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Lullaby and good night...

It's never that easy, say new parents struggling with their babies' unpredictable sleep cycles

Posted: 03/26/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0


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Good morning. How did you sleep?

Hopefully you did not wake up every couple of hours, hungry, craving attention and crying for your parents, with no idea whether it was day or night.


As peaceful and snuggly as it sounds, you don't really want to sleep like a baby. Just ask any new parent.

Andrea Winther was at her wits' end when she attended a moms' support group last year and the discussion turned to sleeping behaviours.

"I broke down in tears," the Winnipegger recalls. At the time, her daughter, Sydney, was three months old and only sleeping about two hours in a row during the night. She and her husband took shifts to tend to their restless infant.

"We had to put the soother back in many times a night," she says.

Nichola Mitchell has known bleary-eyed parents to stand by the crib for an hour holding the pacifier in their baby's mouth. Others try a bottle, or nursing, or rocking, or driving around the block, or strapping Junior into the car seat and putting it on top of the dryer or dishwasher. Another popular strategy, apparently, is to bounce on a Pilates ball while holding the little night owl to your chest.

While they are all perfectly understandable attempts by exhausted parents to catch some shut-eye, these sleep aids, or "props," are not a long-term solution, says Mitchell, a Winnipeg mother of two who also happens to be a sleep consultant and parenting coach.

In fact, they'll create even bigger problems over time, she says, as children naturally become desensitized (suddenly you're driving down the highway instead of just around the block).

They seem like natural-born experts, but most babies actually need to be taught how to sleep through the night.

"They have to learn how to pacify themselves when they wake up during the night. But if you rock your baby to sleep, if you feed your baby to sleep, if you otherwise help them to go to sleep, they're never going to learn to fall back to sleep again without the props," says Mitchell, who runs the Winnipeg division of Cheeky Chops Consulting. The franchise, based out of Vancouver, started in 2007.

Babies sleep a lot -- up to 18 hours a day in the first few weeks of life -- but usually only a few hours at time. An infant's sleep cycles are much shorter than an adult's because they spend more time in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase, which is lighter than non-REM sleep and so more easily disrupted.

It's a necessary phase in a child's development and it typically only lasts for a matter of months, but it can also put parents through the wringer.

"If your child isn't sleeping, chances are 100 per cent that you're not either," Mitchell says, "so there's a lot of stress. Sleep deprivation is huge. It can affect our emotions, our physical health and our mental health."

Winther can attest. Her master's degree in child development was no match for her daughter's nocturnal awakenings, she says. "It gets thrown out the window because your emotions and hormones are going crazy and you get into a fog and no logic works anymore."

Which is why she hired Mitchell to create a personalized, 15-page sleep plan for her family that she says "changed our lives."

After they book a consultation -- which can be done in person, online or over the phone -- parents keep a three-day diary to track foods, moods, activities and other factors that can affect a baby's sleep. By reviewing the diary, a sleep consultant can quickly identify and evaluate a baby's core sleep issues.

A consistent routine is key to training a baby to sleep through the night, Mitchell says. "A lot of parents aren't on a routine because they're more often following the baby's lead rather than the baby following them."

Mitchell recommends a "dream feed" between 10 and 11 p.m., waking Junior up if necessary. That's when babies are in their deepest sleep phases, so there's less chance of them waking up fully.

Infants should be placed in their crib "drowsy but awake," she says, so they'll learn to soothe themselves back to sleep. Their last waking memory should be of the crib and not, say, the warmth of their mother's chest.

Babies operate on cycles, Mitchell explains, generally based on their age. A three-month-old, for example, will work on a three-hour "EASY" cycle: eating, awake activities, sleeping and you (bonding time with parent).

By three or four months of age, they should be sleeping through the night, which is generally defined as sleeping five consecutive hours.

Cheeky Chops' sleeping consultants don't use any one particular method, but rather design step-by-step sleep plans to meet the unique need of each client. It typically takes three weeks to sleep train a baby, during which time parents are in regular email and phone contact with their consultant to make sure the plan is being implemented.

"It's behaviour modification, at the end of the day," says Cheeky Chops founder Dawnn Whittaker, who estimates her company has helped 2,500 families since 2007.

Whittaker, who has worked as a "night nanny" and "post-partum doula" in the United States, Australia and England -- where she met Mitchell, who was also working there as a nanny -- says the power of the sleep plan is that it forces parents to be consistent and accountable.

A Cheeky Chops "sleep package" with phone or Skype consultation is $300, with in-home consultation it's $400.

Turns out Sydney is a light sleeper. Her plan called for her crib to be in a separate room with blackout blinds and a sound machine for white noise.

"It was amazing," Winther recalls. "She (Mitchell) said Sydney will be tired at 9 a.m. and she was tired at 9 a.m."

For more information, visit or call Mitchell at 204-952-5677.

From A to zzzzz


Newborns sleep between 10.5 and 18 hours a day on an irregular schedule, with periods of one to three hours spent awake. The sleep period may last a few minutes to several hours.

By the age of two, most children have spent more time asleep than awake. Overall, a child will spend 40 per cent of his or her childhood asleep.

By six months of age, nighttime feedings are usually not necessary and many infants sleep through the night; 70-80 per cent will do so by nine months of age.

When infants are put to bed drowsy but not asleep, they are more likely to become "self-soothers," which enables them to fall asleep independently at bedtime and put themselves back to sleep during the night.

Those who have become accustomed to parental assistance at bedtime often become "signallers" and cry for their parents to help them return to sleep during the night.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 C1

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