I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Wednesday
Nov162011

Sleeping Well In Winter

Temperatures are dancing around freezing at night, hats and mittens have been unearthed from storage bins in the garage, and we’ve woken up to frosted landscape all this week. Yes, winter is officially on its way.

The long, cold nights of winter make me think of flannel sheets, hot cocoa, and snuggling in bed. Winter is a great time to rest, recharge, and catch up on sleep (if you can!). The short days and dark, long nights cue the production of melatonin, and trigger more tiredness, earlier at night. (No wonder I’ve been craving an earlier bedtime lately!)

To keep your brood well-rested this season, take a peek at these tips for sleeping well during the winter

Light Up the Dark

The short, dark days of winter may be a boon for kids’ bedtimes; it’s easier to put kids to bed when the sun isn’t blazing outside. But it’s also important to remember to get adequate sunlight during the morning hours, because strong morning light sets our internal clock and helps us to feel sleepy at bedtime. Maximize the light coming into your home in the morning by opening drapes and uncovering skylights. If it’s truly dark outside in the morning, consider a dawn lamp to help get your body ready for the day.

Don’t Over-Bundle

Keep an eye on your child’s bedroom temperature in the winter, and don’t overheat her with loads of nighttime layers or heavy PJs. Sleeping in a space that’s too warm makes it difficult to doze off, increases the likelihood of nightmares, and is a risk factor for SIDS. If the bedroom is between 60 and 68 degrees at night (the ideal sleeping temperature for most), then your kiddo probably won’t need excessive winter bedding to stay warm—regular pajamas and bedding will be fine.

Ward Off The Cold

Wintertime colds and coughs can be cause big sleep disruption, so make an extra effort to keep everyone in the family healthy. Practice careful hand-washing hygiene, eat well, and encourage appropriate bedtimes (sleep deprivation hurts immunity and makes you more susceptible to illness). For my children, I swear by a daily probiotic supplement—one a day seems to keep the cold and flu bugs at bay. Dry, over-heated indoor air can contribute to or worsen coughs, so consider placing a humidifier in bedrooms at night.

Holiday Help

Holidays often mean later-than-normal bedtimes for kids. If your child will be staying up late for a special occasion, don’t allow him to sleep more than one hour past his normal wake-up time the next morning. Snoozing all morning will make it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime that night—creating a cycle of too-late bedtimes that can be difficult to break. Avoid excessively long naps, as well. If he’s extra tired the following day, an earlier bedtime is in order.

What about you—does your family sleep better in the winter, or during another season? Do you have any tips for sleeping well in the winter?

Note: I'm looking forward to speaking tonight at the Holistic Mom's Network meeting at Bates Technical College at 6pm. I'll be sharing a speech called "Five Reasons Your Kids Aren't Sleeping, And Five Compassionate Ways to Help." If you're a local parent, I'd love to see you there!

Monday
Nov142011

Building A Better Bedtime

A friend of mine shared this brilliant comic strip by Richard Thompson of gocomics.com. It perfectly illustrates the Great Bedtime Challenge for modern parents—how do you create an effective bedtime routine that summons sleep without becoming your child’s own personal bedside entertainer?

When it comes to a bedtime routine for a child, it’s easy to go a bit bonkers—after all, we constantly hear about the vital importance of a bedtime routine. So we add and add and add to our routine, until it gets so unwieldy that we dread it every night.

We create our children’s bedtime routines with the best of intentions, but here’s the fact: The ideal bedtime routine supports a healthy bedtime—it does not delay it. An overly-long bedtime routine doesn’t do your child or your family any favors, because if it’s boring or cumbersome for you to perform the routine, you probably won’t keep doing it consistently, night after night. And the very best bedtime routine is one that’s consistent and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Here’s how to create an appropriate, effective bedtime routine that paves the way to healthy sleep without eating away your evening.

