I have gotten quite a few comments and emails from parents lately about bedtime being a struggle. I wonder if this is in part due to just the time of year it is now, being light later at night here in the Northern Hemisphere.
Nights with a toddler can be challenging….Sometimes toddlers don’t fall asleep very easily or readily. Sometimes they fall asleep easily but then wake up frequently. Sometimes they fall asleep easily but then wake up for a period of hours during the night and then go back to sleep.
The one thing you can count on in toddler nights is that it will change every night!
Many mothers ask about night weaning their toddlers, or how to get their toddlers to sleep longer. Here are some outside resources about toddler sleeping and toddler nights that you might find helpful for you and your family. You are the expert on your family, so take what works for you and your situation:
- Night Weaning, 12 Alternatives For The All- Night Nurser from Dr. Sears: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T070800.asp
- Night Terrors from Dr. Sears: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T071300.asp (This link may not be working, but perhaps if you search the Dr. Sears website it will come up).
- The Dangers of Sleep Training: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T070700.asp
- Elizabeth Pantley’s Eight Sleep Tips For Every Child (although I quibble if 70 percent of children under the age of 5 have sleep problems, then perhaps fractured sleep is actually normal, but that is just a quibble! See the sleep article by Katherine Dettwyler below.) http://www.pantley.com/elizabeth/advice/0071381392.php?nid=104
- One of my favorite articles by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD in Anthropology, about sleeping through the night: http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detsleepthrough.html
- Why Nurse Toddlers, also by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD: http://www.kathydettwyler.org/dettoddler.html
These are some of the links I have found helpful over the years, and I hope you will enjoy them as well.
Some friends and I were recently discussing older children that take an hour or so to really fall asleep. It reminded me of some of the things I have read regarding normal sleep stages.
Around age three is when many children start to go to bed “well”, but they may wake up in the middle of the night and walk around or play. This night waking often disappears by age four, and it may not disturb anyone in the family, but you may find them asleep in odd places in the morning.
Four through seven year olds typically also go to sleep well, but five year olds often have terrible nightmares and wake up screaming. Five and a half year olds and six year olds may also have nightmares, but are usually more readily quieted and calmed than the early five year old.
Children around the age of eight and nine especially often have a really hard time going to sleep; but eight is a lower point for nightmares. Typically there is a rise in nightmares again around the age of nine, which decreases by age ten.
I have seen many children who had trouble sleeping from infancy on; I have also seen children that had extreme trouble in sleeping in infancy who do quite well falling asleep and sleeping through the night during their preschool years and above. It seems to vary widely from individual to individual. It also has seemed to me, from what I have observed, is that children who were in co-sleeping families often do not seem to go through the “hard to go to sleep phase” of eight and nine. That has just been my experience; please leave yours in the comment box.
One thing The Gesell Institute of Human Development recommends in their writings for children who are having trouble falling asleep is to check for allergies to artificial food dyes, but also the common allergens of dairy, wheat and corn.
Nighttime fears can also play a part in a child having difficulty going to sleep. Children can fear wild animals, robbers, the safety of the home, and many other things before they try to go to sleep. It seems the height of this can be for an eight year old. I don’t know as there is any one set way to respond to these fears; I think much of how one approaches this depends on the individual child. Sometimes I think the easiest thing to do in this situation is to accept that this is only for a season and to let the older child fall asleep in the parent’s bed and then move the child to their own room.
I would love to hear your stories on this subject in the comment box.
Many mothers ask this question, especially when infant number two or three comes along: exactly how long should co-sleeping last? when will it end?
In my experience, age five (possibly by age four if there is an older sibling in the room as well), is an age where many children at least start in their own beds. They frequently then will come in when they wake up in the night.
However, even if children START in their own beds, they need to be parented to sleep. Most children like you to lay down with them until they fall asleep. This is the time of the day where your child may be most relaxed and will really talk about serious things that are on his or her mind. It is an opportunity not to be missed!! Most children who are aged eight or so can talk to you, cuddle with you, kiss you good night and then go off to their own room and crawl into bed and fall asleep. They still might like to sleep with you several nights a week if you are open to that.
