In the book Good Night, Sleep Tight Kim West writes about sleep windows. A sleep window is the time your child would naturally go to sleep. If you time it right, your child’s body starts to produce melatonin, which is a hormone that helps induce sleep. If you keep your child up past this precious sleep window, they stop producing melatonin and start producing cortisol, a stress-related hormone that will eventually overstimulate your child, thus creating a second wind. “He will be more agitated, more difficult to console, more likely to need a lot more of your time and energy to help him wind down again and get to sleep.”
If he naturally falls asleep around 7pm and you keep him up until 8pm, he will most like not sleep well. He’ll have a hard time falling asleep and even staying asleep. He may wake several times in the night and maybe even wake earlier than normal in the morning before he is well rested. “This cycle can lead to poor naps the next day, which will lead to an overtired baby at bedtime, which leads to poor nighttime sleep.”
It is important that you learn your child’s sleep cues. Every child is different, but here are a few common sleep cues: “rubbing eyes, yawning, becoming less active, maybe a little listless.” Don’t wait until your child is fussing and crying, almost always at this point you have waited to long and your child is overstimulated/ overtired.
“If you have trouble detecting your child’s signals, keep one eye on him and another on the clock. Try going into a quiet, dimly lit room and engaging in a very gentle activity when you think nap time or bedtime is approaching. The signs may then appear.” For me, I will take my son into his bedroom and turn off all the light and only turn on the reading lamp and we read a story. If he will sit calmly in my lap, then I know it is time for sleep. Try taking your child to his room and reading a story, doing infant massage, sing soft songs together, or lay on the floor and talk to you child. Just keep the activity simple and quiet.
Personal Experiences: My son is currently having trouble sleeping. I suspect that he is overtired and I am missing his sleep windows. We had a lot of disruptions to his schedule last week. He had a cold, we had a home inspection (because we are selling our home) that cut a nap short, we were out late at a friends house, cut a nap short for church on Sunday. I think that all these disruptions added up. I did not see the signs at first, but a good friend of mind helped me to see that he was probable overtired. Then I pulled Kim West’s book out and it hit home. I started to really watch for his sleep cues. For my son, his eye lids get really pink and you can see the veins in them. If he yawns, I may have already been to late. So I watched for the sleep cues today, but his naps were still pretty poor, which is most like a results of poor nighttime sleep the night before. I imagine if I do it again another day, his naps will improve. He has also been waking up around 5am when his wake time is 7am. I know this is due to missing his sleep window and becoming overstimulated/ overtired. His bedtime is 7pm, but we were not always diligent about getting him to be at 7pm. I should have known better because it has backfired! So tonight, I made sure he was in bed before 7pm so he would have plenty of time to fall asleep. Another thing to note, because he was so overtired today, I went back to rocking him before naps and bedtime. I did not let him fall asleep in my arms. I only did this to help him relax since he was so overstimulate from a weeks worth of poor sleep. I am hoping that tomorrow I will start to see the benefits of getting my son down for his naps and bedtime during his “Sleep window” and staying as consistent as possible! UPDATE 4/27/08: My son is back to taking his solid 2-2 hour naps a day and getting 11-12 hours of sleep a night. It took about 2 days of being consistent with timing his sleep windows and watching his tired cues, but he is back to sleeping well! He is not longer overtired and has been in a great mood!
Quotations are from Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West p. 33-35