Clock Your Sleep: Young Kids and Parents

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

baby hand motherhood kids parenting (Bridget Coila/flickr)

All parents want babies who can sleep like a baby, whatever that means. But how to get there is as fraught as a sleep deprived parent facing a dirty diaper right after they got the snow suit on! Listeners share their baby sleep solutions and conundrums with Hillary Frank, writer and creator of the podcast, The Longest Shortest Time, and Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center. Is a week a long time to listen to her cry? Is 10:30pm too late for a toddler to get to bed? Will your wife ever stop sleeping with the kids? Hear the answers, and throw in your comments on kids under four and how, where, when, and why they should sleep.



Hillary Frank and Dr. Judith Owens

Comments [40]

Christy from Belleville

I have a 17 month old child, and we used sleep consultants to tailor a plan to our/our child's needs; they were AMAZING. We now have a FANTASTIC sleeper, with minimal crying, which is great, because mom and dad need a decent amount of sleep too. Two things I walked away with: 1- Everything about children, from sleep, to eating, to tantrums, to being an introvert or extravert, is based on your child's TEMPERAMENT. If your child is a crier, a cry solution might be inevitable, and you may not be able to do anything about it (you cannot physically stop a child from crying if he/she is going to cry). If not, things might be much easier. 2- It takes a long time to establish a pattern. You may have 3 good nights, then 2 lousy night, then 4 good nights, then 3 bad ones.. but take baby steps, and keep consistent. Good luck, and goodnight!

Apr. 12 2014 09:34 PM
Heather from UWS

I did not get to hear the entire discussion but I did hear Dr. Owens say that a healthy 6 month old no longer needs to eat at night. Was that opinion or did she quote a study to back up that statement? I wonder what she has to say about a baby needing to have a drink in the middle of the night. Or needing to know mom and dad are around to hold them if their tummies or teething gums hurt. I still want my mom when I'm sick! de Weerd (2003) found that 42% of babies older than 6mths continued to wake and need attention during the night. Dr. Nils Bergman would say just because your baby doesn't cry anymore after sleep training doesn't mean it isn't waking as frequently as before, rather the baby has learned you are not responding to it's needs. My opinion: Infants are too young to be taught life lessons and if they are psychologically ready for a life lesson, the lesson of mommy and daddy aren't coming doesn't appeal to my parenting style.

Apr. 09 2014 10:15 PM
Ellen Tremper from Bronx, NY

You could do a segment on sleep deprivation in pet owners.

The link is to a cartoon showing a cat waking his owner.

Apr. 09 2014 05:38 PM
Susan Burger from Upper West Side

nyginko -

I see that digestion problems are often a cause of sleep disruption in younger infants. These very challenging for parents to deal with. Often these parents try a variety of books, but then find that the books don't work for them. Their babies do NOT settle down in a few days. These parents encounter the same blaming attitude of the author of the opinion-based Slate article that hmarie85 provided a link to (she did not cite original research articles)for "not implementing the method properly". Meanwhile the underlying cause of the sleep disturbance is never addressed. These parents feel terrible and merely stop talking to their pediatricians and other parents.

I can't tell you how many times I have seen tearful mothers in my groups. I always tell those mothers to stay away from mothers who have babies who sleep well because mothers who have infants that sleep longer periods of time will not really comprehend what they are going through. Neither Sears, nor Ferber adequately address these problems.

hmaire85 - as someone who has two graduate degrees in epidemiology, I have to say the article was completely inconsistent in its use of logic - making speculative claims as to the benefits of crying it out that were not at all addressed in the original research articles and making even more outrageous claims about the parents who were not able to make the cry it out methods work for them. Not finding harm is not the same thing as finding benefit. Suffice it to say that some babies will start sleeping longer with these methods in a few days and other babies will not. So I suggest you practice what you preach and not judge parents who do not find your method helpful.

The reality is that there are many reasons why babies may have difficulty sleeping and that requires really understanding the specific circumstances of the baby and the parents.

