Your baby does not sleep? La Petite Creme founders Fanny knows too well the feeling on despair that comes with lack of sleep. In episode #5 of our Moms Talk series "Moms talk with a French accent", she (and other co-founder Cecile) take a deep dive into baby sleep with co-host Dr. Varisa Perlman, a NY-based Pediatrician and Holistic Health Coach.
(full text transcript below the video)
Moms Talk with Dr Varisa Perlman [episode #5]: Baby sleep
Cecile: Hi, everyone.
Cecile: This is Cecile and Fanny from La Petite Creme, and we're here with you today for Episode 5 of our Mom Talks.
Cecile: And today's topic is sleep.
Fanny: Yeah. We're just maybe going to wish you a Happy New Year.
Cecile: Happy New Year.
Fanny: It's a new year. So yeah, Happy New Year, everyone. Hi, everyone.
Cecile: So one thing we can wish you all for 2024 is some good sleep.
Fanny: Yeah. [laughs]
Cecile: [laughs] Let's put that on our list, on our to-do list-
Cecile: -for the year. So we'll wait for a few more people to come in. Hi, Salome.
Fanny: We're going to invite [inaudible]
Fanny: [inaudible] to join yet.
Cecile: Hello, everyone. Welcome, welcome. Hello.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Hi. Happy New Year.
Fanny: Happy New Year.
Cecile: Happy New Year to you. Fantastic 2024.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah.
Cecile: There's a lot that's going to be coming this year. So I'm sure everybody watching has a lot on their plate because if you're here, you either have a baby or you're pregnant. So 2024 is going to be filled with a lot of things for sure. And as we were saying, the one thing we wish everybody for 2024 is a good night's sleep. [laughs]
Dr. Varisa Perlman: [laughs]
Cecile: A lot of sleep for everyone because sleep is important, right? So, while we wait here for more people to join, why don't you people write down what your current struggle is with sleep, why you're here, what kind of sleeper your baby is, the pattern that they have, and what are your concerns and what you want us to talk about because sleep is a very wide topic, very prominent, very important, yet very personal from one family to the next.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. I'm Dr. Perlman, for those who haven't met me yet. I'm a holistic health coach who is also a pediatrician.
So I'm going to sometimes pull things a little bit broader because I found that in my practice, when we pulled it broader, we started to see things a little clearer. So that's something that I think is really helpful. So I would actually— as you jot down how your baby and your kids sleep, jot down how you sleep, jot down how your partner sleeps, how other people in the house sleep because a lot of times I'll hear, my kid won't sleep. And then I ask the parents, like, “Oh, yeah, we don't go to bed until like 3:00 in the morning. We're on the computer, all the lights are on, and I don't know why my kid won't go to sleep.” And I'm like, “I would stay up. That sounds like so much fun. Everyone's up. It's a party. Why would you go to sleep?”
Sometimes you have to see it from the kid's point of view that you're not really giving cues to the baby that it's time to go to sleep. And your body needs those cues to start to slow down. So think about how your general family, whoever's in the home, gets ready for bedtime and sleeps 'cause that gives you a lot of information.
Cecile: Okay. So let's get a couple of comments in. Do we want to share our personal experience with sleep?
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. Great.
Cecile: I'm a mother of two.
Fanny: I'm a mother of two.
Cecile: And you are a mother of two, Varisa. So I'm sure we have at least six different versions of a sleeper within our own group. So, I don't know, who wants to start between all of us?
Fanny: I think I'm the last one who gets to sleep, so I'm going to start. So from my two experience, that was pretty different. So my daughter is almost 5 and my son is 17 months. My daughter, she finally got a whole night of sleep around 8 months old. I nurse her, so before that, I had the feeling that she was not hungry at night, but she kept waking up at night, and, by reflex, I feed her. After eight months, it felt like it's never going to stop, so my husband said, okay we're going to stop feeding her at night. So it was a little bit struggling for I would say a week. And after, she just got it and [inaudible] and now she can sleep 12 hours straight. She needs her 12 hours because if she's under 12 hours, she doesn't function very well.
And for my son, it was a little bit longer. He was not hungry at night, but we still don't know what was it. He just screamed to fall asleep. He doesn't want to fall asleep by himself. He struggled a lot. We tried different things. Now he's a little bit better, but maybe because he just grew up or we just let go, and we are maybe in a better place ourselves with my husband. But now he can get also 12 hours of sleep, uninterrupted sleep, which is good for us, but I would say it's been only two months, so he probably slept good at 15 months.
Very different experience from two babies and we tried the same thing. I know it's not the best thing, but we tried the same technique and he did not respond the same as my daughter. So yeah, that's my story about sleep. And me personally, I'm not a morning person. I like to enjoy my evening and I don't like to wake up at morning. And my husband is the other way. But we are a good sleeper overall in our house. Yeah.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: And I think that your story gives a really good example of how individual sleep style is, sleep needs are. Self-consoling behavior, I think that that's something that we don't always link, the idea between anxiety and ability to console yourself. So being able to get yourself to fall asleep is one of the first exercises in self-consoling behavior. And it's tricky because you have all these feeding needs in the beginning, right? So then the question is that, do they need something to suck on or are they hungry?
