Tag Archives: sleep training

You Have the Sleep Problem

Sleep is the foundation of your wellness. Without the appropriate amount of solid sleep, you are not healthy. Appropriate meaning at least 7.5 hours. Any less, you’re kidding yourself.

“Sleep is for the weak”

When I was younger, I used to say and to some extent believe that “Sleep is for p***ies.” I prided myself on being able to function pretty well on 3-5 hours of sleep a night. I still went to work and school. I had a physical labor job as a farm worker and a mental labor job as a proofreader for a newspaper. I was getting As at college. Who needed sleep?

I was also, of course, a raging alcoholic who drank 10 cups of coffee a day and suffered from severe anxiety and moderate depression, sometimes unable to leave the house and always unable to stomach myself.

But what I was doing was working. And if there was a problem, sleep wasn’t it.

I always thought one day I would read something about psychology in one of my books and something in my head would click and I would be better.

Now I recognize that mental health has much more to do with physical health than I was ever willing to admit.

The Wrong Question

Parents of young children, and particularly infants, are always focused on the question: How do I get my kid to sleep? There’s an entire industry around getting babies to sleep at the right times or more often or in the right place.

From the No Cry Sleep Solution to the Extinction Method, parents are certain that if they can get their babies to sleep on a certain schedule, then their health will return. Their instincts are pointing them in the right direction but not at the right person.

Don’t worry about how to get your children to sleep. Worry about how to get enough sleep yourself, and the rest will follow.

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Schedule It

Eight hours in bed does not mean eight hours of sleep and you know it.

When you want to make sure you accomplish something, you need to make time in your schedule. For sleep, you need to be realistic about how much you actually get in an hour. This waxes and wanes with different developmental stages, but you have a rough idea what that means.

If you have a child under 18 months old, you should be blocking off at least 10 hours to get 8 hours of sleep. This number can go up to 12 if there is a sleep regression, teething, night terrors, or if you’re dealing with two or three children.

The cost of not sleeping cannot be overstated. You’re more likely to get cancer. You’re more likely to get Alzheimer’s. To scream at your children, to lose your sex drive, to suffer from depression. You’re more likely to get into a car accident and to forget what you went into the fridge for. You’ll look older, you’ll gain weight.

You might think you’re losing time by dedicating 12 hours a day to sleeping, but you’re wrong. You’re gaining time. Each hour is much more effective.

Especially important is to get into bed early. Because of circadian rhythms, each hour you spend in bed before midnight is worth two after midnight.

If you aren’t sleeping, it is because you don’t prioritize it. You are capable of figuring out how much time you need to feel well-rested and be at your best. If you decide to prioritize other things over your sleep–watching TV, late night conversations–that is your choice, not your child’s fault.

Side Effects

If you are sleeping, so will your kid. While babies will still wake up, they’ll be put to sleep quickly. They won’t be woken up by you stumbling around the house.

Older children won’t be so intrigued by what is going on in the living room that they pretend to sleep but sneak up to the door to see what’s happening.

As the lights will be off since everyone is sleeping, the whole house will have improvements in their circadian rhythms.

Your sleep is your children’s sleep. You are giving them information about what to do at night and you are teaching them how to value sleep.

Making it Easier

Whether room sharing or bed sharing, co-sleeping is the biological norm for humans. Our babies expect to be with and near us at all time. Though it may be convenient, we are not only parents during the daytime. We are parents at night, too.

Baby and mama net more hours of solid rest when they co-sleep. While this sleep is lighter, cosleeping families report enjoying better sleep for the whole family.

The Takeaway

I highly suggest safe co-sleeping, but whatever you choose to do, realize that your baby or child doesn’t have a sleep problem. You do.

 

Cry It Out

It is not possible to spoil your baby. Anything that your baby wants, your baby needs. If that is food, if that is sleep, or if that is just your attention.

Attention is not inconsequential to a human’s life. Because we are social creatures, others attention a is fundamental to our survival.
We are used to saying that babies only have one means of communication: Crying. That is not quite the truth. Read anything about breastfeeding, and it will tell you to look for other signals before they start to cry. Rooting, chewing on their fingers, behaving restlessly. The quicker you are to respond to these small signals, the easier it will be for baby to remain in a state of emotional regulation.

