For lots of people, the Autumn clock-change is a thing of wonder – a whole extra hour in bed without having to sacrifice anything else in return…bliss! For parents, however, it can induce a feeling of dread. Many are accustomed to rising between 6 and 7am with their little larks, and whilst perhaps a touch on the early-side, 6-something cannot technically be classed as inhumane. Yet on the morning of Sunday 28 October, that 6 will have turned, literally overnight, into an altogether less appealing 5!
Here is my step-by-step guide to helping your little one to make the transition out of British Summer Time as smoothly as possible.
An incremental approach is usually best for babies and younger children and/or those who have generally fixed sleep and wake times.
Parents should commence this plan on the Wednesday night immediately proceeding the clock change, putting their child to bed 15 minutes later than usual – so 7pm would become 7.15pm. There should be scope for a little one to sleep for 15 minutes past their standard wake time on the Thursday morning. Whilst this may not automatically happen, if it does and can be accommodated, the plan is off to a flying start.
If at all possible, parents should adjust meal and nap-times on the Thursday so that they also sit 15 minutes later than usual.
On the Thursday night, bedtime should be pushed back by a further 15 minutes – so to 7.30pm from a starting point of 7pm. As before, parents should factor in that their little one may sleep a little later on the Friday morning.
Again, meal and nap times should be moved in line with the “new” (albeit very temporary!) daily schedule on the Friday if at all possible.
The process of adjusting times by a further 15 minutes should be continued, meaning that on the night of the clock change, the little one goes down at 8pm but only 15 minutes later than the previous evening.
Managing the one hour change in these smaller steps means there is less scope for a child to become overtired. It also enables their body-clock to adjust. A 60-minute time difference split over three or four days is manageable for almost all children.
For less sensitive sleepers and older children for whom overtiredness isn’t so much of a risk, parents may find it works well to just push bedtime back on the Saturday night by as close to an hour as the child can manage. A child who still naps in the day can be given a helping hand by their nap on the Saturday afternoon being nudged back slightly to better balance the awake time in the morning and afternoon. However, for a little one who does still nap (some daytime sleep is typically helpful until around 3 years old), a full hour is a long time and pushing a child too far into the red of tiredness is likely to have a horrible unintended consequence – they will get up even earlier than usual the following day!
As counterintuitive as it sounds, a child who goes to sleep too late is likely to wake super-early. This is due to a hormone called cortisol which they will have secreted in order to stay awake. Cortisol is released naturally by the body to wake us for the day, with levels gradually starting to rise from around 3am. Whilst this would typically build sufficiently to rouse a little one between 6 and 7am, a pre-existing level of cortisol means the process kicks in too hard, too early, leading to a child who is wide-awake at 5-something (or the “new” 4-something!).
The final option is to essentially split the difference and stretch a little one to a bedtime on the Saturday night that is 30 minutes later than usual. As before, in order to reach that later bedtime whilst avoiding the dreaded “second-wind” of overtiredness, Saturday’s nap(s) can also be nudged back by 15 minutes. This means the extra half hour of awake time will be split evenly across the morning and afternoon.
As a little one won’t have made it all the way to 8pm with this approach, parents should expect a wake-up that is a little early by the new clock time on the Sunday morning. However, this will iron itself out pretty quickly over the course of the following few days. Young children, unable to tell the time, are driven by what time of day it feels like, so if parents maintain meal-times consistent with the “new” time, little ones will soon adapt.
One helpful aspect of the clock-change when it comes to child sleep is the darker evenings. Melatonin, the hormone which makes us feel sleepy and helps us to stay asleep, is secreted by the body in low levels of light – which is why we typically find it much easier to sleep in a dark environment. However, as the evenings darken, the mornings will, for a short time at least, be a little lighter. If this daylight is creeping into a child’s room, it is likely to drive them towards wakefulness. With this in mind, blackout blinds can be one of the best purchases a parent ever makes!
Special thanks to Lauren at Little Sleep Stars for sharing this super blog with us.
T: 07977 583728
Lauren Peacock, Sleep Specialist, makes her blogging debut for STAG Mumbler.
