News You Can Use: Quality Sleep is More Important Than Quantity

By Dawn Van Osdell

It’s no surprise to parents of newborns or kids with sleep challenges that waking several times throughout the night can really put you in a foul mood. A study just released from Johns Hopkins Medicine proves that your bad mood is more likely due to lack of quality sleep, than the reduced quantity of sleep you get. To feel better, you’re better off getting the same shortened amount of sleep without interruption.

“When your sleep is disrupted throughout the night, you don’t have the opportunity to progress through the sleep stages to get the amount of slow-wave sleep that is key to the feeling of restoration,” says the lead author of the study, Patrick Finan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The study, reported in the journal Sleep, evaluated 62 healthy men and women who in a research setting were assigned to three consecutive nights of either forced awakenings, delayed bedtimes, or uninterrupted sleep.  Researchers monitored the subjects’ sleep stages using polysomnography, a test that records brain waves, blood oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate and movements during sleep. At the end of each night, participants were asked to report how strongly they felt positive or negative emotions, such as anger or cheerfulness.

The study found that after the second night, those who were awakened several times during the night reported a 31 percent reduction in positive mood. The delayed bedtime group showed a 12 percent decline. It also found that the interrupted sleep group experienced shorter periods of deep sleep—the sleep stage that is important for the body to repair itself and maintain health— and that disturbed sleep impacted certain aspects of their mood, including energy level, friendliness, and feelings of sympathy.

The effects of interrupted sleep on positive mood can be cumulative, the study also showed, which helps to explain why depression is often a symptom reported by those suffering from insomnia or chronic sleeplessness. “You can imagine the hard time people with chronic sleep disorders have after repeatedly not reaching deep sleep,” Finan says. It can be a real downer. And the same holds true for parents who wake repeatedly throughout the night to feed or soothe an infant or child.

Further studies are needed to learn how long it takes us to recover or make up for lost sleep. For now, we know it’s more important to get our kids to sleep through the night—so we can, too—than it is for us to turn in early.

Photo by Sander Smeekes via Unsplash

3 Parenting Myths about Children & Sleep, Busted!

By Dawn Van Osdellsleep+toddler

There’s a lot of contradictory and downright erroneous parenting info floating around out there. We’re not afraid to tackle it head-on! 

You may be past the days of coaxing your newborn to sleep through the night, or convincing your toddler to get in bed while his older siblings are still awake. But sleep challenges don’t always disappear when your little one graduates to the big kid bed! This month, we
turned to psychologist and family sleep coach Sasha Carr, Ph.D. to help us bust three myths about sleep challenges related to growing children.

Myth #1: We have so much to do after school—activities, homework, dinner, spending time together as a family. It’s okay to push bedtime back to a later hour, since my child will be extra tired and is sure to sleep better.

Truth: It may seem reasonable to keep kids up later so we can squeeze more into our busy evenings, but the latest sleep research tells us that this isn’t a wise or productive solution. Although most young children naturally wake between 6:00 and 7:00 am, they are more likely to wake even earlier if they’ve gone to bed later, since overtired kids don’t sleep as well. They often have a hard time staying asleep through the night, or wake super early and aren’t able to go back to sleep, explains Carr. It’s important to stick to a reasonable bedtime so kids can load up on what Carr calls the “power hours” of sleep, that early, non-REM sleep time when we all sleep more soundly; this way, kids will easily be able to fall back to sleep after those normal, brief awakenings in the second half of the night.

You can make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your house by holding tight to a reasonable bedtime. To get there, carefully consider which after-school activities are best for your child and your family and, when possible, scale back or move some of them to the weekends.


Myth #2: My child isn’t a baby anymore so he doesn’t need a bedtime ritual. Plus, now that he stays up later, I’m too tired to keep the routine going.

Truth: Bedtime routines can become like death marches for parents, especially if they’re too long and complex, or if they drag on too late into the evening. “While it’s tempting to cut your exhausted self some slack and skip the ritual, keep at it,” says Carr. Routines are reassuring even to older children, giving them consistency and calm and as a result, helping them fall asleep. If you already have a routine, work on shortening or simplifying it, so it’s easier for you to stick with it.

Thirty minutes is the ideal amount of time to be fully engaged with your child at the end of their day. So if bedtime stretches too far into the night, consider starting your bedtime routine a half hour earlier. If you always read three books, cut back to two. If you have more than one child to put to bed, save your sanity by adjusting your routine so that it includes everyone and accommodates age differences; alternate reading a chapter and picture books aloud, or have an older child read to his younger sibling, for example.

carseat+napMyth #3: My child finally sleeps through the night and it’s going to stay that way forever!

