The impact of sleep loss

We started The Sleep Store to help parents with their baby’s sleep, way back almost 9 years ago. As parents ourselves, we knew how desperately tired you could become with a baby or two. And how terribly stressful a crying baby could be, particularly for first time parents. We were, and still are, also driven by helping parents to get enough sleep to function well and stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

So it’s very interesting for me to read an article from Time Magazine this week on the serious impact of sleep loss and a potential link between sleep deprivation and brain damage. Mothers in particular have long talked about ‘baby brain’ or felt groggy and exhausted as a result of lack of sleep. I know of lots of mothers driving feeling very impaired from exhaustion and I recently read 5% of Americans have reported falling asleep while driving. But until now it has been assumed that most negative impacts of sleep deprivation quickly come right once you start sleeping well.

There are some people who believe being a mother means you sign away the right to a decent sleep, that needing sleep is selfish and you should happily try to survive on minimal sleep for years rather than encourage your children to sleep better. Others offer unhelpful advice such as ‘sleep when your baby sleeps’ or suggest you take the exhausting approach of just waiting till your child decides to sleep through, even if it means you are getting only a couple of hours sleep a night for years.

But this article brings something new to the discussion –  it discusses new research on a link between sleep loss and the loss of neurons, ie lack of sleep can cause brain damage. And this is important. You can’t fob off lost neurons as you don’t get them back.

“A new Penn Medicine study shows disturbing evidence that chronic sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought and may even lead to irreversible physical damage to and loss of brain cells”

“While more research will be needed to settle these questions, the present study provides another confirmation of a rapidly growing scientific consensus:  sleep is more important than was previously believed. In the past, Veasey observes, “No one really thought that the brain could be irreversibly injured from sleep loss.”  It’s now clear that it can be”.

So have a think about your situation:

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • If not, is there anything you can do to help improve your sleep?

Some suggestions from me, as a mother myself, to you are:

1. Turn your phone, computer or ipad off at least 15 mins before you sleep, so your brain has a chance to wind down. Yes put that phone down! And don’t pick it up during the night, ever!

2. Have a pen & paper by your bed to record any last minute ideas or worries, so you can deal with them in the morning. It’s impossible to fall asleep when you are trying not to forget something! Big things, and little things, can play on your mind and make sleep illusive.

3. Invest in the right pillow and the right bed. If you are not comfortable or are waking in pain, something needs to change. Using a slightly higher pillow and a firmer bed made a massive difference after years of neck & lower back pain for me. Generally adults need to replace their mattress every 10 years.

4. Go to bed at a decent time! Who cares if your housework isn’t done, what posts you might miss on Facebook or who scored best this week on some reality show?? In the scheme of things, these are not important but your health is. Go to bed at a decent time, relax with a book and get an extra hour or two of sleep.

5. Help your children to sleep better. While we all know that a newborn needs frequent attention during the night, have a look at ALL your family and how often you are up to them during the night. How old are your children now and do they still need you many times a night, every night? Are there some changes you could make, however slowly and gently, to encourage everyone to sleep better? How much better would you all feel if you were well rested?

6. Never feel guilty about your own need for sleep. It’s essential for your own health, and for the future health of your brain!

If you need some help to improve your family’s sleep, we are here for you!  Often small changes to how you do things can make a huge difference to how well your children sleep. We can help you identify what you can change and a plan that works for your family.

And changes can be made slowly and gently, working towards the end goal of your whole family getting the sleep they need, including YOU. Better sleep doesn’t come at a cost, but there can be a cost of continuing on completely inadequate sleep.

Gentle sleep info for infants:  Click here:

Gentle sleep info for toddlers:  Click here:

Join us on our Sleep Forum:  Click here:

Email our team for personal sleep advice:    sleepcoach@thesleepstore.co.nz

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Swaddle Review: A Search for the Elusive Wriggle-Proof Wrap

One of the unexpected benefits of working for The Sleep Store as a Sleep Coach was a request to trial and review a range of swaddles on my newborn baby girl. I’m a huge fan of swaddling, having used it almost fervently with our first child, although we stuck to using muslin squares with him. Retrospectively, I wish I’d invested in some of these fitted swaddles at the time to prevent the swearing and exasperation I felt when he’d squrim his way out of what I thought was an escape-proof wrap. Wriggling aside, swaddling quickly became a staple in our arsenal of settling techniques, along with white noise cranked at maximum volume played on repeat (happily we soon learned that we could purchase this on CD – http://www.thesleepstore.co.nz/shop/toolbox/white-noise/white-noise/pwn-baby-s-first-white-noise – rather than leaving the hoover running in his room – a hot and stuffy alternative). Thus it was with great delight that I set about trialing a range of fitted swaddles on our then two week old daughter.

