Mommy Minute
Got Sleep?
By Rachel Greene
Jun 1, 2002 - 12:07:00 PM

LOS ANGELES — Ahhhhh, sleep. For those of you with newborns, do you even remember what that is? Those first several weeks of a baby's life are hell when it comes to getting z's. If you've never experienced it, it's not something to look forward to. For me, it was worse the second time around because I was unable to "catch up" on sleep during the day when Cole napped because I had Ryan to take care of. But, it does get better especially with a little help. My help came in the form of a book someone gave me as a gift when I was pregnant with Ryan. I swear to you that if you CONSISTENTLY use the information and techniques given in it, you will have a baby who becomes a great sleeper as early as 5-6 months old.

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Jenna Skarzenski / Canyon News
The name of the book is "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," by Marc Weissbluth, M.D. It is designed to help you establish good sleep habits in your child early on, thus preventing difficulties later. And, there's help for parents who are past preventing and need fixing tips. The beginning of the book gives some background on why good day sleep and night sleep (there is a difference!) are essential for a child. Adaptability, intelligence, and temperament are some of the things affected by sleep. Parents who protect their children's sleep habits will reap the benefits of a "happy child" AND get good sleep themselves. Weissbluth also discusses the difference between "healthy" sleep and "disturbed" sleep and how the latter will produce crabby kids. Who wants that?

The nitty gritty of the book begins in Part Two: "How Parents Can Help Their Children Establish Healthy Sleep Habits: From Infancy to Adolescence" Honestly, there's not much you can do for the first few months of your child's life. They sleep when they want to and the best you can do is let them. There really isn't a "schedule" or predictability until maybe 4 months of age so you have to learn to go with the flow and sleep when you can. But, as you'll read in Chapter 6: Months 4 to 12, things begin to change. Below you will find a list of what I believe are some of the most important things to know. However, I HIGHLY recommend you get the book yourself and read it through as you will get the whole picture much clearer.

Between 4 and 8 months, look for a baby to be tired within 2 hours of wakefulness (between 8 and 12 months it stretches to 3 hours). This means that if the baby wakes at 6 a.m., expect him to need to go back to sleep by 8 a.m. Sometimes he may get tired within an hour and sometimes he might make it the full 2 hours, but watch for signs of tiredness.

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When you see those signs (i.e. rubbing his eyes), get your child to his crib. Sleeping in a bouncy seat, in the car, or in a swing does not provide the ideal environment for good sleep. And, the earlier you teach your child that the crib means sleep, the better for everyone later on when separation issues can come into play.

If you keep the child up past this window of time, he will become overtired and much more difficult to get to sleep.

It's okay to let your child cry when you first put him down to sleep. Now, I know there are parents out there who think this is cruel and harmful to the child, but I am not talking about letting a child cry hysterically for an hour. Parents know how to read cries and it's natural for him to give a "protest" cry of "hey, I want to stay with you." But, you have to think of it as "teaching" the child how to fall asleep on his own. Trust me, this comes in handy once you're past night feedings and the child naturally wakes up during the night (we all do) and will actually get himself back to sleep if you've been consistent with things mentioned in the book!!!!!!!! Weissbluth covers the crying issue very well, so again I recommend you get the book if I haven't explained it well enough here.

It's best to start "teaching" children how to sleep early on (starting in the 4-8 month range). If you wait or are not consistent (see the next tip), the child will develop bad habits that are hard to break.

YOU HAVE TO BE CONSISTENT! This is something you have to make a commitment to if you want it to work. Your child will eventually develop a sleep pattern during the day and night (for specifics on those patterns, read the book!). When he is tired, you need to put him down for a nap and for bedtime. This might mean delaying or even skipping a trip to the store or the child not seeing the parent who comes home from work late, etc. But, you HAVE to let them sleep when they need to or this will NOT work. Skipping naps and putting them to bed late does no one any favors because it will typically mean night wakings, crabby behavior and so on. I know this necessary consistency can be inconvenient. Believe me, I've gotten many strange looks from family at holiday gatherings when I say that we have to leave because Cole needs to go to bed at 6, for instance. But, to me, having a happy, well-rested child means a lot more to me than anything else.

And, that's exactly what I have. Two happy, well-rested boys; thanks to this book. I truly believe that because I taught them both how to sleep it has helped them become the great kids that they are. Of course, they have a stay-at-home mom who can keep things consistent and well-balanced, which helps too. I urge you to get this book but only if you're willing to follow the advice. And if you do you will sleep, your child will sleep, and you'll all be happy.



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