The “Please Sleep Through the Night” Edition

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Zak Rosen: This episode contains explicit language. Welcome to Mom and Dad are Fighting Slate’s parenting podcast for Monday, June 6th. The Please Sleep Through the Night Edition. I’m Zak Rosen. I make a podcast called The Best Advice Show and I live in Detroit with my family. My oldest, Noah, is four and my youngest Amy is one.

Jamilah Lemieux: My name is Jamilah Lemieux. I’m a writer, contributor to Slate’s Care and Feeding Parenting Column and mom to Naima, who is nine. And we live in Los Angeles, California.

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Shayna Roth: I’m Shayna Roth. I’m a senior producer here at Slate. I have one daughter. She is two. Her name is Eleanor. And like Zach, we also live in Michigan only we’re on the other side of the state in Grand Rapids.

Zak Rosen: There are a lot of challenges on this parenting journey, but perhaps one of the most pervasive is sleep or the lack thereof. So we’re dedicating an entire week to answering your sleep questions. Today, we’ll be joined by Dr. Erin Flynn Evans. She’s worked in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital for over ten years. And she’s the co-founder of Baby Sleep Science. But before we get into that, let’s do a quick round of triumphs and fails. Shayna, as our guest co-host, you want to go first?

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Shayna Roth: So as you can tell, from my daughter’s age, we had a COVID baby and she has not been to daycare and she’s not going to go to daycare until she’s vaccinated. So her social circle is ridiculously small. And we’ve been very worried about her being around new people and how she would react to that and sort of being socialized in general.

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Shayna Roth: And over the weekend, my nephew had a graduation party and there were people there that either she didn’t know or hadn’t seen in over a year. And we were very worried about how she’s going to react to all this. And she did great. She actually did really, really good. And I think part of that was that we talked about the party a bunch ahead of time. I had made her what I call the people book, where it was a bunch of pictures of different family members and friends. So she was a little bit familiar with what a lot of people look like. We’d been having her practice saying, Hi, I’m Elle and want to play and sort of like mock situations of like, okay, you’re at the playground and a kid comes up to you. What do you say? And I think that really helped get her ready for meeting new people. And she was a little quiet at first. But I mean, within a half hour, she was running around and sharing her magna tiles and just having a really great time. So it was a win and a very much a big relief for us because we’ve been worried that our child has been way too sheltered for too long.

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Zak Rosen: These kids, they learn quicker.

Shayna Roth: Than they do.

Zak Rosen: I’m happy for you. I can feel the relief there.

Zak Rosen: Jamila, what’s up on your end?

Jamilah Lemieux: So I have a fail. Unfortunately, I can’t get into too many details about the fail. But let’s just say I said something crappy to my mom who’s visiting. She came out here as a favor to me. And, you know, my mom and I have an interesting relationship, but we had been doing pretty good for a while. You know, like we in my say, interesting relationship. I mean, we bicker in the way that a lot of mothers and daughters do. It’s a specific kind of bickering, but we’ve been doing okay for a while and then like I ignored a number of little comments. I’m not going to say it’s been like a perfect visit, but, you know, I said something and it was not nice and I know I hurt her feelings and I just feel really bad about it.

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Jamilah Lemieux: And I, you know, like the older I get, the more, like, committed I am to, like, not arguing with my mom. I just feel like that’s the last thing I want to do with my, you know, elderly mother is just a waste of our time together. And, you know, like, I just feel like a jerk about it. And so even though I’ve apologized, like I’m just taking it as a fail because that’s, you know, definitely a bleak moment in an otherwise really nice visit.

Zak Rosen: Have you acknowledged it to her?

Jamilah Lemieux: Yeah, I apologize. Like, immediately, you know, like I took a couple minutes and, you know, when sat with her and immediately we talked about it. But I just feel like such a jerk for letting it happen, you know?

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Zak Rosen: I hear you. But who gets on our nerves more than our parents? It’s understandable.

Jamilah Lemieux: Nobody.

Zak Rosen: Nobody.

Jamilah Lemieux: Although you.

Zak Rosen: Apologized.

