Every mom knows it’s coming, but they can only hope it doesn’t happen too soon…the END of naps. My girls just turned 3, and we have been struggling with nap times for the last 7 months. I was ready to face the fact that naps were a thing of the past.
Having no naps was definitely starting to weigh on me and my husband. Bedtime was still a mess and the lack of sleep was turning my cute girls, into total grumps, from early afternoon, all the way through bedtime. If it was a miraculous day, and they did have a nap, bedtime was much later, much harder, and much more exasperating. It was a game that had a no-win outcome.
When my day ends in utter frustration, it snowballs into a frustrating evening for my husband too. He comes home from a long day, only to see the grumpy, overtired, meltdowns. I finally realized, we must be missing something. Kids need sleep.
If only our kids came with a sleep manual, right? Well, I may have just found one. Last Wednesday, I attended the general meeting for my Saddleback Mothers of Multiples Club. The guest speaker was Michelle Donaghy, a pediatric sleep coach.
With a combination of things I learned in the meeting from the speaker, ideas from other moms, and some ideas of my own, I think I am finally starting to understand why naps were not working for us in the past. It’s been one week since, my light bulb was dusted off and turned on, and we can celebrate a victory; the girls have napped 6 of the past 7 days.
When it comes to sleep, the key hormones to remember are melatonin and cortisol. The levels of these hormones in your body change throughout the day, which is why it is easier to fall asleep at certain times. Melatonin, increases in the absence of light, and gets us ready to drift off to sleep. Cortisone is a hormone that keeps us awake and alert.
We’ve all said, our kids got their “second wind,” but did you ever wonder why that happens?
Melatonin, a hormone produced naturally in your brain, that tells your body to go to sleep, plays a role in the regulation of our body’s natural clock or circadian rhythms. Healthy adults and children get a hormone of melatonin about 30 minutes before they get sleepy.
Research showed that kids who were put to bed about 30 minutes after their melatonin surge, fell asleep faster. Kids whose bedtimes were not in sync with their melatonin surge had bedtime resistance. Furthermore, our bodies like to compensate, so if we miss the “sleepy window,” our body knows we need more energy, and gives us a shot of cortisol, or the “second wind” as we mommy’s call it! Once this cortisol kicks in, your task of getting your child to sleep, just became a thousand times harder.
Sleep is important, for everyone, so it’s important to understand your child’s window of wakefulness, or the length of time you can expect your child to stay awake without having a meltdown. So, approximately, when does this melatonin kick in?
For a 3-year old, the magic number seems to be 6. So, if your child wakes up at 7 a.m., then their nap should be six hours later, at 1 p.m. The other day my daughters woke up at 6:30 a.m. and we went in their room just after noon, to dim the lights, begin quiet time, read books, and amazingly, they were asleep at 12:30 p.m.
The sleep schedule is not perfect and I can not say it’s easy, but there is improvement. Let me address some of the sleep problems and solutions we have encountered.
Problem: With no naps, my daughters were not getting enough sleep during the day, resulting in overtired, grumpy, irritable children.
Solution: A 3-5 year old needs about 12 hours of sleep. If they sleep 11 hours at night, a 1 hour nap during the day would be ideal! When they take a nap, they usually wake up refreshed and happy!
Problem: Naps were not working. I finally gave up.
Solution: Remember your child’s magic numbers! For a 3-5 year old, the awake window is 6 hours, so begin your nap routine at about 5.5 hours. The next magic number is 4-5 (for my kids it’s about 5). Once they wake up from nap, they have 4-5 more awake hours before bedtime. If your child wakes up from nap at 3 p.m., then bedtime should be between 7-8 p.m.
Problem: My kids were waking up way too early.
Solution: According to the sleep coach, at this age, your child should not be awake in the morning before 6 a.m. and should not go to bed at night, past 8 p.m. To keep my girls in bed in the morning, we use the Onaroo OK to Wake! Alarm Clock, or “Buggy,” as we call him. He turns green at 6:45 a.m. which tells the girls that it is okay to get out of bed.
Problem: Our house is loud. You can hear every noise that is made upstairs, when you are in their bedroom.
Solution: Thankfully, the girls have shared a room for long enough, that they have had to endure sleeping through another screaming kid. We also keep a fan in their room, turned on high, for background noise. The fan is turned on during quiet time, at nap and bed time, and stays on until they wake up.
Problem: Getting the girls to nap or even go to bed between 7 and 8 pm in the summer, when the sun is still up, is near impossible.
Solution: Keep the room dark. Your body releases melatonin (sleepy hormone) and that hormone increases in the absence of light. We use black out curtains to keep the room nice and dark and begin reading in the room 20 minutes before naps or bed time.
Problem: When they did nap, bedtime was awful!
Solution: Never wake a sleeping baby, no longer applies here. If my kids slept 11 hours last night, then I am not going to let them sleep more than 1 hour for nap time. Also, I won’t let them sleep later then 3 p.m or longer then 90 minutes. At this age, they may not nap every day, and that’s okay. In the past 7 days, they took a nap for 6 of them. Bedtime was a little rougher than normal on the day they did not nap, but, overall, we are getting … well.. somewhere.
Problem: Once the girls are in bed, it’s “I need a drink of water,” or “I have to use the potty.”
Solution: The first one is easy, I always bring their water bottles to their bedroom. The second one was driving me nuts! Once one has to potty, the other one has to potty and if I’m tucking them in alone, if I leave the room to take one, the other one would be behind me, or worse, jumping on the bed, turning on the light, or running upstairs. Bedtime just became a huge mess all over again! I try to get them to use the potty before bed, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but now I bring in the training potty that we used when we were potty training. If they have to go once they are in bed, they sit on this little potty, in the dark room, no distractions and no more leaving their bedroom. The majority of the time, they sit on the potty but don’t go. They were just looking for an excuse to leave the room.
Problem: Some nights, keeping two small kids in their beds is nearly impossible. While they run around in the dark, laughing because it’s hysterical, I grab one child, put her back in bed, and the other one jumps out.
Solution: Lock the bedroom door. Seriously. While I am putting one back in bed, the other will bolt for the door and bee-line it upstairs, laughing and screaming. I’m sure you know, kids love rewards and stickers. So, I made a cupcake chart to reward their positive bedtime manners. If you can stay in bed and be quiet during rest time and bed time, you get a sticker. Once you get 10 (it was going to be 20 but thet may take months) you get a cupcake! They both have blankets and dolls that they LOVE to sleep with. If they get out of bed and scream, they get a warning. Next, they lose their cupcake sticker, then a blanket or a doll or something they want to keep in their bed. So far, all of these tactics combined have helped with the bedtime manners.
Problem: I have to stay in their room until they are almost asleep, and the storm is calm, or there will be chaos.
Solution: Unfortunately, I’m still in this stage. I do stay in their room, on the floor, to make sure they stay in bed, are not screaming and not tackling each other. I do leave when they are not completely asleep, but very drowsy. I give them both a kiss, tell them good night, say I love you, and leave the room. I’m hoping with consistency and A LOT of patience, I will be able to leave the room after tucking them in once, but for now, we are hanging in there.
Naps were such a struggle over the past 7 months, that really, we just gave up. We have had a miraculous break though in the past week, where they have napped 6 out of the 7 days. I know they are not going to nap every day, and that’s okay. As long as we are consistent with quiet time, follow the awake hours, and carry on with as much patience as I can muster up at the end of the day, I know things will (hopefully) get easier.
Victory: My girls finally got some Zzzzz’s back!