'Sleep' and 'babies' aren't two words which are often associated positively together - ask most parents out there! Creating the perfect sleep routine and ritual is a task so many parents struggle with, right into early childhood.
There are, however, certain things you can do to encourage a better sleep for your little one, and get them those all important Z's, so that you can too. We spoke with Gemma, Bath and Swindon Little Dreams consultant, to find out what her top tips are for ways to get your baby to sleep better. Take it from here, Gemma!
Firstly ‘if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it’! If everything is working for you and your family, then carry on, no need to change anything at all. Maybe you want to read on to see if there are any changes you would like to make now, or maybe this blog is something to bear in mind for the future.
Below are my top tips for creating good foundations to help get you on the road to sleep success for your little one.
Try to avoid sleep props
A sleep ‘prop’ is anything that your child relies on to get to sleep. For babies and younger children this is generally being rocked or fed to sleep, or the motion of a car or pram. Its best practice to try and avoid these things, as they often become more of a general reliance on the parent being there with them at bedtime.
For little ones that rely on anything to get to sleep in the night, when they wake up throughout the night - like we all do lots of times - if the thing that first got them to sleep is no longer there then they'll feel very disorientated. Likely, they won't just roll over and go back to sleep again. They'll need the parent or thing that got them to sleep, in order to get them back to sleep.
Check your timings
Firstly, its a known fact that you need to make sure your child is getting the right amount of sleep overnight. But there are two other aspects to the timings for your little one's day:
Sleep needs to decrease with age and so you need to make sure your little one is going to bed at the right time, and getting the right amount of sleep overnight and during the day if they're still having naps. Take a look at my list of 'awake times' on my Instagram grid here.
Sleep can be impacted by what we refer to as 'danger naps'. Just a few minutes of having a micro nap in the car on the way home, or a few minutes dozing in front of the TV after school, can be enough to take the edge off that sleep pressure required to get to sleep at bedtime and staying asleep during the night.
Aim to create a consistent bedtime routine
The bedtime routine signifies the end of the day and the start of nighttime. A good bedtime routine can help increase production of the sleepy hormone 'melatonin' that helps us get our bodies into a sleep state.
Start the routine by having some quiet play downstairs in gentle lighting with a sleepy snack. What is a sleepy snack I hear you say? A sleepy snack is specifically selected food that contains naturally occurring melatonin, and is a good opportunity to get some more food into them before bedtime, too.
One example of this is a banana! You can find my full list of sleepy snacks in my ‘Sleep Foodzzzz’ blog here.
30 minute routine
Once upstairs the routine should take no more 30 minutes and from that point you must stay upstairs. Have a bath or wash and brush teeth, then go into their room and read a story or do some meditation. Then it is bedtime.
Ensure there is no screen time at least an hour before bed, as some evidence suggests that the blue light from screens can be super stimulating for little ones. Read more about bedtime routines here.
Do not be afraid of an early bedtime! Contrary to myth an early bedtime does not result in early waking and often it is quite the opposite.
When little ones have been having poor naps or you are early days of starting a new routine, you may want to use a 6pm bedtime (earliest) to ensure they don't become over tired before bed. Overtiredness happens when the body builds up too much adrenaline. You want to get them to bed before that adrenaline spills over into overtiredness.
A good, reliable, short bedtime routine and the correct ‘awake windows’ for their age will build up the appropriate pressure for sleep. If over tiredness occurs you may end up with a little one showing their over spill of adrenaline in the form of their ‘second wind’ which can be displayed as over excitedness, tantrums and crying.
Finally, the sleep environment. Try to create a cosy, dark atmosphere and feeling of relaxation. Once babies are over the 4 months sleep regression (which you can read about here) they need to have their naps where feasible and bedtime in as dark an environment as you can create. Using a Gro-blind can be key to blocking out any residual light.
Some little ones of school age become fearful of the dark and so it's fine to have a dim nightlight on, but make sure it is on consistently all night.
How exciting is your little one’s bedroom decor?
Is there brightly coloured posters on the walls that they can stare at if they wake in the night? Are there lots of toys that can be distracting? It's always a good idea to create an environment which is associated with sleep.
Parents, you need rest too!
Whilst my aim is always for little ones to get good quality, restful sleep I also care strongly about paternal mental health and have been in your shoes. Take care, and if you would like any more information I am always here to chat to. You can book in call or send me a message here, if you'd like some guidance.
by Gemma Farrar