So that line between self-consoling needs and hunger needs is really sketchy. It gets—
Cecile: Especially when you don't sleep yourself and your brain is not fully functioning very pragmatically.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah, very difficult [inaudible] after you've been woken up on the hour, [laughs] and now it's 3:30 in the morning and your eyes haven't even really closed yet. I mean, to be like, well at that moment, what do you—I mean, you're just literally like, “I don't even know where I am.” So it's really a huge demand.
But I think that there are certain times within their first year when you think, I don't think that they're hungry. The first three months is kind of a crapshoot. They're in the bed sometimes with you. They're hungry. They don't even know, their night and day is still being worked out. But as the months go on and you actually see them, say you're breastfeeding or even on a bottle, they kind of plop on and then they just go right back to sleep. They don't even eat anything.
Cecile: To add to that, in my experience, what gave it away to me was the sound.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Interesting.
Cecile: I never paid attention really to the sound of the sucking, but then one day I realized that I didn't hear that slurp sound, and I was like, “Wait a minute. What are you doing there if you're not—"
Cecile: Exactly. And that was the first time I actually noticed that made different sound when they drink. But, again, she was maybe 3 months old, so it's a bigger suck at this point when they are really tired.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: I call them fakey feeds. If you're starting to feel like, “I don't think that that was really a hunger one. Let me see what they can do to try to bring themselves down.”
The thing that's a little bit interesting, working with psychologists—both of my kids had definitely some anxiety and have anxiety now, but when I've worked with psychologists, one of the first things they ask about is how did they sleep? And I think that there's a lot of different approaches. A lot of people in another generation were all about the cry it out, right? Have them completely—don't go in the room. It's not black and white. It's not like, don't cry it out, cry it out. There's a lot of actually space in between. So I know people, a lot of times when they hear cry it out, they're like, “No, I will absolutely—" or they're like, “Yes.” Everyone seems to be very split on that. It doesn't have to be like that.
And there are ways to do it so that it's a gradual process. Like you said, once you start to realize that there are some feeds that you're like, “That's not really a feed.” Maybe in my world, between my husband and I, my partner and I, we will let the baby cry a little bit longer, maybe another 5 minutes, maybe a little another 10 minutes. And that can be in between. Whereas sometimes, the traditional cry it out is very militant where it's like you don't even touch them, you don't even listen to them. You just get out of the room.
Life doesn't work like that. Nothing works in extreme. So somewhere in the middle is fine. But if you can figure out a way to create an ability for them to self-console down and go to sleep or be able to self-console if they wake up in the middle of the night, you actually give them this mental tool that will help them with issues with anxiety as they get older. This is a relevant exercise. This is a relevant discussion, besides the fact of sleep being important.
But I think that what we're starting to understand in the larger picture of sleep is that there are so many pieces that contribute to a good night's sleep. It's the daytime, it's the falling asleep. What happens two or three hours before you go to sleep? What's the light that's in the room? Do you reach REM? Do you have sleep apnea? So now we're really starting to understand that it's not just how many hours. It's not that simple anymore. What time do you go to bed? Are you on your circadian rhythm? All of these issues are things that you are encountering at first as a baby, but you will undoubtedly encounter with yourself and with your kids over and over again because it's relevant in many ways.
Cecile: You mentioned the getting down to sleep. And there is one point that caught my attention is, you're right, the fact that we put baby down to sleep because it's their bedtime, but as adults, they're not fooled. They see that our pace is not slowing down. I don't know, for me, I would put them down, and then at the time, I was like, “Okay, I'm going to be active because I can.”
So now thinking back from what you said, I was probably like saying something with my words and my body was projecting a whole like I'm getting hyped as I'm telling you to slow down, which is probably not the best messaging for the kid.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: That's amazing. Yes.
Cecile: I'm just sharing that because I just heard it when you said it, and I'm like, “Damn, my actions were not matching my words.” The kid must have been like, “Oh, wait a minute, mommy is just so hyped and I have to sleep.”
Fanny: My daughter, she's always asked me, “What are you going to do now?” “Going to get a shower and go to bed. Nothing exciting.” [laughs]
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Right? And I think there's a couple of great themes that you had there. One is that kids are not completely based on words. They also base a lot on feeling. So even if you're saying like, “I'm not doing anything, I'm going to bed because I'm really tired.” They're like, “No, no. There is something. You're really excited for me to go to bed. You really want me to go to bed, don't you?” They're like, “Oh, no, no.” And so you are right. I'm sure that without realizing it, you might've read that story a little faster. You might've been not completely present.
One thing we talk about in our talks all the time is about being present. The kids, they look in your eyes, they're about to go to sleep, but if they see your eyes are darting around, they're like, “Hmm.”
Cecile: Signals are not clear.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: “I'm not feeling it. I'm not feeling going to bed right now.” And you're part of the environment. You're just as important as if the light is on or if the light is off. Most people would say, “Of course I would turn off the lights,” but you are right, maybe you need to turn off your emotions. Maybe you need to turn off all the things you're thinking about. “Oh my God, the minute this kid goes to sleep, I have so much to do. I do the laundry.” You got to turn that off. When you're bringing them to bed, you got to turn that off because they're going to be like, “I smelled something is going on.”
