Sleep solutions served up here

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 26, 2009 06:00 AM

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Sleep issues are perhaps the thorniest problems parents face for one simple reason: How can parents possibly deal rationally, intellectually or just plain simply with a modicum of common sense about a child’s inadequate sleep when they themselves are sleep deprived? I’m devoting the next three days’ of Mailbag to sleep questions and, for help, I’ve turned to the pediatric sleep guru, researcher, pediatrician and author Richard Ferber of Children’s Hospital Boston.

Question

hi. we have two boys, 18 months and 3 years old, and have unsuccessfully tried twice to room them together, and so are still sleeping on the foldout couch in the LR for about the past year, as we only have a 2 br apartment. when we put them together, the baby seemed to wake up crying, stirring the 3 year old, and then they'd both be crying and need comforting. the other snag is that the little one goes to bed at 7 or 7:30, while the older kid goes a half hour or so later, dep on the day. when they're together, they wake up early - 5 am or so - crying, and the 3 year old comes to our bed while the little one needs to be soothed back to sleep. i think the 3 yo talks in his sleep, waking the baby.

i feel like we've tried every permutation -- no naps for 3 yo, putting them down at the same time, sneaking the older child in once the baby is asleep, noise machines, letting the baby cry for a while if the 3 yo doesn't wake, etc. etc. -- but end up back in the living room when it just doesn't seem to work. my husband says the little one will "get it" eventually -- but they just seem to wake one another up, and i feel like we'll be on the couch forever. and having them together has become a weirdly huge stress -- we lie there in our bed and i feel a sort of stab in the heart when the baby cries.

this is a long way of saying we're stuck in a muddle. is there something i'm not thinking of? some trick? or do kids who share rooms just kind of have to get over it (as i'm guessing might be part of this) and get used to one another? maybe we're putting off the inevitable unpleasantness?

appreciate any help/advice you have.

From: Christine, of Watertown

Hi Christine,

You absolutely should be able to bunk your boys together and, believe it or not, the problem may be as simple as this: their bedtimes are too early.

Here’s the nitty-gritty:

The typical 18-month-old needs about 11 ½ hours of sleep, according to pediatric sleep guru Richard Ferber. About 9 ½ hours of that should come at night, and 2 or so hours from naps. The typical 3-year-old needs slightly less, 11 ¼ hours, with 9 ¾ to all of it happening at night.

In other words, by putting your sons to sleep at 7 or 7:30, you guarantee that they will wake up sometime around 5 including even on the nights when they sleep in separate rooms. Ferber is director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston.

“What’s most likely going on here is that your boys are not getting as much sleep as you think,” Ferber said in a telephone conversation the other day. "Even when the boys sleep separately, they are getting up early, you just don’t know it." That's because most children are able to amuse themselves in bed for long periods of time. What's probably happening with your boys is that when they are in the same room, that individual reverie is lost or abandoned.

So what to do?

Put them in the same room and adjust both bedtimes so that nine hours later will be a reasonable wake-up time. What’s more, he advises, “Wake them up nine hours later even if they are sleeping.” Start with a 9 pm bedtime and a 6 am wake-up. If they are both still taking naps, the older one should nap no more than an hour and the younger, no more than 90 mins.

By moving the bedtime as late as 9 pm., you are ensuring that they will both be very tired and ready to sleep on the first night that you try this and that when they wake up, you'll be ready to get up, too, so it won't matter that they wake each other.

“On that schedule, let them get used to sleeping in the same room,” says Ferber, who is author of the best-seller, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, second edition.” “Then,” he continues, “when things calm down, you can move the bedtime earlier or later, depending on whether you need to wake them in the morning.”

Coming Monday: Their baby only falls asleep in mom or dad's arms.


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3 comments so far...
  1. I find Dr. Ferber's response here so interesting, because it flies in the face of another pediatric sleep guru's equally respected (yet not Boston-based) expert opinion and research findings: Marc Weissbluth, author of "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child." If you read his book and consulted him - he would be like to say that BOTH of their bedtimes are TOO LATE! The complete opposite approach of Dr. Ferber here. And yet both doctors advice has worked for scores of tired parents.

    While Dr. Ferber's target amount of sleep for these kids is of course within the range, sleep needs are very individual (take my husband that only can sleep 6 hours, and me, who is grouchy on less than ten) and based on my experience - sleep problems at night (night waking, crying, waking too early in the morning) are generally linked to not enough sleep. Sleep begets sleep. My kids (ages 2 and 6) are living proof that staying up later NEVER results in sleeping in. In fact, it usually means they wake up even earlier than normal! This has a cumulative effect, even if it is only 30 minutes per night that they're not getting and need, and can cause so many other problems.