Easy and gentle strategies for optimising sleep with a newborn
Whenever I talk to expectant parents, sleep is a big topic of conversation! Parents and non-parents alike seem to delight in explaining, often in great detail, how little sleep a family can expect when their newest team member arrives. On the other hand, any number of books will promise to have your baby sleeping through the night and napping on a schedule pretty much by the time you bring them home from hospital. But what is the truth? Here is my impartial, honest guide to what you can expect in the early months and how to optimise sleep during this precious time.
Nothing compares to you
A child’s sleep habits are overwhelmingly behavioural and shaped by their experiences. But there are a number of “nature” factors that influence a little one’s natural rapport with sleep. When a baby is born, how they are born and, perhaps most notable of all, their innate temperament, all contribute to how tricky (or not) they are likely to find sleep. The temptation to compare our baby’s sleep to our friend’s little one can be overwhelming but it’s a comparison that is at best useless and at worst a source of stress – no two babies have the same relationship with sleep.
Breastfeeding does not mean less sleep
This is a particularly pervasive myth with absolutely zero science behind it! In fact, the evidence shows that it is actually mothers who exclusively breastfeed who get the most sleep overall! The difference compared to formula-fed babies is fairly marginal though so feed your baby however you choose in the knowledge that whether you opt for breast or bottle, it won’t fundamentally impact sleep.
You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole
Babies aren’t robots. As such, there is no one “perfect” routine that will suit every little one and transform them into a sleep machine. Some children are fairly adaptable and will take to a strict schedule. Others will fight against it and leave their mummy feeling like a failure – and that’s not just my opinion; in 2017 Swansea and Newcastle Universities found that half of the mothers they surveyed were unable to make a strict routine work for their child.
So if a strict routine isn’t the answer, what is? I’m a fan of all things being baby-led but with some gentle structure to create a nice flow to the day – whilst rigid regimes don’t suit a lot of children, most do well with a level of consistency and predictability.
If parents can get into the habit of feeding on waking rather than habitually feeding-to-sleep they will be off to a flying start. This is because, ultimately, a family may want their little one to be able to fall asleep without having to be on the breast or bottle. Working on an Eat-Activity-Sleep-You-time
(EASY) pattern gives a baby the opportunity of falling asleep in a different way during the day. This pattern becomes a whole lot easier when a baby’s comfortable awake time is understood…
Little and often
Newborn babies have a remarkably short window for being comfortably awake – for many it’s as little as 45 minutes! Unfortunately, a baby doesn’t look at the clock and set themselves down for a nap and if there is environmental stimulus around them, they will continue to engage. In doing so, a little one will quickly become “overtired” and once that happens they are likely to fight sleep – both in terms of actually going to sleep and staying asleep for long enough to be fully rested. In my experience, lots of babies who are classed as “colicky” actually turn out to be overtired. If parents provide a sleep-conducive environment after an age-appropriate amount of awake time, they are giving their little one the best chance to fall asleep calmly and take the rest they need.
Don’t worry, be happy
The early days with your baby are a time to rest, recover and bond. It is not possible to create “bad” habits by responding to your baby quickly. In fact, the younger the baby the more closely aligned are their “wants” and “needs” – it’s really impossible to split the two in the early months and so picking your baby up as soon as they cry is not, in any way, creating the proverbial rod for your back. There are however several gentle strategies you can employ during this time to set your little one on the path to becoming a sleep superstar, whilst still being super-responsive. Head over to the Little Sleep Stars blog or click here to read more.
Lauren will be back in two weeks with her next blog ‘The 4 Month Sleep Regression’ so watch this space!
Why it happens and why it isn’t a regression at all
The term “sleep regression” is one that many parents are familiar with – although there is actually remarkably little clinical literature acknowledging this often discussed (and feared!) sleep phenomena.
All good things must come to an end
First-time parents often become aware of these tricky sleep milestones when their little one, literally overnight, switches from sleeping for a lovely chunk of six, seven or even eight hours, to waking every hour or two through the night. A quick trawl of the internet is likely to inform parents that their baby is experiencing the “four-month sleep regression”.
