Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is Your Baby Overtired?

"I don't let my child's naps hinder
me from doing my grocery shopping!"
Sleep is under-emphasized in our society.  We burn the candle at both ends.  We work weekends.  Yet our kids are important to us, too, so we tote them around, taking them with us to Wal-mart at all times of the day and night and bringing them along to parties.  The general consensus is that you've got a "good sleeper" if your kid will crash anywhere.

The problem with this is the quality of sleep.  In a nutshell, sleep is a complicated state that occurs best when it's the right time.  Fluctuating hormones cause us all to enter sleep states and wake states throughout a 24 hour period (see the Napping Window).  It is possible to put a child to sleep during a wake state (although it will probably take a long time!) but because of the increased cortisol hormone, the sleep will not be as deep and the sleep period will probably be short.

All of that to say that, after 4 months of age, a routine helps to train a child's body when it's time to sleep. 

Just as important as the timing is the place.  Although she looks completely zonked, a soft blanket and a shopping cart are no substitute for her bed.  You're familiar with sleep cycles, right?  Fall asleep, get deeper into sleep, cycle up to a lighter sleep state, and then without waking, go back into a deeper sleep.  Many cycles per night.  The reason that still, quiet sleep is the most restorative is because the motion and the noise hinder getting into that deep sleep state.  Her mind is not able to rest.

I don't want to make anyone mad, but I do think that parents are sadly unaware of some facts about their child's sleep.  First of all, some things I've heard parents say.

•  My child just isn't the type to conform to a sleep routine.
•  My child doesn't need as much sleep as other children.
•  Our family is on the go.  It's best if our child just gets used to it now!

If you've found yourself thinking or saying something like this before, please consider some of these symptoms of over tiredness in babies and young children.

•  Waking grumpy vs. happy
•  Unable to play happily by themselves during their wake time
He crashed.  Kinda funny, but
really just kinda sad.
•  Unexplained fussing
•  Yawning or rubbing eyes a lot
•  Fidgety or spazzy
•  Easily startled
•  Irregular sleep patterns
•  Fights naps and/or bedtime
•  Random unexplained night wakings
•  Complains of headache or stomach ache
•  Seemingly not tired when you know they should be
•  Waking within minutes after being put down for a nap
•  Crashing randomly

Imagine what it feels like when you haven't gotten enough sleep.  Miserable, right?  What's work like the day after you haven't gotten enough sleep?  I'll skip to the chase because I think you get my drift.  A bad attitude and a hard-to-pin-down schedule today are the least of your concerns when your child is sleep deprived.  Weissbluth writes, "Small but constant deficits in sleep over time tend to have escalating and perhaps long-term effects on brain function."  Not to mention the affect sleep has on health.  Some long-term affects of a child who does not get healthy sleep can be decreased mental focus, insomnia, ADD and ADHD.  People take medicine and suffer from these ailments that might have never occurred had they been getting enough sleep.

Eliminating a child's sleep deficit is not easy, but anything you can do to help your child get more sleep (the right kind of sleep... still, quiet, consolidated, and regular) will benefit their health and development.  If you want to get started, you know the book I'll recommend.  I love to talk about this stuff (can you tell?) so please let me know if I can be of any support.

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