Good sleeping habits

With her effective sleeping advice for children, Karin Naphaug has become the sleeping expert for Norwegian parents. Now she’s sharing her best advice with the Voksi readers.

What I often hear from parents is “we have tried everything”. There is plenty of sleep advice available through health clinics, doctors, friends and mothers, but none of these have worked properly. What’s often the case is that they have tried a lot of different approaches, then the baby doesn’t get any sleep at all. It’s essential to choose one thing that you see as feasible, “this works for us”, and then follow through with it, making the child understand how things are supposed to work. The parents have to set the rules. After all, the baby is born without knowing how this world works.

Karin Naphaug gets highly enthusiastic when talking about the combination of children, parents and sleep.

– I’ve always been interested in the topic. When I had small kids of my own, I could see how important it was to have good sleep for both child and parent. Back then there wasn’t a lot of help available, so I definitely made a few mistakes of my own, Karin sais.

Through her work as both a specialist nurse and health nurse, it was easy to see how important sleep was in everyday life, both for parent and child.

– One of the things that parents were asking a lot about when visiting the health clinic was when could their baby be able to sleep through the night… The same questions were asked over and over. That’s when I said to myself “sleep is something I want to become an expert at”.

Naphaug describes lack of sleep as an issue that affects our society to a great extent, both then and now. So she quit her nursing job and started working towards becoming the sleep expert that she’s known as today.

More honesty today

Nineteen years later, the sleep therapist is happy to see that parents have become more honest and open when talking about sleep issues concerning their children. Earlier many chose to hide behind a facade of “my baby sleeps, no problem”, which created an incorrect view that very few people had challenges on the issue. Now, in a time where people are comfortable to speak about it, asking for help has become a lot easier.

– I’m, of course, pleased about that, but the biggest joy for me is all the positive feedback from parents, grandparents and not at least the kids themselves. The enjoyment of mastering something, and the change it brings to their lives when sleeping all through the night, feeling rested, is enormous, Karin states.

The expert is quick to add that before starting to define something is a sleeping problem it’s vital to know that all children have a few nights and shorter periods here and there where sleeping can be an issue.

– It’s not like all children always sleep the whole night through. Everyone has nights with little or no sleep, and the cycle goes from deep to light sleep all the time. As an example, it’s quite normal with a challenging sleeping pattern when babies get teeth, Karin sais and continues…

– I believe that parents shouldn’t have too high an expectation, and I put a lot of emphasis on telling them about the sleep cycle of children. The youngest of them are, for the most part, in light dream sleep, making a lot of noises and changing facial expressions. When observing this, first time parents are often a bit too quick picking their baby up to calm him or her down, but the only thing they do is disturb the transition from light to deep sleep.

If a child gets disturbed around this time, you can experience that they will have a hard time getting into a good sleeping pattern, which again can lead to more significant consequences later on.

The time-squeeze is a trap

At what stage can you define it as a problem when your son or daughter isn’t sleeping?

– If you are about to collapse, thinking “I just cant deal with this anymore” because either the child or the parent doesn’t sleep, then you can define it as a problem. If we are talking about a child that wakes up every time they are entering deep sleep, often not sleeping for more than 30 to 40 minutes, then something is usually bothering him or her. These kids are often overtired or used to getting picked up, receiving positive attention.

– What is the most common sleep trap to end up in as a parent?

– The daily responsibilities, both at work and home, grabs us, right? We have a lot on our plates, and very often, both mum and dad are working full time. So you come home late, but still, want to spend some time with your child before putting him or her to bed. Often this ends up with making the child overtired, resulting in restless sleep and waking up earlier in the morning.

For parents already experiencing a tough start when it comes to their baby’s sleep pattern, Karin tells that it is easier to set proper routines after the child is three months of age.

– At three months, babies produce enough of the body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, on their own to easier get them into good routines. I’ve often experienced parents saying that it all became different on the exact day when the child turned three months old.