Apr. 09 2014 02:48 PM

The people that keep quoting the research that cortisol levels increase with "cry it out" are not properly reading the research. The study was done in a sleep lab and showed that cortisol levels did not fall over the course of the three days, not that they increased. Cortisol levels were lower in blood drawn from babies at home whose parents were using CIO, but those were not included in the study. Also, there was no statistical difference in the long term cortisol levels. Check out this article

Every baby has different needs and parenting decisions can be quite stressful all on their own. People really should stop making each other feel bad for their decisions and acknowledge that what is right for one baby is not right for all babies.

Apr. 09 2014 01:17 PM
Deborah Pedrick from Stamford CT

As a child sleep consultant for the past 17 years I have devoted all my time helping parents learn how to prioritize sleep in their family. We neglect sleep as a critical component to our overall health. We focus on food and exercise but if sleep is to the brain as food is to the body then why would we not be changing the way we value sleep. As child sleep consultants that's our ultimate goal, to educate families on how to establish healthy sleep habits in their families and prioritize it in the way that we do with food and physical activity. If we are not feeding ourselves with healthy foods or not moving our bodies enough we see and know the consequences. Sleep is another critical component that not only effects eating and our energy levels but also it effects our ability to think and retain information. Teaching children about why sleep is so important to our bodies and minds and what happens to us when we don't get enough sleep is instrumental in creating that healthy foundation for sleep for the whole family. It's a family problem, not a child problem. When working as a family to establish healthy sleep habits for the whole family it is important to help our children understand that when they are getting out of bed multiple times during the night and mom or dad has to go to them and bring them back to bed the whole family is effected by that action. Instead of punishing the child for not "following the rules", instead we need to show him what those effects are from his actions. Examples; "Mommy is just so tired this morning because I had to get up so many times last night and bring you back into bed, because you didn't follow your rules", "It's hard to smile and be happy today because I'm just not feeling great because I didn't get to sleep well last night", "I'm so tired that I don't have the energy to bring you to the park today" etc etc. Or "when you don't follow the rules, Daddy is so tired when he gets home from work so he just doesn't have the energy to play with you before bed". This approach to teaching the value of sleep for everyone in the family and consequences of not sleeping brings out empathy in the child. Educating, prioritizing sleep in the whole family, being consistent and an understanding of the consequences of not sleeping will make for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits for everyone.

Apr. 09 2014 12:09 PM
Susan from Upper West Side.

In response to Sue, Ferber doesn't work for everyone and Ferber actually recanted about the use of his book by parents of very young infants. I had to throw it out after a week of listening to my son howl longer and louder every single night. Most parents I know who swore by that method, sheepishly admitted several months after bragging about the book that it actually stopped working for them because their babies started to teeth, went through a developmental leap or got sick.

The only reason why we tried it was because our then 10 month old son was launching himself across our bed and using it like a trampoline. He was a danger to himself and others. So my own never-to-be-patented method was to nurse him to sleep over the edge of the crib with him standing up holding onto the bars of the crib until he collapsed. Once he stopped trampolining across our bed he was allowed back in until I bought him a bunk bed when he was two. He was so thrilled about being allowed to help me paint it that he happily went to sleep on the bottom bunk and that was it.

Would I evangelize about my "sleep training method" to other parents as the be all end all way to go? Absolutely NOT it was a crazy method. But it worked for us.

There are many creative ways of working out sleeping arrangements and I am deeply disappointed that the so-called researcher, Dr. Judith Owen really bought into extremely conventional and outmoded thinking -- not the sort of serious in depth analysis I would have expected to get at the underlying reasons why infants do not sleep well.

Here are some of the reasons I see that babies don't sleep well:

a) reflux, which causes babies to be extremely uncomfortable and eat frequently - some limit their feeding to small amounts so they don't feel pain others just keep right on eating way too much in an effort to quell the constant regurgitation which only makes it worse.

b) tongue tie, which causes babies to feed poorly on both breast and bottle and sometimes exhibit symptoms that mimic reflux - because their tongues do not have full range of motion they often have a harder time controlling flow and/or drinking a sufficient quantity of milk

c) teething - again a pain issue which also makes feeding miserable.

d) undiagnosed urinary tract infections - not common but it does happen

e) developmental leaps - which are exciting for the baby but also stressful - so they wake up more frequently

f) sleep apnea from swollen tonsils or adenoids (which our son had at age 4)

I could go on. She did not address any of the potentially underlying causes of poor infant sleep and how to address those problems. Her automatic knee jerk assumption was that babies weren't been "taught" to fall asleep on their own. It is far more complex than that and individual families really need very individual approaches towards finding the balance of optimal sleeping arrangements for the family as a whole.

