The hardest part about being a family is that everyone is their own unique person. It is exactly how we were designed, but it doesn’t mean it is easy when everyone's at different life stages affecting their sleep cycles.
As a wife, full-time working mom of two kids and a graduate student pursuing a PhD, sleep is essential to the rhythm of our family. Today, we will take a closer look at how life can affect sleep in a family from the smallest to the oldest.
For the first few days and weeks, we knew instantly our son would be different than out daughter. He was very gassy, congested all the time, and very wiggly especially around dinnertime. Around 5 weeks, we were noticing the crying never could be stopped from 6 - 10 p.m. It was constant, loud, consistent and daily.
Though colic does not have a cure, it is important to recognize the symptoms:
- Intense crying that is unlike the normal hunger or wet diaper cries.
- Extreme fussiness even after crying has diminished.
- Predictable timing, with episodes often occurring in the evening.
- Facial discoloring, such as reddening of the face or paler skin around the mouth.
- Bodily tension, such as pulled up or stiffened legs, stiffened arms, clenched fists, arched back, or tense abdomen.
Here are a few tips to get through colic with your baby that I wish we would have known earlier:
- Know the signs! We just thought he was gassy or fussy.
- Purchase the Happi Tummi! It is a waistband that heats up with an herbal remedy. After about 10 days, he was incomplete without it.
- Bathtime did wonders for our son. It calmed him down and he associated it with bedtime.
- Crib elevation. You can talk to your doctor about tips to safely elevate the crib mattress so some of the gassiness can move down your baby’s body instead of laying flat causing more issues.
- Colic Calm! It is an all natural colic medicine. Once he knew what it was, he calmed down instantly after we would give him the medicine.
- Music! Play some soft music like Praise Baby, Baby Einstein or Toddler Tunes from U2.
Our doctor defined colic as a condition in newborns that lasted around 5 - 12 weeks. Sure enough, at 12 weeks and two days, the crying stopped.
My daughter was a four-year-old not understanding why her baby brother cried non-stop. So, we purchased headphones in the evening so she could have a short reprieve and watch a quick episode of Mickey Mouse. We also made sure to keep her busy outside or inside with crafts. It was important with those late night cries that she did not lose sleep alongside her baby brother.
Toddler to High School Years
As grown ups, we love naps. There is nothing like a lazy Sunday afternoon with a nap built into the schedule before a busy work week. However, toddlers do not appreciate nap time. Most toddlers need about 12-14 hours of sleep, but often get less due to the schedules of parents and older children in the house. They will more than likely lose their early morning nap and early evening nap and tend to only take one nap a day.
As your little one moves into pre-k and kindergarten, 11-12 hours of sleep is recommended. Younger children of this group may still require a short nap during the day, but the need to nap usually diminishes by the time they enter the first grade. Later in elementary, 7 to 12 year olds need 10-12 hours of sleep to set the stage for an alert day at school. By the time they are in middle school and high school, kids are getting around 6 to 8 hours of sleep; however 8 to 10 is recommended.
Homework, cell phones, television, and video games are just a few of the distractions plaguing a good night’s rest.
The solution? There isn’t one fit for every family. But you can start with creating a routine at night, keeping electronics out of the bedrooms, and looking for the following warning signs in your child:
- If your child is sleepy during the day or you have difficulty waking your child in the morning.
- If you find your child napping after school.
- If they have learning, behavioral, or social problems.
- If they are often irritable, cranky, agitated, or aggressive.
- If they speak nasally and breath primarily through their mouths they could have sleep apnea.
Talking to your family doctor is step one if any of these warning signs occur with your child. Keeping a sleep journal will also help diagnose the problem early.
Adult Naps and Sleep
The circadian rhythm, or your body’s internal clock, is at a lower level of alertness around the afternoon hours. The longer you stay awake, the sleepier you will become or sleep drive. To balance, the circadian rhythm keeps you alert and awake when needed.
Napping is not a terrible thing to add to your routine for an adult. However, starting with the question of “why am I napping?” is a good place to start. Napping because you cannot survive a day without normally means an unhealthy amount of sleep at night. It can also mean an underlying health condition.
The Mayo Clinic defines the following as healthy napping for adults:
- Reduced fatigue
- Increased alertness
- Improved mood
- Improved performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory
Keeping the nap short is key. Up to 30 minutes is plenty of time to recharge your energy. The longer you nap, the more irritable and groggy you will feel after. Though it is best to sleep when the baby sleeps, sometimes that is not a luxury you have.
Although everyone has differing sleep patterns with waking up and bedtimes, naps are best in the afternoon around 2 p.m. with 3 p.m. indicated as the latest time. This is a good time for you to put down your toddler for napping as well.
At this time, you will have lunch on your stomach and will experience a lower level of alertness. This time of day creates the least among of issues with night time slumber.
But there is also a benefit towards taking a 90 minute nap. The 90 minutes completes one sleep cycle from the body’s lightest to deepest stage of sleep. You are more likely to wake up refreshed and has been known to boost memory, alertness, and creativity. This could be the recipe you need after a long night breastfeeding or handling a crying or sick child.
The balance is understanding why you tend to nap habitually or frequently due to a sudden life change. Two of the most popular reasons that healthy napping is recommended is for stress and moodiness. If you are changing shifts at work or experiencing a loss of a pet or family member, a nap can help lower your anxiety.
According to Harvard Medical School, a variety of studies indicate that between 65 to 90 percent of adult patients with major depression experience some type of sleep problem. Having kids is stressful and lack of sleep can become a slow fade into other medical problems.
If napping is becoming more common due to what you believe is a health condition, talk to your family doctor. If you would like to speak to a sleep specialist about benefits you can receive from napping, or if you believe you have a more serious sleep disorder, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free consultation.