Imagine being a 4th year medical student, with a new baby screaming and wailing incessantly at night. Fast forward to the pediatrician’s office the next day. Conclusion: nothing is wrong. Night after night of mad screaming every three hours. Then it stops. And picks up again months later. Fast forward two years when your child is verbal and screaming and crying as if he is going down on a crashing plane. Imagine the horror of not being able to console him or wake him. Then it clicks. My child has night terrors. Holy shit! He is not possessed. I am not a bad mother (but rather a mother with a tainted history of sleep walking and a legendary history of brushing my teeth with my underwear at age five). So that history behind me, here’s how to possibly sort out those rough nights, with perfect days (as your little ones don’t remember shit, but we remember everything). Here come the hard facts or as I call them, the “Parasomnia Stories.”
How common are sleep disorders in children?
Sleep disorders, or parasomnias, occur in an estimated 35-45% of children aged 2-18 years. The most common disorders brought to us in practice include nightmares, night terrors & sleepwalking/sleeptalking.
Sleep is divided into 2 distinct states – REM (rapid eye movement) or “light sleep” and non-REM “deep sleep.” These states alternate every 90-100 minutes through the night.
REM is more of a “wakeful pattern” and constitutes about 25% of the night.
- Only 90-120 minutes total –
- 4-5 periods all night
- gradually lengthen as the night goes on
- newborns spend about 80% of time in REM
- aids processing of creativity
- if REM-deprived, higher risk of depression
Non-REM is present 75% of the night
- SWS (slow wave sleep) is part of non-REM…also known as “deep sleep”
- Young children typically enter this phase of deep sleep within 15 minutes of going to bed (thus making it easy to move them)
- During SWS, growth hormone is made
- The phase in which the brain recovers from daytime activities
- Memory processing takes place
NIGHTMARES – occur during REM sleep (the “wakeful” state)
Take Back the Night – A Guide to Getting Your Toddler Back to Sleep!
From the moment our first babies are born, we respond to every cry and squawk with parental love and attention, because it’s in us. Face it. And babies NEED us.
But when our angels start to manipulate us, especially at night, it’s sheer exhaustion.
So essentially from day one, our babies become the boss of us. Why does that happen? Out of necessity we must 100% meet our babies needs in those first few months. By 4-6 months they are intelligent enough to know how to use their cries very specifically when they need us – and they do, brilliantly.
It’s no wonder that they push back when we start to put up boundaries to protect them, say no, and all of a sudden have to become the boss of them! It’s the reason why toddlers sometimes cry and protest excessively – these rules, gates, boundaries and no’s weren’t asked for…..but are necessary to help structure their days and keep them safe.
For the next three Wednesdays, Dr. JJ Levenstein will be taking over my blog, offering tips about that thing we all need more of. That thing our little ones don’t really give a shit about, but we desperately need them to. That thing that makes every mom happier. And when mom is happy, everyone is happy. I’m talking about sleep! Trust me, you will want to read below and check back the next two Wednesdays for some incredible information I wish I had when my toddler was going through these various sleep transitions! You can also subscribe below and get each new post sent directly to your inbox. Then you don’t have to worry about mom brain and missing out!
Top 10 sleep tips to help babies and parents sleep through the night:
- Very early on, establish a minimal number of sleeping environments for your child. Whether it is just a bassinet, or a crib or co-sleeper, try to consistently put baby there for naps and sleep. If a baby sleeps in innumerable locations, she will become confused as to what she is supposed to do. From the first breath, babies develop associations quickly – if the expectation is sleep, the locale is consistent, and the baby is tired, a baby will know what to do.
- Learn to recognize signs of sleepiness in your baby. Typically, young infants will become fussy and difficult to console if they have been up for 2-3 hours (and if their bellies are full and bottoms are dry, this is generally a sure sign they need to sleep). Older infants will also be fussy, and may combine that behavior with yawning, eye rubbing, banging their faces on your shoulder, or just dozing off. Learning to recognize these signs and seizing the moment (carpe diem) will allow a parent to get a baby down before she gains a second wind and is so tired she becomes wired. A crawling/cruising/walking baby typically becomes cranky, less active, and seeks the solace of bed often by pointing, or calming once she is near her sleeping place.
As I write this I am in complete and utter shock. Disbelief. Amazement. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and Mason is still asleep. He stayed the fuck asleep! This has never happened before. Well, it’s never happened to his mommy and daddy. Let me start at the beginning—when Mason was a super tiny human, fresh out of the womb.
Before Mason was born, we hired a night nurse. Night nurses are like popular wedding venues. They book up at least a year in advance. So when I was three months pregnant, my husband and I met with and hired Nurse Jackie, after her promise that most of her babies successfully sleep through the night by two months. I know what you’re thinking. I was duped. What baby actually sleeps from seven to seven at two months? Silly new mom-to-be. Just wait until that baby is actually here.
The plan was for Jackie to come three nights a week for four weeks. Jackie came after we had been home from the hospital for three days. Obviously those three nights were hell and Mason barely slept. The only place he would sleep was in that Fisher Price Rock and Play monkey chair. We had a beautiful bassinet that my mom insisted on buying us and Mason hated it. He would scream the minute we put him down in it. I should also mention that by three, I was well into the beginnings of postpartum depression. The perfect snapshot of parenthood at our house consisted of me asleep in a pool of my own tears and my husband asleep with his arm hanging off the bed from rocking mason in the “monkey chair” until they both fell asleep.