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Co-sleeping with your Child beyond Infancy
You would never have guessed that after all our advances in science and all our inventions, we would still be debating about whether or not we should co-sleep with our older children, scientists, and lay moms alike. The sides are so split that a resolution of this argument shortly might as well be one of our greatest achievements in the 21st century.
For infants, there seems to be a unified voice. The AAP, for instance, recommends room-sharing up to a year, without sharing the bed. This is intended to foster nighttime interactions between babies and moms while reducing the risk of SIDS. However, no such recommendations are made for older children. Below are the arguments for and against the motion.
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Reasons to Co-sleep with your Older Child
Leading the charge for this proponent is Dr. James McKenna of the Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. He demonstrates in one experiment that parents and children sync their sleep patterns when they co-sleep. They enter the different stages of sleep together, and there is hardly an interruption in their sleep overall.
Other studies also show that mothers breastfeed for longer when they co-sleep with their children beyond infancy. The constant access to the breastmilk, day and night, is maintained for many more months, which is beneficial for the children. The closeness at night, helps with this, as mothers allow breastfeeding more readily at night when the co-sleep with their child, as it interrupts their own sleepless.
Sleep interruptions from your baby become much less frequent as they grow past infancy, but you still cannot rule them out. It is much easier to deal with when your baby sleeps close by. Experts say that this readiness to attend to your child’s needs are well assuring of the constant care and security that are available to them. In one study, it was shown that toddlers who co-slept with parents leaned less towards thumb sucking and sleeping teddies, a supposed alternative symbol of security for these kids.
The trump card for proponents of co-sleeping is probably the closeness it fosters between parents and their children. Psychologists agree that most children will tell their most deep-seated secrets or uncomfortable moments to parents in the cool of the night. Co-sleeping fosters trust and allows children to share their experiences more freely. This tactic is also used a lot by working moms who would want to make for lost times with their babies at night.
Co-sleeping with older kids is touted as natural and said to be practiced in many cultures across the world. Even better, they pose a very little health risk as your child grows older. To counter the other side, Dr. James McKenna suggests there are other ways to teach children independence other than forcing them to sleep alone.
DID YOU KNOW?
A trial by Dr. James McKenna shows a family (mother, father, and child) co-sleeping under infrared cameras entering different stages of sleep concurrently, including dreaming and stirring almost at the same time.
Pediatricians officially classify your toddler’s inability to fall asleep without your presence as a sleep disorder (behavioral insomnia).
Reasons not to Co-sleep with Older Children
As you would have guessed already, the above reasons do not exactly impress proponents of this side of the argument, which also happen to be many pediatricians and counselors.
Co-sleeping is said to breed insecurity and dependence among young children. Children who co-sleep with parents are thought to need them to sleep. In their absence, sleep is almost impossible, leaving feelings of anxiety and stress. This makes it impossible for such children to participate in certain activities like sleepovers, camps, and school trips that go beyond the day because they would rather have their toddler bed attached to parents’ beds. Also, certain activities of soothing may become entrenched in their sleep routine, such that the absence of these may also mean the absence of sleep. It is thought, that co-sleeping child carry this dependence beyond just sleep. They may find it difficult to relate with their peers as well and form strong friendships with people other than their parents.
Another reason to avoid co-sleeping has nothing to do with the children but the parents themselves. Your child sleeping between you two may get between you two. Intimacy and sexual relations between spouses may dim, all because they cannot get “alone time” at night. This may lead to sexual deprivation and may cascade into several other marital problems. In the end, you would negatively affect the marriage and the healthy home, thereby, hurting the same child you so desperately wanted to protect.
The final reasoning is that parent’s sleep might be negatively affected; not getting enough the little sleep-wrenchers are always available to spoil their sleep.
In the end, both sides have reasons and research to back their arguments. It is important to note that no adverse effects have been reported by scientific findings concerning co-sleeping with older children. Parents are free to peruse both sides of the argument and make the best decisions for their families based on their unique environment and experiences.
