Likely you and yours are traveling to the beach this Summer. While the little ones are busy splashing and digging (and probably eating a fair share of sand), take a minute to watch the waves and the surfers and you may find the key to quickly improving your child’s sleep struggles.
One of the most common obstacles to smooth sleep I help families improve is timing. The timing of your nap and bedtime attempts can make or break your child’s ability to fall asleep quickly and easily (or at all!) as well as how sound the resulting sleep will be. Why does sleep timing have such an impact? Every child has a maximum period they can comfortably spend awake. Once they have exceeded that ideal “window” of time, the body says, “Oh no…I’m getting too tired! I need to find a way to keep going!” And it responds by releasing hormones that are designed to do just that, give your child a burst of energy – a second wind. If you bike or run or swim, you are no doubt familiar with this second wind phenomenon. You can manage to push through a feeling of sheer exhaustion to finish with flying colors! In athletics a second wind can be helpful. When you’re trying to get your child to fall and stay asleep…not so much.
The trickiest things about addressing sleep issues is that many babies and toddlers wait until that window has already closed before giving us any indication that they are tired. Many I work with do show the typical signs of eye rubbing, yawning, clinginess and fussiness but not on the early, helpful side of tired. They shift from, “I’m fine, I’m fine” to “I am a hot mess!”, with zero warning or wiggle room between. Or some show no signs at all and seem to never need to sleep. You may not be aware to see any indication that this counterproductive hormone process is kicking off inside your child’s body. Once it has though, sleep will be harder to come by and more restless. A child who has a second wind, and especially once who chronically spends too long awake, is more likely to fight falling asleep and to pop wake too soon and often. If you’re dealing with sleep battles, short naps and frequent night waking, this wave lesson is for you.
With your toes in the sand, watch the surfers as they dangle on their boards, waiting for just the ride wave to catch. What are they waiting and watching for? Well, would you want to paddle into a wave that is already peaking and crashing? Or one that is just starting to build, so you can smoothly ride with it? Your sleep solution may lie in that answer. So many of us are crashing into the wave of our child’s tiredness after it has already peaked when we want to be catching sooner, it as it building for the smoothest ride to sleep.
This puts us as parents in quite a predicament. We want to catch the wave of tiredness as it builds but our child may not be a reliable indicator of when that is! What is a parent to do? For now, stop relying on your child’s cues. They are paddling you both into a “gnarly” ride. Instead, watch the clock. Note (yes, you may need to literally track this for a while) how long your child typically spends awake between sleep attempts and the result. Then experiment by shrinking that wakeful period in increments of 15 minutes at a time until you find a sweet spot where sleep is easier to come by and, perhaps, lasts a longer duration. This may mean heading up for a nap or bedtime attempt when your child doesn’t appear tired at all. That is terrifying, I know, but just trust me. It often works worlds better. And it probably can’t get worse, right?
Of course there are other reasons why sleep may be a struggle for your child but learning to ride the wave of tiredness rather than crashing into it is the first step to a smoother ride. If you’re struggling to improve sleep on your own, feel free to contact me to chat about tackling it together.
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