This is, however, a particularly inaccurate moniker – firstly because this change in sleep happens anywhere in the first six months rather than specifically during month four, and secondly because it’s the polar opposite of a regression – it’s actually a huge sleep progression.
Sleeping like a baby
Newborn sleep is wonderfully simple in structure. Tiny babies flit from awake to fairly deeply asleep with not much in between. Yes they initially wake frequently for feeds and cuddles but generally speaking they can be put down already fast asleep and stay that way for increasingly longer chunks of time overnight.
But at some point prior to the end of their sixth month, a child’s sleep inevitably and permanently matures and they begin to sleep in a more organised pattern, cycling through periods of lighter sleep every 45-60 minutes. During these phases, a baby becomes more aware of his environment – and is likely to notice if something is different to when he fell asleep.
Sleep skills and associations
Babies who have sleep crutches or associations such as being rocked or fed-to-sleep tend to be hardest hit by this heightened awareness and it’s not surprising – consider if you fell asleep in your bed and when you stirred several hours later you realised you were on a sofa; it’s hardly conducive for rolling over and going back to sleep! When a baby is put down into bed already asleep, they tend to “ping” awake each time they really stir and once awake, they, again unsurprisingly, shout for a parent to come and put them back to sleep – because for a baby who is fed or rocked to sleep, that is what falling asleep looks like.
There is a need for two words of caution here…
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with feeding or rocking your baby to sleep. Nothing at all. What a parent needs to be aware of however is that once a child’s sleep pattern has matured, they will wake in the night – it is a normal biological function. If a child is fed or rocked to sleep at bedtime they will most likely need this every time they wake in the night because they haven’t learned the skill of settling to sleep without that help. It is unfair to expect a little one to resettle in the night with less help than they had at bedtime.
Secondly, in the first year, babies will need night-feeds and I am certainly not saying they shouldn’t be given them! Babies absolutely can be fed in the night without having a dependency on that to fall asleep. It is helpful to ask yourself whether your baby ever (day or night) falls asleep other than on a feed. If the answer is no then it may be that the feed is something your little one, currently, cannot fall asleep without. When this is the case, night feeds won’t widen out or drop with age, even though a little one can physically go longer between feeds – because the feeds (or at least some of them) are about something other than hunger.
Preparing for change
Whilst maturation of the sleep pattern is an inevitable milestone for all babies, it’s impact can be lessened by providing a little one with the opportunity to learn how to initiate sleep, as opposed to sleep being something that happens to them. How you provide this opportunity, and how frequently, will depend on factors such as your little one’s age and temperament. To read more about gentle strategies you can try in the early months, head over to the Little Sleep Stars blog and read the article on newborn sleep, available here.
If the tricky stage has already hit, it may not be the time to take action right now. Around the time of this milestone, there is also a lot going on developmentally for babies; some are babbling, many are rolling, and all are increasingly fascinated with the world around them. Babies make huge leaps forward in their early months and unsurprisingly this can be unsettling for them. Clinginess, fussiness and increased waking are very normal and natural side-effects of this amazing development. The peak of development-linked fussiness typically lasts for a week or two and often it’s a case of just “getting through” as best you can. Once things settle a little however, it can be a great time to start to gently work on your little one’s sleep. The bad news is that there are a number of other sleep hotspots still to come in the first year! The good news is that once your little one is equipped with fantastic sleep skills, weathering those tricky periods becomes much easier – for them and for you!
Special thanks to Lauren at Little Sleep Stars for writing this blog for us.
An Antenatal Breastfeeding Workshop which covers: benefits of breastfeeding; the first hour; anatomy and physiology; hunger cues; positioning and attachment; the first 10 days; expressing milk; and challenges.
Covering all things birth AND baby, these 12 hour classes (run over 6 weeks) are for couples to attend together. We cover everything you need to know about labour and birth, and then in the second half cover all things baby care – from those early few hours with your new little one, to all the many choices / decisions you need to make once you’re home.
The Daisy Foundation: Garforth, Selby and Tadcaster.
T: 07743 232656