Are you doing these 4 things to help your child get their best sleep?
In my work as a sleep consultant the most common request I get is from mums struggling to create healthy sleep habits with their babies. And no wonder. Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling exhausted, impatient, emotional, and overwhelmed, and can take its toll on the whole family. So, before you put the kettle in the fridge again or leave the house without wearing shoes, I wanted to share these 4 ideas you can use to optimise your child’s sleep (so you get a little too).
I hope you find them helpful.
1 Consistent routines are key
Children thrive on having a regular pattern to their day because they like the predictability and knowing what to expect next. Not only does a consistent routine provide stability and security, it can also have a huge impact on how your child sleeps and behaves.
It’s all about the rhythm…
We all have an internal body clock, otherwise known as our circadian rhythm which regulates
our hormones over a 24 hour period and is responsible for our sleep-wake cycle. By
establishing a routine and repeating the same things at the same time each day, it helps keep
your child’s hormones regulated and let’s them know when it’s time to eat or sleep.
A routine doesn’t have to be strict.
Your routine can simply mean starting the morning at the same time, making time for play, going outside in the fresh air and timing, age-appropriate naps (there’s more on this below).
You may have to be a little bit flexible when meeting friends or the timing of a weekly toddler class, but a routine does not mean you are locked into every minute.
The science behind bathtime…
Most of us enjoy a relaxing bath, and your baby is no different. But do you know the science behind why? The drop in temperature that occurs once out of the bath helps produce the hormone melatonin, which is great for relaxing babies and making them feel sleepy.
Create a short, pre-bedtime routine in the early evening.
Take advantage of the bathtime relaxation by changing into pyjamas and reading a couple of short stories. Reading together is a great, cozy ritual that fosters the bond between you and your baby while also encouraging your child’s creativity and language skills. Plus, these constant, peaceful cues will indicate to your child that this is a calm, wind-down period and bedtime is approaching.
Over time, your routines will change and adapt as your children grow. For instance, they may require less daytime sleep and go to bed slightly later, but generally you can apply a similar, daily routine and adjust the timings accordingly.
2 What naps are necessary?
Many parents talk endlessly about how many hours their baby sleeps during the night, but what about during the day?
Very small babies eat and sleep often but as your baby grows they can go for longer periods without napping as frequently. Yet, by not putting your child down to nap at the appropriate time you risk them becoming over tired and much more difficult to settle.
It’s a dance…but here are some napping guidelines
As your baby grows, the time between wake-up and necessary naps changes. These are some general guidelines for the amount of hours your child can be awake before needing a nap.
If your baby is aged between:
● 3-6 months: wake period – 2 hours,
● 6-12 months: wake period 2-3 hours
● 1 years: 3-4 hours
That said, all babies are individuals with their own little set of sleep rhythms, so follow their sleep signs to guide you.
If your baby has been awake for a while look out for a yawn, a slight rub of the eyes or ears or if they begin to quieten and show less interest in activity.
When you notice these behaviors, you know that you are in the perfect window to put your baby down to nap.
And that’s a wrap…
Try to have a similar routine for napping during the day like you would at night. Change your baby’s nappy, put your baby into their sleeping bag, draw the curtains and place your baby into their sleep space and say goodnight.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a baby who is well-rested during the day is much more likely to sleep well at night.
3 Help your baby to fall asleep independently
Babies can rely on certain associations for falling asleep, such as being rocked, feeding or sucking on the dummy. This is fine if this works for you. However, you should know that when babies wake in the night they may need those same associations to be repeated, and that can get frustrating. It’s often the reason you’ll find yourself up many times in the night to replace a dummy or rock your baby back to sleep.
If this is not ok for you, make a change…
If you want your baby to sleep longer, one of the best habits you can teach them is to go down in their sleep space while they are awake. This will help them fall asleep independently. When they wake in the night they’ll feel more comfortable knowing that everything is just the same as when they fell asleep. Just imagine as adults if we went down to sleep on a nice comfy bed only to wake and we were in an entirely different place. Wouldn’t that be a shock?!
4 Got an early riser? These ideas can help.
If your baby wants to start the day at 4 or 5am you have an early riser on your hands, and it can be exhausting. Most children naturally like to start their day early, however as a sleep consultant, I class anything before 6/6.30am as early rising. If your baby is crying before the birds are up and singing, try these ideas to help them sleep longer.
● Essential checks: Your go-to response should be to check that your baby is not waking due to teething or being unwell, hunger or needing a nappy change.
Once you have ruled out all of the above, try these:
● Check your bedroom environment
It’s so important the bedroom environment is conducive for sleeping. Make sure the room is dark. The slightest bit of light can enter a room and stimulate your babies brains, causing them to wake. This can particularly become a problem during the spring/summer months, when you find your little one waking earlier as the sun rises. Invest in a blackout blind or curtains to maintain a dark room. I’ve seen parents use towels or travel blinds as a quick fix – anything to prevent a 5am wake up call!
● Is it too hot or too cold?
It’s a good idea to keep a thermometer in your child’s bedroom to monitor the temperature in their room. Generally children prefer to sleep in a much cooler room than most adults, with an ideal temperature between 16 – 20 degrees. If the temperature changes, you can adjust the room temperature and their sleepwear accordingly. Because the morning is the coldest part of the day, dress your baby for the coldest temperature.
● The connection between nap gaps and bedtime
We tend to look at a child’s sleep over a 24 hour period. As we mentioned previously, a well-rested baby during the day sleeps better at night, however if you allow for longer naps during the day to compensate for an early waking, their naps could become a little unbalanced and cause an early riser. Look at the lengths and timings of naps, they may just require a little management.
By following these steps, and maintaining good sleep habits you’ll see improvements to your baby’s sleep. They’ll go to bed more easily and sleep for longer.
Written by Kate Payne, a certified sleep consultant, and founder of Total Pickle. If you are stuck knowing how to get these ideas working in your family, or need any help with your baby’s sleep contact Kate at www.totalpickle.com