Monthly Archives: July 2009

The best laid plans…

I tried. I really did. I had the best intentions to keep up the blog while I was away but I totally dropped the ball. Because guess what?!  Kids? They're great, but they require FOOD and ATTENTION and STORIES and MY ARMS (to keep from drowning in large bodies of water). And since this is a blog about sleep issues, let me just tie this up neatly and say that the boys' sleep has been all whacky (not necessarily bad exactly, just whacky) and that means that I've been a bit whacky. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining AT ALL, but I'll spare you the details since you did not come to Isabel Granic's personal blog (not that I have one) but to a blog that you thought might have something to say about child development, sleep issues, and the relation therein-ish.

So, the truth is, I won't be able to get to any real nitty-gritty topics until next Monday. My brain is fried and slushy from heat, humidity and too much cheese. I want to keep my focus on my boys for these last few days of holidays and then I'll be back in earnest. I have LOTS to write about and tons of excellent questions from you to address but my headspace is all wrong for doing justice to those topics.

Please bear with me… Hope you're happy and well and enjoying some sunshine.

Context Matters Part III: Reader’s question about physical milestones and their impact on sleep

Another very common change in "context" that is oftentimes overlooked is the onset of new motor skills, most notably rolling over, crawling, and walking. All these fabulous physical milestones change the way your baby sees the world in fundamental ways. Here's one of many similar questions I've received:

I just received your book and found out that we are now entering a good
sleep training phase since my son turns 1 this coming Friday.  I want to get
him to start falling asleep on his own, but if I try to put him in his crib
while he's only half asleep, he just stands right up like he's on automatic
pilot.  If I then leave him he starts to cry and I don't want to use any of
the CIO methods. Besides, that doesn't work with him because it just
escalates into a frenzy. I still have his crib in our room and want to get
him into a firm sleep habit before trying to move him into his own room. I
can't figure out how to get him to relax though….

This is a classic age when SOME kids have a hard time falling asleep. And it has a lot to do with the new motor skills they're learning and practicing — namely walking. About the 12th month mark is when many kids start learning to walk and all hell can break loose with their sleep habits because their little minds and bodies are furiously practicing. By the way, children can start walking as early as 8 months (oh… I pity the parents that have to deal with those little daredevils) and as late as 18 months with no long-term benefits or problems. When we watch people do things, even if we are currently not doing them ourselves, a fascinating thing happens in our brains. The same pattern of neurons fire whether we're watching someone move their arm , for example, or if we ourselves are moving that arm. This  fascinating discovery is considered by some to be the most important one made by neoroscientists for decades –  "mirror neurons." So it may be that when children are watching others walking and when they are put in their cribs alone, what they are doing is not only moving their feet, poppinp up and down holding the bars of the cribs, cycling their little legs, and so on. They are also probably imagining the act of walking — both when they're awake and asleep, dreaming. This may be why many kids' sleep is disrupted as they're at the cusp of mastering physical skills. There are no direct studies that have mapped the neuronal activities of babies asleep in their cribs when they're just starting to walk, but that would be my strong hunch of what's going on.

The same holds true of the other major physical milestones — they too have the potential to disrupt sleep. So, rolling over (around 5-6 months), crawling (around 8-10 months) and walking (around 12-14 months) may be difficult times for sleep training also (Again, please keep in mind that these age-spans are approximate. My kids didn't hit any of these milestones "on time" if that matters to anyone). And remember the title of this post was supposed to be the continuation of Part I and Part II about how context can have an impact on sleep-training or can disrupt already well-established sleep habits. The reason this post is also about context is that when children learn new motor skills their WHOLE WORLD is blown apart. So many of the most important parts of their contexts undergo radical changes. The baby that can suddenly roll over begins to feel the wonder of intentionally changing their body posture, their view, their physical feeling of how the exist in the world. The baby who can finally crawl finally feels the incredible miracle of being able to reach and chase stuff that's so far been out of his reach. The baby who previously had to point or squak to get you to get her some toy across the room can now DO IT HERSELF!  YIPPEEEEE! Now mulitply that miracle by 100 when walking begins. Oh how fast he can now move to the desired object! How much fun it is to hurl yourself onto couches and into grass and to push, push, push chairs and tables and plastic lawn mowers and so, so much more. The world around these babies is indeed changing dramatically and, as we talked about before, these shifts in contexts can have a major impact on sleep (as well as moods and thinking styles… but that's another post).