I find most children sleep pretty well through the night typically around ages six to seven, unless they are sick.
I personally think one should keep a bed open to children as long as possible. If they want to be close to you, why deny the opportunity for connecting with them? Growing up can be scary and wonderful and challenging. Even a nine-year-old is still pretty little. Childhood is such a short time and being open to just being there and being available gives children such a comfort.
PS. And please don’t forget this back post if you need more: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/03/16/co-sleeping-and-nighttime-parenting/
Here are a few more thoughts about small children and sleep:
If you have a child who never has slept well, and medical causes such as silent reflux and unaddressed food allergies have been ruled out, please do try to be calm. This child has a hard time going to sleep, an inability to sleep as it is. I know it is hard, I know it is challenging. But if this were you, you would want to be treated with kindness, and with respect.
After that, we do need to recognize that there are certain things that go with certain ages regarding sleep. For example:
- Ages two to five are times typical of nightmares (and even sleep terrors or sleepwalking!)
- At age two, there are many requests for water, for this, for that. Try to anticipate what your child will need and want. They may want a glass of water at night. Try to keep the bedtime routine short and simple.
- At age two- and- a-half, this is an age of ritual and tradition. They would like the same routine each night. Try to keep the routine as simple as possible and be patient because this ritualistic approach to bedtime really is just a phase.
- To me, age four is about the time children sleep through the night really well, (many sources say sleep is much improved between ages three to four) unless they are still not dry at night and the wetness wakes them up.
Things to keep in mind for all ages:
- Darkness and nighttime separation can be very scary to small children; please keep their needs in mind!
- Getting a child to “go to sleep” can be harder around the ages of 6 and 9 for developmental reasons.
- Please realize changes in development, illness, stress, anxiety, travel, change in life events can really throw off sleeping
- Magnesium, found in leafy green vegetables, is important for sleep.
- Please avoid rough- housing before sleep
- Does your child get up at the same time every day? Does your child go to bed around the same time every day? Most sleep sources seem to cite this rhythm as being important for setting the biological clock.
- How much media does your child watch? Many parents have told me their child slept much better after they cut screens out of their small children’s lives.
- How much outside time is this child getting?
- Do you also dim the lights and put your house to sleep as well at bedtime? This can be very effective with small children
- Do you have a short, simple routine leading up to sleep? Do you have that special (calm, gentle, quiet) voice for telling stories before bed or reading a story before bed? And please consider a one-book or chapter rule and if that would improve things for your child or not. It might! I think this goes along with simplifying the bedtime routine!
AN URGENT NEED FOR SLEEP:
What if sleep for the family is really an emergency situation though? There can be a darker side to all of this if a mother is truly sleep deprived!
I just have to say a brief word about letting a baby “cry-it-out.” First of all, there are NO scientific studies that back up “crying it out”. I have a wonderful article written by Macall Gordon that was published in Attachment Parenting International’s newsletter some years ago called, “The Dark Side of Sleeping Through the Night: Four Big Reasons Why Crying-It-Out Doesn’t Make Sense.” This article is really fabulous, but I could not find it on-line at all, maybe someone else will be able to locate this article and post the link in the comment box. At any rate, the first reason in this article is that “crying-it-out” is that it is not supported by research at all. In fact, as a pediatric physical therapist, I know that crying causes immune function to go down and cortisol (a stress hormone) to rise. Why doesn’t anyone bother to mention that in connection with “crying-it-out”? The other issue I have with this, this time with my IBCLC hat on, is that mothers are biologically programmed through hormones and through lactation to pick their babies up! Why doesn’t anyone talk about that and the biological impulses we try to make mothers override by not validating their own biology? From an attachment stand-point, and for future psychological health, for the future of the entire process of discipline and guiding child, the entire first year is about an infant building up trust in a caregiver. How does “crying-it-out” not harm this? There are a multitude of other reasons that “crying-it-out” is just plain harmful!
People who talk about an infant “playing you” or “manipulating you” at an early age over sleep have absolutely NO understanding of the biological or emotional development of the child. It is unfortunate.