Truth: Bravo to you for reaching this amazing sleep milestone! But be aware that sleep habits can change as kids grow and also change. It’s not unusual for preschoolers to have difficulty falling asleep at night, especially during a period of change, such as starting school; and some children experience night terrors—similar to nightmares although much more disruptive to the rest of the family than to the child having them—typically between the ages of 3 and 12.

Also, interestingly, Carr points out that many children progress to an 8:00 pm bedtime as they get older, but our bodies’ circadian rhythms give us a
boost of a hormone called cortisol right around this time, which makes us more alert and therefore, less able to fall asleep. Outsmart it when the time comes, either by putting kids in bed before 8:00 pm (if they’ll stand for it), or establishing an 8:00 pm quiet time in which they can read or lie around before lights out, with the aim of having them drift off to sleep by 8:30 pm.

Photographs courtesy of UrbanSitter


5 Things You Might Forget to Tell the Sitter

Whether you’re leaving the kids with a sitter for the umpteenth time or you’re about to hand over your new bundle of joy to his first-ever babysitter, there are a few details you might forget to share before you leave the house. Take the time to add these things to your list of things to tell the sitter before you head out on your much-deserved time away.


1. What your child expects from bedtime
There’s a lot more to your child’s bedtime routine than the time he goes to bed and the book he prefers to read before turning in. Help your sitter navigate bedtime and improve the odds of your child getting a good night’s sleep by filling the sitter in on the details.

Does she need to pull the shade or drapes? Lights on or off – or somewhere in between? Do you use a night light? Should the door be open or closed? Do you typically leave the hall or bathroom light on? How about covers – is the duvet turned down or pulled up? And don’t forget to let her know about any special doll or toy that your little one can’t sleep without. You may fear sounding like a neurotic mother, but these little details could make all the difference in how easily she gets the kids to bed…and whether or not tears are involved.

2. How to safely take your child on an outing
It may seem obvious to you, but don’t assume the sitter knows how to install your car seat, strap on a baby carrier, unfold your portable stroller or knows that she needs to put a helmet on your tot before he rides his scooter to the park. Take the time to show her how everything works – let her give it a go while you’re still there to answer questions. Be sure that she knows where to find what she needs, including diaper bags, spare blankets, sunscreen, water bottles and even your child’s jacket.

3. Where to find the first aid kit
You likely remembered to leave your sitter emergency contact numbers and maybe even a copy of your family’s emergency evacuation plan. If not, see our post on Preparing Your Sitter for an Emergency and download a free printable that makes it easy to leave all the pertinent information a sitter may need while you’re away. Don’t forget to also leave her a handy first aid kit to deal with any minor mishaps that may happen on her watch. Make sure your kit includes band-aids, Benadryl (with clear instructions about when and how much to give), antibiotic cream and an ice pack for bumps and bruises.

4. The 4-1-1 on your pets
Your sitter is there to watch the kids, but if pets are part of your family she’ll need to know what to expect from them, too. Let her know how much contact your kids and their pet have. For instance, do you allow your dog to cuddle with the baby and is it ok for your tot to chase the dog? Does your pet need to be let out and fed (and what to do if there’s a potty accident)? Do you absolutely forbid your puppy from eating people food scraps and should your new sitter expect some playful nips? Also let her know where your pets are allowed in the house. Is the nursery off limits? Is the cat permitted to scoot outside when she and the kids do?

5. The location of a spare key.
It happens. The sitter, just like you, ducks out of the house as the locked door slams behind her leaving her (with or without the kids) locked out of the house. Save her the panic and yourself from having to run home to let her into the house by leaving a spare key with a neighbor or in a safe, hidden spot. Some families prefer their regular sitter keeps a spare key to their house on her own key ring.

Giving your sitter this extra info could save her and your family from more than a few unpleasant situations. She’ll appreciate the details and be more confident in her ability to take care of the kids and hold down the fort while you’re away.

Tips for Helping Kids Adjust to Daylight Savings


For most of the country, it’s time to turn the clocks ahead one hour this weekend, as we officially move to Daylight Savings Time, Sunday, March 9. Interestingly, newborns don’t seem to be affected by time changes. However, the hour change tends to take a toll on children. According to child healthcare experts, it can take kids a few days to adjust to a new sleep schedule, leaving parents with tired, cranky kids on their hands. Fortunately, there are simple tips you can follow to help your kids adjust to the change as quickly and easily as possible, so you can both get the sleep you need.