And if anything, kids have the worst FOMO ever. They don't want to be left out of anything fun. So I think that's what they pick up.
Cecile: Do you think that starts from a baby age when they're just born? Because when they verbalize it, then you can tell them—I remember many times using—“You're not going to miss out on anything.” And I remember saying that out loud, even when they were babies because sometimes I had the feeling that they were just holding on. And just being able to say out loud, “Okay, you can let go. You're not going to miss out.” Literally within second, they would go to sleep because they'd be like, “Okay, I'm not missing out, then I'm gone.” [laughs]
Dr. Varisa Perlman: People have this whole thing of like, how do you talk to a baby? I'm like, “Talk to a baby like you would talk to another person because your feeling is there.” And so by actually verbalizing it, you actually allowed yourself to also like, “Hey, the fun is with you. You're going to sleep. There's no fun after this. It's time to rest so that you can be—” And even though you're like, “Why am I talking to these babies? Baby can't talk back to me.” The baby can feel your emotion as to what you're saying.
I actually don't think that communication changes that much from—You guys saw me with your babies. I would talk to them and be like, “Hi, how are you? Are you having a good day? What's good?” I would just talk to them like normal and they could sense my emotion because I was present and talking to them as if I was with a friend and just chatting with them. So I do think it was good for you to say that. That was right because they really needed to hear that it was important for them to wind themselves down.
We have a whole country full of people who don't sleep well, and I really do think it impacts our overall health. And I think that between devices, which are really tough because the blue light behind the device really activates a gland called the pineal gland and it really wakes us up. It's like taking the sun and being like, “Let me put the sun in front of my face and see if I start to feel sleepy.” That's not the way—your body doesn't work well with that. There's so much content, there's so much social media, there's so much stimulation that comes through a phone, unfortunately, that really just revs up your mind.
It was interesting because I actually just this morning had this—somebody was talking about you know how you wake up at 3:00 in the morning with a thought. I don't know if kids have to do with that, but maybe adults do too. I mean, maybe it's the same idea, but they were talking about how those 3:00 a.m. thoughts or maybe even nightmares that may come up with kids are basically unresolved thoughts from the daytime, just things that you just left tangled and you thought, let me just go to bed [laughs] and let me see. They come up. Your subconscious brings some up back up and say, “Hey, let's think about this.”
If they eat a lot, if they have a lot of protein in their belly and you literally—Some people are like, “Oh, well, we have dinner at 6:30 and then we go to bed at 7:00,” and it's like, the baby's belly—I can't do that. I need one or two hours to really digest my food. If you don't digest your food well—they talk about the gut-brain superhighway. As your body is trying to digest all that food, here you are getting nightmares, restless sleep. Undigested food is basically signaling a lot of strange stuff to your brain. So that's where just the setup—
It's funny because people talk to me about sleep all the time. And it was the kind of thing where I was like, “Okay, let's go back to 3:00 p.m.,” and they're like, [laughs] “Why are we talking about 3:00 p.m.?” And I'm like, “Just tell me, what's happening at 3:00 p.m.?” Because I found that we had to see what time does everyone come home? What time do you guys eat dinner? What time is bath time? Who's home? Who's not coming home?
I had a dad who was a chef and didn't come home until 1:00 in the morning, so lo and behold he's ready to go to bed—the baby's been asleep since 8 o'clock and would wake up bright-eyed bushy-tailed at 4:00 in the morning. The dad's like, “Why is this kid up? I just went to sleep.” And he would bring the baby to the kitchen, he would cook a meal for the kid, and then put them back to sleep.
And then all of a sudden, he had a job where he was able to come home and go to sleep at 8 o'clock, 10 o'clock with everybody. And he's like, “This kid's still waking up at 4:00 in the morning.” And I'm like, “Are you still cooking the meal?” I remember. I'm like, “Are you still cooking the meal?” “Yeah, I don't know, maybe she's hungry.” I'm like, “I would wake up. I would make an alarm clock and be like, I get a homecooked chef-quality meal at 4:00 in the morning, I'm getting up.”
Your response to them waking up is a whole thing. I have sometimes families with 10 kids in there and that kid gets taken out of the room. They play with the parent for a little while and then they go back. They're like, “Why does this kid wake up?” This kid wakes up because it's alone time. They get positive reinforcement.
Cecile: Dedicated time, yeah. It's hard to see that when you are in it. Yeah. It's very difficult when you are sleep-deprived, when you're in the dark at 3:00 in the morning, you have your own system going on, and it's just very hard at this point to do something rational. [laughs]
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Totally.
Fanny: To take a step back and have a rational vision of the situation.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. You have to be present in your thinking at every moment. I think that that's the only thing that you can ask. You won't know all the answers until you're in that moment. But if you're thinking, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I have to go,” they can feel that they've got you, that you're so anxious to do anything that they want for them to go back to sleep. But in many ways, the energy has to be like, “We're present, I'm here with you now, you're going to bed. We're going to bed.” And you woke up in the middle of the night, go pee if you want to, then you're going to bed. Because you can be the stimulus. You could be the energy that wakes them up, makes them feel like they want to be up. And that's the tricky part.
