Childhood is the one time in our lives that our sleep is beautiful-it's pure and uncomplicated. Unfortunately though, as we age into adults our beautiful childhood sleep deteriorates and becomes not so pure and is complicated by hormone fluctuations, stress, etc.
If your child is on a hectic sleep schedule and is sleep deprived (i.e., not getting the age-appropriate recommended amount of sleep in a 24 hour period) then he is not able to easily achieve that beautiful childhood sleep that we all want and desire for our kids. The culprit could be bedtime at 8 PM one night and 10 PM the next; a nap today but no nap tomorrow, followed by passing out for 30 minutes in his peas at dinnertime. While on this roller coaster ride schedule, your child's body clock just can not get on track to reap all of the physical, emotional and developmental benefits of being well rested.
So, how can you tell if your little one is sleep deprived and maybe missing out on that beautiful and restorative childhood sleep? There are five main signs that you will want to keep an eye out for.
#1- Your child falls asleep the minute they are in the car or stroller. Unless it is actually nap time, this is an A-#1-sure sign that your baby needs more sleep.
#2- Your child is doing a ton of face rubbing and/or ear rubbing. This action is a classic sign of fatigue in children and something you will want to zone in on. Parents are often quick to diagnose ear rubbing as an ear infection or teething, but with no other signs of illness or swollen gums, this one links to the need for sleep.
#3- Your child is quick to hit or push. Sure the reaction to hit or push can be linked to personality as well, but if this is a consistent behavior that is happening, dig deeper and look at your child's sleep schedule. The same is true of biting. For comparison sake, think about yourself as an adult and when you are sleep deprived. How quick to anger or quick to tears are you? Toddlers and young children have less control over their behavior than adults and the feeling of chronic fatigue is downright irritating, no matter your age.
#4- Your child doesn't eat well. For adults who are sleep deprived, we tend to grab for a high calorie, sugary food or on the other hand we may have no appetite at all. The latter is most often true for children. The more tired children become, the less they will eat. If your child often refuses meals and solid food (which leads into sign #5...), then look more closely at this correlation with his sleep schedule.
#5- Your child begs for Juice or Milk all day long. It's the fastest way to get a rush of energy. We all dislike the feeling of fatigue. Our body attempts to help by looking for ways to get rid of that unwanted feeling, whether it be with caffeine for adults or with sugary, liquid foods for children. In adults, the choice to battle fatigue might be a large Dunkin' Iced Caramel Latte. In children the easiest way to battle the feeling of fatigue is with juice or milk. The reason? Because it requires no chewing-it's easy to consume and quickly gets them the energy they desire.
What to do if you notice any of these signs in your baby? As with so many things in life, consistency is key, and your child's sleep is no exception. Set up a naptime and bedtime schedule and stick with it. In addition, put in place structured meal and snack times and eliminate grazing all day long and drinking more than the required amount of juice and milk.
Bonus tip for Adults: If you (or your bed partner) are falling asleep in under 5 minutes when you slide into your sheets at night, then you are sleep deprived. Try moving your bedtime 30 minutes earlier for 4 weeks to see if it makes a difference in how you feel and how long it takes to fall asleep. The average well rested adult takes 5-20 minutes to fall asleep.