How to Handle… a Night Owl
Three takes on dealing with a baby who won't go down for the night
Of course our babies are delightful, but—let’s be honest—maybe not so much at 3 AM. We asked three experts how to get wakeful tots onto the night-sleep bandwagon so that sleepy moms and dads can climb aboard, too.
Jill Spivack, LCSW, co-author of The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parents Guide to Getting your Child to Sleep
and founder of Sleepy Planet
“For baby and toddler night owls, slightly adjusting daytime schedules can have a big effect. Be sure that your baby isn’t waking up too late in the morning (after 7 or 8 AM), and is taking adequate naps (but not overnapping). Most babies need approximately 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night and somewhere in the range of 2 to 4 hours during the day in the first year, depending on their specific age.
“Also, if you baby isn’t napping well and is overtired, this can actually cause more of a fight at bedtime, as his body will become stressed and produce a hormone called cortisol. When it comes to helping your child sleep, cortisol is not your friend. It acts as a stimulant, like adrenaline or caffeine, and can cause your child to become ‘wired,’ or to appear to get a second wind when it’s time for bed.”
Dr. Harvey Karp, creator of the best-selling DVDs The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block , and author of The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep
“From about 6 months of age (or even a month or two earlier) babies don’t want to be alone, and the older the get, the more they like company in the bedroom. They’re social, and they’d prefer to be up having fun with mom and dad to being in bed at night. Luckily, there are a couple of things parents can do to help steer little ones toward sound night-time sleep.
“One is to start the bedtime routine about an hour before it’s actually time for your tot to be in bed: dim the lights (at least 50 percent) and turn on a low-pitched, rumbly white noise CD (played softly in the background). These changes cue the brain to release melatonin—its natural sleep hormone—which will allow your child to give in to sleep much more easily.
“Second, leave the white noise on throughout the night at about the volume of a running shower. (This also really helps naps!). For babies, these low, rumbly sounds can actually help trigger the calming reflex, but for older infants and toddlers they provide a kind of ‘teddy bear of sound.’ The familiar, recurring sound helps cover over other sounds in the home, so they can avoid getting distracted and just go back to sleep. An amazing thing about white noise is that it even helps a child ignore the mild annoyance of teething, mild hunger… and having to poop.”
Angelique Millette, parent coach, sleep consultant, and infant/toddler sleep researcher
“Very often, sleep issues can develop during a developmental or movement milestone phase. There are eight of these developmental milestones in the first 12 months of life, and another big developmental milestone between 18 and 22 months. The movement milestones include rolling, pushing up to all fours, crawling, pulling to standing (and getting down!) and walking. When babies and toddlers go through these phases, their brains are rapidly ‘firing and wiring’ new skills, and often they will wake up for an hour, or several hours, in the middle of the night to practice, often in their sleep. The phases last a few nights on up to a week or two, and they will pass, but your baby or toddler may need a little more of your help during these phases.”
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