As we move into autumn, a number of wild animals will settle down and hibernate for the winter. Hibernation is a topic that young children will cover early on in their schooling, but there's nothing to stop you giving them a head start and talk with them about hibernation yourself.
The topic introduces changes in seasons as well as different animals. You may or may not be familiar with animals that hibernate. In the UK you can expect the following to hibernate during winter:-
Many insect also hibernate, including:-
Some animals hibernate in their natural habitat but do not in a domestic setting, such as hamsters and mice.
Some insects survive the winter in different forms, either as eggs (only hatching in the spring), nymphs, larvae or pupae - none of which technically hibernate.
Use the internet with your little ones to find pictures of animals that hibernate, talk about how these animals and insects sleep during the winter, and learn what they all look like.
For so many children, going to bed in the dark can be frightening - for months they don't mind going to bed with the lights out and suddenly they develop a fear of darkness, are worried about what's under the bed or nervous of what's lurking in the wardrobe. Here are a few activities to reassure them and lessen the threat of darkness terrors by playing a few games that use a torch to light the way.
Hunt the teddies - Hide a few teddies around the room prior to bed time and turn off the lights. With a torch search for them together and discover their hiding places. You could make it a bit crazy by hiding some things that don't belong in a bedroom. Hide a few wooden spoons from the kitchen or new toilet rolls or plastic food bowls. You could hide some family photos too and see who can be discovered.
Who's under the bed? - Show your little ones that there is nothing under the bed to be scared of. Ask them to choose a couple of favourite teddies to stay under the bed and look after the bed during the night. They could easily report back in the morning that there was nothing to be afraid of. Similarly put a couple of trusty teddies in the wardrobe to stand guard during the night.
Finding things - Another activity for slightly older children would be to find really small things like small pompoms or cotton wool balls. Give them a collecting bucket and tell them they need to find all 12 pompoms that you have hidden. Then try it again but this time in the dark, just using the torch to see.
Sleeping Mummy - Hide yourself in a room and cover with a blanket or toys and see if your little one can find you just using a torch. Pretend to be sleeping when they do discover you. Try to avoid jumping out to startle them though... the aim is to build their confidence rather than scare them!
So many parents - even of toddling or pre-school age children - struggle to get their children to sleep for the whole night without waking up or without them slipping into their parent's bed.
They wake; they demand milk; they need cuddles; they refuse to go back to sleep and they disturb you and everyone else in the house. And, at the sound of the child stirring at night send shock waves through the parents even if the little one is just turning over or breathing a little heavier than normal. So, even when they are not really awake... the parents are!
When sleep is in short supply all sorts of other repercussions occur. You're grumpy, your partner is grumpy, other children in the house are effected; your efficiency slips and everyone has a rotten time! Do you go to a doctor, let them scream it out, get up and give them everything they demand in order to get a easier and quieter life? It is incredibly hard and unless you're in the situation you really don't know how much endless sleepless nights can disrupt all your lives.
Why do they wake? Here are some thoughts:-
- Hunger: they may feel hungry and genuinely need food or some milk.
- Potty training: if they have just started potty training, they may have a more sensitive bladder and be aware when they urinate in the night even with a night time nappy on.
- Disturbed routine: if things have changed at home or school. A new teacher or childminder, things changed at home like Mum working more or Dad not home so often, or starting a new job.
- Outside influences: the neighbours have a new barking dog or a noisy motorbike.
- Bedtime: if you've move bedtime later or earlier this can impact on the sleep patterns.
- Stress or anxiety: are they worried about something at home or nursery?
- New baby: even a pregnancy or thought of a new sibling can effect their sleep.
- Poorly: they may be unwell so keep an eye on them.
- Teething: they may be uncomfortable with teeth emerging or causing pain even if you can't see any evidence.
- Growing pains: see our recent post on Growing Pains to understand this strange symptom.
How to help:
- If they ask for water, leave some by their bed so they can sip and return to sleep alone. Use a sippy cup if you're worried about spillages.
- Favourite toy: make sure any favourite toys are in bed with them for comfort and show them how to cuddle up with their toys at night.
- If you do wake and sit with them, keep it boring: no chat, no lights, nothing except a cuddle and return to bed.
It's late at night; you're relaxing on your favourite chair when you hear foot steps - no, it's not an intruder, but a little wandering child, deep asleep, padding round the house! It can be very alarming to see, especially if it's never happened before, but sleep walking is actually common and nothing to be too concerned about.
Sleepwalking is also known as somnambulism and can take many forms:
- sitting up in bed
- wandering around the bedroom
- descending the stairs
- urinating in the corner of the room
- opening doors and cupboards
However, no matter the form it takes, one thing is certain, they won't remember it!
