Parents often encounter a variety of sleep problems with their babies and toddlers. LoveToKnow Baby recently spoke with Kim West, a mother of two and a Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical (LCSW-C), who has been a practicing child and family social worker for more than seventeen years. West is commonly known as The Sleep Lady® by her clients.
About the Author
She has helped thousands of tired parents all over the world promote healthy sleep habits in their children. She emphasizes the need for parents to listen to their intuition and recognize their child's important cues and behaviors. West has been featured on Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Today Show, NBC Nightly News, TLC's Bringing Home Baby and CNN, and has been written about in a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Baby Talk, Parenting, The Baltimore Sun, USA Today, The Telegraph, The Irish Independent and the Washington Post. In addition, she hosts the sleep section of The Newborn Channel, played in maternity wards in hospitals across the country.
LoveToKnow (LTK): Please tell us about yourself.
Kim West (KW): I received my master's degree in clinical social work from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, and I live with my family in Annapolis, Maryland. I've spoken to numerous parenting groups across the country about the importance of children's sleep and how to gently teach a child to go to sleep and sleep through the night. I'm also the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy with Joanne Kenen and the author of 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies (2008) and The Good Night, Sleep Tight WORKBOOK (2010), both published by Easton Studio Press in November 2008.
Baby Sleep Issues
LTK: What are some common sleep issues that babies experience?
KW: Children often have difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep for nights and naps. Many babies are nursed, bottle-fed, rocked, walked etc. to sleep and then need this in order to go back to sleep during the night when they arouse. Putting yourself to sleep is a learned skill which means that we need to begin to put our babies down awake so that they can learn this life-essential skill. We can also stay with our babies and offer reassurance while they learn.
Baby Sleep Tips
LTK: What tips can you offer parents to help their little ones sleep better?
KW: Make sure you are getting your baby's sleep window right--that natural time when the body is most ready to go to sleep and stay asleep…in other words before she has gotten that second wind! Make sure your child is getting enough quality naps. Rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to your child's sleep problems. The top ones include reflux, sleep apnea and allergies. Put your child down awake at bedtime and allow him the opportunity to learn how to put himself to sleep. You do not have to leave him to cry it out, and you can stay with him and offer physical and verbal reassurance and slowly wean yourself off this over the course of a week.
LTK: What sleep aid products really work?
KW: It depends on the age group. I like the sleep sheep for babies from CloudB, I also like the Twilight Turtle and the Mimicking Monkey (for older children) from CloudB. Other products I like are GoodNiteLite (children over 18 months) and the Marpac Sleepmate 980 white noisemaker (all ages as a sound screen), swaddling blankets (babies 0-4 months) and the MagicSleepSuit.com (4-12 months).
LTK: Do you have any other tips and advice you'd like to share?
KW: Here are some important tips:
- Skipping naps and keeping your child up later will cause early risings, more wakings and poor quality sleep.
- Pay attention to your child's sleep window, which is when a child is naturally ready to fall asleep. If you miss that natural opportunity, your child will get wired. That second-wind will mean it takes the child even longer to get to sleep, stay asleep, and she won't sleep later in the morning.
- Put your child to bed drowsy but awake. Stay with her and reassure her until she is asleep.
- Start introducing gentle sleep shaping techniques when your child is an infant and avoid the years of sleep deprivation everyone talks about.
- When your child is six months or older, encourage him to become attached to a lovey - a special stuffed animal or blanket. It makes the child feel safe and secure, particularly at bedtime or when he wakes up at night.
- Children usually transition from two naps to one afternoon nap between 15-18 months. Don't transition them until they sleep through the night.
- Moving from crib to bed before age two usually doesn't solve sleep problems but increases them. Not only is your child up at night, but now he's able to walk around!
- Install room-darkening shades if your child wakes up very early or has trouble napping. Also, consider using a white noise machine or a fan if you live in a particularly noisy home or neighborhood.
- If a new baby is coming, move the older child from crib to bed at least two months before or four months after the birth of the sibling to avoid feelings of displacement. Better yet, borrow a crib for the interim if the older child isn't ready to move out of hers.
- Consistency counts. Whatever your plan is, be consistent at bedtime and for all night wakings. Also, give it time. Sleep is a learned skill and children don't learn it overnight.
Visit Kim West's website at SleepLady.com for more sleep advice or for information about her books.