Making Light Work For You – Baby Sleep Habits ~ Chris

Let me warn you before reading on that I’m not a sleep expert and while you might want to experiment a little bit with some of the things that worked for me don’t take it as gospel.  If there’s anything I’ve learned is that every baby is different so something that works here, might not work there!

I studied Zoology in University.  Now you know my bias.  I speak from an evolutionary perspective because I feel that it helps me predict things.  My take on baby sleep says that 100,000 years ago, we didn’t have a nighttime source of light.  The moon and stars excepted and this was only if we didn’t have any form of roof covering blocking this from view.

Thus, I nixed any chance for a night-light in my son’s room.  I never felt that a baby should be “afraid of the dark.”  In fact, I’ve read research showing that lights in the night, even for adults, can severely disrupt sleep patterns and cycles.  So while sleeping might seem long and productive, the body doesn’t get enough deep sleep and so suffers in the long term from tiredness.  This can cause poor moods and outbursts, eating disruptions, difficulty in concentration and even poor learning.  I have heard there are some lights that do not interrupt sleep.  This being the case, why offer a light when you’ll have to bring it with you everywhere you go.  Granted sometimes it’s difficult to darken all rooms, we usually manage with a black garbage bag and some tape when on vacation or visiting family.  In case you are wondering my son happily babbles in the dark as he’s put to bed and in the early morning as the sun lightly illuminates his room.  By the way, I think overdarkening a room to the point where even daylight doesn’t make shapes known can be cruel and unusual.  I do think the light is a more gentle way to wake a baby, so there’s definitely a balance at play.  While a room should be dark enough during nighttime hours, it should be light enough during the day to see shapes and waken your baby at a reasonable time.

Thus, by stance is no night light and a darkened room.  If you suffer from poor sleep, I recommend you try this for yourself.  As an aside my neighbours side light triggered by motion set off several times each night.  Without realizing it, it was waking me up periodically.  I didn’t notice this correlation at first, but after reading an article on light and sleep, I figured it out.  It turns out the light would trigger often in the night from the movement of the trees, and other night animals moving about.  Once we darkened our room, I began feeling more rested and woke far less frequently.

I feel that night-lights have a similar affect on your baby.  Some might wake up for just a second and talk themselves back to sleep, while other might be compelled to wake up totally or even cry at the shapes in their room.  Some parents might misconstrue their baby’s poor sleep habits to a “fear of the dark” and might inadvertently add a night light only to handicap their early sleep efforts.  Remember, thousands (hundreds) of years ago we wouldn’t have had any light at night aside from a candle left on inadvertently so I don’t think having a night light is something a baby or toddler needs.  While you might not notice the connection, and while your baby might grow accustomed to the disruption, it doesn’t mean your baby might do better without it.  If you are considering removing a night-light, be warned that this change will take some effect for your baby to get used to.  Even positive changes take time to adjust to after-all.

The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be able to see the outline of your outstretched hand in front of your face.  Give it a try and let me know how things go!

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Language Equals Mastery ~ Chris

When you studied hard on a topic you likely spent the majority of your time learning the diction/jargon within a field.  For example, when you learned chemistry, you learned about the periodic table of elements, chemical reactions, and so forth.  Once you understood and could use the terms in chemistry as proven through a test which requested you to apply the language, you had mastered chemistry.  In fact, very little is different in baby sign language with respect to you and your toddler.  Once your toddler masters language in all facets, they will have mastered the world.  More or less of course, because at some point, someone also needs to be able to aptly apply the language too!

My introduction is cryptic, but related.  Baby signing gives your baby a good shot a mastering toddlerhood.  By learning the lingo of babyhood, your baby can build confidence.  It is mastery of a topic that leads to the building of self-esteem.  Once your baby can label the emotions; HAPPY, SAD, ANGRY, SCARED – they have an edge in controlling their reaction to such feelings.  The language helps your toddler limit outbursts.  When my son was FRUSTRATED or SCARED, he could communicate this to me.  Just by labeling his emotions, he was able to deal with them in a more constructive manner.