Sleeping is a complex activity and each night we go through various stages to reach deep sleep where REM (Rapid Eye Movement) takes place. In the later stages of sleep, it is more difficult to wake someone and this is the stage at which sleep walking often occurs.
There are various causes for sleepwalking:
- hereditary - if you did it or your partner, then there is a good chance that your children will too!
- lack of sleep
Is it dangerous?
It is not dangerous in itself, but the sleepwalker may cause harm by falling or tripping. Keep walkways clear and stairs free of debris. Keep cupboards closed and a low light on during the night. Sleepwalkers can see around them, although their recognition of surroundings is different to how we see when we are awake.
- Don't wake them - this may startle them and make them scared. Just take them back to bed and settle them back to resting.
- Don't let sleep walking children sleep in the top of a bunk bed.
- Keep doors to outside locked at night and windows shut and locked.
- Keep the area around your child's bed clear.
Why do children who have slept well for months or even years, suddenly start waking in the night? There are many reasons why this could happen and many things you can do to help them.
How to avoid waking in the night:
- Wear them out! It works for most people, so give them plenty of activity and lots of fresh air. Even if its cold, wrap out and go to the park and run around for a while.
- Check they are not over tired and lacking sleep. Move bedtime earlier if you think they may not be getting enough sleep. Under 5's need at least 12 hours sleep (including naps).
- Have a calm bedtime. Read books, sing gentle songs and have a cuddle before bed. It will put them in the right frame of mind for a long, easy, calm sleep.
- Make sure they go to sleep alone. Don't stay in the room until they sleep. Make sure they can do it themselves otherwise you may find they can't go back to sleep when they do wake up in the night because they expect you to be there. It's not their fault; it's all they know!
- Noises downstairs can wake a child. Try to be quiet and not have the tv on too loud so they are not disturbed.
- Try a nightlight if you think it may prevent them feeling scared in the night. A little glow can really comfort them.
- Excuses abound when children wake up; runny nose, drink, toilet. So have all you need nearby so they can reach for a sip of water if they are thirsty or get a tissue if their nose it running.
- Nightmares. Try not to to have scary stories before bed or tv that involves baddies or monster etc. Avoid grown up tv too as the images can be very real.
- Stay calm and kind. It's not their fault and they will probably get through the phase and sleep will be restored for the hole household!
Bed wetting is the involuntary release of urine during the night when the child is asleep which can occur until age eight, can be sporadic or persistent and follows no obvious pattern. Most doctors will not get concerned about it after the age of eight. They may check to see if there is any infection but won't do anything further until over this age.
- PNE or Primary Nocturnal Enuresis refers to children who have never been able to stay dry over night.
- SNE or Secondary Enuresis refers to children who seem to have dry spells and wet spells.
There can be many reasons why children wet the bed:-
- Anxiety - a stressful situation or worries can cause bed-wetting; significant changes to routine, such as starting a new play setting or school, or perhaps family tensions can lead to stress
- Hormones - new research has found that children who wet the bed are more inclined to have a lack of the anti-diuretic hormone; they produces an excess of urine
- Bladder control not being fully developed
- Predisposition - children of parents who wet the bed are more likely to wet the bed themselves
- Drinking too much - some children simply drink too much before bed and the bladder gets too full to hold
What Can You Do?
- Reassure as often as you can
- You could ask them to help change the bedding to give them the feeling that they are helping and in control of the situation
- Reduce the amount they drink late in the evening and drink more during the day
- Don't make a fuss if they do wet the bed when clearing up
- Don't punish them if they wet the bed or embarrass them
- Try to get to the bottom on any worries or concerns
Don't worry too much!
- 15% of children wet the bed
- 45% of children with a parent who has also had the condition wets the bed, rising to 75% of if both parents also wet the bed.
There's nothing to be too concerned about! Just make sure you have a supply of clean sheets at the ready and protect the mattress with a waterproof sheet so the bed is not ruined.
Most adults need at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours in order to function properly and some need as much as eight hours, but new parents, research shows, get less than four hours sleep each night because of disturbances created by their children. This major deficit in sleep required to function properly can lead to mood swings, depression, arguments and even break-ups.
As many as 12% of parents get less than 2.5 hours sleep per night. 1,000 parents were questioned to mark national Love Your Bed week. It does seems unfair that a side effect of being a new parent renders you unfit to actually be a new parent by making you into a confused, exhausted person existing in a sleep-walking state.
Sleep Deprivation Symptoms
- Sleep derivation can leave you feeling disorientated, confused and irritable.