Bedtiming will be published in the States: Any changes/additions you’d like to see?

I seems like my internet access is a lot more sparse than I had planned. So all those posts that I almost finished? They're not getting finshed very quickly. What with 2 three-year olds running rampant and actually requiring parenting (the nerve… on MY vacation) and a husband who seems to believe that computer time isn't all that romantic, I'm less likely to post as frequently as I planned for the next couple of weeks.

But I did want to ask those of you who have read our book, Bedtiming, whether you wish there was something in there that wasn't or if you'd make any changes if you could. We just got word that we've sold the rights to the book in the States. That means we have a shot of changing things somewhat if we want. I'd love to hear from some of you…

1. What do you wish was in there that wasn't?
2. What did you find unclear that we might be able to explain better?
3. What do you wish we had left out of the book?

We'd appreciate any feedback you have!  Thanks!  (And I'll try to post something more substantive ASAP).

Reader’s question: Sleep considerations when travelling

Um, yeah, remember I said that I had a bunch of posts in the hopper waiting to be automatically uploaded at regular intervals? Well that didn't work as well as I had planned, did it? I have no idea what happened, but it seems that nothing has yet been posted. Sorry… and onward.

I am currently travelling with our two lovely but CRAZY three-year olds. Crazy in that they are completely unpredictable. We flew overseas and of course I was sure they'd eventually SLEEP overnight. You know, on that OVERNIGHT flight?! They did not sleep ONE WINK. How does that happen? They were up until 2 am and they seemed permanently set on party mode. I was convinced that the rest of our trip would be fraught with sleep HELL. I certainly was prepared to be up ten bajillion times per night as they adjusted to being jet lagged. And yet, for the first 3 nights of our trip they've slept 14 hours straight through the night, 13 hours and 12 hours, respectively. Go figure… I don't know why any of you listen to me. I have NO IDEA what's up with this sleep stuff. But enough about me let's move on to the reader's question:

I started 'sleep training' over a week ago with a 'gentle'
approach by sitting by his crib and soothing him.  Each night I moved
further away until I was out the door.  When I was out the door, we did
the Ferber method.  Generally speaking, it's worked pretty well.  The
most he ever cried so far was 40 minutes.  He's gone to bed the past
few nights without any crying and when he wakes in the night, he
typically puts himself to sleep in under 5 minutes.  I still feed him
once in the night, but will work on that in a few weeks.  I plan to
work on naps next since he typically nurses through the duration of his
nap and is always held.  So, after all of that long-winded background
information, here are my questions:

  1. Does the timing in your book apply to naps as well?  Do I need to
    be 'all done' with sleep training my son for naps before he is 7.5
    months old?
  2. I've heard and read that it may be necessary to 'sleep train' your
    child multiple times.  For example, after illness or after traveling. 
    If we travel after our son is 7.5 months old, do you recommend we hold
    off on 're-training' him until after 12 months?!  Or, does your timing
    generally only apply to the first time you 'sleep train' your child? 
    We have quite a bit of travel coming up during the 7.5-12 month
    timeframe and I'm concerned about the impact to our son and us.