So it requires a deep breath. [laughs] A deep breath. Even though you're so angry and tired, you need to have a deep breath to write that. I think the other thing that we talk a lot about are naps during the day. Naps are something that can disrupt because during the daytime, if you let them nap more than two hours, they do REM. And REM sleep, there's a certain amount allotted for the entire 24 hours. So if you let them sleep three and a half hours during the day, they took some of the REM that would be for night. So you got to be a little bit careful not to let that drift. As they get older, you'll see—
Cecile: But that nap during the day is so good for parents. [laughs]
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yes. [laughs]
Cecile: We have to admit, we love that nap during the day. If it stretches for hours, we're like, “Oh, that's time for myself.”
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Right. I tell parents, I'm like, “You're going to have to wake them up at that two-hour mark.” And they're like, “But I'm just getting my work done.” I get it. I understand it, but it doesn't work like that. You have to be able to regulate so that the night and day don't switch off.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: And sometimes, especially when they're newborn, obviously, I'll say, wake them up, feed them, and they go back to sleep. But you'll see as the first year, second year—Now, 3 years old, 4 years old gets weird with school. They don't really always nap as much. And sometimes I have the problem where the kid maybe stopped napping at 2 years old, and then they go to sleep beautifully at 6:30. But when they're in school, they nap because the whole school is napping, and now they won't go to sleep until 9:00. I had that happen a lot.
Cecile: And that's also one of the things that I know I wasn't very aware of when I became a mom, that it's not a straight line. So you go through like, they sleep through the night when they are babies and you're like, whatever, it's like three, four, five, seven, eight months. And then at some point, they go through the night for a week straight, and you're like, yeah.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: “I'm amazing.”
Cecile: And you go to the next topic. And then a month, two months, a year down the road, everything got messed up. And then that's when, to me, it was even harder because I felt like we were out of the woods and we were like, “Yeah, we're done with that. We rocked it.” And sure enough, something came up, whether it was teething or it was just this change in environment, the change of daycare, whatever. And that was harder for me to face because I wasn't prepared for it.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yes. And I mean, literally, I'll be honest with you, the phrase should be like, you have to be prepared to be unprepared all the time. Literally with my kids, the minute that I felt like, “Wow, I got this, I'm doing it,” it was literally to the day, like around the corner, something else would come in and smash it. And I was like, “Oh, that was really fun for a couple hours.” I felt fantastic. I felt so good for like two hours. So I'm always a little scared when things are going well. I'm like, “Okay, what's coming?”
And that's the thing with sleep, is that it is an ongoing project. It's something that even as adults, I feel like I'll like hit bumps every now and then like I did something. When I moved to New York, for some reason, I was drinking more coffee, but decaf coffee, I thought it would be fine. And I didn't sleep and it took me about a month before I was like, “Wait a second, the decaf is just not—I'm out.” And then I was able to sleep. But you have to understand that it's something that's a bit of an evolving project because you change. You're changing too.
And the thing too, Fanny, which, again, I always tell you, right? You cannot cheat. Just know the method you used with the first one, you might as well scrap it for the second one. You should just assume that it's not going to work. Literally, it's off your toolbox. It's gone. Because my kids literally went over and over again. One way, the opposite way. One way, the opposite way. I never could duplicate whatever I did with the first one. And that still rings true because they're just totally different people. And you're different too.
The number two kid, you would think that you would be like, “Oh, I'm so good,” right? “I know I have tools, I'm so good.” You're actually even more exhausted. So your ability to be clear and decisive in the middle of the night, not so good. [laughs]
Fanny: No, not so good. [laughs]
Cecile: Plus, you don't look at things with a fresh eye like you do with the first. The first, you're a little lost, but at least you look at every possible avenue. For the second one, you tend to go for shortcuts because like, “Oh, I've done that before.” And then you're not as mindful for the other options, right? So you may stay longer in the wrong direction because you're just convinced that it worked before so it has to be the right thing.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Right? You have to look at the second one with fresh eyes. I think that's a very good way to do it. Fresh eyes like it's your first one. I have people that they're like, “This is my second one, but I kind of forgot everything I did for the first one.” I'm like, “That's fantastic. This is going to be a lot better then.” Because if you come to it being like, “Well, I did this, I did this,” and then when it doesn't work, you get very defeated. You're like, “Oh my God, nothing will work.” And it's like, “No, your first one is very different from the second one. So you just got to think of something different.”
To me, all of these first-year lessons, they set up the platform of how you should approach everything else. All the years, it sets out certain principles of being present, to honoring each person separately and uniquely because—
Cecile: Which is hard on babies because sometimes you see a baby that's just—I mean, first they were inside you then they're outside of you and they don't interact or whatever. So being able to see them as an individual is hard. I know it was hard for me. I don't know how it was for you, but I had a hard time seeing them as a being, besides just something that came out of me.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Try it when they're 20. You think that that's hard? My kids are this age where I'm like, “It's their life. [laughs] It's their decisions.” And yet you hear me all the—The reason why I like talking to you guys about these things is because it reminds me to do that with my grown kids. And to say like, “Hey, listen, I have to remember what I learned in that first year. What I learned in that first year is that you're both very different. You're both beautifully unique. And I have to give you your space.”
