Herald Journal Columns
March 7, 2005, Herald Journal

Sleep is a wonderful thing

She can do it! She reached yet another milestone in her young life. My baby girl, or toddler – as she has now achieved that title – can walk.

Delaney turned one year old on Feb. 27, and she began walking as her main mode of transportation approximately one week prior to her first birthday.

For the first time, two weeks ago, she met her new cousin, Lesly, who is from Wisconsin and is just two weeks younger than Delaney. To get together, we met my husband’s siblings (who all live in different parts of Wisconsin) and their children at a central location in Wisconsin, and stayed at a hotel for a weekend. Delaney and Lesly provided great entertainment for all of us.

They were both at very similar developmental stages – talking (dada), waving, so-big, peek-a-boo, and toddling – taking a few steps, then landing on their bottoms (I know diapers were invented to provide babies with soft landings, too). Hotel hallways are great settings for infants to show and tell, and it is amazing how everyone is intrigued by a baby’s feats.

But one feat my now one-year-old has not achieved yet, is sleeping through the night. She recently had ear tubes put in because of a nearly two-month strain of ear infections that would not go away, even when she didn’t have a cold. Her ear canals were blocked with fluid and puss and had difficulty draining.

The puss was drained and tubes put in, thus her sleeping has improved, but I’m waiting for yet the morning when I have slept through the night and wake up, frantically wondering what’s wrong with my daughter, and realize – ah, she’s sleeping!

Sleep is a wonderful thing. And so, I write on the all important subject of – sleep.

A study of 172 youngsters, ages six months to seven years, by Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University and author of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” (Balentine) Marc Weissbluth, MD, concluded that some children are born to be heavy daytime sleepers.

“There are long nappers and short nappers in infancy, and they stay that way through early childhood,” explains Dr. Weissbluth on the website www.loveaby.com

While individual differences in napping do exist, both the number of naps and the amount of time spent napping decrease with age. At six months, most infants nap between 2.5 and four hours daily; and at 24 months, the daily amount of daytime sleep ranges from 1.5 to 3.5 hours.

While most six-month-olds nap two or three times daily, most children drop their third nap by nine to 12 months of age, and their morning nap by 15 to 24 months. Weissbluth recommends that the one remaining afternoon nap is something that parents should work to preserve at least until their child is four or five years old, when naps start to disappear altogether.

“Good daytime sleep has important health benefits,” Weissbluth says. “Kids who nap well during the day are less fussy and more adaptable. They also sleep better at night.”

Webmaster of Aromatherapy for ADHD & Autism in Children Gail Miller says on the website www.napuda.com that infants and toddlers need naps and sleep to rejuvenate their brains. It has been shown that those who suffer from lack of sleep have decreased short term memory and poorer concentration.

In fact, sleep is as important as food and air. The website www.sleepnet.com recommends 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep for most people – and more for children. Quality and quantity are important. If we, including children, want to press the snooze alarm in the morning, we are not getting the sleep we need. This could be due to not enough time in bed, external disturbances, or a sleep disorder.

Getting ready for nap or bedtime and the thought of going to sleep may be some of the least favorite things a child wants to do. Children should learn that nap or bedtime is as important as playtime, and using this chance to nurture with our children is vital. The following are some naptime and bedtime tips from the aforementioned websites:

• Try to establish a consistent nap or bedtime schedule. Consistency establishes a strong sense of routine that a child learns to depend on. This routine helps promote a sense of security and self-esteem.

• Promote nap and bedtime as something your baby or child can look forward to. This may be a time to cuddle, to rock, to hug, to nurture and bond together. The routine may include reading a book to your child or listening to some soothing music.

• We, including children, should stay away from stimulants like caffeine. Avoid all stimulants in the evening, including chocolate, caffeinated sodas, and teas. They will delay sleep and increase arousals during the night.

• Avoid bright lights around the house before bed. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms before bed can be helpful.

• Avoid exercise near bedtime. The website www.sleepnet.com recommends no exercise three hours before bed.

• Don’t go to bed hungry. Have a light snack; avoid a heavy meal before bed.

• Keep bedrooms at comfortable temperature.

• And, of course, sing lullabies to your babies and children. Your baby will soon connect the special sounds and words with sleep time. This can promote rest as a special nurturing, bonding, and loving time.