- It can effect your work and home life and indeed your feelings towards your baby because you blame them for your lack of sleep.
- It can be more difficult to handle stress or emotions and make you more clumsy and accident-prone.
- It can result in weight gain as the metabolism changes and appetite can be altered.
- Over time the immune system becomes less efficient making you prone to illness.
Coping with lack of sleep
Cat nap - take cat naps when ever you can during the day. Ensure the baby is safe or get someone to come and look after baby while you take a rest. Avoid napping in the evening as this may interrupt your sleep pattern.
Cure for lack of sleep
There is only one: get some sleep!
Swaddling a baby is a good way to help them sleep and you can even get some pre-wrapped swaddling blankets that are easy to fit and remain in place.
- It's a good way to calm an unsettled baby.
- New babies are used to the closeness of being in the womb or being in their mother's arms. They are often unprepared for total freedom and it unnerves them. By swaddling, you recreate this closeness which makes them feel calm and secure.
- For many, swaddling is vital as its stops their limbs from flaying while they are trying to sleep.
- It's a way to calm the Moro Reflex, that startle reflex that all babies are born with. They have an innate fear of falling and so throw their arms out if they are startled. This reflex can be triggered even when parents place babies in their cot for sleeping. Swaddling helps prevent this from happening.
- Studies have shown that swaddling can enhance the development of low weight babies.
- It may reduce the risk of cot death.
- It soothes overstimulated babies.
- It can help with colic.
Do you need any more excuses to give your baby a special cuddle?!
No, they don't, but there are some useful tips to help those who seem to wake as soon as the early morning sun tickles the horizon...
In the summer months, many parents complain that their toddler wakes up too early and a child that used to sleep until 8am is now up and raring to go at 6am. Toddlers need at least eleven hours sleep a night. If there are getting much less than this, something needs to be done.
There are two types of children that wake up too early.
- Those who wake before they have enough sleep
- Those who simply need less sleep and get up when their parents deem it too early!
To find out which your toddler is, take a look at their behaviour during the day:-
- Are they particularly sleep?
- Are they grumpy?
- Do they need a mid morning nap only a few hours after having woken up in the morning?
If your toddler is waking becaue there's something specific that might be causing them to wake, then try to remedy the situation:-
- If light steams through the window then put up blackout blinds or blackout curtains
- If something like opening the garage door is making them wake up, park the car on the road
- If their nappy is leaking or really wet, get more absorbant nappies or change them as late as you can in the evening before going to bed
If they are waking and are not able to go back to sleep, then try to establish a way for them to get back to sleep without you needing to be there. Give them a special toy or teddy, give them a muslin or favourite cushion or something that is comforting.
If your toddler is up and raring to go at 6am and has been in bed since 7.30 the night before, you must remember that they only need so much sleep and cannot be forced to sleep once they have had their quota: around eleven hours of sleep.
You could try putting them down a little later at night, although surprisingly putting them down earlier will, for some children, make them sleep in later in the mornings. This is because if they are going to bed too late, and are sleep deprived, it will result in a less restful sleep.
Good luck! Sweet dreams!
A Dreamcatcher is a handmade object made up of a small wooden hoop with some woven thread or wool knotted around it and then decorated with little feathers and beads. The idea is that the dreamcatcher is tied above a child's bed at night and used to protect them from bad dreams. Only good dreams are permitted to get through the woven web and bad dreams stay in the net and don't interrupt the sleep. They simply fade away in day light. However, good dreams trickle down the beaded, feathery strands that hang below onto the sleeping child.
The dreamcatcher originated in Ojibwa Nation in the 1960's and was adopted by other Native Americans over the years. The idea of dreamcatchers to help children sleep has become more and more popular since then and now dreamcatchers come in all shapes and sizes.
If your child suffers from nightmares or wakes during the night after bad dreams, make them a dreamcatcher! Get your child involved and maybe it will help with the night time wakes!
Making a dreamcatcher
- Collect some bendy twigs and secure them safely into a circle using some wire or tightly wound string.
- Cut some more lengths of string. Secure one to the circle, stretch it across the other side of the circle and wrap a few times to secure. Thread some beads onto some of the strands. Do this with all the string until you have a spider's web effect. Lots of crossed strands of string securely tied onto the wooden circle.
- Tie a few more strands to hang down underneath the circle and thread more beads and a couple of feathers.
- Hang above your child's bed.
Naps are vital for little ones for so many reasons, but they are also an essential time for Mums to have a break too. Keep you baby and toddler napping during the day for as long as you can, for their, and indeed your, benefit. Make sure you take time out when your baby sleeps: no cleaning or tidying or cooking. Just have a relax or a nap yourself!