This is actually a great challenge to give them their space because one of the things when we say—you don't hear me saying how to console them back down to sleep. I'm saying how to teach them to self-console.
Cecile: And there is something in the French culture because-
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah, tell me.
Cecile: -not everyone who's here knows that we're French, or they may have figured out, for people who don't know us, in a weird way. So in the French culture, we have something called a doudou, D-O-U-D-O-U. And that's a sleeping blanket or some kind of a teddy bear that, in theory, the kid picks. Full disclosure, for my kids, I picked it for them [laughs] because I didn't want to end up with a giant pillow.
Fanny: You know me, I tried to pick the one for them. They never wanted what I picked. They just picked their blanket, their sleeping sack.
Cecile: So it's one item that you put with your baby at the moment of going to sleep so it has their scent, your scent, whatever. So you're right, you have the sleeping blanket. For me, it's a little teddy bear head with a little blanket attached to it. And it's the thing that's always with them when they go to sleep. And attaching that, and it's a being. We talk about doudou as being its own entity. So you go to bed with doudou, and then you do that with doudou, and then you carry it around. And it's become the one thing that parents really respect as being part of the kid's world. It's not any random one. They have a lot of other teddy bears or stuff to be with. But this one really has a place in the kid.
Every kid in France has a doudou. And it's something that you buy multiple so that you make sure you never run out if they lose it or whatever. But I found that with my kid, it kind of helped as a way to get them into some kind of an hypnosis mode. Because if they were used to having this little comfort animal or thing with them, I could take her to a concert outside, outdoor, as long as this thing would come out, she'd be like, “Oh, sleeping time,” and then she would sleep. Just because she's conditioned to that little sleeping thing.
And we were surprised when we got to the US that it's not a concept that is as strong. But in French culture, you have tons of books about this little character and his doudou, this little character lost his doudou. It's really part of every kid and it's the same word for every kid. And it's very something that is accepted and part of the culture and the kid's life.
Fanny: And it's not only for sleeping, it's like the transition between parents, mom, and the kids. They attach the emotion of the transition with this object. So when you let them on the daycare or their nanny, they always have this kind of object and they help them to transition. So in many ways, it's—yeah.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: I think that that's something that—Gosh, I think that that's something that we sometimes lack in just a broad generalization in US culture is that—It's interesting. I mean, it's a little colored because being Asian American, I also come from that culture as well. I love the fact that I feel like so much of the child, like the recovery, even for the mother and the raising of children in France—and perhaps in Europe, but I just know French more—is this idea of gradually, in small steps, building independence in the children.
And I think that we are really finding—And maybe we're just on the end or just recovering [laughs] from a whole generation of a lot of helicopter parenting, where the thinking is you can't do anything, I'm going to [inaudible] because when you think like that, yeah, maybe you do it for your kid and your kid has a moment of success, but the ends don't justify the means. The means of a person struggling even at a very young age and figuring out a way on their own to self-console, to achieve something, builds these little morsels of confidence. And as they get older, those little morsels of confidence, they add up.
So when they aren't in your nest, [laughs] they're not in your home, they have a whole reserve and a diverse set of tools that allow them to have the confidence that they can do what they need to do without you.
Cecile: And they will eventually need that, right?
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. [laughs]
Fanny: Yeah, for sure.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Pretty soon, right? I mean, even when you drop them off to somewhere where you're not there, it's clear as day. There are so many moments that we're supposed to be feeding those little morsels of confidence. And yet, a lot of our culture, with a lot of the helicopter parenting, is that I don't need my kid to struggle. I don't really want them to suffer at all. At all. If they're on the monkey bars, I'm going to hold their legs so that they never fall.
But in the end of the day, if they go out there one day and you're not holding their legs and they think that you're there because how would they know the difference? They've never felt your hands not there. They swing on those monkey bars and they let go, but you always caught them and you're not there, they break a leg. [laughs] You know what I mean? Something breaks.
So the idea is how do you teach them to maybe fall a little bit. It doesn't have to break a leg every time, but just fall a little bit. And yes, like you said, you were saying, your kid screamed [laughs] going to sleep, it became this thing, but the screaming kind of got a little less each time. But it was hard.
I mean, I sometimes tell people, even with my husband, we were trying to do it for a while, he would literally put a pillow over my head and push me down and be like, “Don't listen. Don't listen.” Because I was like, “[screams] The baby's crying.” It's really hard. They claim that the estrogen in a woman makes it very difficult for them to hear a baby crying. So physiologically, it's very difficult. But I think we're seeing [inaudible]—
Cecile: I don't know if we lost you for a second but if it's just us.
Fanny: We cannot hear you anymore.
Cecile: We cannot hear you. Oh yeah, your back.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Go ahead.
Cecile: I said we couldn't hear you for a second.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Oh yeah. I think that there is obviously the pragmatic, like how do you get your kids to sleep now? And I think that it's always important to step back, see the forest with the trees. These are important exercises because I need your kids to be able to self-console themselves through life. And really, when you really—as I'm standing at this space right now, this is the time where my input is there like, but it's not there. This is now like whatever bank of confidence morsels [laughs] I have put in—I mean, I'm still trying to do it, but when they were younger—
And we all don't do everything perfect. There's no question, right? But I think that trying to be more present, trying to kind of put aside all of your like, “Oh my God, I have all these things to do.” Kids can feel that tension. And when you can kind of say, “I'm going to step back and see what we're doing right, what we're doing not so good.” That's why traveling is so difficult because you're trying to teach them to self-console in their environment, but yet they're in a different room every other day. That's really difficult.
