For the last several weeks, we’ve been dropping the nap. That’s a phrase many parents of 3-4 year olds will understand and fear. But I’m here to help calm those fears and give you some expert advice on what to do when your child is leaving that sweet sweet nap behind. I interviewed Certified Child Sleep Consultant Jenni June and I hope her advice will put parents at ease. Jenni specializes in pediatric sleep hygiene. She’s also a certified lactation counselor, mom of 4 and has worked with celebrity parents Guiliana and Bill Rancic on the Style Network.
First off, everyone stop hating on the Cry It Out method. That’s because all methods of sleep training involve some crying. Jenni says the important thing parents need to remember is that there are different types of tears: positive tears and toxic tears. Can you spot the difference? One leads to delayed gratification, the other indicates harm or danger. Most parents rush to their child’s side the minute they hear a whimper and that’s not setting them up for success. Jenni emphasizes parents have to start changing the way they respond to their kids needs. Your child wants to sleep! And if given the right amount of delayed gratification, they will learn to sleep on their own.
Now that information is mostly for young babies who are still learning to sleep through the night. But what if your child is older, like between 18 months and 4 years old? The naps are fewer and far between and eventually, you’ll find yourself like me, begging and pleading with your child to take a nap. Eventually it dawned on me that maybe she genuinely didn’t need to nap any more. Ding! All her resistance was telling me she was ready to drop her nap.
So we started letting her stay up to her regular bedtime at 8pm, with no nap. And it was awful. The level of tantrums increased. She was so wired at bed time I could hardly get her to hold still and brush her teeth. No amount of stories, or songs could get her in the mood for sleep. Chris and I felt lost. Do we push her bed time back? Do we bring back the nap?
Both are not great options and here’s why:
- Jenni says kids naturally start dropping the nap around 3 1/2
- Their bodies will give off sleep signals around 6pm because their melatonin levels are high at that time
- Once you drop the nap, move bed time up to between 6 and 7 so you can catch that hormone wave of tiredness
- They will not wake up earlier if you put them to bed earlier. (This is a myth)
- A preschooler’s natural wake time is between 6am and 7am (God Help Us)
- If you miss your sleep window, they will get an energy surge around 8pm and it will create stress and insomnia
- Inconsistency is the biggest hurdle parents have to overcome
My first question was, but we eat dinner at 6:30? How can I put her to bed so early? Jenni reassured me that because it’s her body’s natural sleep time, it would be easier to get her to sleep. So I put my trust in her expertise and you know what? It worked. My 3-year-old now goes to bed at 6:30 on week nights with less fuss and fighting than we’ve had in the last year. We do dinner at 5:30, bath at 6, and bed by 6:30. There are some nights I keep her up for special events because, I’m very popular and do fun things I want to include her on. But for the most part it’s lights out by 6:30pm.
Yes, my husband misses some dinners with her. And yes, we don’t go out to eat very often or at all. It’s a sacrifice. And it’s one I’m willing to make to ensure she’s getting enough rest so her very curious brain can keep expanding. Jenni says it won’t be like this for long. As she grows, that 6:30 time will naturally get pushed back and back until eventually around 6 or 7 years old she’ll start going to bed later. Jenni says even a 5-year-old should have a 7:30 bed time.
If you’re shaking your head in disbelief (I see you), I completely understand. I would too if I didn’t see it work for myself. My stubborn kid now goes to bed at 6:30. She may not fall asleep right away, but within the hour she’s out. Jenni says there is science and studies behind this information and the biggest thing inhibiting a child’s sleep is inconsistency. Trust your parenting instincts! If your child looks sleepy around 6pm, their body is telling you they’re exhausted so they need to go to bed.
If you want more information on Jenni’s 4 pillars of sleep hygiene or would like her to consult with you on family sleep issues, visit her website www.jennijune.com. I can tell you her advice was a life-saver for us. My daughter is getting great sleep, and I even gained a few hours to myself to do things like catch up on this website! Try it for a few weeks and let me know if you see a difference.