The image of new parents sleep deprived and baggy eyed struggling with a newborn that won’t sleep through the night is not an unusual one. Baby books, pediatricians and other parents alike all assure these parents in time their baby will, well, sleep like a baby all night. Sadly in many instances all of these experts are incorrect. Some of these parents have and always will have, a night owl on their hands, and it’s not their fault.
Why is my baby or toddler a night owl?
Once upon a time parents of babies and toddlers that slept late into the afternoon and played long into the night were thought to be the problem. It wasn’t the child wouldn’t sleep; it was the parents wouldn’t put the child to sleep. Researchers have now found that the genes those parents passed on, not their parenting skills are likely to blame. Two genes referred to as period 3 and the afterhours gene have been found to make a human being more prone to night or day sleeping. The first, period 3 is a normal part of human DNA. Whether your child has a long or short version of this gene controls their tendency y towards the night life. The second, the afterhours gene is actually a mutation that may be caused by the increasing exposure to light during night hours. Both genes are passed down from parent to child.
What can I do to help my night owl toddler sleep at night and be awake during the day?
Like many other genetically determined factors while it may be harder to get a toddler with night owl genes to follow a regular day -night sleep pattern it is not, according to experts impossible. A baby night owl should be allowed to form sleep patterns before you attempt to change them. You may not have a night owl at all, simply a newborn. Helping your toddler however reverse his or her sleep patterns only takes some simple alterations to your bed time and morning routine. It should be noted that change takes time.
In any case you need to first monitor your child’s sleep pattern and determine:
– How long your child sleeps each night naturally on average. Sleep cycles vary by person and even change frequently in younger children and toddlers. Some kids may need 8 hours, others 12, or 14. If you attempt to make your toddler follow a schedule that doesn’t allow for ample sleep, you will fail.
-When your child becomes tired and wakes naturally on average. Also note nap times and consistency. You don’t want to attempt to drastically alter your child sleep patterns all at once. To do so sets you both up for failure, grumpy, sleepy failure.
Next take those natural sleep and wake times and change them by no more than 2 hours. For example if your toddler normally goes to bed at 3 am and wakes up at 1 pm you should not attempt to make your child go to bed at 8 pm. First you would reschedule his or her bedtime to 1 am, and then once adjusted make the move to 10 am, and finally to 8 pm. Each small change can be considered “complete” when your toddler wakes and goes to sleep at your target time without you forcing him/her to do so.
To enact these changes wake your baby at the target wake time on your first day, within 30 minutes bring your child into an active activity. Go outside to play, run around the house, and do something to get the blood pumping. Be as engaging as possible. Also, be sure that your home is brightly lit, the brighter the better as long as it doesn’t actually hurt your child’s eyes. Close to bed and nap time do the opposite. A few hours before your target sleep time begin choosing relaxing slow activities such as bath time or story time. Turn down the lights and keep things dim and boring.
Most importantly remain consistent. If you find yourself running a bit late at bed time don’t let your toddler stay up simply so you’ll get more sleep. You must make bed time, nap time and wake up time the same time every day consistently. Also be careful not to allow your child’s nap to wander about in time. Naturally even a child that woke up on time is not going to want to go to bed on time if he or she naps an hour after they wake up or just before bedtime. In affect this makes their actual wake up time when they woke from the nap.
In time, usually a few weeks your child should adjust. Should you need further adjustment repeat the process after a week or so. Always watch for signs of changes in your toddler’s sleep needs. For instance if you child suddenly begins waking sooner on a regular basis, he or she may not need as many hours at night anymore. You could push bed time back or keep the mornings earlier. If you child shows signs of fatigue on a regular basis you may consider lengthening his or her sleep time by adding naps or changing when your bed time and your wake up time are.
You may also enjoy:
Toddler Nightmares and Night Terrors: What to do about them?
No Night Lights for Kids Under 2: A risk you may not know about
Childhood and Toddler Obsessions: Why they happen and what to do about them?
Researchers find “period 3” gene creates night owls or morning people
Researchers find “after hours” gene mutation that leads to altered sleep patterns
Can a night owl become a morning person?