I think it's brilliant for the French to be like, “Okay, actually, you've chosen this doudou. [laughs] This doudou is with you. This doudou is your thing. And you get to create the way that when you see doudou, you start to feel sleepy.” So it's creating this space.
The US, we muddle it up like, “Oh, SIDS,” not a big one, it becomes more complicated sometimes with all of those concerns. But there is something you can even—just small even. It doesn't even have to be fluffy. It can be something that's almost like a chew toy or something but just—
Fanny: Anything, right.
Cecile: Anything that's consistent that is always there so they can hold on to it in a time of insecurity.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: [inaudible] it's of their choice and their own ownership.
Cecile: Also, one other thing from what you're saying that I hear is being perfect. So what does it mean to have a perfect sleep? We talked about in our previous episode about food, where the amount of food, the time for food and all of that is very personal from one kid to the next. And depending on the culture, I know in French culture, we're very also strict, just like we're strict on food, we're very adamant about sleep. They need to go to bed at that time at that age, and they need to 12 hours, and they need this, and they that. But is that so strict, or is it something more fluid per kid?
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Great question.
Cecile: What is the range that is okay physiologically so that parents can be like, okay, I don't have to be into a box?
Dr. Varisa Perlman: So one of the things that I talk about a lot is first wind, second wind. So first wind is when your body physiologically is to fall asleep. Now I'm going to assume that we're all trying to follow a circadian rhythm, right? So most of the people—I'll be honest with you, I had this one family that the parents were like, “Listen, our kid goes to bed at 3:00 a.m. and we all wake up at noon.” Basically, they're like, “This is the way our life is.” And I'm like, “What am I going to tell you?” You know what I mean? “It's kind of messed up and you're not going to have fun when the kids start school because that's just going to be painful, but you do you.”
Most people though, the bedtime is optimal, up until the age of five, the bedtime is 6:30, 7:00, 7.30. Now, based on what we were just saying, food, right? Dinner should be like 4:30 or so, 4:30, 5 o'clock, right? So if food is at 6:30, you're kind of like treading on that line because what ends up happening is that if you pass that 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, and now they're not going to bed till 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, especially less than the age of five, the adrenaline kicks in. And you'll see it.
We see it. My bedtime as an adult is really 9:30, 10:00, 10:30. But if I try to like start going to sleep at like 11 o'clock, my eyes are way open. I'm having a hard time falling asleep, whereas 9:30, I can barely keep my head up. Now, I'll be frank, with no kids in the house, it's the first time I've been able to really—My husband and I say, like, “This is the empty nest.” And I did not realize that I get sleepy at 9:30. My son was getting home sometimes at 9:30. So we didn't even have that much—
So the empty nest secret is that you really—at 9:30, we're like, “Are you sleepy? I'm sleepy. [laughs] Let's go to bed.” That's a secret. I'm going to tell you, nobody tells you this. And I'm like, “This is magical.” Like 9:30, I get to go to bed. So that's just an aside.
But you can feel that, almost like someone took a shot of adrenaline and put it right in your arm. That's what happens to your kids. And the thing that's pretty horrible about that is that when you get that shot of adrenaline, when you hit second wind, you never really go into REM that well. So even if you go to sleep at 11:00 and you get your full eight hours, they were not good eight hours because you didn't really go into REM as well.
So that's where the evolution—and then after five, it can be 7:30, 8:00, 8:30. Shifts a little bit. But it's that kind of thing where if you find that it's taking an hour and a half to go to bed, there's 15 books being read [laughs], you are definitely in second wind. You are no longer in first wind. That is all second wind behavior.
Cecile: So in that case, if you're caught into that moment where the kids take forever to go to sleep, you would say move everything an hour to two hours earlier.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Move it all up. And it is hard—
Cecile: That's a good tip because I think naturally, you would tend to push it back saying, oh, they're not tired yet, I'm just going to wait longer.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yes.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: That's classic. I mean, it makes sense. I'm not saying that we didn't do. But just physiologically, you're just like shooting your other foot. [laughs] You shot your first foot. You just shot your other foot. [laughs] Oh, you're going to have a hard time. And I know that it's hard. I've worked with people—This is why I really enjoy the health coaching space a bit because it isn't a very—the decision to do this and to shift takes time. It takes moving a lot of moving parts.
Cecile: We're back.
Fanny: Sorry. We lost connection.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Okay, so what I was saying is that, if you have a situation, for example, that there's an earlier parent who comes home with the kids and say at 4:30, they get their meal, but then at 7 o'clock, that's when dad comes home, the other partner comes home. And sometimes if I have the dad there or if I have the other partner there, I will say when you walk in the house, you cannot walk in like, “Hey, everybody! So fun.”