Jamilah Lemieux: I did. It’s just like you just sometimes become 17 again in their presence, and, like, you have to control that urge. You know, it’s hard when they’re trying to parent you as if you’re sad. That’s right. You know.

Zak Rosen: That’s right. Yes. Well, I don’t know what to call that. It’s definitely not a triumph. What I will present and I don’t know if it’s a fail either. It’s a it’s an ongoing issue that Noah has been having at school where she’s kind of looping on this thing. And I don’t know how frequently it’s happening at school, if it’s a recurring thing or if it happened once and she just can’t get it out of her mind.

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Zak Rosen: But there is this one kid in her class and pre-K who seems like she’s the cool kid. Like, it’s amazing how early the stratification starts. This is me kind of projecting, perhaps, but it seems like the cool kid, you know, they play family a lot and they always make Noah be the baby. Cause, like, it’s a four year old class and a five year old class I know is one of the younger kids in the class. And not only do they often make No, I’ll be the baby and perhaps not allow her to be like the parent. But they also like hold her on their lap and like even if she wants to go play with other kids, she says that this one kid is like holding her against her will. And that makes me very, you know, uncomfortable and sad. And I was so sorry to hear that that was happening.

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Zak Rosen: So, I mean, we emailed her teacher and made her teacher aware of it and she’s talking about it a lot. And, you know, we’ve told her you can go to the teachers, you can ask for space. There’s this great Daniel Tiger song that Noah learned about, like asking for space when you don’t want to be around people. She sang it to this girl who may not be familiar with Daniel Tiger. So it didn’t really click. So she’s trying and but this seems like a real pre-K power struggle and my parental impulses to like, you know, go in, like talk to this girl, which obviously I’m not going to do, but it’s an opportunity for Noah to try to articulate how she’s feeling. And I think she’s done a really good job of this, but I would hate for it just to be ongoing. But I know now her teachers are aware of it and I just want my baby to feel comfortable at school.

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Jamilah Lemieux: Jump on their feet. No, somebody put you on their lap against your will, jump on their feet and land as hard as you can.

Zak Rosen: You hear what Auntie Jamila saying, Noah?

Jamilah Lemieux: All you were doing was getting up. That’s not your fault. If their little feet are hurt.

Shayna Roth: I endorse that or yell fire just really loud. Just cause total chaos. And then maybe. Maybe everybody will make a stop.

Jamilah Lemieux: You can scream when somebody is holding you against your will. You are allowed to scream. It’s half of your lungs. You can say yes and may like you’re loud, like you’re being physically violated. This is your scream window.

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Zak Rosen: Absolutely right. And there’s only a week of school left, but doesn’t make this any less relevant in her heart right now. Let’s take a quick break. And when we come back, we’re going to jump into your sleep questions.

Zak Rosen: We are back and delighted to be joined by Dr. Erin Flynn Evans. Dr. Flynn Evans, could you tell us a little bit about your work?

Speaker 4: I am a sleep researcher. I’m a circadian physiologist, which means that I study the body clock that tells our body when to be awake and when to sleep. And I am one of the co-founders of Baby Sleep Science.

Zak Rosen: Why did you do this with your life? I feel like, you know, every parent wants to talk to you. How did you go down this path?

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Speaker 4: Right? Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s I started before I became a parent, amazingly enough. And I always thought sleep was sort of interesting. And I, you know, as many people do, kind of fumbling around after I graduated from college, found myself working in a sleep lab and really loved it. And then from there, I went on to graduate school to study sleep. And, you know, the rest is history. But on the baby and child sleep side, just as you said, I had my own child and was doing parenting classes, as many of us do. And I found that I couldn’t leave these classes at the end because once I said that, I studied sleep. Every parent would come and corner me at the end. So from there, it seemed like there was a real need to share credible information with parents. And so that’s how baby sleep science was born.

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Jamilah Lemieux: Can I just say I’m a contributor to Slate’s Care and Feeding Parenting column? And sleep is like one of the few subjects I just refuse to touch because I feel so clueless and so lost. So I’m very excited to have you here. And I think the majority of parents would agree with you when it comes to sleep.