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The Healthy Sleep Environment for Toddlers
Sleep continues to be one of the most important catalysts for the holistic development of your child; it is needed for physiological growth and learning as well. As such, a good amount of effort should be put into ensuring that your child has the best of it. On the other hand, if sleep conditions are mishandled, they may become that silent killer or torturer your child is going to have to deal with for many years.
Your toddler’s safe sleeping environment would not require a team of expert engineers to set up even if you have your toddler bed attached to parents’ beds. The following are simple features you can adopt to create their sleep paradise.
Lighting is very important in stimulating and holding your toddler’s precious sleep. Right from infancy, it is helpful to associate the day with activeness and night with sleep. The hormone, melatonin, will naturally set a biological sleeping prompt with a feeling of drowsiness and lull when darkness sets. Even then, a positive response to these feelings has to be nurtured. As the sun sets, so should the lights within your room. It is preferable to use dim light, especially ones with a warm red shade in the sleeping areas, and if possible, in the rest of the house. You may have to use sun-block curtains for those times in the year when the sun stays up late, or turn up too early.
Sound is also very important. Note that these little info-sniffers are very curious and the least stimulus triggers their brains. If your little one can get soundproof curtains, fair enough, if not, use other forms of white noise to cancel any sleep-unfriendly sounds that may come from other parts of the house. Soft soothing music may be used sometimes but care must be taken that your toddler does not lean into it and make it a sleep time requirement. White noise devices or just a fan at a low setting will help a great deal.
Whether in a crib or when they move to a toddler bed by age 2 or three, safety and comfort on there must be ensured to the max. Ensuring that their bedding is clean will go a long way in making them love their beds. In a cot, one pillow at most and one stuffed doll. Crowding in cots especially is arrived at quite easily than many parents think. Again, babies are creative – your James Bond of a toddler would easily find a way to stack them together and use it as a step to climb out of the crib. Their beds, if they are in one now should also be neat and clean space, by extension, their rooms too. If they see their best toys still lying around, they may be reluctant to leave the party. Whatever they sleep on or in, make sure is CPSC approved.
Three main elements in your environment will set the tone for sleep in children; it should be dark, quiet, and cool. Cool temperature is very important in your child’s sleeping area. Between 68 and 77 ℉ is preferable. During cold nights, your room heaters will prove essential. It is much easier to set the optimum temperature for toddlers because, at that age, they can audibly express their displeasure. However, you can still check for signs such as sweating, warmth in their chest area, or slight shivers for temperature discomforts. Blankets will always be helpful on cold nights, and they are better than thick dresses and coats that can hinder mobility.
Lastly, you should rid your child’s sleeping space for and potential hazards. Low-hanging strings or cables may entice your child to reach out to them. These strings can easily tangle them up, cables may electrocution, and so on. Put your child to sleep with no strings attached; the safer the better.
Helping your Toddler Fall Asleep Independently
Babies can be clingy, and it is justified; you would be too if all the joys you knew in this world mostly came from one person. Sometimes, however, they may be a little too clingy past cuteness, especially when it is night time and you want some break off it. In their first few months on this planet, they eat and sleep at will. Later, they would learn which times are bedtimes, but would still need your help to turn in. Your dilemma begins if they seem not to be grasping the trick after a while.
Babies are teachable like the rest of us, and take different times to grasp things, also like the rest of us. At about 3 or 4 months, they can begin to learn patterns of day and night, and it is easier if their sleep education begins from there. If it is left until toddler-hood you turn to encounter greater resistance and temper tantrums, but it is never too late.