Your baby can also master manners too.  Your baby can learn PLEASE, THANK YOU, NO, SORRY, EXCUSE ME and can ask for MORE, say ALL DONE and on and on.  All this language helps your baby control his world.  The more control you can give to your baby, the more your baby will feel that they have mastery of their world.  This is not unlike adults who feel confidence as they build control of their lives.  On the other hand, adults who feel powerless over their lives tend to fall into resentment and then depression.  The severely depressed feel that they lack control even in their own moods.  This of course, is a far cry from what a toddler might feel, but giving your baby the power to talk is the best you can do toward helping them build confidence and take back some of the uncertainty from their lives.

As your baby learns mastery of toddler language, he’ll also learn its application.  This will lead to diminished outbursts and tantrums.  The sooner you empower your baby with language, the sooner he’ll be able to control his own self and his expectation.  While some might feel this is moving a baby into adulthood too soon, when it comes to childhood, limiting tantrums can’t come soon enough.  Should you teach your baby to sign, or if you already are, keep language as mastery in mind and see for yourself if it isn’t the case.

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Baby Sign Vocabulary ~ Courtney

At 17 months, I decided to record all of the words that my baby could say.  There were 59 of them.  At the same time, his signing vocabulary was 128 words strong!  While both his signs and spoken words continue to increase, this week marked the first that he spoke more new words than learned new signs.  He is just over 18 months old.

So for an entire year (from 6 months old), signing has been my baby’s primary way to communicate with us.  Just think of how much more he’s been able to tell us and ask us before he could verbally articulate his interests and desires.  I am equally excited when he does a new sign as when he speaks a new word because either way, it’s making life a whole lot easier and more interesting for him and my husband and me.

Whether he will drop signs or continue to use them as he learns to say the words remains to be seen.  My guess is that he might do a little of both, at least until his articulation improves.  I plan to continue signing and saying the words, modeling both to him as I have been.

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Setting Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule ~ Chris

Let me warn you before reading on that I’m not a sleep expert and while you might want to experiment a little bit with some of the things that worked for me don’t take it as gospel.  If there’s anything I’ve learned is that every baby is different so something that works here, might not work there!

There’s not much that is will be so varied, besides your baby’s eating habits, as your developing baby’s sleep habits.  Your baby will go from being totally random, sleeping whenever he feels like it to sleeping throughout the day and being up at night, to finally having some normalcy, but never quite getting on an adult schedule.  At some point, your baby is going to join you on some sort of regular sleep routine, but not before you’re completely exhausted.  Count yourself lucky if your baby went straight to sleeping through the night – you’ve been blessed.  When it came to our son’s sleep routine, we had mixed results.

It all began when we decided to give the soother a try after Holden had become accustomed to falling asleep on the breast – something we knew wouldn’t help but was hard to prevent.  The soother worked to help calm and put him to bed, but at one point it became more of a nuisance.  We found that it would pop out in the middle of the night and since our son’s fine motor skills weren’t developed enough, he wasn’t able to help put it back in on his own.  The inevitable result was crying so we would come and help making for a very sporadic schedule for us.  At one point, we collectively had enough so we gave the soother cold turkey up on his morning nap.  It took almost 2 hours of crying in fits and starts before he calmed enough to fall asleep.  That was the end of the soother – he would never need it again.

You’ll find that your baby might go from 6 hours at night to well over 12 hours at night.  Every baby is going to be different.  Your task is to try to settle on something that you can live with.  Our son went from two naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to just one afternoon nap.  He also had a much longer nighttime sleep as he aged too.  We found that making his room really dark helped him sleep throughout the night and also stay sleeping longer in the morning.  The light cycle also plays a factor.  For example, you might find that your baby sleeps in later in the winter when the days are shorter and earlier in the summer when the sun rises much earlier.  We found that with only a bit of variation that the cycle would remain fairly predictable by just an 1 or so either way.  I think it’s a bit much to make the room completely pitch black (it’s disorienting to a baby to wake up in the dark) so the early summer sun does tend to wake him up earlier.