If you need someone to talk to, vent to, or ask about realistic sleep expectations, please, please pick up the phone and call your local La Leche League Leader or Attachment Parenting Leader. La Leche League even has a hotline now! Call and talk to someone!
If you have an urgent need for sleep, the families I have worked with in the past have treated this as REAL. It is urgent, it is as real as being sick! We cannot be the mother we want to be when we are completely sleep-deprived! Vacation time may need to be used so one can sleep and have another person at home to care for the infant. A family member may need to come visit, or friends may need to come and help. Our society can be such a disconnected one, and it can be so challenging to reach out to people and ask for help. Yet, people are typically so willing to help. Other mothers have been there, and they really do understand!
Make a plan for how you can figure this out. Can you sleep when the infant does? What are doing that is more important than sleep? Can someone help you with your other children so you can take your infant to bed and rest? Can you all lay down together and rest? Can you strip a room of dangerous-to-toddler items, lock the door with all of you in this room and rest?
What can you do to help your child enter sleep more easily and rhythmically? The first post in this two-part series had some suggestions for babies who really don’t sleep well, but I suppose the suggestions could be useful for anyone.
Children need a rhythm leading up to sleep or rest to help them wind-down. How you do this in your family is up to you. Some families have used a warm, calm bath. Some have used reading books in that special nighttime/resting reading voice (which is different than the dramatic daytime voice!!). Some families have used rocking, nursing, massage, foot massages, holding as parts of the bedtime routine. How about singing lullabies?
Infants and children DO need to be parented to sleep. Even an eight year old or nine year old likes being read to or to have a conversation before they go to sleep! So, how you parent your child to sleep in your family is up to you as you are the expert on your own family! All I would say is that if you are waiting to the point where your children fight through the bedtime routine or are completely wound-up, you may be starting too late. Try earlier and see if that makes a difference.
People ask me about co-sleeping and when their child will go into their own bed/sleeping surface. …. I remember one especially sweet nurse (an adult, obviously!) I worked with and we were talking about this subject years ago and she said, “You know what? When I go home and visit my mamma, I LOVE to jump into her bed. It smells like her, and I miss seeing her!” I loved that, the association of comfort and wanting to be near our mothers, even when we are adults. I have seen some children take happily to their own bedrooms around two and a half or three and I have seen others do it more around the seven-year-change…Some children will still want to co-sleep when they have a nightmare, when they are getting teeth, when they don’t feel well, on special nights when they are so excited for the next day. Warmth and love at its finest!
FROM A WALDORF POINT OF VIEW:
People ask me about sleep from an anthroposophic point of view, and the above posts are a great place to start. The one thing I would like to add is that from an anthroposophic viewpoint, the small child is developing a relationship to time. Modern medical studies confirm this in many regards; some studies I have read state that it can take up to 40 weeks in order to for an infant to have days/nights straightened out well.
Please do think of rhythm and routines leading up to nap/rest times and bedtimes as your friend. I think it is important to guide our children in this regard, and to just not wait until they fall over from sheer exhaustion after they have been completely wound up!
All food for thought; as usual take what resonates with you for you and your family!
I have had three local mothers in my over twelve years of parenting counseling who had babies under the age of six months who truly did not sleep. It was very difficult. All three cases were very active little girl babies who had a difficult time gaining weight, and once they became mobile older babies/toddlers they were so active that no one other than the mother could seem to watch the baby without the child ending up on the top of refrigerator,etc. They were also toddler masters of getting through baby locks and other child-proofing devices. Whew!
I would like to go over a few points regarding sleep for these types of babies and then children in general.
For babies under the age of 6 months who “don’t sleep”:
1. Realistic expectations are key. Know that there will be times they don’t sleep well due to teething and other developmental stages. Also, how many hours a day are you expecting them to sleep? Babies need time to be outside, time to play on the floor as well as the older babies. They can also be a passive witness to what you are doing from the viewpoint of a sling. Some babies also sleep very well in a sling.