  • Design your bedtime routine so that it lasts anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes. If your child’s bedtime routine has ballooned out of control, gradually reduce the number of steps until the entire routine takes no longer than forty-five minutes, including bath and snack.
  • An effective bedtime routine moves in one direction—toward the bed. Circling in and out of the bedroom during the bedtime routine (“I need to get more water, mommy!”) disrupts wind-down and does not encourage your child to associate her bedroom with relaxation and rest.
  • You can choose an appropriate bedtime and design a great routine, but your child might still refuse to cooperate. If your child resists his bedtime routine, remember that you can enforce bedtime without forcing him to participate in the routine. If your child chooses not to participate, simply carry out the routine. Read stories to an empty room. Don’t chase him through the house or engage in a power struggle. Don’t force him into his pajamas—inform him that it’s fine with you if he sleeps in his clothes. When he sees that his stall tactics are not effective, the power plays will cease.

 You can create a soothing, sleep-supporting routine by picking 3-5 elements from the list below.

  • Bedtime snack or breastfeeding
  • A soothing bath
  • Nightime dressing (pajamas, swaddling)
  • Snuggling with mom, dad, and/or a favorite toy
  • Listening to soothing music (some babies will play happily in their room or crib listening to a mobile or music recording while you prepare a bath)
  • Bedtime stories
  • Lullaby (the same song, every night)
  • Rocking in a rocking chair or glider
  • Turning on a white noise machine

Can you relate to the comic strip? How long does bedtime take in your house?

Friday
Nov112011

Congratulations!

The winner of this week's giveaway (a random drawing from the week's comments) is Shannon W! She wins a new copy of The Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD by Harvey Karp, MD.

Congrats, Shannon! See you all next week, when I'll be giving away a copy of my ebook Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday
Nov102011

Bye-bye, Bumpers: Should the Government Ban Crib Bumpers?

They’re soft, inviting, and adorable, and many new parents can’t imagine a crib without them—but crib bumpers may soon become a thing of the past. This fall, Chicago became the first US city to ban the sale of crib bumpers. Maryland is the first state to seriously consider a state-wide ban, but it certainly won’t be the last.

In September, the Baltimore Sun called the potential ban “a smart public health policy that's also likely to save lives.” Nationwide, 27 deaths have been attributed to crib bumpers over the past two decades. Health experts say the real number of casualties is probably much higher, because crib bumpers are likely suspects in many more SIDS deaths.

But bumpers pose another potential health risk that I haven’t seen discussed in the media: they can give an intrepid toddler a leg up in climbing out of his or her crib. Back before the days of bumper bans, my oldest daughter used hers as a means of escape. Her thick Pottery Barn bumper gave her just the boost she needed to get out of the crib so she could do a little midnight exploring around the house. Needless to say, we promptly removed the bumper, and moved her to a toddler bed soon afterward.

Though the bans are intended to promote public safety, they're controversial. Get a bunch of parents talking, and you’ll find that bumpers have a quite a few fans, despite their potential safety drawbacks. Many parents don’t see what the fuss is all about--their kids used bumpers and turned out fine. For me, the biggest benefit to crib bumpers was the way that they kept pacifiers in the crib instead of on the floor.

So, I’m wondering: When will everyone give bumpers the heave-ho? Though doctors and health officials are urging parents not to use them, many still are. And major retailers like Pottery Barn are still selling them, so that means people are still buying them. Are parents simply ignoring the warnings, or are they unaware or unconvinced of the risks?

Do you think the government should ban bumpers, or leave the decision up to parents? What do you think?

Monday
Nov072011

Staying Well-Rested With Nine Children: An Interview With Erika Shupe

Note: During the month of November, I’m giving away prizes to commenters on my blog. A comment of more than 25 words qualifies you to win a weekly drawing! This week, I'm giving away a copy of The Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD by Harvey Karp, MD.

The Shupe Family

Whenever I meet the mom of a really big family—especially is she seems the least bit well-rested—I slip into journalist mode. I can’t help it. I have so many questions, mostly about sleep: How on Earth does she get all of those kids into bed, night after night? Does she EVER sleep through the night? And how does she manage to have any time to herself?

So when I crossed paths with Erika Shupe online (she contacted me about a sleep article I’d written), I jumped at the chance to interview her. She’s the happy mom of 9 kids under the age of 14 (including 11-month-old twins!): Karen, age 13; Melanie, age 12; Brandon, age 8; Anna Marie, age 5; Riley, age 4; Tyler, age 2; Spencer, age 1; and twins Lacey and Lilly, 11 months.

