THE DREADED WITCHING HOUR
Many of us have been through it. That hour or so in the evening where your child becomes so incredibly overwhelmed, they seem tired - but won’t sleep. They cry and are inconsolable, you begin to wonder why your little one has done a complete 360 from their usual content self and gone all gremlin! So many parents refer to this as the ‘witching’ hour of the evening, and we’re going to explain how and why this period of the day happens. ✖️In younger babies, 4 months and under, we can typically see this unsettled period due to them being either overtired, or under tired - combined with a high alertness period of the day - which can make matters worse. Meaning they seem as though they’d like to settle, display signs of needing to sleep, but their bodies aren’t able to settle due to being stuck in this awake-tired state. ✖️Being overtired causes cortisol to release, triggering adrenaline to surge the bloodstream. It is typically due to your child not achieving enough sleep in the day, or their day sleep being poorly structured in order to knock back enough sleep debt, maintain an optimal balance, and make the evening more settled and achievable. Usually this time of the night is where you’d be getting ready for dinners, bath and feeding. If and when this ‘witching’ hour can be better understood and then avoided, your baby is primed for sleep between 6-7pm. ✖️Closer to 6pm an under tired baby can have the same symptoms. Being under tired means they are napping a lot during the day, usually caused by limited awake times or sleep which can fall too close to bedtime. This can cause your baby to become frustrated and unsettled as biologically, it is a time of day that sees us want to go to sleep, however their sleep debt has been knocked back considerably already during the day, causing a lack of primed accrued sleep debt and bedtime and evening battles. So the ‘unsettled’ time of the day for a baby who is undertired is due to simply not being tired enough for sleep or a bedtime at this specific time of day, and alas can be considered ‘witching’. ✖️ In babies ages over 4 months, we see biological sleep windows and circadian rhythms formed. This means that we should restrict day sleep during this ‘witching hour’ (after 5pm) as they are entering into a stage of the day where they are in a biological wake mode. This is where their wake hormones are pushing them to be alert before being balanced by sleep hormones causing a push towards sleep closer to 6-7pm. If sleep is too close to this time, it pushes bedtime back due as your baby’s awake time between their final day nap ending to when their bedtime should biologically be beginning becomes insufficient. The final sleep window is between 6-7pm, where the wake/sleep drive is optimal for easier settling! ✖️ Maintaining a balance between preventing your baby from becoming overtired, achieving their age appropriate day sleep and structuring this accordingly, will ensure that witching hour is minimized, and night sleep/bedtimes comes much easier. ✖️ This ‘alert time’ between 5 and 6pm is the best time to achieve your child’s dinner (feed or solids!), bath time routine and winding down ritual ready for settling down to bed between 6-7pm.