thanksgiving vacation.  Or staycation (I guess) since we didn't go anywhere.  I feel like just when we get through one sleep issue, like night terrors with JR, or growing pains with Gracie, we have to start working on another issue.

This year has been much better for Anna's sleep in general and she is getting good naps - I am a HUGE fan of the nap! But once again, I feel like the 4th child is getting lost in the mix.  So my engineer husband and I created a plan - with the help of my sister who is a self-taught sleep specialist.  Honestly, I love being surrounded by bright and educated women who READ!  Sleep deprived and somewhat stressed out, I knew that if I called my sister she would have some advice.  And voila.  It worked the FIRST NIGHT!

The problem is that this weekend Anna was still awake at 11pm!!  We would put her to bed and she would just pop out again with 100 reasons why she can't sleep. The past week or two this has become an issue. We have adjusted our reactions, but the behavior persists.

The problem is clear.  We have set her up to fail.  Little lady (almost 3 years old now) has been in the awesome habit of snuggling with daddy and mommy on the couch while after the middle two are tucked in (between about 730 and 8pm), while Anthony often finishes his homework, until about 9pm.  I read to the middle two while Dad hangs with Anna.  That often includes turning on the TV to watch the news.  So when I come in the living room, I plop down and snuggle up and Anna is supposed to be winding down.  When she was really little I would nurse her, and then when she weaned I would rock her, and now we just veg out.  When the news gets boring, we turn on one of our shows.  Sometimes it is something fabulous from my BBC friends, like Father Brown or Downtown Abbey, or Sherlock Holmes.  When those aren't on, we turn to something like NCIS or the Mentalist.  Basically, we watch detective shows and those almost always include dead bodies and blood.  I know.  Parent of the Year.  My husband thought it was really cute to teach her to cover her eyes when he said 'eye muffs'.  Um. Doesn't me mean 'blind fold'?  Anyhow.  That started just this week when we she started asking me "wha is haping?"

The funny part of this is when Anthony the Firstborn was a baby (and I mean BABY baby) we would put him on the coffee table facing us (not the TV) anytime the TV was on.  I didn't even want him watching the most innocent of programs.  I am highly restrictive of the programs the older kids see still.  Yet here I am  explaining a homicide to my two-year-old daughter.  I guess that isn't really funny.  Well not haha funny… OK...moving on.

So obviously the first part of this problem is to turn off the Stupid Box.  No more TV.   She was saying she was scared and that makes sense.  We have a plan for nightmares, but if she hasn't fallen asleep yet that isn't the problem.  The problem was letting her watch stuff that was probably scary for her.

We had been waiting until she was really tired before putting her in bed.  The girls share a room and we want to make sure Gracie is asleep before putting Anna down, especially since she is in a toddler bed and not a crib. I really didn't want her getting out of bed a bazillion time.  That was a hard transition.  But the 730 or 800 time somehow stretched to 830 or 900 or 915.  And now she isn't just tired she is overtired.

When the brain is really tired and trying to stay awake it seeks out stimulation.  Subconsciously it tells itself "stay awake stay awake stay awake".  So her arms are busy playing with the blanket, her legs kick and bounce off the mattress.  She gets up to try-on shoes.  She plays with her sister's lip glosses.  She talks to her stuffed animals.  She turns on all the lights.  She looks at books.  None of these are naughty things alone… well maybe getting into there sisters stuff is… but the rest is totally acceptable.  Just not at 1030 pm.  All of these things are little ploys on her part to try to stay awake, because for the last 2 or 3 or 4 hours she her brain has been working tirelessly (pun intended) on staying up.

Moms who read even a paragraph in any parenting book will recognize these things.  I am not saying the solution is not rocket science, but sometimes it takes an outsider (like my big sister), to give your sleep deprived brain a little smack.

1- Get her to bed earlier - before she is over tired - and be consistent about the bedtime and her wake up time. Let her make up 'extra sleep' by napping a little longer if needed, or by heading to bed 30 minutes early (after a regular bedtime has been established).

2- Provide her with some soothing stimulation so that her brain will stop saying "stay awake".  Ideas are white noise (like from a sound machine), rubbing her back, classical music played very low, oil diffuser with calming oils like lavender, reading before bed, low lights.

3- Cut the pre-bed screen time in favor of books.  Books are soothing, electronic stimulus is not.  In people with a predisposition to seizures the combination of being tired and the flashing screen & high contrast clips are just too much for the brain to handle. It won't 'cause' epilepsy in someone who is not already prone to it, but I bring it up merely as an example of how simulating TV is for the brain (& not is a good way).

4- Bedtime routine.  Have an intentional bedtime routine and stick with it.  Even the best parents can't multi-task during the bedtime routine so put your focus where it needs to be for that brief time and then reward yourself with a quiet household.  Sending a gaggle of children to the bathroom to brush their teeth while you load the dishwasher SHOULD work out well… I totally get you.… but in our house it usually results in toothpaste on PJ's rather than tooth brushes.  Just embrace the routine and get it done together.

Time Lapse

It is so nice to write things IN THEORY but this blog is all about theory and practice.  So how did it actually work? Here is the first week...

1st night:  Awesome.  She was in bed at 730 and asleep by 830. She didn't get up once. That is what gave me the great idea to blog about it because obviously I have the perfect solution. Hum.

2nd night: Awful.  She was in bed at 730 and asleep by 1015? She was in and out of bed with all the unusual shenanigans.  Household difference though - the boys came home from soccer at 730 right as I was finishing up stories.  She hadn't see daddy all day.  She wanted attention.

3rd night: What? Was I still writing this post?  Apparently this post got lost in the drafts… So I am able to do a pretty big time lapse update… You didn't really want the nightly update anyway.

Huge Time Lapse

Nap times are still awesome. She will tell me she is tired and we lay down to read. One book and she is out.  Bed times are still a little struggle, but we have made HUGE improvements.  Anna and Gracie are able to finally go to bed at the same time in the same room which is amazing for us.  They get a story or two and then we turn off the lights.  When we forget to take them to the bathroom (and sometimes even when we do take them) Anna is up to use the bathroom again, but usually only gets up one time.  Is it perfect, no, but it is better. Honestly,  the other night at 845pm they were ALL still up (I need water, I am hot, I have a headache, I am itchy but we were dealing with another issue then, so I blame the worms.)  I almost lost it that night, but most nights are much easier so all in all - it works!!  Good luck and sweet dreams little ones!

Thanks for stopping by!

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