Mild Deprivation
We know that extreme deprivation of parental care causes huge problems for an infant. Famous studies were done in Romanian orphanages where they found out that children who were not touched or paid attention to had higher rates of criminality and drug use. They were in worse health and more likely to suffer from mood disorders.
The literature is less definitive on sleep training and other practices that involve the intentional decision to allow your baby to cry without responding.
What the literature is very clear on, though, is that responding to your child’s cues is never going to be the wrong thing to do. Especially not for an infant.

The point of argument is whether or not cry-it-out, as it is know, is negative or neutral; not whether or not responding is a bad thing. There are some physicians who will tell you that without sleep training, your child will fall into sleep dysregulation–some go even as far as to call co-sleeping or nursing to sleep a “sleeping disorder.”

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Sleep Associations
We all use what are called “sleep association” to get us to bed. Very few of us just conk out where ever and whenever. If you look for tips on the best way to get a good night’s sleep, you will again and again come across two suggestions: (1) Make your bedroom only for sleep; and (2) create a routine. Because our brains are association machines, you will automatically be put into a state of ease if you use these tools.
Anyone who is calling using your mother as a sleep association a disorder is drawing an arbitrary and unhelpful line.
While evolutionary psychology is often just-so, I think it is useful to note that babies would have slept with and been nursed by their mother’s for most of human history. While we should be wary of people using naturalistic arguments to push their view, using our past is not a bad default to move from.

Cortisol
What made the children in Romanian orphanages ill equipped to handle life?
It has to do with their cortisol levels. Cortisol is a chemical that is released in response to stress. Too much of it is linked with bad health outcomes.
Since we know at least one of the mechanisms that leads to poor life-outcomes, we can ask specific questions. Does cry-it-out release enough cortisol to produce negative, long lasting effects?

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Hyporesponsitivity
One of the most fascinating things about babies and young children is that they actually don’t produce much cortisol, even when they are crying a lot. This is called the period of hyporesponsitity, and you can read more about it here.
Hyporesponsivity essentially means that while you see your baby or toddler getting red in the face, crying, or having a tantrum, their brains aren’t reacting as if they’re in a stressful situation. It is hard to illicit a boost in cortisol, even if we can see that our children are having a very difficult time.
We don’t know why the brain does this in those early years of rapid neurological development, but we know it does. We also know that brains bathed in cortisol early in life set up their organism for failure, so it makes sense that it has some way to protect itself.
There is one easy way to get a baby or toddler’s brain to start producing cortisol, though: Remove their caregiver.
Our small ones use us as a buffer against stress. We mediate their emotions because they can’t.

Distress vs. Eustress
But isn’t stress good for us?
We will encounter stress throughout our lives. Some of that stress will make us more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and some of it will make us better, stronger people. We can distinguish between these two kinds of stress. One is distress, which is negative; and the other is eustress, which is positive.
Eustress is short-term stress where we believe that we can cope with the demands on us. It is motivating. Taking on new job or hobby are examples of good stress. Distress can be long-term or short-term and it makes us feel like we do not have the tools we need to be successful. Unemployment and a death in the family are example of bad stress.
Are babies experiencing eustress or distress during CIO? Is it chronic stress or does it get interpreted as acute stress?

Inoculation
There is a phenomenon called stress inoculation. If you are exposed to a small amount of stress, you will slowly grow the ability to deal with more and more stress in your life. That is, you’ll subjectively perceive instances as eustress that you may otherwise have perceived as distress, if you have encountered similar struggles before. You will grow your window of tolerance for difficulty.
Studies have shown that baby monkey’s who experience short periods of separation from their mother’s in early life tend to be less anxious later in life.

Answers
This information my awareness of the need to focus on integration. My children and I need to be linked but distinct parts. Sometimes that calls for closeness and comfort, and sometimes that calls for standing apart.

As much as I’d like for the answer to fall definitively on my side–that what my gut tells me is right, is right–humans aren’t that simple. We might never have the answers we need to rest comfortable in our judgementalness of other’s choices.