Blog Posts 1–5, based on the United States of America Department of the Army Field Manual: Holistic Healing and Fitness, describe what really matters for your child’s sleep. If sleep is an important enough topic for national defense than surely sleep should be considered a serious topic for parenting!
The witching hour may be thought of as a second wind (Blog Post 171) or a pre-sleep arousal state. Dr. Alice Gregory studied pre-sleep arousals in 8- to 10-year-olds and showed that the pre-sleep arousal was both physical (rapidly beating heart) and cognitive (unable to stop thinking and worrying about falling asleep). In her study, cognitive arousal was associated with sleep disturbances. Also, Dr. Julio Fernandez- Mendoza studied children aged 5–12 years and showed that children with short sleep durations exhibited hyperarousal before sleep. So, not sleeping well may make your child become ‘wired’ before bedtimes.
After 3–4 months of age, if your baby is often fussy during the day, she is most likely short on sleep. But many children suffering from mild insufficient sleep appear to be fine during most of the day. But as the sleep tank begins to go dry near the end of the day (4:00 to 5:00 p.m. for children under the age of 3 years, and 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. for children 3 years and older), the ‘witching hour’ appears. They may show some of the following symptoms.
Your child may be irritable, easily upset, clinging, whining, fussy, peevish, or, in the words of one mother, “clawing at my breast.” She might have a short fuse, be rough around the edges, seem easily frustrated, or be less able than usual to entertain herself. She might be oppositional, defiant, uncooperative, or angry; she might throw tantrums, be aggressive, display a negative mood, be inattentive or distractible, exhibit learning difficulties, show decreased sociability and physical activity, and be generally depressed or anxious.
Most children demonstrate only a few of these symptoms at one time. But any of them, coming during the witching hour, can be a signal of sleep problems that parents should address.