My advice on setting sleep routines is to be flexible and find something that works for you and your baby.  If you aren’t happy with how early your baby wakes, try putting him to bed later – say around 8:30-9:00 p.m.  Then you can more or less predict that he’ll wake up 10-12 hours later or thereabouts.  Don’t do it all in one shot.  If your baby goes to sleep at 6 p.m. now, stretching their day out will make your baby overtired and they’ll actually sleep less.  Second, remove any nightlights or other artificial lights and make the room as dark as possible but still let some daylight penetrate.  Ideally, you’ll only want to be able to see your moving hand at arms length, when it’s light outside, but not otherwise.  Next set a solid bed-time routine and carry it out to the letter.  We started from play, bath, dress/diaper, yogurt, brush teeth, play on mom and dad’s bed and watch a bit of cartoons, go to baby room and read several books, night time in crib.  Doing this is important to make life predictable to a baby who can otherwise feel that things are out of their control.

I don’t pretend to be any sort of sleep expert, but hopefully some of these tips can help you get your baby back on track.

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Learning, Memory, Sleep And Baby Sign ~ Chris

I’ve been fascinated with human psychology and behaviour my entire life.  In fact, I originally went to University to study psychology but later found that my science courses lead me into discovering far more answers than did my psychology courses.  Thus, I swapped from a psychology major to a psychology minor and upped my science to a major.  While I learned a lot of the basics in University, it was real life that really reinforced my understanding of people.

I like to look at things a little bit different from the rest, and I think this helps me.  I’m not married to any particular train of thought, that it until I find something that works for me.  By work, I mean something that yields the results that I wish for.  I hear so many people complain daily about their struggles, yet do very little, nothing at all, or actually do things to make them worse off.  This puzzles me to no end.  If you ask me, it’s better to come to a situation with a clean slate and work toward a solution that actually works.  Naturally, you can’t just do whatever you want in life…well you can, just you can’t rightfully expect the results you want by doing so.  That is, for every action, there is an equal and logical reaction.  What you do directly impacts upon what results you get.

While certain results might make you feel like the world is against you (and often it’s not exactly cooperating), the blame can often be attributed back to you.  I have found that many people let pride and ego dictate their actions rather than mastering their actions within the realm of nature.  Nature is a driving force in all of our lives and sets the rules by which we must abide by.  If you choose to work against these laws then you’re in for a difficult (and unnecessary) struggle.  While you may assume I’m overthinking things, and maybe I am for our purpose, I still enjoy results that don’t cause me to suffer undue stress and of which produce the results I can enjoy.  Like Dr. Phil mentions over and over again on his show “How’s that working for you?”

So I’m off on a tangent right now, but my initial purpose for this post was to describe the research I heard some time ago about how the mind works to produce memories.  Scientists think that sleep is a time when our brains work and re-work our day’s tasks into long-term storage.  Therefore our “down-time” is a time where our memories are consolidated.  This makes sense to me.  Think about the last time you work hard on learning something new.  You likely spent a good time in the early parts of sleep rehearsing over and over again the task – almost as if you were doing it right then and there.  Imagine playing Tetris or learning to drive by example.  This is your brain’s way of hardening the neural pathways in your mind.  It’s setting the connections and reinforcing them.  When downhill skiers visually practice their run at the start of the gate, they’re doing the same thing.  Sports experts know this well, and use visualization often to help an athlete improve their performance.

As this applies to baby sign language and learning in general, you should take away that babies who learn skills over the course of several days will master something faster than if they were exposed to it only once.  This is because their minds will have had more exposures over many days and had many chances to “sleep on it.”  The more “sleeps” a baby has on a task, the more consolidated is their specific memory.  This is why baby signing takes many exposures over many days to work.  Adults are no different.  In fact, it’s the things we do daily that become part of our core memories because we sleep on them so many times.  When your kids are eventually faced with tests (or you are) be sure to learn and re-learn the material over several days rather than a quick cram so that your brain has a chance to solidly wire itself producing a mastery of the material.  Cramming has been shown to help in the short term, but in the long term, the memories will simply fad away.  The things we do all day long eventually become permanent in our minds and so long as we keep doing them, will harden to the point where we find them easy to do requiring no active thought whatsoever.  Any new driver will attest to this, their minds are actively thinking about driving, while an experienced driver often relies exclusively on their consolidated memories to bring them to their destination – nary an active thought.

Therefore, to teach baby’s to sign, teach your baby frequently, and teach your baby daily.  The more times you expose your baby to signs, the more times your baby will sleep on the task and the more it will become reinforced.

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