Speaker 4: Thank you. Yeah, it’s one of those things that seems like it shouldn’t be very complicated, but then once you’re in the thick of it, it’s amazingly complicated.

Zak Rosen: Let’s just do a quick go around and say what time our kids woke up today?

Jamilah Lemieux: My daughter woke up today at 635 ish, somewhere between 630 and 635. So she actually woke up on. She usually wakes up before me, but she stayed up a little late last night and I was able to get her up on time.

Shayna Roth: I think this morning l woke up around 615, but lately she’s been getting up at like 530 or somewhere between 530 and 630. It’s not great.

Zak Rosen: How about you, Dr. Flint Evans?

Speaker 4: Well, I now have a teenager and a pre-teen, and so they reluctantly rolled out of bed at about 715 when I woke them up.

Zak Rosen: My one year old woke up at 530 today, but then he came back to bed with me and slept till seven, which was a joy. And then Noah, my four year old, slept until eight. Yeah. So the time between the first wake up in the last wake up, it’s just. It’s too much. But anyways, maybe we’ll get to that. Let’s get to our first listener question.

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Speaker 5: Dear mom and Dad, how can I get my two and a half year old and seven month old to sleep at night? My toddler has been in a bed for about a year now. A few months ago, he figured out he could get out of the bed. And we’ve had a terrible time since. He tries all kinds of things to get out of his bed. I need more water. I need to blow my nose. I want my daddy. I didn’t kiss my brother goodnight. Plus, he’s figured out that his dad and I go downstairs and watch TV after he’s in bed. So if I leave his room and tell him to stay put, he’ll end up downstairs begging to watch a mama and daddy show.

Speaker 5: We’ve had a fairly consistent bedtime routine. He doesn’t seem that tired anymore, so we tried putting to bed later. It doesn’t seem to make a difference. I hate the idea of locking him in his room. And since the bedrooms in our house are all right together, locking him in and letting him scream and wreak havoc runs the risk that he’ll wake up his baby brother, who would then have a hard time going back to sleep. What can we do? Trying to get back on track.

Speaker 4: So that is a very common problem. I’m sure a lot of parents can relate and there some toddler FOMO going on there too, which is also pretty common. But actually, this is the type of issue that’s largely rooted in biology. So it might seem like it’s just a behavioral issue, you know, a toddler who just doesn’t want to comply with rules, which that is a whole other can of worms.

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Speaker 4: But at around two and a half, having a nap is really important. But it also kind of acts like caffeine. And so when children have a nap, say, a couple of hours in the afternoon, that’s just going to steal from their ability to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. And so while theoretically it would be okay to, say, have a toddler nap from 1 to 3 in the afternoon and then go to bed at 9 p.m.. For most parents, that’s just completely too late.

Speaker 4: And so the first thing that I would do is just look at that nap schedule and look at the timing of sleep relative to that nap, because toddlers are going to need about 6 hours between the end of that nap and bedtime. And then if you imagine a typical toddler needing around 11 to 12 hours of sleep overnight, you have to kind of think about, okay, if my child’s getting to. 2 hours sleep during the nap. Then that really only leaves 9 hours, maybe ten, for overnight sleep. And so you have to consider all of those pieces together. And then once you have that figured out, that might mean that you need to shorten your toddler’s nap, maybe make it a little earlier, maybe make bedtime a little later, or a combination of all of those things. Then you can work on the behavioral issues because the behavior issues sometimes linger even after the biological pieces are fixed.

Speaker 4: And so in that regard, the best thing that you can do as a parent is just be as boring as possible. And so you don’t want to make it exciting. You want to really dampen that toddler FOMO. And so that doesn’t mean that you have to sit in the dark or go to bed at 8:00 every night. But what you should do and problem solving is have a mantra that you say, like, it’s nighttime time to sleep. Let’s get in your bed. Walk your child back. You don’t want to engage. You don’t want to have anything exciting happening. You want to make it so that your child understands, Oh, if I get out of bed, this actually isn’t very exciting. If I don’t have a problem, my parents are just, you know, telling me to get back in bed without any excitement or drama. And that really dampens all of the issues that drive these toddler issues. And they’re getting out of bed over and over. So that’s what I would suggest for a toddler, just really looking at the biology, looking at the timing of the nap and bedtime and then working on the behavioral issues.