Swaddle Pouch by Baby Studio

My partner was mad about this wrap. I think it’s because you don’t have to do anything other than plonk the baby in it and zip it up. And I did find that I kept gravitating towards this swaddle at 4am when I was desperate to get back to bed as its biggest advantage is undoubtedly its ease of use. The fabric is remarkably stretchy so manages to create a really snug fit, which, our daughter, Eden, seemed to like. The give in the fabric means baby can squirm around comfortably and move their hands onto their chest or front if they wish. This was fine until Eden got a bit stronger and managed to pop her hand out the neck of the swaddle. Cue lots of crying and the Baby Studio Swaddle Pouch being relegated to the bottom of the drawer.

Verdict: Great for newborns, bleary-eyed sleep-deprived mums, and those dads whose swaddling technique needs some work.

SwaddleMe by Summer Infant: http://www.thesleepstore.co.nz/shop/wraps/fitted-wraps/boys/summer-infant-swaddleme—lil-monkey—small

I’m always slightly skeptical of products that tout themselves as “award winning” but can well believe it of Summer Infant’s swaddles. This swaddle is an absolute winner with me. It now lives permanently in my baby bag and gets used pretty much daily when we’re out and about. It’s remarkably quick to get baby into with an easy, snug design, and is resistant to Eden’s best wiggles and escape routines. The small SwaddleMe sadly only fits babies up to 6kg and I’ve already noticed that Eden’s feet are now squishing against the bottom of the wrap. However, I’ll definitely be trying the Summer Infant Wrap Sack in the next size up once this one is officially too small.

Verdict: Snug, secure and speedy to use. Award winning indeed.

Miracle Blanket: http://www.thesleepstore.co.nz/shop/wraps/fitted-wraps/unisex/miracle-blanket-natural-miracle-blanket#reviews

This is without doubt the best swaddle we’ve tried. And while I may be given to hyperbole at times, looking at the reviews on The Sleepstore’s site for these wraps, other mums clearly feel the same way. 100% cotton, the fabric has enough give in it to stretch to a tight, secure wrap without yielding so much that the baby can fight their way out. The extra flaps for securing the arms work a treat to pin Eden in place and now, at the six week mark, we’re consistently getting one 5-6 hour stretch of sleep at night so I’m only feeding twice in the night. While she’s a cruisy baby, I’m definitely assuming some of this has to do with the miraculous miracle blanket. Consequently, we now have three of these wraps as I can’t bear the thought of being without it! A word of warning however: despite its claims to be easy to use “even in the dark” this wrap floored my partner on first attempt and can be a little intimidating to use on a newborn as you do have to hoist the baby around a bit. If in doubt, check out the video on The Sleepstore website or Youtube.

Verdict: My favourite. Will be my go-to present for baby showers and mums-to-be. Happy sleeping all round.

Rachel x

The fear of the catnap, by Tracey.

The dreaded and much talked about “catnap”. Its a question we get at The Sleep Store most days from mums just like me “my baby only sleeps for 45 minutes and I cant get her to sleep any longer HELP!!!” The truth is, this happens to a lot and I mean A LOT of babies, some do however skip this delightful stage and bless their parents with long day sleeps but both of my little cherubs woke bang on the 45 minute mark. So what can we do to help them sleep longer? is there a magic trick? There are a few tricks that can help our little ones sleep longer then one 45 minute sleep cycle, things like,

  • White noise during sleep time (as loud as a vacuum cleaner)
  • A good firm Swaddle (with room for legs & hips to wriggle)
  • A Dummy for resetling
  • A sling or carrier to pop on if baby can’t resettle in bed.

Some babies just don’t need as much sleep as others and end up having 4 naps during the day rather then a morning, lunch and afternoon sleep. If they wake up relatively happy then so be it. Babies are all different, there’s no one size fits all routine. Often when babies get older and start to become more active i.e. crawling and walking, their naps do in fact naturally get longer and they start to go from 1 sleep cycle into the next. I found with my two, the more I worried about how long they were sleeping, the more anxious I got about the fact that they weren’t. I learned to “go with the flow” which in turn released me from my fear of “The Catnap”.

What are the real hazards with bed-sharing? New research for you.

Co-sleeping and bed-sharing is a tricky topic to write about. There are such polar views on the topic and at The Sleep Store, we feel a strong obligation to take a conservative approach with our information, babies lives are at stake after all when it comes to SIDS advice.