Fanny: Yeah, no. Not fair for the other one.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Because that is not your role. Your job is to come in quietly. “Hi, everyone. We're getting ready for bed now, right? Okay, let's hang out. We can hang out for like 10, 15 minutes, and you'll relax with each other, and then you go to bed.” Because you can be that sunlight that comes up again, and they're like, “Oh, now we go to second wind. Now we're back in.” And I think that's the part that I think is tricky, is trying to manage everybody's schedules. But it works. It really does help to make sure that those couple hours are clean.
Cecile: Yeah. At least that's the goal. But it's good to know where the goal is so that you can work towards getting there, right?
Fanny: Yeah, your routine can—
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Entirely.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Entirely.
Cecile: So what is it then so much out of range that people need to go and consult a pediatrician like you? What would be the alarming factor that you would see where that's beyond just a routine thing or it's something that needs to be looked into?
Dr. Varisa Perlman: I think that it is hard because a lot of times kids are very sick or sick often. So if they're kind of getting sick all the time, partially, and the sleep is really out of control, then you have to figure out how to help with the illness. If they're really hungry, if they are actually hungry—you know, they go through growth spurts—dietary changes so that during the daytime, you're getting more fat and protein and they're not just doing carbs all day. Because at night, they're going to have a hard time feeling full.
If they're having sleep apnea where you actually hear them snoring and they're kind of choking themselves up before they go to bed, that becomes a problem because when they do that, they're disrupting their sleep, but there might be a medical reason whether that their tonsils need to come out, their adenoids, snoring, allergies, that is all going to be relevant in terms of affecting their sleep. I think it's both the quantity, the quality, and the sleep hygiene that all has to be considered when you talk about the topic of sleep.
Cecile: Okay. Any other tips, Fanny, that you'd like to share since you had—
Fanny: For me, the best thing that worked with my second one was the routine that we put in place—always the same thing over and over to make him understand it's going to be the time, or we settle down like quiet, calm, because he's not allowed in the room because it's too exciting. We put his sleep sack, we do a story, we take the doudou, and we speak very quiet for him to understand that—we turn one light off. That's what worked the best.
And we did the same book, I think, for maybe two months. The same story, very short story, but I read that to repeat the same thing over and over will make them understand that it's a routine.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: It's a signal.
Fanny: So we don't even change the story. And that works. So yeah, we did that. And gradually, we stay a little bit longer with him, but not in our home, in his bed, but we let our hands first on him, then just be the side of the bed, then at the door. And then close the door. Yeah, but we did it gradually, and I think he needed that to fall asleep by himself. He knows that we were in the room, and that's comforted him. He was not able to do it on his own, took some time.
So that was my advice—routine and give it some time, gradually out of your home, in the bed, but touch him or your baby and then inside the bed and then a little bit further and they're going to learn. But every baby is different. So it can be long or not, but it works. Now he sleeps.
Cecile: In your case, yeah.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Did he cry a lot?
Fanny: Yeah. Beginning, he cried a lot. It could take more than 40 minutes.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: And would you just stand there while he was crying, or would you go up there and touch him?
Fanny: At the beginning, we start to not be there and come back, let him few minutes, come back, reassure him without taking him to our home.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Without picking him up. That's a big deal, right?
Fanny: Yeah. We did not take him but we reassured him that we are here, he is safe, he can do it. The same as we did with our daughter that works wonders, but it didn't work for him for some reason, so we changed. We tried another thing. We tried a routine more precisely for him and then we tried the—still he has to fall asleep by himself but we were more with him. We needed to stay in the room. For him, it was the things to go.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: So would you leave before he fell asleep or after he fell asleep?
Fanny: At the beginning, after he fell asleep. And gradually, during or after. It took more than two months.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. I think that was brilliant. I think that you read the room. You took a look and you said, I can't keep—It doesn't work the same at all. Some kids need like a hard, hard stop. Your daughter, she was like, “Leave the room, I can't even see you, let me just do it myself.”
Fanny: Yeah. Just doing fine, yep.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: “You're just messing me up. You're kind of confusing me.” And for him, he was like, “I need to know that I can almost smell you, and then I'll fall asleep.” What I think that you did—which I don't know if you realize this. One of the things that they say is that say you lift him up and then he falls asleep in your arms, and then you put him back in. A lot of people do that. The problem is that it's like falling asleep in your bed and then waking up in the bathtub [laughs] because if they fall asleep in your arms, the last thing they remember was that they were in your arms. So if you wake up and they're not in your arms, they're like, “How the hell did I get here? What happened?”
Fanny: Yeah. They're going to be lost in the middle of the night.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: They're lost.
Fanny: So they were not able to go back to sleep again, so that was the point.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Right. He can't [inaudible].
Fanny: Yeah, that was the point.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: That was the point, right? So the whole thing that—this idea of touching him. So there's Dr. Estivill who does a lot in Spanish, but it's the idea of just like touching, patting, [inaudible] and then just gradually bring up. I think that what I really enjoy is take what you learn from the way that they fell asleep and see if it does reflect on their personality. He might be that kid when you go to drop him off at school or at daycare, he may need you to be a little longer with him, right? Just a little longer. Whereas your daughter might be like, “Go.” [laughs] “Why are you here?”