Apr. 09 2014 11:56 AM

I thought about joining the flock and tracking my own sleep (I co-sleep with my toddler), but the mere thought that I would have to remember grab my phone and "log in" information made me lose some sleep! One of the reasons we're not sleeping enough is that we (children and adults) are surrounded by electronics and screens all of the time, so our brains are on overdrive! Instead of helping us to sleep better, this project is pushing us to add yet another thing in our (unnecessarily) over-filled "to do" list. Just let the anxiety go, take walks outside, don't be "anxious" about your children being "too sleep-unstable" and simply support them during this short time (they'll outgrow it before you know it) and focus your eyes on something besides a screen. Thank you.

Apr. 09 2014 11:46 AM
nyginko from ny ny

Hilary Frank and Dr. Judith Owens:

What can be said about digestion and sleep?

Many sources say that sleep is a precious time for rejuvenation of the bodies many systems and organs. If sleep is distruped, then digestion and assimilation as well might be affected? Digeston problems might also cause sleep disruption?

Apr. 09 2014 11:46 AM
nyginko from ny ny

Hilary Frank and Dr. Judith Owens:

What can be said about digestion and sleep?

Many sources say that sleep is a precious time for rejuvenation of the bodies many systems and organs. If sleep is distruped, then digestion and assimilation as well might be affected? Digeston problems might also cause sleep disruption?

Apr. 09 2014 11:46 AM
Sue 2 from NYC

(Differentiating again from the other Sue from NYC on this thread)
At night, our infant sleeps in a crib near our bed. So we can hear him when he wakes and can attend to him immediately if need be (that way we don't have to go own the hall and all be agitated and awakened). With this system, the most we are up is about 10 minutes, once, in the middle of the night (again, I have an 8-month-old infant, no longer in newborn stage, which is totally different of course)

Apr. 09 2014 11:19 AM
Amy from Manhattan

When I was little & couldn't sleep, sometimes 1 of my parents would come & lie down w/me in *my* bed, or at least sit on the side of the bed, until I fell asleep, & then would go back to their own bed. That way we'd each be in our own bed the rest of the night. Is that a better solution than having a child sleep in the parents' bed?

Apr. 09 2014 11:17 AM
Eitan from Long Island

Recommend parents to read: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting

Apr. 09 2014 11:17 AM

At about a year, what we did was to make a full sized twin bed with crib rails for the kid's room. Then a parent could fit into the "jumbo crib" to get the child used to going to sleep in her own room. Both parents took turns - sometimes it was necessary to comfort in the middle of the night - but no big deal since everyone went back to sleep comfortably. Gradually no parent was necessary and finally the crib rails came off. That same bed lasted till she left home at 18.

Apr. 09 2014 11:16 AM
robin from NYC

Let's be honest. All this talk about why your infant shouldn't sleep with you, or whether he or she should be forced to "cry it out" is premised on the fact that modern American life is structured around business needs, not human beings' needs. Once I realized that, I decided I'd let my employer suffer with a tired worker, rather than my son. There could be public policy solutions, but America is hostile to children and families so we're going to keep being distracted by debates about sleep strategies. The baby who sleeps alone and cries it out is just being programed from the earliest days to sacrfice his own needs to serve those of the market--and who knows precisely at what cost.

Apr. 09 2014 11:15 AM
Leah from Manhattan

We did the "accidental family bed" when, in a half-asleep stupor, I started bringing our infant daughter into bed to nurse her, waking hours later to mama, dada, and baby lumped together like a pack of sleepy wolves. This went on - quite happily, in fact - for months until mama and dada decided we needed to reassert an adult space (living in a one-bedroom apartment meant a lack of differentiation between baby and grown-up areas), at which point we used a modified sleep training routine, letting our daughter "cry it out" at increasing intervals over a week-long period. She's two now, has a consistent bedtime routine and is in bed by 8pm; when she wakes around 6 we bring her into our bed for some quality snuggle time. My only regret was that I wish we had sleep-trained earlier, rather than waiting until she was close to 9 months old.