I am sure many of you have seen “the sleep table” in “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” – there are things in this book that I vehemently disagree with, but I like the sleep table It details the number of hours each day infants of different ages sleep, how many naps a day of different ages take and how long those typical naps are. For example: a six-month old is typically taking two naps a day for a total of 3-4 hours and sleeping 10-11 hours at night for a total of 14-15 hours whereas a 2 year old is typically taking one nap a day for one to two hours and sleeping around 12 hours at night for a total of 11 hours of sleep.
2. Biologically, we do not want babies to enter a deep sleep and “sleep soundly” though the night at an early age because 1. this decreases calories for most breastfeeding babies; studies have shown even babies at 10 months can receive up to 25 percent of their calories at night if mothers will still nurse their babies at night. 2. not breastfeeding at night increases the chance of you getting your menstrual cycle back at night and takes away natural child spacing and 3. the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is highest between 2 to 5 months, so we don’t want deep sleeping then. We want arousal out of sleep here and there to keep our babies breathing.
Please see these back posts regarding sleep and co-sleeping: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/05/25/the-early-bedtime/
3. For a baby under 6 months who is not sleeping well, but in a developmental plateau, not getting sick, and not teething, please check yourself. How anxious are you about them not sleeping? Babies pick up on your anxiety!
4. Check warmth. I find babies who are like this, and who are not gaining weight well, are often actually cold. Check these back posts on warmth:
5. Check for food allergies and sensitivities, reflux and colic. There have been some studies showing a positive resolution of colic with care from a qualified pediatric chiropractor; this may be worth a try. For reflux, try www.pager.org
6. As these children grow, I think it is VERY, very important to institute quiet activities with active ones, and yes, periods of rest. We have had several posts in the past regarding “quiet time” that were hot debate. You can see those here: and here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/23/more-about-quiet-time/
Some of these children, particularly when small, will not just go and lay down at a rest time. But it is worth it to all lay down together, to read a book or light a candle and snuggle together for storytelling. That break is important.
It is also important to note, I think, that these children NEED time in nature. That may be only time they actually slow down and get involved in digging in the dirt or other really rhythmical activity that really transports them to a quieter place.
In the next part of this, we will look at what to do when sleep for the whole family is an urgent need, and also a Waldorf view of sleep!
There has recently been an interesting thread over at the Mothering Dot Community Forums (on the Waldorf sub-forum) regarding the importance of hats and warmth and what happens if warmth is not maintained.
Here are some articles regarding warmth to start you off:
This one is about dressing the Waldorf Baby: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby/dressing-the-very-young-child.html
Also this blog post by Donna Simmons regarding the importance of hats:
Here is another article about warmth and health of the young child:
This is one of my personal favorites: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/sjohnsonwarmth.pdf
One point that Susan Johnson, the MD who wrote this article makes, is especially pertinent:
“Warmth is probably one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, not only the warmth of love, but the physical warmth of their bodies. Children are developing their bodies especially during the first seven years of their lives. An infant or a young child will always feel warm unless they are on the verge of hypothermia because they have an accelerated metabolic rate. If we don’t provide them with the layers of cotton and wool to insulate their bodies, then they must use some of their potential “growth” energy to heat their bodies. This same energy would be better utilized in further developing their brain, heart, liver, lungs and other organs.”
Here is a blog post I wrote regarding the 12 senses that points out the place of warmth within the hierarchy of the senses:
I personally think the consequences of not being warm enough comes down to three separate things: one is the fact that then energy is diverted away from development of the inner organs and brain, the second one is that warmth is a gateway to the higher senses of the 12 senses and could possibly be related to the explosion of sensory processing disorders we are seeing in this generation of children, and the third thing is that lack of warmth (both physical AND emotional –always remember that warmth is about emotional warmth as well as the physical warmth) can lead to a literal freezing of creativity and lack of enthusiasm – the highest level of warmth in a human is enthusiasm! Rahima Baldwin Dancy writes on page 48 of “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher”: “The sense of warmth is very important throughout early childhood, for warmth is the vehicle through which the will penetrates the body.”