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Jamilah Lemieux: Are naps necessary or are they necessary every day?

Speaker 4: So typically we recommend that toddlers should have a nap until at least age three. It doesn’t have to be a marathon nap, though. It could just be a nap of, say, 20 or 30 minutes, just enough to sort of get by, get through the day in good form. And there’s actually been some really cool research on this. So Dr. Monique Bajwa, who is at the University of Colorado, did a study looking at two and a half year olds, and in one condition, they had a nap. In another condition, they didn’t have a nap. And then after this afternoon, nap or no nap, they were given a little peg puzzle.

Speaker 4: But one of the pieces didn’t fit, and the toddlers who had naps would ask an adult for help and would be much more engaged about solving this problem. The toddlers who didn’t have a nap would tantrum and throw the piece that didn’t fit and would just have a really difficult time with emotion regulation. So while napping can be really frustrating and can cause, you know, like late bedtimes, generally it’s better to keep the nap until a child shows readiness to drop it than to try to drop it too early.

Zak Rosen: So we move on to the next question.

Shayna Roth: Okay. The listeners have similarly aged kids, but are now wondering about themselves.

Speaker 5: Dear Mom and Dad. My wife and I have twins that are almost three. We also just added a new baby to the mix and oh boy, are we tired. The girls are early birds and the baby is still feeding at night. It gets even more fun when the baby wakes up. The girls I know we’re lucky to have each other as we’re trying to manage naptime and bedtime, but sometimes it feels like we’re puttering on empty. Do you have any tips for adjusting our own sleep schedule or how to function on very little sleep? Thanks. Desperate for more than a wink of sleep.

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Zak Rosen: Every listener is leaning in so close to the speaker right now. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Speaker 4: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Now I can sympathize. And I’ve been there, but not with twins. So I think our listener really has a, you know, deserves a special prize for surviving with twins and a and a newborn. So I guess the first thing to know is, you know, sleep is really the answer. And so the more that you can divide and conquer as parents, the better. It’s really important, I think, to just sort of preset shifts like, okay, you know, if the baby’s up between, you know, say, seven and midnight, this parent’s on. And if the baby’s up after that, then the other parents on, maybe the parent who’s having protected sleep is sleeping in a separate room temporarily just during this difficult phase so that each parent gets some protected amount of time for sleep. So that’s really at the core the best thing that you can do.

Speaker 4: Similarly during the day, having naps and protecting each other’s time for naps is a really good idea. And so that’s it’s not so simple to just say, oh, sleep when your baby sleeps. And particularly when you have three year old twins and a baby, you’re probably not going to find a time when everybody’s sleeping. But, you know, maybe one parent takes the kids to the park while baby takes a nap in the stroller, while the other parent gets to take a nap at home. And so these are really important survival techniques. And the other thing that I would say is it takes a village. You know, you lose friends, relatives, anybody who’s willing to pitch in and help, let them take your kids to the park, let them come over and watch the kids so that you can just have like a sleep staycation for a night or even just for an afternoon. So that’s going to be key.

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Speaker 4: There are other what we would call fatigue countermeasures that can help you stay awake when you’re pretty sleepy. But you have to be really careful in how you use them. So of course, caffeine is one. But with breastfeeding, I’d be really careful about using caffeine in the afternoon, evening and night for a baby. So limit that caffeine use to the morning. Also bright light. So the more that you’re outside and exposed to bright light, the more alert you’ll feel. Light is what resets our circadian rhythm or our internal clock, and just being in a very bright environment will make you feel more awake. So the more time you can spend outside, the better.

Shayna Roth: I’m curious about naps for adults. Is there, like an ideal, like, amount of time that will, like, you’ll get the most? Because sometimes I feel like if I nap too long and I wake up and I’m just groggy the rest of the day, is it are power naps really a thing? What’s what’s the ideal that they should be trying to carve out for themselves?