Apr. 09 2014 11:15 AM
L Bea from Princeton, NJ

My kids are now 23 and 19 and our family had a family bed. Both kids left the family bed, for their own beds, sometime after they turned 11. They both did it on their own without my prompting.

I did get more continuous sleep after my daughter left but I went to bed earlier and was in bed sleeping more hours when my kids slept in the family bed.

Apr. 09 2014 11:15 AM
Shoshana from Scarsdale

Just a reminder: the AAP deems it unsafe to sleep w a baby in bed. It is a SIDS risk.

Apr. 09 2014 11:12 AM
Doreen from Queens

Just want to comment that Teegan is not the only one on that schedule and it made me feel better to hear that her and I have the same schedule for similar reasons. Our son is 3 1/2 and sleeps 10.30 to 8.30 approx and naps in the afternoon for about an hour. We also have him on a later preshool schedule. We will have to change it when he is in Kintergarten and he loses the nap too. Also wanted to interject that my best friend is Guyanese and she said very generally culturally they don't believe in a rigid 'bedtime' and in fact she feels its much better for the family to stay up late when needed - like family events on the weekend and everyone sleep in after - and she believes it builds stamina kids, and they get good at regulating their own sleep that way. Now her kids have grown and her eldest is in med school - it definitely did NOT affect her brain at all and in fact may have prepared her for her late studying hours now :) but that last bit is just my speculation.

Apr. 09 2014 11:11 AM

Dr. Owens clearly is very ignorant about breastfeeding, typical of "cry-it-out" advocates. Formula is very different from breastmilk, and night-nursing helps women, especially working mothers, to maintain their milk supply.

Apr. 09 2014 11:11 AM
William from Manhattan

Our 2 1/4-year-old daughter very happily sleeps alone in her crib in her room. But she's experimenting with climbing out of her crib, so we'll move her into a bed soon. Sometimes she wakes up early but always goes back to sleep if she stays in her crib, and we're concerned that, once she's in a bed, she'll get herself up and run around the apartment. Is it ok to shut her bedroom door in a way she can't open it?

Apr. 09 2014 11:10 AM
Pat from Nj

My daughter had large tonsils and adnoids. When she lay down she could not breathe. We had no way of knowing that until she was diagnosed at 2. Glad I didnt let her cry. It was a lesson learned for the rest of her childhood. I was always aware that there may be some unknown. Problems don't always clearly fall into catagories.

Apr. 09 2014 11:09 AM
Linda P. from NYC

When our 3-year-old was coming into our bed every night, our wise pediatrician advised that we welcome her to bring her pillow and blanket and sleep on the floor next to our bed. He said she would soon tire of that alternative, and he was right. The problem was solved in a few weeks.

Apr. 09 2014 11:09 AM
Sue from NYC

We never had a family bed (I didn't want to start with that, 'cuz then how the heck ya gonna end it), but we def had snuggle time in the mornings. Especially on weekends. The best of both worlds, I think.

Apr. 09 2014 11:09 AM
Magnus from Brooklyn, NY

My 11-month old son has absolutely HATED sleep, pretty much since birth. In fact, I would call the show right now, but my son is currently throwing an spectacular tantrum (his worst yet), which started as soon as his eyes started closing about half an hour ago. What do I do with this?

Apr. 09 2014 11:08 AM
Eitan from Dix hills, long island

Will recommend american parents to read "How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting" by Mie-ling Hopgood. Was presented at the leonard Lopate Show.

Apr. 09 2014 11:08 AM
pinus from S.Plainfield

How our ancestors treated babies/kids? Did they sleep in separate rooms away from their parents? I think as humans we aren't meant to be separated. If a child is a good sleeper and doesn't care let it be. If not, I don't have a problem about co-sleeping. Its our culture that makes parents feel bad about sharing bad. I think that's wrong.

Apr. 09 2014 11:06 AM
Sue 2 from NYC

BTW I just posted my Anti-Ferber (Pro-Baby) comment and realized there's another Sue from NYC on here!