Great questions. Let's start with question #1: The short answer is, yes. Timing ANY big transition is best done outside of the sensitive developmental windows. As you may have figured out by now, I think that the developmental transition periods are periods of vulnerability during which children are sensitive in general and changing any established habits — including, but not limited to naptimes and bedtimes — are more difficult during these stages. Extending this idea, I actually think that events such as potty-training, entering a new daycare, changing caregivers, and weaning could best be done (IOW, more easily and with less distress) outside of these sensitive developmental stages. But returning to the specific question, being "all done" would be ideal, but of course circumstances in our lives usually don't align themselves perfectly with optimal developmental timing. All we can do is to try to time things as far away from these ongoing sensitive periods; but remember, these ages are approximate and you've got a little leway on both sides of the ages spans we talk about here (and in the book).

In terms of the second question, yes, the dirty little secret that very few people talk about is that MOST of us have to sleep-train our children more than once. Illness, travelling, a new sibling, moving houses, and parents going back to work (or changing hours) may all be reasons why hard-won sleep habits can disintegrate and sleep-training efforts will need to be renewed. From our experience with our own children and hearing many stories from countless parents, I DO believe that the subsequent sleep-training efforts are usually more easily implemented and cause generally less distress for the whole family. BUT THIS IS NOT BASED ON ANY RESEARCH EVIDENCE. I need to be clear about what I have a strong feeling about, based on experience and anecdotal evidence, and what is backed up by empirical evidence. Also, we may have to use different methods at different
developmental stages. For example, I think straightforward Ferberizing
can work quite well for some children around 6 months or so, but 3
year-olds are not going to be easily "Ferberized." So not only do we often have to sleep-train a few times, but we may need to be flexible with the methods that will be most effective over these repeated efforts.

So back to the second part of question #2, I think that sometimes, if kids have already learned to put themselves back to sleep at one time, when those habits get shaken up (by illness or travel, for example), you can "remind" kids how to do it, even during developmental transition periods. This is because these "booster" sleep-training sessions may not trigger the same sorts of fears of loss, anxiety about the "unknown"; basically, they may not be loaded with the same intense emotions the second, third or fourth time. So, if I were you, I would TRY to re-train as soon as you get back from all your travelling. Implement your preferred sleep-training method for a few days and if after 3 days or so things don't start improving, then you may indeed want to wait for a couple more months. But you may be surprised by how easily your baby "remembers" the skills she learned so well a few months ago. 

Enjoy your time away, good luck with the "re-training" and keep us posted with how it goes. Because there are no systematic studies on this exact topic, I am genuinely interested in whether this advice is sound. Anyone else have any datapoints a la Moxie? Any other parents have experience with sleep-training multiple times? Was it easier each consecutive time? Did it depend on what age you were "retraining"? I'd love to conduct a study on this…

Holiday! Celebrate!

Please, someone tell me how to get this song out of my head now…

I wanted to let you all know that I'll be off for a month (part work, part vacation). I'll still be posting though. I've got some back-logged posts that will be automatically uploaded while I'm gone and I'll be writing a bit while I'm away. I expect that I'll be able to post at least 2 entries per week, maybe 3. But I WON'T be able to get to any emails for a month. So, if you do have questions you want me to address, feel free to send them along, but I won't be replying for about 5 weeks or so.

In the meantime, I'd be thrilled if you used the comments section to support one another through some of the huge transitions you all are going through. I hope the posts I'll be putting up in the next month feel relevant to many of you and that they spark some great discussions.

Also, if you haven't already joined and you'd like a forum that might feel more comfortable for casual discussions, come by our Facebook page and join the group as a "fan." (Either search for Bed Timing — two words — or just click the link). Some discussion boards are already set up and anyone can start new topics. Also, any new ideas about how to structure that space are very welcome.

Hope you all get some well-deserved rest and fun in the next few weeks!