Edmond Schoorel writes in his book “The First Seven Years: The Physiology of Childhood” that “In the child, the warmth of the body is warmth of the head. In the lower pole, we have to look for the warmth of will. That has to do with an intentional, directed will that brings the child into a true relationship with his or her environment. It is obvious that infants do not have this yet. Most of their movements are chaotic and undirected. During infancy, each directed movement is connected to reflexes, such as aiming for the nipple, sucking, or swallowing.” Remember, sometimes nothing can calm a baby as a warm hat, warmth is important for good weight gain and for organization of the senses.
Therefore, it is a good idea to keep your child’s head covered throughout the first year and to really watch the layers of clothing a child wears up until age 9 or so. Wool and silk are preferable coverings; some of my favorite caps for infants and toddlers can be found here: http://www.nordicwoollens.com/c188943.2.html
Stay warm this winter and all-year round,
“In consideration of healthy physical development, one cannot stress enough the need for long periods of rest and sleep for young children. In fact, due to the increasing pace of life, more sleep is needed now than ever before to offset the physiologic strain on the young body.”
-“Toward Human Development: The Physiological Basis of Sleep” by Lisa Gromicko, available through the Waldorf Early Childhood office.
Sleep deprivation affects everything, but some main salient points include the role of sleep deprivation in such disorders as ADHD, lowered immune function, the difficulty of the development of the lower senses of the 12 senses.
Naps are extremely beneficial, according to Gromicko’s article. Morning naps have more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and help with brain maturation. This is the nap that tends to be dropped first. The afternoon nap has more non-REM sleep, which is more important for physical restoration. Again, according to this article naps should last at least 30 minutes, with an afternoon nap ending by 2:30 or 3 p.m. at the latest. In Waldorf circles, children of ages 3-6 are still seen as needing a nap of 1-3 hours. If a child is not napping, their bedtime should definitely be by 7 p.m.!
The role of regulating sleep is seen as a the responsibility of the parent to help the child develop a rhythm gently and over time. “The young child’s rhythmic (cardiovascular) system is not yet developed, but the health and building up of the entire physiology depends upon rhythm. Rhythm must be imprinted in the early years from without. The child learns to sleep by having adults that understand the importance of sleep. Sacrifices are usually necessary today to create a rhythmic lifestyle that allows for an unhurried pace. This includes regulating when the child sleeps and awakens, mealtimes, when and how much to play, limiting stimulation, consistency, predictability – a slow, even tempo with rests at regular intervals.” (Gromicko).
Okay, this is Carrie here. I know what you are thinking – Carrie, I have this child that wakes up every 45 minutes when they come out of a sleep cycle; Carrie- I have this child that nurses every hour and a half at night, Carrie, I have this child that is teething and miserable.
I know, and I have been there. I think one thing of paramount importance is to consider and rule out such things as gastroesophageal reflux, and other physical ailments that could be affecting sleep and deal with those first. If you read the article I linked to in the first part of this post, the Susan Johnson article, it is an anthroposophic view that perhaps the liver needs help in children with sleep issues. Some of this can be addressed through a different rhythm, and some families I know have put great stock into working with a homeopath to address sleep problems with their children and have had great success.
After ruling out physical problems, then perhaps look at possible causes of over-stimulation. Is there a consistent rhythm where you are firmly entrenched in your home? Or is it a barrage of running errands? How much media exposure is there? What are the general sensory impressions the child is receiving all day long – are they warm, positive, joyful impressions or ones of stress, negativity? Are you trying to “hurry up your child to go to sleep?”
Someone asked me once what I do with older toddlers and younger preschoolers who “won’t go to bed”…..Always to consider is the amount of physical activity the child is getting during the day, and the rhythm of the outbreath and inbreath during the day. If you put your whole house to bed, and really slow down at night, even if your child can’t fall asleep sometimes they will lie there and rest for a bit. Sometimes I will give mine a basket of small wooden animals to line up while I do something repetitive and physical with my hands in a dimly-lit room (knitting, folding laundry, etc) until the child is sleepy. It is always a consideration that the child is actually overtired and needs that time to unwind…
Sleep is such an important issue, especially in children under the age of 9, that I encourage you to look at this with your spouse or partner and devise the things that will work best for you all so everyone gets enough rest!