Apr. 09 2014 11:04 AM
Sue from NYC

As the mother of a wonderful 8-month-old, I just have to say I LOVE the Sears' "Baby Book" - a totally compassionate approach (yes, that even as working parents, we can work with).

I get furious when people like Brian Lehrer's guest Dr. Owens preach basically being cruel to your babies who need you more during this amazing time in their lives. And in response to the caller just now, the Sears say you can keep your baby up late IF you're going to sleep in as well.

And sometimes you just need to hug them more during the day so they don't need more of your touch during the night.

Our baby is a GREAT sleeper, even though (gasp!) we help him get to sleep at bedtime (rocking, story, lullaby, nursing). I'm not going to leave him crying, because like 'sburgernutr' on this thread, we've read about the rise in cortisol levels when you do that. And our baby sleeps better than many of our peers' same-age babies who were so-called Ferberized.

Apr. 09 2014 11:02 AM

The check-in is the way to go.

Buck up folks!

Apr. 09 2014 11:02 AM
Sue from NYC

"Cry it out" doesn't mean you let them cry for hours alone.

You go in and soothe them a little while after they start crying, and then you just space out longer and longer the periods between soothing them.

Apr. 09 2014 11:01 AM

Magda Gerber has a GREAT approach to the issue of infant sleep.

Apr. 09 2014 11:00 AM
Andrew from Brooklyn

Have there been any studies on impact of attachment parenting on sleep? Our baby has always slept in our room, either next to us or with us in bed and she's never had sleep problems. She slept 3 hours at a time as a newborn, was sleeping 6-7 hours as a 3 month old, and now as a 6 month old, she sometimes sleeps 10 hours at night.

Apr. 09 2014 11:00 AM
Sue from NYC

What's the big mystery? Hasn't everybody read Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems? It works! Or at least it worked for us.

Apr. 09 2014 10:55 AM

There is a plethora of pathetic parenting.

Apr. 09 2014 10:54 AM
Tracey from East Harlem

We have a 13-month-old and we would have liked to do a family bed or at least share a bedroom. I can tell you that the sleeping through the night didn't happen at all until we finally moved her to our office. She just sleeps so much better in her own bed, in her own room. A little sad for mama, but we can all enjoy each other more when we are well-rested!

We did a little bit of cry-it-out when she was around 6 months old and it actually worked WONDERS for us. In a few nights, we set the example that bedtime is bedtime and the benefits are still totally apparent. It didn't make her sleep through the night, but it did make putting her to sleep a cinch.

Apr. 09 2014 10:52 AM

Please tell new parents not to shush people when their baby is taking a nap. Anyone who's been around little kids knows that you just do your thing and the baby will sleep.

Apr. 09 2014 10:52 AM

Jason - recent research actually shows that prolonged crying increases cortisol levels which are not good for long term health. In the past, there were notions that it was "good for the lungs" which turns out to not be true. So, there is a reason why you, as his parent, are designed not to be able to "bear him crying for too long" because it often does mean that he really does need you and it sounds like you are responding appropriately. Having worked with well over 5,000 families by now, I'd say you have a decent sleeper on your hands.

Apr. 09 2014 10:24 AM

Here are some of my favorite infant sleep researchers. There is so much opinion-based information out there that parents rarely are given research based advice. These researchers actually watch how infants and parents really do sleep rather than self-reported assessment which we know are biased.

Apr. 09 2014 10:06 AM
Jason from brooklyn

I am a new parent. My wife and I have an eight moth old. My wife and I are on opposite work schedules so our son Wyatt is never without parental care. His sleep schedule is relatively normal, napping every three hours, and sleeping over night for about 7 hours, waking up for food or changing sporadically. The question of letting a baby cry himself to sleep is interesting to me. This is my school of thought. If I know it is time for my son to sleep I will put him down, he will cry and sometimes he will go to sleep. If he does not go to sleep, I will let him cry in order to allow him to expend some energy. So if he continues cry and will not go to sleep. I will pick him up, Because I cannot bear him crying for too long. But usually he will go to sleep in my arms once he has exhausted himself. If he doesnt go to sleep. I change him or give him milk. If it is his time to sleep, he normally will go to sleep soon after. I sleep about 6 hours a night.

Apr. 09 2014 10:03 AM

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