Why do some babies not nap?
- Over tired. This is the most common problem for disrupted napping during the day. Once babies get too tired, they have trouble relaxing enough to sleep and they fight it.
- Change in routine or place of nap disrupts their familiarity with napping and causes them anxiety.
- Over reliance on sleep aids or other sleeping techniques that you later withdraw.
- Overstimulated prior to going to sleep or a nap. It's important to "wind down" and go to be in a calm and relaxed state. Overstimulated babies may wake fitfully because they were not relaxed on going to bed.
- Lack of routine. If a 9 month old knows that every day after lunch they have a nice cuddle, they will calmly go and find their teddy and snuggle up for a lovely nap, they wil get used to this idea and expect it. After lunch comes nap. This is very important indeed and can be an essential tool when dealing with sleep.
- The moment has passed. As soon as you see the signs that your baby is tired, get them to bed directly. If you delay, you could lose that window of opportunity and find yourself with an over-tired baby instead of one that was ready to be put down to sleep.
The key is to get to know your baby and when they are tired get them straight into their cot for a good nap - all babies differ, but you will learn to spot sleep signs quite quickly!
Signs that a baby is tired:
- They get fussy and moody.
- They rub their eyes.
- They yawn.
- You feel they have been awake too long.
How long do babies stay awake before they need a sleep?
- 0-6 weeks: about 15-45 minutes! (Seems short, but it's true!)
- 6-12 weeks: 45-90 minutes.
- 3-4 months: 2 hours.
- 4-6 months: 2-3 hours.
- 6-12 months: 3-4 hours.
- 1-2 years: 3-5 hours.
- 2-3 years: 5-7 hours.
- 3-5 years: 5-12 hours.
Comforters come in all shapes and sizes: it could be a favourite teddy, a blanket or muslin, a soft toy or even a favourite sock or top! Whatever it is, if it helps your baby to sleep, it's probably worth having. Studies have shown that babies with comforters of some sort do sleep better than those that go to bed with nothing. When children have a favourite item or toy, they are more able to self soothe if they do wake up in the night, and this is essential to getting back to sleep on their own.
Parents who rock, cuddle or feed their baby to sleep find in the most part that when they wake in the night, they have to go through the same rigmarole during the night. This is the only way that the baby will go back to sleep. When they have a comforter of some sort, they manage to get to sleep independent of you being there.
For many children a comforter is an effective way of dealing with anxiety or stressful situations. It soothes them and is a comfort. It helps them deal with the situation.
What to choose as a comforter?
You may find that your baby chooses their own comforter independent of your choice. They may always reach for the muslin or ask for a particular teddy. However, if you are trying to decide on something, try to follow these tips...
How to choose a comforter?
1. Choose something that is easily replaceable (ie teddy that is from a high street store or a muslin that is indistinguishable from others.)
2. Choose something specifically designed for babies to use at night time: i.e. not a wooden train or a hard toy that could hurt them.
3. Choose something that is age appropriate i.e. soft toys designed for babies (with no loose eyes or buttons that could come off during the night and present a choking hazard).
4. Choose something that is soft and warm to touch; something that can be stroked or snuggled into.
5. Chose something pale in colour because bright, highly contrasting colours stimulate babies and do not help them sleep.
6. Make sure it's washable!
When should a baby be given a comforter?
You can place a small soft toy in the cot from a very early age. Try holding it close against your skin for a while before bed so it takes on your smell. This can add to the comfort for babies, as well as being able to see it.
Children between 6 months and 2 years will begin to form a real attachment to objects and will be more keen to use a comforter. They can have it at night or when they are somewhere new or in situations when they feel anxious.
By 3 years, they may only need it at night, but be led by them.
By age 5, most children have favourites, but the need to rely on one comforter tends to have passed. Try not to feel pressure from other children or parents to give up the comforter. If it's doing it's job, keeping your little one sleeping through the night or helping them cope with stressful situations, then keep it!
Babies should never be given a pillow before 12 months, and best advice is to wait until 2 years - even after that, if they sleep happily without one, then there's no reason why they shouldn't continue without one for longer. You might want to place a pillow case under their head if they are prone to dribbling so that you can keep the top of their sheet clean. Pillows present a danger to babies under 12 months with risk of suffocation.
If you do want to introduce a pillow for your toddler then there are a few considerations. Although you don't have to buy a pillow sold specifically for toddlers, you should ensure that any pillow they use is firm but not thick because deep pillows can lead to bad posture. If your baby suffers allergies, then an artificial fibre presents the safest option. You may also want to check that the whole pillow is washable so that you can clean it should the need arise.
