Sleep Cycles

Children cycle in and out of different sleep phases throughout the night, entering a light sleep phase six to eight times. It is during these light sleep periods they are most likely to awaken. Adults typically awaken three to four times per night, although they may not be alert enough to remember. If toddlers awaken fully during each and every cycle, and must depend on a parent's help to get back to sleep … Well, there's no need to finish that sentence.

Sometimes parents can alter the sleep cycles by breaking into them. Try awakening the toddler just before you go to bed. Spend a few minutes smiling and chatting, then help her fall back asleep.

Many parents assume that hunger pangs are causing her to awaken at 10 P.M., at 2 A.M., and again at 5 A.M. More likely, she's cycling through sleep stages. If you suspect hunger is an issue, serve a hefty before-bedtime snack then set an alarm so you can awaken her at midnight for another. Scheduling a regular midnight feeding helps toddlers develop a schedule, and effectively separates food from sleep issues.

Aromatherapy can produce short-term relief from anxiety and induce sleep. In a study of geriatric patients, lavender oil dispersed in the air enabled them to sleep as well as they did on prescription medication. The patients were less restless; plus, their rooms smelled better! Manufacturers are now concocting lavender-laced lotions and sleeping aids for toddlers. Consult your pediatrician.

Keep in mind, however, that popping a bottle into a child's mouth each time he cries at night encourages him to use food as an emotional crutch, and that the point of a bottle should be to satisfy a nutritional need. If you do decide to use bottles as soothing devices, stick to serving water to prevent the major cause of childhood cavities: sugary liquids sitting in the mouth.

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