Sweet Slumbers: Understanding and Nurturing Your Short Sleeper Child's Restful Nights
Unraveling your child's sleep requirements can be a challenging and at times, perplexing journey. Are they inherently inclined to be a short sleeper, benefiting from a gene mutation that supports thriving on minimal sleep? Alternatively, could they be experiencing an excess of sleep, leading to under tiredness?
Let's delve into these distinctions and explore effective methods for determining which category best describes your child's sleep patterns.
The Truth About Short Sleepers
While it's true that some people have a genetic mutation that makes them natural short sleepers, it's incredibly rare. Only 4 in 100,000 people to 1 in 4 million people have been found to have mutations in genes such as DEC2, NPSR1, and ADRB1. So the chances that your child is a natural short sleeper are incredibly unlikely.
But what exactly is a natural short sleeper? They wake up feeling refreshed after just 5-6 hours of sleep without the need for caffeine or stimulants. They don't feel tired or drowsy throughout the day, don't require naps and often don’t even need an alarm clock to wake. If you exhibit these traits, you might be a natural short sleeper, and thus more likely you have passed on this gene mutation to your child.
The Real Cause of Under Tiredness
Under tiredness is a common issue that many parents face when trying to get their child to sleep through the night. There are two main causes: too much daytime sleep and not enough physical activity during the day. If your child is napping too much during the day or not getting enough exercise, they may have excess energy at bedtime, making it difficult for them to settle down.
Having a genetic mutation or being a natural short sleeper is distinct from requiring less sleep than the average amount for a child of their age. The amount of sleep a child needs varies across a spectrum, resembling a bell curve with most children requiring the average amount of sleep, a smaller number requiring more than average, and a few requiring less. If a child needs less sleep than average, they may be under-tired at night if they are napping for the average amount of time for their age.
To address this issue, adjustments can be made to their nap schedule, such as reducing the length of their naps or advancing them to the next age group routine, along with pushing bedtime out by 30 minutes. These changes can often resolve their night-time sleep problems. In some cases, toddlers may appear to require a nap because of a split night caused by excessive daytime napping. While these children are not natural short sleepers, breaking the cycle can be challenging. If you're struggling with this issue, we can help.
One of the most common culprits for under tiredness is the use of contraptions that restrain your child, such as bumbo seats, walkers, and strollers. When babies are not given enough time to move and practice their skills freely, they have more energy at bedtime, leading to under tiredness.
If it's not for safety reasons, parents should try to increase the amount of time their baby spends freely moving and see if it helps them settle faster.
If your baby is slower to develop motor skills such as rolling and crawling compared to their peers, they may require less sleep than the average amount for their age and stage. This can result in them appearing under tired. However, once they start to develop movement, their sleep needs may increase and become closer to the average amount for their age, as they become more physically tired.
What You Can Do About It
Identifying whether your child is a natural short sleeper or just under tired can be a frustrating and confusing process. That's where we come in. Our online program is designed to help parents identify their child's sleep needs and provide them with the tools and resources they need to help their child sleep better.
When you purchase our online program, you'll have access to our dedicated email account where you can ask us any questions you have about your child's sleep. We'll work with you to answer your questions and ensure your sleep plan that fits your child's needs and lifestyle.
Case study of under tired Emma
Meet Emma, a sweet 3-year-old girl who has always been a great sleeper until recently. Emma's parents, Jane and Mike, started noticing that Emma was having a hard time falling asleep at night and was waking up for long periods during the night. They were concerned and decided to seek help from a sleep consultant.
After discussing Emma's sleep patterns and habits, the sleep consultant suggested that Emma might be ready to drop her daytime nap. Although Emma was only 3 years old, the consultant explained that it is not uncommon for children to drop their nap between the ages of 2.5 and 3 years old.
Jane and Mike were a little sceptical, but they were willing to try anything to help Emma get back to sleeping well at night. So, they followed the consultant's advice and started to transition Emma away from her daytime nap.
Here's what they did:
- They slowly reduced Emma's nap time each day.
- They implemented a sleep phase shift strategy.
- They introduced a quiet time in the afternoon where Emma could rest and relax, but without actually sleeping.
At first, Emma was a little resistant to the changes, reducing day sleep when night sleep is not consolidated is challenging and can lead to short term behavioural issues, and picky eating as Emma’s parents experienced. Sleep regulates mood and appetite.
But after a few days, she adjusted well to the new routine. She was now falling asleep much faster at night and was not waking up for long periods during the night. Her behaviour and tantrums disappeared and she went back to eating well.
Jane and Mike were thrilled with the results and were happy to see that Emma was now sleeping soundly again. They also noticed that Emma seemed to be more alert and active during the day, which they attributed to the fact that she was no longer over-tired from her split night.