Expectant mothers in the late stages of pregnancy may want to pamper themselves with a pregnancy pillow. These come in various shapes (sausages, crescents and other patented shapes) and are designed to provide support for your back. One of the more popular brands of nursing pillow is the Widgey! Most pregnancy pillows double up as nursing pillows, helping you to cradle your newborn baby whilst breastfeeding, or helping Dad to support the baby while bottle feeding too.
According to research, about 70% of children under five have sleep problems; sleep is a vital part of our daily lives, both for children and their parents, so any problems in this are can have dreadful consequences. The issues behind sleep problems are complicated and stressful because too little sleep at night can make the days even harder for both parents and children.
So, what can be done to improve sleeping? Here are a few tips:
1. A day and night timetable
It is important to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day so you begin to "train" your child's biological clock. This will mean that around 7 am each morning your child will begin to wake and at around 7 pm they will be ready for bed.
Children that follow a routine are more likely to have a more peaceful and calm bedtime. They know that the same thing will happen each night: bath, wash teeth, pyjamas on, book in bed, cuddle then bed. They will come to know what happens next and will expect it to be the same each night.
3. Daytime naps
Surprisingly, sleeps or naps during the day can effect how well a child sleeps at night. You'd think not, but naps are important. Children find it hard to go all day long without a break and it can make them more relaxed and focused. The better the daytime sleep, the better the night sleep.
4. Help get them in the mood
Dim the lights, talk more quietly, turn off the TV or music and be calm during the last half hour of the day. Put black out curtain in your child's bedroom so any sunlight is not making the room bright. Similarly, the sunlight will encourage them to wake up so keep the binds down if you want them to increase the chances of them sleeping in later in the morning.
Try and make the bedroom a calm place in the evening. Make it warm and comfortable. Warm the pyjamas if its cold outside, make the bed look welcoming and just try to make it a nice place to be.
6. Hungry or hyper?
Try not to feed sugary foods in the evening that can make children too alert and awake. Carbohydrates are more calming on the body so try and eat these in the evening. And, make sure they have eaten well during the day. A hungry tummy can make sleep very hard!
7. Wear them out!
Make sure that you do lots of physical exercise with children during the day so they are worn out by bedtime! It's good for them to enjoy the outdoors and healthy too, so take them out whenever you can so they are tired and drop off to sleep quickly.
8. Read a book
A great way to end the day is to share a book. Snuggle up somewhere warm and chat about your day together. Relax and make it a special time of day.
9. Take a teddy
Allow your child to take a favourite teddy to bed with them. Its comforting and helps them sleep. Just make sure it's safe with no loose buttons or ribbons they could swallow.
10. Separation anxiety
If they worry about being away from you and use it as as excuse not to sleep, comfort them, show you where you sleep and be firm about not letting them out of bed.
The number of babies being put to sleep on their backs - a sleep position considered the safest - has reached a plateau since 2001. The Back To Sleep campaign launched in 1994 encouraged parents to place babies to sleep on their backs - rather than lying on their front. It was discovered that this position resulted in less incidences of Infant Death Syndrome (commonly known as "cot death").
Cot Death is the sudden, unexpected death of a baby. Even after a post mortem, the death remains unexplained. It is referred to as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Do we know the causes? Not really. A single cause has not been named. There could be various, even numerous factors that lead to the death, occurring when the babies are most vulnerable.
Are all babies at risk? It seems so. There is no evidence it happens to a certain race, or culture, or type of person. It usually occurs when the baby is under 6 months and it can happen at any time - not just when the baby is in a cot.
Are baby boys or girls more prone? It seems boys are slightly more at risk, as are premature babies and those of a low birth weight.
How can we reduce the risk?
- Put babies to sleep on their backs
- Do not smoke during pregnancy: you or your partner
- Don't allow anyone to smoke in the same room as your baby
- Consult your doctor if your baby shows any signs of illness
- Buy a new mattress for each baby, don't use second-hand mattresses
- Use a firm mattress but don't use a pillow
- Avoid cot bumpers - there is growing evidence that these interrupt the flow of oxygen and may be a contributory factor
- Lie your baby 'feet to foot' with their feet at the foot of the cot
- Breastfeed your baby as long as possible rather than using formula
- Keep your baby cool - don't allow overheating
- Place their feet at the foot of the cot so they can't wriggle under the covers and don't cover their heads
- Don't fall asleep with your baby in a chair and never sleep your baby in your bed
- Keep your baby's cot in your own room for the first six months
- Follow these guidelines for daytime naps too
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