Reading research on SIDS and  bed-sharing is tricky too. Studies are often reported by people looking to justify their position rather than objectively engage in a positive discussion about what the findings mean for public health policy and useful advice for parents. And research findings have shown all manner of results, often completely contradictory recommendations.

We have had info on our website for many years about co-sleeping safely, yet our usual advice has remained that it is safer to have baby in bed in a bassinet or cot in your bedroom rather than in bed with you as this is the recommendation of the AAP, the Ministry of Health and NZ SIDS experts. Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t seen any info which has made me really reflect on changing this advice, and studies out last year and constant reminders from NZ coroners had lead me to think we needed to continue to advise separate sleep spaces both in our articles and when asked for advice on this issue.

However a new study out recently has made me think it is time for a review of our info, and we will be undertaking this in conjunction with my wonderful colleagues at Change for Our Children, who are just back from an International Conference on SIDS Education in Amsterdam. As an aside, they were presenting our joint project ‘Bag to Sleep’ to this international audience, where we work together to recycle sleeping bags and supply these to teen parent units as part of a safe sleep education program. International recognition of this Sleep Store developed initiative was very exciting and lovely for our team who wash, mend and lovingly package the recycled sleeping bags along with all the new ones we donate regularly.

Anyway, back to the new research. It’s titled ‘Bed-sharing in the absence of Hazardous Circumstances; is there a risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’, by leading UK researcher Peter Blair. You can read an excellent summary of the research here on Science of Mum’s Blog or read the full research article here.

The research was a detailed review of two earlier studies and was seeking to quantify whether risk of SIDS from  bed-sharing remained when you took away known hazards such as alcohol and drug use, smoking and sleeping on a sofa, with a particular focus on the under 3 months age group. It also questions whether advice should take a blanket approach against bed-sharing in any circumstances as chosen for example by the American Academy of Paediatrics (and we have in NZ) or would it be better to acknowledge that bed-sharing is a common practice and specifically target hazardous circumstances.

The research discussion includes the following:

“There was no significantly increased risk for SIDS associated with bed-sharing in the absence of sofa-sharing, alcohol consumption and smoking. In infants aged less than 3 months the same proportion of SIDS infants and control infants bed-shared in the absence of these hazardous conditions and the difference was not significant. Conversely, bed-sharing in the absence of other hazards was significantly protective for infants older than 3 months; a finding that was unexpected and has not been previously reported to our knowledge. Notably, the risk associated with infants co-sleeping on a sofa or sleeping next to an adult in the parental bed who had consumed more than two units of alcohol was a magnitude higher than most risk factors associated with SIDS. Both of these environments pose a risk to the infant regardless of infant age. The reasons as to why infants are at increased risk when sleeping next to a smoker are not clear, but this risk seems to be far greater in the younger infants”.

So the key recommendations that come out of this research for parents are:

  1. Don’t co-sleep on a couch or chair. If you feed your baby on a couch or chair during the night, and you think there is a chance that you’ll fall asleep there, you’ll probably actually be safer – not to mention more comfortable – feeding in bed (this assumes your bed is safe, ie no pillows or adult bedding near baby).
  2. Don’t bed-share if either parent in the bed has had more than 2 drinks of alcohol.
  3. Don’t bed-share if either parent smokes, especially with babies younger than 3 months.

For me, these new findings gel with high profile SIDS deaths in NZ, where alcohol in particular has been a very common factor. However in every case, the Coroner has come out loudly against any form of bed-sharing, even calling it a form of child abuse last year, with no mention of how parents can make their  bed-sharing safe. Some of these cases were downright shocking and as Wallace Bain said at the time, completely preventable. But cases were a baby has died in bed with a parent after a night of heavy drinking or died in the back seat of a car, smothered by a mother who has fallen asleep after heavy drinking are so far from the well planned, intentional bed-sharing going on in thousands of family beds every night in NZ. Drunken neglect will always be potentially and tragically dangerous, whether you are in bed together, driving or just not caring for your baby.

I do hope that Coroners will read the Peter Blair study and start to use their position to highlight the specific hazardous conditions with bed-sharing rather than the ongoing tirade against bed-sharing in general which is not actually changing anything, especially in the very high risk situations ending in tragedy.

It’s time advice to parents about bed-sharing separates out the tragic and neglectful cases, and clarifies the hazardous situations to avoid. And makes it clear what safe  bed-sharing looks like, as we have had on our website for ages and we will add more detail and context too in light of this new research.

