Q&A with a sleep expert!

Not too long ago I posted about Ryan’s sleep problems and how we were working on them–with the help of sleep expert Jen Zajac (Helping Your Child Sleep). Her advice helped us almost instantly go from 1 hour a day naps to two hours a day. Heavenly!

Jen is awesome to work with and kindly offered to answer some of YOUR sleep questions. I collected some on twitter and facebook and am now reporting back to you with Jen’s kind and thoughtful answers! Read on:

How can a baby fight sleep with all their will even though they’re so tired?!

This is a great question that often comes up as it is very common.  Many parents assume that infants will simply fall asleep when they are tired.  A common mistake that many parents make is trying to keep their baby awake during the day in the hopes that the child will sleep better at night.  In fact, the opposite often happens when a child is awake for too long during the day.  It is counterintuitive to for many of us to believe that being really tired will cause a baby to sleep poorly.  Babies will seem to “fight” sleep when you, as the parent, have missed the baby’s “sleep window,” that “sweet spot” wherein sleep comes most easily to the child.  Especially for vey young infants, by the time that the parent observes some of the familiar tired signs of eye rubbing, yawning, disinterest in activities, etc., the child is already overtired.  Thus, sleep will not come as easily and the child will appear to fight sleep.  This is because when the child enters the overtired state, the body produces a hormone that aids in keeping the child awake.  So the parent is really fighting against a biological response in the child’s body when the parent is trying to help the child fall asleep.  When that happens, keep an eye on the clock and determine how long the child has been awake when you first see those tired signs.  Then, try putting your baby down for a nap about 15-20 minutes earlier the next time.  You will likely see that sleep comes much more easily for your baby if you get the timing just right.


Is it normal to have a 6 month old that sleeps for 10 hours, wakes up for 30 minutes (and eats), then goes back to sleep for another 4 hours before waking up to eat again?

It sounds as if you have a great independent sleeper at 6 months of age!  Congratulations!  10 hours of sleep is a great consolidated stretch of sleep for a 6 month old and this will go a long way to ensuring that your child remains well rested.  The 4 additional hours of sleep after the feed is not typical and I would suspect that the child is going through a growth spurt and thus temporarily needs extra sleep, or he or she is restoring their “sleep debt” by catching up from a previous day of less than adequate sleep.

Most well-rested 6 month olds who have mastered the skill of falling asleep independently, will sleep for 6-7 hours for their first stretch of sleep before requiring a feed and going back to sleep.  This is a conservative average and many 6 month olds can go much longer.  6 month olds require approximately 14.5-15 hours of sleep daily in order to remain well-rested.  Generally, infants this age will sleep 11-12 hours overnight and about 4-5 hours of sleep during the day.  Around 6 months of age, solid foods start to play an important role in how long the child can go without needing to eat again.  This is because mobility starts to increase at this age as the infant starts to sit up on his or her own and begin to scoot and crawl.  The child simply requires more calories to sustain the increased activity.


What age do babies get attached to a stuffed animal or lovey? I feel like it would help my little one sleep (or fall asleep/back to sleep on their own), but they have no interest yet?

Stuffed animals, loveys, and blankets, often referred to as transitional objects, are objects that represent the parent’s love and affection toward the child.  Children will show an attachment to one of these items beginning around 12 months of age.  For some children, the attachment comes much earlier and for others, it comes later.  It is important to remember that this attachment is a very normal and healthy part of the children’s development and is a way for them to feel reassured and comforted during normal periods of separation from their primary caregiver.

Loveys can be a great way to help your child feel comfort in the middle of the night when your child awakens.  If your child has not yet grown attached to any particular object in your home, you can start by putting introducing a small stuffed animal or blanket to him or her.  Some parents have success with tucking the lovey in their pajamas and clothing for a couple days so that the parent’s scent is transferred to the object.  When introducing the object to the child, try to make a big deal out of how soft and cuddly the lovey is.  Hug the lovey in front of the child and then give it to your child to hug.  Bring the lovey with you everywhere during the day and periodically demonstrate for your child how much you like the lovey and then give your child a turn.  If your child trips and falls, grab the lovey and you can all have a “group hug” by placing the lovey in between you and your child while you are comforting him or her.  Eventually, your child will start to gravitate toward the lovey and you should encourage this as much as possible.


What age should you stop swaddling? What about using white noise (or something similar)? – Can it be harmful?

Swaddling is a great tool to help newborns sleep through their Moro reflex and I highly recommend it.  It is also simulates the tight conditions in the womb and helps the child feel more secure.  You should stop swaddling your baby when he or she starts consistently breaking out of the swaddle, thereby communicating to you that he no longer wants or needs the swaddle.  If that doesn’t happen, you should stop swaddling when your baby starts rolling over on his or her own.  Many parents have had success in gradually weaning from the swaddle by first keeping just one arm out of the swaddle for several days and then taking both arms out but keeping the swaddle wrapped around the torso.  Other parents simply remove the swaddle altogether with the knowledge that sleep may be interrupted for a few days as the child gets used to sleeping unswaddled.

White noise is not harmful at all and is another tool that I recommend that parents use.  White noise helps drown out common household noises, especially during lighter periods of sleep.  There is also some research that indicates that white noise is useful by assisting the infant in transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next.  There are a number of white noise machines that you can purchase as well as CD’s and mp3’s that you can download on the internet.  I simply use an old clock radio set to static in my 18 month old son’s room.  It works great and helps my son sleep through the screen door slamming shut, my husband stomping through the house, and our cats chasing each other!


Thank you for all your help, Jen! It has been invaluable!

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