    Posted by RH June 26, 09 09:39 AM
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with RH (#10). My son (now 8) was a problem sleeper literally from the day he was born (a much later diagnoses of significant ADHD and a tic disorder was most probably a factor in these problems). We discovered that we didn't dare let him get to the over-tired stage or his sleep that night would be terrible, he'd wake up way too early the next morning and be a bear all day.

    While I didn't have the issue of two little ones affecting each other, I can tell you that what worked for us was absolute rigid consistency. Very early, we decided that his sleep was important enough that we made it our main priority to keep to a set schedule. While all of our friends were toting around sleeping toddlers in strollers, skipping naps on weekends in favor day trips here and there, or getting their kids to bed "whenever", our life revolved around being home for naps and bedtime. It was a huge pain, but eventually (and it did take awhile) he got it.

    One other thing; this is just my opinion, but I think that we (modern, well meaning parents) can tend toward being a little TOO accommodating to our kids sometimes. Why are YOU in the LR? Why not put one of the kids to bed in your room then transfer them either to the other bedroom or the LR when you and hubby go to bed? OR, do you perhaps have a walk-in closet? If so, it may sound crazy, but clean it out and put the crib and put it in there.

    Posted by amyfaith June 26, 09 12:10 PM
  1. Parents with children can sleep better every night using a sleep mask and blackout liners; earplugs and a sound conditioner (white noise machine) can also help, but may make it hard to hear your children crying (though a sound conditioner can help the child sleep as well). I’ve been using these things for 20+ years and can’t do without them. Google “bucky sleep mask” or “marpac 980" (the most popular sleep products) or visit http://www.thecompletesleeper.com, which carries this kind of product.

    Paul

    Posted by Paul July 1, 09 12:37 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I find Dr. Ferber's response here so interesting, because it flies in the face of another pediatric sleep guru's equally respected (yet not Boston-based) expert opinion and research findings: Marc Weissbluth, author of "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child." If you read his book and consulted him - he would be like to say that BOTH of their bedtimes are TOO LATE! The complete opposite approach of Dr. Ferber here. And yet both doctors advice has worked for scores of tired parents.

    While Dr. Ferber's target amount of sleep for these kids is of course within the range, sleep needs are very individual (take my husband that only can sleep 6 hours, and me, who is grouchy on less than ten) and based on my experience - sleep problems at night (night waking, crying, waking too early in the morning) are generally linked to not enough sleep. Sleep begets sleep. My kids (ages 2 and 6) are living proof that staying up later NEVER results in sleeping in. In fact, it usually means they wake up even earlier than normal! This has a cumulative effect, even if it is only 30 minutes per night that they're not getting and need, and can cause so many other problems.

    Posted by RH June 26, 09 09:39 AM
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with RH (#10). My son (now 8) was a problem sleeper literally from the day he was born (a much later diagnoses of significant ADHD and a tic disorder was most probably a factor in these problems). We discovered that we didn't dare let him get to the over-tired stage or his sleep that night would be terrible, he'd wake up way too early the next morning and be a bear all day.

    While I didn't have the issue of two little ones affecting each other, I can tell you that what worked for us was absolute rigid consistency. Very early, we decided that his sleep was important enough that we made it our main priority to keep to a set schedule. While all of our friends were toting around sleeping toddlers in strollers, skipping naps on weekends in favor day trips here and there, or getting their kids to bed "whenever", our life revolved around being home for naps and bedtime. It was a huge pain, but eventually (and it did take awhile) he got it.

    One other thing; this is just my opinion, but I think that we (modern, well meaning parents) can tend toward being a little TOO accommodating to our kids sometimes. Why are YOU in the LR? Why not put one of the kids to bed in your room then transfer them either to the other bedroom or the LR when you and hubby go to bed? OR, do you perhaps have a walk-in closet? If so, it may sound crazy, but clean it out and put the crib and put it in there.

    Posted by amyfaith June 26, 09 12:10 PM
  1. Parents with children can sleep better every night using a sleep mask and blackout liners; earplugs and a sound conditioner (white noise machine) can also help, but may make it hard to hear your children crying (though a sound conditioner can help the child sleep as well). I’ve been using these things for 20+ years and can’t do without them. Google “bucky sleep mask” or “marpac 980" (the most popular sleep products) or visit http://www.thecompletesleeper.com, which carries this kind of product.

    Paul

    Posted by Paul July 1, 09 12:37 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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