In addition to juggling an enormous parental workload, Erika finds time to homeschool her children, spend time with her husband Bob, and blog at Large Families On Purpose. As I corresponded with Erika, her warm, happy, calm persona radiated through the computer. And, wouldn’t you know, she chalks her sunny attitude up to getting enough rest. How is that possible, you ask? Let’s find out!

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With nine children under the age of 14, it’s hard to imagine how you juggle the different sleep needs of everyone in your family. What is the biggest sleep challenge you face as the parent of a large family, and how have you handled it?

The biggest sleep challenge we face with our nine children is helping them get the varying amounts of sleep they need, while still maintaining afternoon naps for our five children under five years old. Most of the children need the same amounts of sleep at night, about 10 ½ hours, so they go to bed at 8:30 pm and get up at 7:00 am. The exceptions are our 13-year-old daughter and our 4-year-old son (who needs the least sleep of all our children). Our oldest goes to bed at 9:00 pm, and our 4-year-old goes to bed at 9:30 pm, but they both do quiet, independent activities during that evening time, understanding that the evening is mommy and daddy’s time.

We’ve told our children that if they need less sleep at night, they are welcome to get up earlier in the morning, but not stay up later at night. Mommy and daddy need to be “off” at night for a little while, and the morning time is a good productive time to get a jump start on their day.

How important is it for you and your husband to get enough rest as the parents of a large, active brood? What are some benefits of getting enough sleep for parents?

As parents, being well-rested is absolutely crucial for us. It’s one of our highest priorities, and totally affects how well we’re able to function the next day and do our jobs—for him, as sole financial provider, and for me, as a homeschooling stay-at-home mom.

When I’m well rested I can maintain good health, be peaceful (generally—*wink*), and creative with the children’s needs. I can smile, I can keep life and all of its events in proper perspective, I can offer myself to others (blogging, speaking), and still have smiles and energy to bless my husband with when he comes home from work.

When Bob is well-rested he is awake and alert at work, he has clarity in his thinking, and when he comes home in the evening he still has energy to offer the family.

How much time do you spend on each child’s bedtime preparation and routine? And, do you have time left over for yourself and your spouse after the kids’ bedtimes are done?

We spend time teaching the children so that they’ll know what “get ready for bed” means. It’s all routine and habit for them. The oldest children get ready independently, the middle children just need supervision to stay on task, and Bob and I do bedtime prep for our four children ages two and under. This time helping the toddlers and babies is good, quality one-on-one time while we get them ready one at a time; we love it. All together, “bedtime prep” takes about 30-45 minutes.

Bob and I definitely have some time together in the evening, but we have time together before the kids are in bed, too. I go to bed at 9:30 or 10:00 pm, so we have about 1-2 hours in the evening. Bob has “his time” after I am in bed for another couple of hours.

The addition of a new baby can affect sleep for everyone in the household. Can you share a couple of tips on how to keep older siblings’ sleep on track when a new baby arrives?

When we bring home a newborn, Bob takes 1-2 weeks off from work so that we can not only all be together as a family, but primarily so that he can take over for me, enabling me to rest and heal as much as possible so that I can start strong with everyone once he’s back to work. I don’t have to get up early in the morning when he’s home, and I can sleep when baby is sleeping. Also, the children are not kept up at night by a crying baby because the baby sleeps in our bedroom (in a bassinette) away from the children’s bedrooms.

Do any of your children share rooms? And if so, how has that affected their sleep?

Yes—we have a “boy’s room” and a “girls room,” currently with four boys together and three girls together (soon to be five girls together, but they baby twins are currently in cribs in our bedroom). We don’t have a problem with the children keeping one another awake, because we pay attention to how much sleep each child needs, and make sure they’re not overtired (which can result in crying or misbehavior) or undertired (which can result in getting out of bed and keeping tired siblings awake).  When their heads hit their pillows, they should be ready to fall asleep pretty quickly, thus minimizing discipline issues.

Anything else you’d like to share on promoting healthy sleep for large families?

We maintain an active role in setting our children’s sleep schedules. When they’re older, around age 14 or so, and they are able to set a reasonable bedtime that allows them maintain a cheerful, cooperative, productive countenance the next day, they are welcome to do so. Until then, we choose their bedtime. *smile*

Thanks for sharing, Erika, and for the reminder that healthy rest is attainable for families of all sizes.