Speaker 4: So having a long nap means you’re going to be more likely to go into deeper sleep, and that’s going to increase the burden of sleep, inertia that you feel. And sleep inertia is just that grogginess that you feel upon waking. So sleep inertia happens when you wake up from any stage of sleep, but when you wake up from deep sleep, you can feel really disoriented. And anybody who has a toddler knows this because if you’ve ever woken up, say, a two or three year old from an afternoon nap, it almost feels like the nap wasn’t worth it in the first place.

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Speaker 4: But the same thing happens for adults. So if you have the time for a two or three hour nap, I would say it’s worth it. Take the long nap, get that bump in your sleep meter. But if you don’t have a lot of time, then taking a power nap of 20 or 30 minutes is a great idea. And then there’s this also this cool technique called like the NAP Aquino, where caffeine doesn’t kick in for 20 or 30 minutes. And so if you have some caffeine and then you take a nap, it really minimizes that burden of sleep inertia when you wake up. Yeah. And so you can feel really refreshed all at once.

Jamilah Lemieux: I’ve heard that many times and I thought it was just one of those, you know, things that people believe. But I didn’t know that that was really a thing. I’ve tried it. It seems to maybe hold up.

Jamilah Lemieux: But anyway, we’re moving on up in age and we have a seasonally appropriate question.

Speaker 5: Dear Mom and Dad, my ten year old is heading to overnight camp this summer and I’m thrilled for him. He’s a real homebody and isn’t a great sleeper at home. He’ll be in a small cabin with other kiddos. How can I prepare him? I absolutely loved camp but had a really hard time sleeping when I was bunked with other people. I want him to be ready but not fixate on the sleeping arrangements. I also don’t want to project my own history of discomfort. Does anyone have any good tips? It goes without saying that if he wants to bail out part way, I’ll totally come and get him signed. Cabin Mate Conundrum.

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Speaker 4: Oh, boy. Well, I can also relate to this one as someone who has an 11 year old going to camp for the first time this year. So, yeah, what a wonderful experience. So I think the big takeaway here is that sleep hygiene, which is just the practice of having a regular bedtime ritual, having an appropriate sleep environment that’s cool, dark, quiet with appropriate bedding is important away just as it is at home.

Speaker 4: And so what I would recommend, you know, of course, there’s not going to be a perfect sleep environment at camp. There will be noises, there will be kids, there will be all kinds of things happening. But to the extent that you can try to begin some rituals at home to help your child begin to cope, just to begin to have, like, skills that can help him self-soothe while he’s away. And that sounds funny because that’s a term that we often use for babies and toddlers, but older children and teenagers and even adults benefit from having a regular routine.

Speaker 4: So maybe you’re giving your child some opportunity to read a little bit before bed, and maybe you send a nightlight with a special book along to camp so that your child can have a little bit of reading time before going to sleep. Maybe you work on some breathing exercises, maybe you work on just sort of mentally working through the day before bed. And the more you can do that before your child goes to camp, the easier it will be to translate that to that unfamiliar environment. And then I would also recommend just making sure that, you know, that camp like setup is appropriate with a nice sleeping bag, nice pillow. I mean, comfort matters even when camping. And so the more that you can set your child up with an environment that is conducive to sleep, the better.

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Speaker 4: And then lastly, I would just practice at home. So if you don’t have a backyard, set up a tent in the living room, because even though that’s not going to be reflective of the exact experience that a child will have at camp, it’ll be just, you know, shifting the norm. It’ll be bringing your child out of his or her comfort zone to have an experience sleeping in an unfamiliar place. And having that adaptation should help ease that transition to camp.

Zak Rosen: Well, Doctor Erin Flint Evans, this has been a real treat. It’s been enlightening. And thank you so much. This has been great. We will put a link to learn more about Dr. Aaron Flint Evans work in our show notes.

Zak Rosen: Okay. It’s time for recommendations. Jamilah. What do you got?

Jamilah Lemieux: There is a really interesting article in the New York Times this week. They surveyed 362 school counselors on how children are developing since the beginning of the pandemic. And what they’re reporting looks bleak. And it also looks very on par with what I’ve heard from other parents and from what I’m experiencing to some extent and my own household. So I wanted to suggest it for folks to read it and for you guys to read it, and for listeners who may be interested in sharing some feedback.

