When my first son was born the longest he sleep was for two hours at a time, feeding him also took an hour. That meant we were very tired parents. My son was premature so he really needed to be fed when he needed to be fed. To this day I still have the little records I kept of the times he was fed. My husband and I wanted to keep a record because as they grow you often forget about many things and we wanted to document those early days, weeks and months.
In those early days as parents we recognised the importance of good sleep in our child for his healthy development, for his growth and his learning. We knew that to establish good sleep habits at an early stage would be key. I have to admit it was very hard at the beginning but we developed a sleep schedule and stuck with it, even though there were times when I would fall asleep on the kitchen floor and wonder where on earth I was!
It is a fact that children learn sleep habits from their parents. The habits they build up in early childhood will help them establish good sleep habits when they are older. So what do I mean by good sleep habits? As parents there is no manual for when you get your newborn home and trying to juggle the sleep of your child and your own sleep and rest can often make us parents feel a little lost and unsure. In the tips below I want to share with you some tips on how to help your child have a good healthy sleep and sleep schedule. It can be overwhelming dealing with sleep challenges for children, be they babies, young children, school age, or even teenagers. Creating a healthy sleep environment and sleep schedule will be important to ensuring your children – no matter what age – get a great night’s sleep.
Sleep challenges for parents
One of the challenges facing parents is sleep. Getting your child to sleep or keeping your child asleep can turn in to a battle of wills. If you can establish good sleeping habits from a young age they will most certainly get the sleep they need for their health and development.
I wanted to let you know that from a young age we ‘learn’ to sleep well. It’s hard to imagine but it is true. Like learning to play the piano, you don’t just sit down one day and start playing Mozart! You need to learn. This is exactly the same for babies. They need to learn how to sleep well.
A consequence of not getting enough sleep for children is that it impacts on their ability to learn when they are awake. If they don’t get enough sleep their attention span diminishes. Another side effect from lack of sleep in children is that their little body will release more cortisol, this is a stress hormone which will reduce their sleep and perhaps have them wakening up several times each night or taking shorter naps.
One thing to keep in mind as a new parent, babies don’t have regular sleep patterns. Their circadian rhythms don’t often kick in until at least six weeks. So bear this in mind when you are developing a sleep routine for your baby.
Just a fun fact for you… Children spend around 40 per cent of their childhood asleep! That’s a lot of sleep their little bodies need to grow and develop which is why us parents need to give them a helping hand! Y
Common sleep problems for babies and children
Before developing a sleep routine for your baby or your children, I would recommend reading up on some of the common problems associated with a child’s ability to sleep. Understanding the problem means you can develop strategies to cope with it.
- Inability to self-soothe: I’m sure you know the scenario I am talking about. Your baby falls asleep in the comfort of your arms, you go to put them down and they are wide awake again! It has to do with your baby’s ability to self-soothe, it may not be developed yet. Your baby will learn to self-soothe but it may take a little time.
- Daytime and nighttime reversal: Have you experienced this one? As babies take a while to develop their circadian rhythms they may think night time is day and day time is night. This really mixes up their sleep schedule and when you want to sleep they have no intention of it instead wanting to play! It is common and is down to the baby being in the womb. Your movement during the day rocked your baby to sleep so it got enough during this period and was awake at night. Can you remember a lot of activity from the womb that would have wakened you at night? Well that was your baby awake when you wanted to sleep! A quick tip is to limit day time napping but also make some changes to night time such as lowering the lights, talking in a soft low voice, not giving your baby any suggestion it’s time for play and using essential oils such as lavender during bath time to help resolve this issue.
- Sleep regression: You may have a baby that sleeps through the night and then suddenly they start to waken up. This could simply be down to growing. Your child is developing all the time, they are growing, learning new skills and their brain is developing. This can lead to trouble sleeping. This may be temporary so stick to your routine but also try letting them stay up 15 minutes later to see if that makes any difference. Each child is different so you may need to make slight changes in your routine to see what works.
- Nighttime feed: My first son who was born premature so needed feeding every two hours. No matter what time of day it was. This went through the night and it was totally and utterly exhausting. It wasn’t until he was nine months old that he started sleeping through the night. Just so you know feeding during the night is normal however if you are concerned of course speak to your doctor. The problem with night feeds is that the little ones can often fall asleep and not get enough food so would waken again during the night for the rest of the feed. If that is the case with your baby, try and keep them awake until they have finished their feed so they don’t wake again soon after.
- Nighttime stimulation: As mentioned above, during night time we avoided over stimulation and would keep lights low, talk in a whisper and not engage with our son if he seemed to want to play. I would often soothe him and tell him it was night time and time to sleep. Babies do take their lead from parents so keeping your voice low and calm will tell your baby it’s not a time for playing!
- Sleep resistance: Oh the lunch time nap! It was often a battle of wills with mine. They really needed their nap but they knew better! While I didn’t experience this at bedtime, some parents do. Little ones have a mind of their own and still want to explore and learn new things. It’s important to remind them it is bedtime and be firm with them on that point! They will thank you for it later – honestly!
Helpful Tips for your baby or toddler’s sleep
- Develop a reliable schedule: My children thrived on routine, they knew what was happening and when. And all babies and children and indeed adults thrive on routine too! Setting up a regular schedule for nap time, bed time, what that bed time involves such as bath, reading, quiet time helps your baby or toddler to sleep. It’s part of what is known as healthy sleep hygiene. Your child will know what the expect and when with a bed time routine. They will also associate that time with sleep and be ready for it themselves too.
- Create a sleep friendly environment: It’s important to have an environment for your baby or toddler to sleep. Of course when they are very small they can probably sleep anywhere! Make sure your child’s room is comfortable, free from clutter and dark. Use black out curtains to keep the light away – this is particularly helpful during the long summer days when the sun doesn’t set until late.
- Create a consistent bedtime routine: When we took our boys on holiday we tried to stick to the bed time routine although this did change slightly. But while at home do the same times at the same time. Do it consistently and before long your child will know what to do and start doing it themselves!
- Avoid naps too close to bedtime: It can be difficult if your child is tired close to their bedtime to let them fall asleep. This can be detrimental to them getting a good night’s sleep. Just as it would for us adults too. Try and not let them nap too close to their bed time, instead get them involved in an activity to keep their mind of it.
- When feeding or changing at night keep it calm: avoid too much stimulation while feeding or changing babies at night by keeping the lights low, voices low or whispering and don’t get your baby excited or be willing to play with them. Soothe them and remind them it is bed time and sleep time. They will get to know the difference between day and night if you keep the routine and calmness going.
- Stimulate your child during the day: Playing with your child during the day and doing active things will lengthen the time they area wake at the right time and will help them sleep at night. I can remember to first time my son had a full day at nursery, he was so exhausted from all the play that he sleep like a log from then on.
- Be patient: It is a frustrating and tiring time when children don’t sleep but be patient. Put the above practices in place and set your own routine. Support your child to sleep well and you and they will b rewarded.
I hope the above tips will help you get your child in to the routine of sleeping. I would say the most important things are routine and consistency. They were for us anyway.
Happy dreaming to you and your child.