I remember my first kid, they were very like, “Stay here.” They were very deliberate, but they were also like, “I want you to be here.” And I remember my second one. I just sat there. I remember it was the first day of school. I dropped him off. He sat down. I sat down next to him. He started drawing. And then he looked up at me and he said, “Why are you here?” [laughs] And I was like, “I don't know. That's how I did it with your sibling. What do you mean?” And he was like, “Before anyone sees you, why are you still here with me?” And he's still like that. He's still like, “Bye.” We dropped him off at college and he just turned and like walked away. And I was like, “My God, it's the same freaking kid.”
They're not that different. All of the basic foundation is already there. The wiring, a lot of the wiring is already there. And it's a good moment to pause. I always feel like, in my mind, I always say the first five years are really illustrated and you really need to spend the time to really take notes, really hold on to the little lessons that you learn in those first five years, because it's like a looking glass. You get to really see what's inside of their mechanics.
And then Piaget goes through this whole thing of the next years when they go into school, they go into the studious phase where the rules of the school are really on their mind, the rules of society. That's what they're really obsessed with. And then they go back to adolescence where they have to now untangle and weave. Who am I? Where does society want me to be? Where do I not want to be? Those are things that we still deal with even into post-adolescence, young adulthood, and understanding that there are certain rules that society has, but at the same time, we may not fit that. We may not fit that. And can we still exist? Can we still be happy? And what will we give up and what things will we keep?
And again, this gets really complicated, but everything starts in the beginning. You do a misservice to understand that, to honor that.
Cecile: So then it means it's a worst pain and suffering because as you said, it's hard to hear them and look at them struggle. And it's really tempting to just be like, “Okay, I'm going to try to help you or soothe you.” But it is good to hear that it's forming for them and for you as a parent. I think a lot of people need to hear that to make them feel like by doing nothing, they're actually doing something.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. You're doing probably the hardest work because one of the things I think—Again, just trying to pull off of the whole helicopter parenting phase, we are going into performative parenting where people are just doing things to show off on Facebook basically. [laughs] So that's a whole other situation going on right now, but with helicopter parenting, the hardest thing is that it's like cutting your kid's legs off and being like, “Walk.” It just doesn't work.
And you're absolutely right. The training is not just for them, it's for you. It's really hard, but you have to realize that sometimes—There's a great book called Blessing of a Skinned Knee. And it's basically the idea that you have to learn how to allow your kids to ride the ups and downs of life. And you have to be able to watch that and know, like you said, remind yourself, this is important. They needed to understand this. They needed to feel this.
Cecile: That would remove a lot of the guilt of sometimes feeling, “Oh, I'm useless 'cause I'm not helping, or maybe I'm causing more harm,” but knowing that it's actually beneficial in the long-term, might be a moment where you're like, “Okay, let's breathe and give myself some grace.” [laughs]
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Absolutely. And I think that that idea of—I always tell you, right? —guilt and fear are like poison. Anytime that I can pull off guilt and fear because you're afraid, I'm afraid that my kid's going to suffer, but be more afraid that your kid won't learn how to suffer because honestly, life doesn't get easier. It actually gets a lot harder. And you can't put your kids out there without those self-soothing techniques.
Maybe there is like an emotional doudou. [laughs] Maybe what you're creating, which is what you were saying. You made it very clear. You're like, I'm trying to create this hypnotic space where just even the thought of the doudou makes me feel like-
Cecile: Might be enough. Yeah.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: -I know where I am. But I love the little pieces of the French culture that says—Well, you chose for your kids, but it's that kind of thing, the intention is that they're going to take ownership of it. It's your doudou. It's not my doudou. It's not someone else's doudou. It's your doudou. And to say that you have skills, it's not going to just be me. I'm not going to be the one.
And that's the part that I think is the sooner you can give the reins as much as you can to your kids—little pieces of power, little pieces of ownership and responsibility, honestly, so that they know both—it is a great habit to have. It's a good habit to have with your kids because they you all have to get in that motion. You all have to get into that rhythm.
And I'm not telling you let them be rude, let them be obnoxious. [laughs] What I'm not telling you is that when you give them all this, that they can be monsters. So let's just be clear. They still have to have boundaries. They still have to have some rules. But to give them the thrill of ownership over some parts, say like toddlers, as much as you can, let them choose their own clothing. Having that ownership really makes a difference.
Cecile: [inaudible] of control and ownership.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Yeah. I know growing up Asian American, that was not given to me. [laughs] I don't think even now it's given to me. It's just not part of the culture. But it's really difficult because living in American culture, I have to be able to face things on my own. And I had to almost demand it at a late age when I feel like that was not good. [laughs] That wasn't really thinking the long game. I mean, I'm almost 50, this is ridiculous that I'm still demanding ownership of things. It just doesn't work in a long game. [laughs]
Cecile: Well, I think we're about done on time. So thank you for taking the time to share with us about sleep today. We hope this session has helped and will help a lot of parents into their sleeping journey with their baby and their kids. Definitely did put some thought into our heads for sure. So on that, we'll say bye and we hope to see you all soon in two weeks for another episode of Moms Talk with a French Accent. Bye.
Dr. Varisa Perlman: Bye.
Watch other episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1dpfz3OiZoOwHuST-GmH9sTD0TfF3rIp