The authors of the study concluded with:

“An important implication of our findings is that to give blanket advice to all parents never to bed-share with their infant does not reflect the evidence. There is a danger that such advice could influence parents to seek alternative, more dangerous sleep surfaces such as a sofa. In our study in 2003-2006 a number of families whose infants died informed us that they had been advised not to bed-share and thus fed the infant (and fell asleep) on a sofa… Of course we should inform the public about risks that can be associated with bed-sharing, but bed-sharing is a widespread socio and cultural norm; giving across the board advice to simply not do it negates the option of highlighting the specific and highly significant risks we have found.”

And I think this says it all really. A large number of our Facebook community, article and Blog readers and customers do bed-share and no amount of advice, Coroners’ alarmist comments or policy from the Government or anyone else will change this. It just shuts down the opportunity for a discussion about safety, particularly in at risk families where the hazardous conditions such as smoking and drinking should be obvious to health professionals and social workers.

And in particular new parents joining us all the time will bed-share, either through parenting philosophy, exhaustion or it just happening. While the safe co-sleeping guidelines have always been there, it’s time to dust off the info and advice that goes around this. The work that has been done by Unicef in the UK is really good, such as their pamphlet on Caring for your Baby Through the Night. It recommends baby sleeping in a cot by your bed, but acknowledges co-sleeping is common and covers the main hazardous conditions to avoid. Nice work Unicef, Science of Mum and Dr Pete Blair.

As another aside, I hope that the Ministry of health will also re-look at the topic of dummy use and SIDS rates, as some American research has shown dummy use can up to halve the rate of SIDS. While baby friendly initiatives may be helping breastfeeding rates, a finding that can halve the rate of SIDS must surely warrant serious investigation, whether you agree with dummies or want to promote breastfeeding. A topic for another day!

We look forward to updating you soon.

Sleep tips for school age children

Here’s our list of tips to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep, and therefore get the amount of sleep needed:

Routine:

While we all know about routine and babies, it is equally important that older children have a regular sleep routine. Try to keep your child’s bedtime and wake-up time should be about the same time everyday. There should not be more than an hour’s difference in bedtime and wake-up time between school nights and weekend nights.

Bedtime routine:

We recommend a 20- to 30-minute bedtime routine that is the same every night. The routine should include calm activities, such as reading a book or talking about the day, in the room where your child sleeps. Reading stories in bed, even lying down on their pillow can really help with relaxing and getting ready to fall asleep.

Bedroom environment:

Your child’s bedroom should be comfortable, relaxing, quiet, and dark. Although we think a nightlight is fine, as a completely dark room can be scary for some children. Your child will sleep better in a room that is cool but not cold, so 16-20 degrees is idea. Blackout curtains or a blind can be very helpful, both for light summer evenings and for mornings when the sun comes up early.

Happy place:

Avoid using your child’s bedroom for time out or other punishment. You want your child to think of the bedroom as a good place, not a bad one.

Bedtime snack.

Your child should not go to bed hungry. A light snack (such as milk and cookies) before bed is a good idea. Heavy meals within an hour or two of bedtime, however, may interfere with sleep. If your child hasn’t eaten a decent dinner, you may need an extra snack at bedtime (aim for something boring such as a sandwich so they aren’t being rewarded with a treat after not eating dinner!).

Caffeine.

We recommend avoiding all caffeine with children, in particular do not give children caffeinated drinks. However pay special attention to this for at least 3 to 4 hours before bedtime, as caffeine can be hiding in products such as fizzy drink,iced tea, and chocolate.

Evening activities.

The hour before bed should be a quiet time. Your child should not get involved in high-energy activities, such as rough play or playing outside, or stimulating activities, such as computer games.

Limit screen time & monitor device use:

Keep the television set out of your child’s bedroom. Children can easily develop the bad habit of “needing” the television to fall asleep. It is also much more difficult to control your child’s television viewing if the set is in the bedroom. The also applies to hand-held devices such as ipads, ipods, mobile phones and laptops. These devices emit blue light which stops your child feeling sleepy, and also you cannot see what they are doing online. This can lead to bullying or inappropriate use. We recommend having a family ‘charging station’, where all devices are plugged in and charged overnight in a common family area.

Exercise.

Your child should spend time outside every day and get daily exercise. Fresh air, sunlight and running around all help to make your children healthy and also tired enough to sleep well at the end of the day. We recommend having a time when the TV or devices are allowed on, for example in our family, no devices or TV are allowed until 3pm in the weekend.

Relaxation CDs:

If your child struggles to relax at bedtime, using a child specific relaxation CD can be a huge help. It will help them to lie quietly in bed, relaxing their body. It will encourage them to listen and focus on the relaxing message. These can be used from approx 3 years old. Other relaxation or nature sounds can also be helpful, and can be left on repeat all night to help with resettling and covering outside noises which may contribute to early waking.