Context Matters Part II: Understanding sleep setbacks

We've talked a lot about sleep setbacks (or regressions) in terms of sensitive developmental stages and how those stages can throw to high-hell all previously hard-won sleeping skills. But I left off Part I of this series suggesting that another common cause of sleep setbacks can be a change in the context of going to sleep—often a change that we’re unaware of, or that we don’t see as important, and sometimes a change that we can’t control. Changes in context come in all varieties. Some are obvious: like a change in location. Sleep habits have a tendency to go out the window when you’re on vacation (I know a lot of us are anxious about this now), or sleeping in a hotel room or relative’s guest room. Which is one reason why “vacations” may not be so restful during the early years. (Suffice it to say that our last week's family cottage "vacation" could better be described as one large slumber party badly in need of Super Nanny intervention). Other obvious changes in context are alterations in who is taking care of the child and who is putting him or her to sleep. If mom is always present when baby goes to sleep, then her absence can have a formidable impact on sleeping habits, and dad may be at an utter loss while mom is finally out for her first Margarita with her girlfriends since the baby was born. But these changes are usually temporary and/or avoidable (not that I'm saying that the night out with the girlfriends SHOULD be avoided… not at all).

Other changes in context are not so easy to avoid. When winter turns to spring and spring to summer, your baby may have to get used to going to sleep with light pouring through the curtains. And even the smallest sliver of light may be enough to change her fundamental sense that it’s not bedtime yet. When a new baby comes along, a new sibling, this can also cause a major upheaval to your previously perfect sleeper. Now you’re different in so many ways. You don’t read as many books at bedtime. You’re tired, you’re less patient, you smell funny (fresh spit-up on your t-shirt has such a… specific odour) and so forth. And there are different noises in the house. Things aren’t as quiet as they used to be. These sorts of changes in context are rather hard or impossible to avoid or even dampen, but they may have drastic effects on your child’s sleeping habits regardless. Champion sleepers may suddenly lie awake, chanting, or whining, or rattling the bars of their cribs like little criminals. All because the context of going to sleep has changed in some pivotal way.

One way to think of the solution for sleep setbacks caused by changes in context may sound simplistic: change the context back to whatever worked best or whatever context has been in place until now. If you can. Of course, if the change in context is a change in season, from winter to spring, you won’t have much luck changing it back for another half year or so. But you can, instead, install heavy curtains to block out the light coming through the window. And that’s often the best you can do: approximate the context that’s been in place up until now. If the noise level in the house is the problem, put a white noise generator, or simply a fan, next to the baby’s crib. Sometimes a CD of lullabies does the trick. The key to finding the right solution is pin-pointing what’s different. What’s changed? Often some detective work is required. Whatever has changed in the lighting, atmosphere, sound level, or you may not be the least bit obvious, even though that change is sufficiently potent to make a big difference to your child’s sleep. Babies and toddlers are exquisitely sensitive little beings, and their nervous systems are tuned to many perceptual aspects of their environment that completely escape your attention. And they like familiarity. So, if a sleep setback seems to have no other reason behind it, and a change in context is the likely culprit, try to put yourself in that crib, tune your eyes, ears, nose, and skin to the world around you as sensitively as you can, and you’ll probably figure out the problem in no time. Along these same lines, if you're going on vacation, try to mimic the exact sleep context
you have at home: the same dark room, the same teddy, blanket, soother,
the same stories, the same music, and so on.

Finally, some changes in context are unavoidable and no approximation on your part will bring back what the baby was previously used to (for example, babies grow out of swaddles — even the most "miraculous" of them all — and you're not going to be rolling a 12-month old into a tight blanket; toddlers leap out of cribs and the inevitable move to the "big boy/girl bed" can't be put off until adolescence — despite MY best efforts). When these unavoidable changes in sleep contexts occur, the only thing we can do is rest-assured that children are miraculously adaptive little organisms and they DO learn new sleep habits with our help. 

Part III will cover how PHYSICAL milestones can be considered a fundamental change in the child's context and, of course, why this might spell trouble for already-established healthy sleep habits.

Anyone going through one of these unavoidable changes in sleep contexts? How are you coping?