If your toddler cannot sleep by themselves, it is time to set a sleep routine and stick to it. The body responds well to routines, and you can use this to your advantage. After a while, they will start to feel that calm invitation to sleep whenever you start with the routine. The routine must be a set of activities they enjoy; nobody would want to detach from an exciting day only to plunge into a boring night. Enjoyable as it may be, it should not over-stimulate them enough to resist sleep. Activities may include a warm bath, lullabies, and reading short passages. Be firm and insist on their duration. It is also important to detach yourself from such activities such that another guardian or parent can perform them in your stead. It is recommended that you change from time to time, one who conducts these routines.
Independence must be taught in stages. First, when you soothe kiddy at night time, leave before they fall asleep. Always leave before they are gone and increase the time before take-off gradually. This also helps them to go back to sleep, unassisted, if they happen to bop out of the deep in the middle of the night; a big let-off for sleeping parents.
Security objects are very important in these times. Parents are the ultimate source of security for every child and their presence is hardly replaced. However, stuffed animals and dolls can be very helpful and reassuring when parents cannot be there. Encourage your child to pick one and let them be close especially at bedtimes. These unspoken angels will keep them safe while you get yourself some valuable sleep.
Repeated awakenings for potty can be reduced drastically by preventing late snacking. If your toddler cannot fall asleep by themselves, it is unbearable to have waking up several times in the night. Keep their supper early and encourage them to empty up before bedtime. This will save everyone some good quality sleep.
It is important to cheat the mood to help the poor little ones. Help set the mood for sleep with lighting, sound, etc. Dim light will naturally be associated with sleep, or at least will not engage the brain so much so as not to think of it. White noises will also help to prevent distractions. Nightdresses and pajamas are also helpful. Their beds should also be clean and welcoming.
How Much Sleep is Enough for your Toddler?
As an adult, experts advise 8 hours of sleep to feel invigorated, and be your best during the day, and also to keep you healthy. So how long is the good equivalent for your child?
Infants generally take their sleep matters to their own hands, sleeping and waking to feed as they please. Their longest sleep streak may last up to 3-4 hours and may alternate with a 2-3 hour waking window. Overall, they should about 14-15 hours daily, their long streaks coming within the night, although they will not sleep through the night time.
As your baby approaches the first year, they should condense their scattered sleep sprints into a long – up to 10 hours – a streak that can go through the night. They prefer to be awake most of the time during the day, taking a nap or two totaling not more than 4 hours.
After they are past a year, their sleep shortens quite significantly, although it had been shortening through the months, if you took notice. They keep their night streak and can still hold it for 8-10hrs. Day naps become even shorter; just one or two shorter ones. When they reach the pre-school ages, they may not even need the day naps, although, it is still quite helpful to their learning and growth if they can take one.
Sleep is very necessary. Note that there are always variations to every child’s sleep, but it should not deviate too much from the expected. If it does, speak to your pediatrician.
Common Sleep Disorders among Children
Interruptions to sleep and difficulties in starting at all are things we have all experienced, and our beds will rightly testify. As such, our children may experience it too. You cannot blame them for having too much of the day and getting restless or being over-zealous for cousin T’s arrival on their birthday, or your forgetting not to give them caffeine after 5 pm. Their activities as growing kids may also upset their sleep from time to time. All these can show up at any time, but their constantly not being able to sleep should give you a reason to try to probe into it.
One of the most common sleep disorders is parasomnias. They include sleep terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking, confusional sleep arousals – that form a family of pre-REM sleep disorders – and nightmares. Together, these affect about 50% of children. Pre-REM sleep disorders normally take place within an hour and a half of sleep. Your kids will most likely not recall any such activities, and they will not be conscious of their environment either. That is why keeping your child’s sleeping area hazard-free is so important.
Nightmares mostly occur during REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep and they are dreams of frightening content, that may awaken your child at the end. These, they mostly will recall and remain scared of until you convince them that their total security is assured. Parasomnia behaviors normally resolve by themselves as children grow. One like nightmares can easily be precipitated with horror movies and hideous images for instance, and such things should be taken away from children if they easily respond to them.
