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Hey, hey!

I'm Michele DiSpirito

I've been where you are.

Tired. No. Exhausted! Frustrated and confused as to what to do with an adorable little one that just. won't. sleep.

I'm a mom to three boys ages 6 and under, wife to Kyle for 17 years, and all about getting some good sleep for us all! While struggling to make sleep consistent and a reality with my oldest, I scoured the internet for answers and was left more frustrated and confused than when I started. I wanted a clear path; someone I trusted to just tell me what to do, how to do it, and when. What I wanted was what I'm here to be for you today - a Pediatric Sleep Consultant.

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3 Subtle Changes that can Improve the Quality & Quantity of Sleep

If you’re lacking sleep, change can feel daunting and overwhelming, no matter how badly you need or want it (sleep or change).


So, like eating an elephant, you can take it one bite, one subtle change, at a time.


Here are 3 bites you can take to eat the elephant:


1. Adequate light at the right times

Our bodies know it’s time to be asleep or be awake by their circadian rhythm that's mostly controlled by the input of light to the optic nerve. Though we aren’t born with a circadian rhythm, it starts to develop the moment we’re born. Since light is the biggest influence on the circadian rhythm, it's a major influence on our quality and quantity of sleep.


So, with that in mind, think of all the ways light (from the sun, artificial lights, devices, and electronics) and darkness are involved in your child’s day.


MORNING:

Bright light signals to the brain that it’s time to be awake. Research shows that being exposed to early morning sunlight (or very bright artificial light, like a lightbox) causes the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin production to occur sooner at night, making it easier to fall asleep.


What are some ways you can introduce more sunlight into your wake-up routine? Maybe you can...

  • have breakfast on the porch or by a sunny window.

  • open the curtains and blinds in the area of the home you'll be spending your time.

  • play outside for a few minutes before the sun gets too intense.

If your child watches tv or uses an electronic device, mornings and early afternoons are the best time to do so. Limit their use to any time an hour after waking and an hour before going to sleep to prevent sleep disturbances.


AFTERNOON:

The sun is at its peak at this time and young children are typically ready for a nap.


How can you prepare your child for sleep during the day? You can...

  • dim the lights or partially close the curtains or blinds during lunch.

  • do their nap time routine in a dimly lit room.

  • have their room completely dark for every sleep. This is important. It will signal to their body that it’s time for sleep and also remove distractions from the things in their room.


EVENING:

The sun is starting to set and this is when it’s time to wind down for the night.

  • Dim the lights,

  • turn off the tv and devices, and

  • “set the mood” in the home for sleep.


Find ways to add light at the beginning into the peak of wake times and ease into the darkness towards times of sleep. Let the flow of light and dark be a part of your days, creating and solidifying the circadian rhythm.


2. Routines

Routines and circadian rhythm go hand in hand; they work together. The circadian rhythm is like the melody and the routines are the lyrics. The current and the boat.


Routines are what you consistently do throughout the day. Over time they become predictable, habitual, and create security. They trigger the body to (almost) effortlessly move into what’s next. And what’s next with nap time and bedtime routines is sleep.


These routines do not need to be elaborate or drawn out. They should be similar to each other since the result is the same - sleep. To give you an idea, here are some examples:


NAP TIME ROUTINE:

diaper change, jammies and sleep sack on, read a book, snuggle, and into bed.


BEDTIME ROUTINE:

bath, brush teeth, diaper change, jammies and sleep sack, read a book, snuggle, and into bed.


3. Adequate nutrition and hydration

Firstly, there is no one right way to feed your baby. Experiment with what works for you and your baby. Explore and try new things without pressure, judgment, or the worry of “doing it right or wrong”. I find that looking at this in a positive light instead of another task is helpful so,

think more about adding nutrient-dense foods to your child’s diet instead of worrying about taking away less nutrient-dense foods.

When it comes to hydration, newborns and young babies get all they need from breastmilk and/or formula. For older babies and children, plenty of water and high water content foods, especially in the hot summer months, will help keep their bodies functioning as they should and, in turn, make sleeping that much better.


The timing of when your child eats and drinks matters, too. Whether they’re young and only drinking milk or formula or older and eating solids, the idea that “tanking” them up during the day ensures they’ll sleep all night isn’t completely true. (Please, no rice cereal in the bottles!) Newborns and young babies' bellies are only but so big and no matter how much you fill them during the day, they’re likely going to need to eat in the night. But, it is true that if they’re not getting enough food throughout the day, they’ll wake more through the night (or naps) to compensate.


If feeding your baby or toddler is a struggle or you have concerns about their weight/growth, don’t hesitate to reach out to their pediatrician for guidance. If you need help with nursing or want guidance in introducing solids, lactation consultants and feeding specialists are eager to help! Raising children takes a village. Our village these days just looks a bit different than in years past.


In Conclusion

The great things about each of these 3 things are they’re versatile - you can implement them no matter where you are - and you’re doing each thing to some extent already, you may just need to make a few subtle tweaks in some areas to reap the optimal sleep benefits.


Whether you dive headfirst into sleep training (for children older than 4 months old) or you want to tip your toe in the water, these 3 things are invaluable for a great sleep!


(And by the way, these tips are great for adults, too 😉)



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