Jamilah Lemieux: The biggest thing that struck me is the idea that essentially a lot of children remain where they were developmentally at the beginning of the pandemic when things were last normal, quote unquote, for them. So if you had a six year old at the beginning of the pandemic, you have a nine year old now that may be acting like a six year old in certain ways or have some of the, you know, emotional behaviors of a six year old.

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Jamilah Lemieux: And so, you know, other things have been said about pandemic. Smaller children write that the babies are advancing faster because they’re spending more one on one time with their parents. But I guess for older children, they’re showing signs of wear. So anyway, I would love to hear from you guys. And is that a common experience amongst you all as well? I’m certain that this the results of the study were not a fluke, and this is what we’re all dealing with. But we’d love to hear from other parents about this. So we’ll link to it in the show notes. And it’s in the New York Times.

Zak Rosen: Man, I just clicked over to it. That first quote that they have says a lot, maybe says that all kids have the highest level of anxiety I’ve ever seen, anxiety about basic safety and fear of what could happen. A harrowing but necessary read, it seems. Thanks, Jamilah.

Zak Rosen: Shaina, what about you?

Shayna Roth: So, keeping with the sleep theme, I wanted to share a book that was gifted to us before Elle was born. It’s called The Happiest Baby on the BLOCK. It’s by Dr. Harvey Karp. And this is really the thing that saved us when Elle was born, because she was born smack in the middle of the pandemic. She we had nobody to help us. We knew that sleep was going to be incredibly important because we were going to be working from home with no help with a newborn.

Shayna Roth: And after going through a ton of different books, I remembered that my good friend Libby gave us this one and recommended it highly. And it’s it’s great. It’s very it helps you feel a little bit more empowered over your kid’s sleep than a lot of other books. There’s less fear mongering in this book than some other books I’ve read, and it gives you really good tips and tricks and helpful ways to establish a good sleep routine for your baby. And I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve given it to new parents as I find them.

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Shayna Roth: I also really think that this book is the reason why our daughter started sleeping completely through the night at about three months old. It was really helpful to just have like a set curriculum, but like a set list of things to do to get her into sleep mode. And we learned just sort of how to stick with it, do these things faithfully, and within three months she’s sleeping through the night. So I think that’s a lot of parents dreams. And we were able to live that in large part because of this book.

Zak Rosen: I also have a couple of sleep recommendations, the first of which is, you know, we all have or a lot of us have like the noise machines for our kids, white noise or whatever they prefer, like the lullaby. I have that for Ami, my son, but I also downloaded the White Noise app for my wife and I. So when he’s crying, we can drown him out with white noise. So white noise isn’t just for babies. It’s also for adults who are trying to get their kid to cry it out. We use it more often than I would like. It’s free, it’s helpful.

Zak Rosen: And my other one is, Have you all heard of the NAP Ministry? It’s an amazing thing started by this woman, Tricia Hersey. They actually the most recent Instagram post kind of describes their project really well. And I think they’re worth checking out. They’re worth following on social media. But they wrote back in 2017, the NAP Ministry is a meditation on naps as resistance and artistic and spiritual examination. On the liberating power of naps, it reimagines why rest is a form of resistance and shines a light on the issue of sleep deprivation. As a justice issue, it is a counter-narrative to the belief that we are all not doing enough and should be doing more.

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Zak Rosen: So before we take a nap, I just want to thank you all for listening and we’ll be back in your feeds on Thursday for part two of Sleep Week, where we’ll be joined by another expert. So subscribe to the show so you don’t miss it. And if you rely on the show for parenting advice, consider signing up for Slate Plus. It’s the best way to support the show. Members will never hear another ad on any other Slate podcast. To sign up now, go to Slate.com, slash mom and dad. Plus again that Slate.com slash mom and dad. Plus, this episode of Mom and Dad are fighting is produced by Rosemary Belson and Jasmine Ellis for Jamilah Lemieux and Shaina Roth. I’m Zak Rosen. Thanks for listening.