Body language

Naphaug states that the body language of parents also has a lot to say when it comes to children’s sleeping habits.

– It’s all about being relaxed. Often when I come for home visits, the child has slept well the night before. I believe that this usually has to do with the parents being aware that help is right around the corner and therefore to loosen up a little.

A stressed body language can give the opposite effect, for example, if parents disagree on what should be done to solve the challenging situation.

– Perhaps you start to bicker a little bit. Get into an irritable mood. The child will pick up on this.

For older children, the tech development of the later years has introduced a new potential problem: Easy access to screen entertainment. A good rule of thumb is to put all screens away at least one hour before bedtime to avoid issues related to sleep. If done, that’s all well and good, but don’t forget that parents screen use also plays a part in the children’s sleeping pattern as well.

– As an example, you have mothers using their phone when breastfeeding. That is a no-go for me. The contact between mother and child in this situation is essential for brain development in the first two years after birth.

– Does it affect sleep as well?

– Most definitely. Lack of socialisation, stimuli and contact can create restless children, Karin states.

Be bored

– In the cases where I recommend parents to be in the bedroom with the child until they have fallen asleep, I always ask them not to use screens of any kind. It’s supposed to be dark, and therefore you have no other choice than to be a bit bored. A lot of parents bring their iPad or similar when they have to sit next to the bed. It lights up the room and is highly stimulating for small children. It’s not a good thing at all.

On the other hand: The myth that the whole apartment or house needs to be quiet when a baby sleeps is not valid.

– I have a whole chapter in my book on this subject. Some infants are sensitive to sound when they fall asleep, but when in a deep sleep, you could even play loud music without waking them up. You are not supposed to sneak quietly around in your own home because you have children. You are allowed to talk on the phone or have guests over.

– But if you are in a situation where the child has a real issue sleeping, how can this affect him or her?

– Lack of sleep has a lot of disadvantages. For children, it often manifests as them being tired, grumpy and clingy. On top of that, they often get a lot of negative feedback from the world around them because of their behaviour. Remember that these children can’t verbally explain that they’ve had a bad nights sleep, like you and I can. Other symptoms related to lack of sleep are a bad appetite and challenging interactions with other children. It’s also worth mentioning that in the first third of the night, when children should be in a deep sleep, they extract growth hormone, making sleep during this phase even more critical.

Child and parent – Not so different after all

Lack of sleep can be hard on both child and parent, but when taking steps towards solving it, receiving good advice along the way, you’ll experience positive changes fast.

– When talking about the child, you’ll most definitely see a change. It’s about seeing the difference between a baby that isn’t satisfied and a baby that is. With more and better sleep, they are more content, they get a better appetite and smile more. It is also easier to socialise with them.

The same thing can also be said about the parents when their little one gets enough sleep. When a positive sleeping pattern is in place, the interaction in the family becomes better.

– An essential task as parents is to assist the child in finding the calmness to sleep on their own, Karin concludes.

And if that is manageable, you’ll quickly find the same calmness. After all, there’s not such a big difference between child and parent.

9 useful infant sleep habit tips from Karin Naphaug

  • Find a good sleep strategy and stick to it. Create one good bedtime ritual.
  • Avoid too many stimuli in the last hour before bedtime.
  • It is not unusual that children have nights where they wake up a lot. You can often connect this to the child’s developments steps.
  • Watch your body language when your child is going to sleep. If you are stressed, the child will become stressed as well.
  • Avoid screen entertainment while waiting for the child to fall asleep in the same room.
  • Don’t pick up an infant when they make grimaces and sounds. Doing this can disturb a child’s sleep pattern.
  • Are you working late? Don’t “steal” from the child’s sleep time to spend time together.
  • You are allowed to show frustration, but not while in the presence of the child. Hand the child to someone else and take a timeout.
  • Are you having a tough time getting your child to sleep? Reach out for help early on.