The other is behavioral insomnia, which is simply, our child’s inability to fall asleep without a helping hand, usually yours. It happens to 10 -25% of children. This disorder is learned, in the sense that, your child gets used to your rocking or singing her to sleep. As such, in the absence of these, sleep simply does not come, whether they had been asleep already, or are just about to. This is classified as the onset-type of the disorder. Another type of this disorder is limit-setting, or actually, not setting. Children also get used to allowing them to sleep in your bed once their sleep has been disturbed and seem not able to continue on their own. Your constant admission will build strong psychological precedence that must be followed when any such disturbances occur again.
The good thing about this disorder is that it learned, and so can be unlearned, mostly, not without a push-back. The way to do this is to start a routine of calm and enjoyable activities that play into sleep time. The activities may culminate into some soothing, but soothing must stop before Captain Smalls go to sleep. Soothing can be pulled further and further away and eventually eliminated. Sometimes, you would encounter a harder fight, and experts propose a measure known as extinction. Unmodified extinction requires you to place Captain in her cot or bed, and ignore her until morning; admittedly, this is distressing for both parties. A modified one will be leaving baby in their cot unattended while staying close till morning. Sometimes, parents can conduct scheduled check-ins to make sure the supposed cries of displeasure are not cries of distress.
The last common disorder is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is characterized by a blocking of the upper airway, resulting in your child not being able to breathe, although they are trying to. This may happen for a few seconds, sometimes repeatedly, throughout sleep. Sleep apnea even occurs in adults, but in children, it is mostly associated with the tonsils, which are growing rapidly in children between the ages of 2 and 8. You may only recognize it by listening out for loud snoring and observing the apnea. It must be mentioned that not all snoring is apnea; soring occurs in about 27% of children, while apnea, only 1-4%.
Adenotonsillectomy (a medical procedure to remove the tonsils), is the primary treatment for this condition.
It is important to note that these conditions if not treated, may result in drastic behavioral and sometimes physiological complications in the near or later future. If any of these behaviors are observed in your child, it is proper to confer with your pediatrician for proper diagnosis and treatment that is tailored to your peculiar environment and conditions.
A toddler needing a family bed or to co-sleep with parents remains a debate till today. Pediatrics point out that it is a disorder that rids your child of independence, and makes it difficult to participate in normal activities of his/her age, such as camps and sleepover parties. Other researchers and naturalists contend that the bond and closeness it fashions between a child and their parents is the most essential benefit that this natural way of life offers.
Whether your toddler co-sleeps with you or in their room, safety and comfort are critically essential. In addition to having CPSC-approved beddings, their sleep environment should be clean and rid of excess toys and pillows. Cribs especially should not be over-stuffed due to the risk of suffocation or using materials as steps. Ventilation is key and ridding the bed area of strings and other hazards is also important. Mood setters like dim lights and white noises prove helpful in drawing sleep.
Your infant should learn to fall asleep on their own if you continuously lay them down while they are awake and not asleep. However, if your toddler still has not mastered the skill yet, set a routine and stick to it. Begin to leave before sleep comes until your presence becomes a non-requirement eventually. Distractors like late snacks and active games preceding bedtime should be ceased. The most important thing here is to be patient and set realistic expectations for your child, but also to be firm and constant with your routine.
Your toddler should sleep as much, 1 or 2 short naps in the day, and a long good night’s sleep. These may occasionally be distracted by a late caffeinated snack, over-excitement, or just plain exhaustion and restlessness. However, disorders such as OSA, parasomnias, and behavioral insomnia may cause more frequent sleep distractions. It is important to notice these early and see your pediatrician for advice, to prevent future ramifications.
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Amanda Lee is a teacher in a Secondary college and provides teaching service in science major. Having one kids she is much more passionate about the good health of children in this age. She eagerly researches about the products which are beneficial for their continuous better health and recommend those even to her students. Betterment and safety is her solicitation in life.