Blessings to you,
(Part Two of this article can be found here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/14/part-two-of-a-waldorf-inspired-view-of-sleep/
Also, if you run ”sleep” in the Search Engine box, many posts will come up – happy reading!)
Whew! Volumes and volumes have been written about sleep, co-sleeping, sleep and breastfeeding, trying to get an infant, toddler or preschooler to sleep, and the like. It can be so overwhelming!! It can be especially overwhelming when you are sleep-deprived and trying to sift through all this “sleep help”, LOL!
Sleep and rest are cornerstones of Waldorf-inspired parenting and education. Waldorf Education is the ONLY educational method that utilizes a rhythm of teaching in conjunction with sleep in order to aid learning!
Today, we are going to peek at some of the physiologic and anthroposophic views of the foundation of sleep. Hang in there with me and I will try to make what I have read and digested as plain as possible. Donna Simmons of Christopherus also has an audio download in her bookshop on “Sleep”; I do not have it yet but have it on my list for upcoming purchase because I am just garnering lots of information regarding sleep and Waldorf education. The link to the audio CD is here: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/bookstore-for-waldorf-homeschooling/audio-downloads.html
Here is an article entitled, “The Importance of Sleep” by Susan Johnson, a MD with an anthroposophic perspective: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW4003.pdf. There are also several other articles available regarding sleep through www.waldorflibrary.org if you just use “sleep” in the Search Engine Box.
There are several reasons why sleep and rest especially in a child under the age of 7, (and also in children and adults of all ages!) are considered vitally important from an anthroposophic standpoint.
1. The years of birth through age 7 are seen as the foundation for the humanity of the child, for the unfolding of the soul, and especially for the basis of the ages of 35-42 in later life.
2. The ability of the child to perform intellectual work in the grades is dependent upon the development of the well-developed lower senses of the 12 senses and also of the systems that Steiner termed the nerve-sense organs/brain/nervous system. The only time the body has physical growth is during SLEEP.
3. A young child is unified in body, soul and spirit and all sense impressions go right into the child without any ability on the part of the child to censor these impressions. These impression form the physical body, and sleep is the way these impressions build up the physical body.
In anthroposophic thought, sleep is not only the place where the etheric body takes in these sense impressions and uses them within the physical body, it is the place where the etheric body itself is built up and renewed. The primary organ to do this is the LIVER (see the link to the Susan Johnson article I listed above).
The LIVER follows a very rhythmic pattern. From the article, “Toward Human Development: The Physiological Basis of Sleep,” author Lisa Gromicko writes:
“Carbohydrates are synthesized into sugars (glycogen), which are then stored in the liver during its “night” assimilatory phase beginning at 3 p.m. and peaking at 3 a.m. These stored sugars are converted to blood glucose during the daytime for the activities of consciousness beginning at 3 a.m., though the catabolic (breaking down) influence of the gall bladder in the liver until about 3 p.m. Here, we can see the importance of going to sleep early: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. for children and 9-10:00 p.m. for adults. Staying up late causes the liver to reverse its storing-up activity intended for the next day and to instead begin converting glycogen to glucose for energy, thus we get a “second wind” (especially children). This explains the worn-out feeling the next morning and the daylong physiologic struggle to keep up (Johnson).”
Rhythm is what supports the foundation of sleep, and a lack of sleep not only places a great stress upon the liver as noted, but also an anthroposophic viewpoint is that lack of rhythm also places stress on the heart and adrenal glands. Gromicko writes, “The more sleep-deprived a child is, the more excitable he will be, and some children in this condition are constantly in various states of arousal. The stress hormones produced in response to arousal tax the liver greatly. Blood pressure, breath, and heart rate accelerate, as well as many other processes, which the heart as central to the rhythmic system must mediate.”
More to come in a future post regarding naps, sleep, and rhythm!