julia-Exhausted sleeping toddler

Tips for Helping Kids Adjust to Daylight Savings

  • Don’t wait until Sunday to deal with the change and its consequences. Be prepared and have a plan for how you’ll help your kids adapt to the extra hour.
  • Consider starting on Thursday. Drop their bedtime back 15 minutes each day so that by Sunday night, they are ready to go to bed when the clock says their usual bedtime, even if their body clock think it’s an hour early.
  • If you don’t start Thursday, push bedtime back an hour Friday so kids have an extra weekend night to adjust to the change.
  • Don’t try to give kids extra help getting to sleep. Keep to the usual routine, no matter the time. They may not fall asleep right away, but getting them in bed will encourage their minds and bodies to relax a little earlier.
  • It’s often hard to convince kids that it’s bedtime when it’s still light outside. Try making bedrooms darker with blackout shades or blinds, or skip the nightlight.
  • Don’t overstimulate kids in an attempt to tire them out for an earlier bedtime. Overtired kids often have meltdowns and trouble falling asleep, rather than falling asleep easier.
  • Wake them up at their normal times. Don’t let them sleep later to make up for lost sleep.
  • Same goes for naps. Stick with the usual nap times, and wake them from their nap time at a normal time.
  • Falling asleep an hour earlier often means waking an hour earlier. Discourage kids from waking too early by letting them know what you feel is an acceptable time to start the day. Suggest they read in bed or play quietly until it’s time to get out of bed.
  • Consider putting a digital clock in your kid’s room and letting them know when it’s ok to leave their bed in the morning. Kid sleep training clocks are especially helpful this time of year.

The best way to help kids get the sleep they need is to be regimented about bedtime and bedtime routines. Kids always benefit when they know what to expect, and can easily grasp the idea that having a bath, brushing teeth and hearing a bedtime story signals the end of the day, regardless of the time or caregiver. If you haven’t already established a bedtime routine, now is the time to do it. Both you and your kids will get the rest you need to start enjoying the longer days!

What are your tips on getting kids to adjust to Daylight Savings? Share with us in the comments!

Are Your Children Getting Enough Sleep?

sweet sophieSleep is a hot topic with any parent, and for good reason. Read on to find out if your child is getting enough sleep, why it’s important, and what to do if your child isn’t as rested as she should be.


While sleep needs can vary greatly from child to child, there are science-based guidelines from experts to help you determine whether your kids are getting the sleep they need. Here’s what they say:


  • Birth–2 months need 12–18 hours
  • 3–11 months need 14–15 hours

Did you know newborns do not have an internal biological clock, so their sleep is not related to the daylight and nighttime cycles and there’s actually not much of a pattern at all? When the baby is about 6 weeks old, day-night confusion tends to stop and sleep patterns start to develop.


  • 1–3 years need 12–14 hours
  • 3–5 years old need 11–13 hours
  • 5–10 years old need 10–11 hours

According to WebMD, most kids are still taking an afternoon nap at age 3 and most are not by age 5. (oh, how we bemoan the end of napping!)

Older Kids/Teens

  • 10-17 years need 8.5–9.5 hours

Incidentally, it’s recommended that adults get 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep per night. How are you doing?!

Why Getting Sufficient Sleep is Critical for Children

There’s no debate that getting enough sleep is critical to kids’ physical, mental and emotional well-being and development. It’s likely no surprise to any parent that kids need sleep to do their best at school and at play, and to get along with friends and family members. But, sleep might be even important than you thought. Check out these key findings pulled from some recent studies on sleep:

  • A Finnish study of families with children aged 5-6 years found that kids who slept less than 9 hours each day had 3-5 times the odds of developing attention problems, behavior problems, and other psychiatric symptoms (Paavonen et al, 2009).
  • A recent study tracked the development of obesity in young children, recording the body weights and sleep habits of kids under five years of age. They measured the kids again five years later, and found a link between sleep loss and obesity. Kids who had less than 10 hours of nighttime sleep at the beginning of the study were twice as likely to become overweight or obese later on (Bell and Zimmerman, 2010).
  • A 2012 study divided elementary school-age children into two groups, having one group go to bed about 30 minutes earlier and the second group stay up later, getting almost an hour less sleep than recommended. Teachers, who did not know which group students were placed, found that students who were sleep-deprived not only seemed overly tired, but were more impulsive and irritable than their well-rested classmates. They were quick to cry, lose their tempers or get frustrated. The children who got plenty of sleep had a better handle on their emotions and were more alert in class (Gruber, 2012).

How to Build Better Sleep Habits for Your Family

  • Use the above guidelines to establish bedtimes and stick to them. Routine is key.
  • Don’t veer too much from weekday bedtimes on the weekends. It throws off sleep cycles.
  • Create soothing bedtime routines that signal an end to the day and help busy bodies and minds to relax. A consistent routine such as bath, teeth brushing, and bedtime story will go a long way in eliminating bedtime battles.
  • Experts advise kids to get at least 60 minutes of active play each day to promote sound sleep.
  • Eliminate electronics before bedtime.
  • If your child is hungry right before bed, allow them a small snack such as a banana or small glass of milk, but avoid sugary sweets or heavy foods.

Don’t forget to review bedtime schedules when you book a babysitter for the evening.