The fuzzy line between comforting and sleep training.

I should have known something was not 100% with my little Noa last week when she started to cry when I turned the lights off at bed time, she use to  love going to bed and would bring me her woolbabe as a sign of “take me to bed now”.

She woke at night with a fever which hung around for 2 days, then the teething started. Her first 3 molars came up relatively quickly but the 4th molar…. it came through as if it was a wisdom tooth.

Our son can sleep through anything, me and my husband on the other hand, we were kept awake for 3 nights. 3 nights of crying, fussing, fevers and me nursing and rocking her back to sleep.
Finally her molar cut through her gum and she started to brighten up a bit but her sleep at night was all out of sorts and she was still waking several times a night crying.

I felt so confused, was this still an effect from her sickness? did she need me to comfort her as I did when she was sick? or was this a bad habit that needed to be addressed with sleep training?
As a sleep coach I thought I should know the answer, I answer sleep questions all the time but when it came to my own child I felt l had no clue.

We finally decided that her waking was due to habit, and we needed to do some sleep training to get her back into loving her bed again.
We decided we were going to use verbal reassurance to help her self settle, and sure enough at 2am she woke up, sat up, and cried… and cried…. and cried. After 15 minutes of her crying I went into her room and firmly said “shhhh Noa its bed time” and laid her back down, then left the room. 10 minutes later she started up again… I waited 5 minutes then went back in and repeated the process several times. 2 hours later…. she’s still crying on and off and I said to my husband, “if she starts up again I’m just going to give up and feed her”, she slept till 7am.

Second night of VR and she woke at 3am, cried for 10 minutes until I went in and laid her back down again and said my line “shhhh Noa its bed time” and returned to my bed… she fell back to sleep and slept till 6:30.
Third night of VR, Noa went to bed at 7pm, and slept through without a peep till 6:30!

I was so uncertain at the start, I couldn’t figure out where the line was between her being sick and needing comfort and her thinking “this is great! all I have to do is cry and I get fed and cuddled back to sleep again!”

It did take 2 nights of VR but on the third night it paid off and she slept right through again.

Long may it continue…. (until the next time she is sick I guess 😉 )

Tracey x

Noa has a lot of sleep to catch up on
Noa has a lot of sleep to catch up on

Gentle sleep ‘encouraging’ success story

We often hear that parents are exhausted by lack of sleep and are worried about their toddlers not get enough sleep, but they don’t like the idea of ‘sleep training’. They might have tried a technique before that didn’t work for them, or aren’t comfortable with crying….

Also toddlers can be soooo determined and stubborn, a gentle and gradual approach to bedtime is always our preference.

Think of changing your bedtime battles as gently encouraging your child to sleep better, of gently moving them towards learning to fall asleep without needing your help and without tears or tantrums.

I thought you may enjoy reading this success story that we received a little while back:

Our son moved into a big bed at 19 months and with a few things going on in our lives we fell into the habit of staying with him until he went to sleep.  It initially started with a nice 15 minute ‘bed time’ and slowly grew to a solid hour with both mum and dad having to be with him.  We had the delay tactics from needing story after story, a different toy to sleep with him each night or simply wanting me to sing him to sleep (that’s a lot of singing!).

After 2.5 months we wanted to break the habit and we opted for the ‘Gradual withdrawing out the door’ technique after visiting The Sleep Store website.  To be honest I was super nervous as our boy is extremely determined so we had to prepare ourselves for some long nights.

We decided to tighten up his bed time routine of two books (that he gets to choose) for me to read, then its lights out, a kiss and the lullaby music is put on.  On day one we did exactly this and I told him dad was off to the gym but mummy is here tonight.  (We felt if we could get him to sleep with just one of us, we were winning!)  I lay down and stayed with him until he was asleep.

Day two, same routine but I sat beside his bed.  Day three and on, it was the same routine however I moved slightly further down towards the end of the bed each day. By day six, he was going to sleep within 15 minutes and I was sitting against the wall by the door! He was more than content.

On day seven, we continued the same routine however I said that mummy would be just outside the door if he needed me.  Yes, I sat just outside the door for the next couple of nights until he was asleep, in case he came to check that I was there.  I didn’t want to get caught out!

We are now proud to say that our son now goes to sleep by himself.  What I love most is that we managed to break this habit without a single tear.  Now bed time only takes 10 minutes, stories, cuddles and a kiss good night…and off to sleep he goes. Our angel sleeper is back thanks to The Sleep Store and this fabulous pain free, tear free and stress free technique!”