Sweet Dreams: Helping Little Ones Sleep

Coping with your child’s sleep schedule is, infamously, one of the hardest parts of early parenting. Let’s try and make it a little easier.

Can you remember what a good night’s sleep felt like? 

We know that newborns need to be fed every few hours, but even into early childhood, children can have incredibly erratic sleep schedules that change from day to day. Even the commonly bounced around statistic that two thirds of children sleep through the night from 6 months is somewhat misleading: in reality, it only means that your little one will easily go back to sleep after waking. You could still be up and down like a yo-yo.

It can also feel incredibly disheartening when, just as you seem to have got the whole sleeping lark down, they suddenly start refusing to go to bed, and start waking you up every twenty minutes.

The good news is, changing schedules and disturbed sleep are completely normal (and commonly brought on by developmental or lifestyle changes), and will pass with time. They will also differ completely from other babies - so do not feel pressured, or like you’re doing something wrong, if another baby you know is sleeping like a log!

However, of course, good sleep is incredibly important for both you and your little one. For you, it can mean the difference between being able to give your very best self - to your child, your work and your life - and crying because you dropped a pencil. For your child, sleep is vital for their mental and physical health. For example, during sleep, they go through the process of memory consolidation and release a big old bunch of growth hormones.

So, with all that in mind, what can you do to support and encourage your little one’s sleep (and, vicariously, your own!)?

The Importance of Routine

One of the best things you can do to encourage good sleep is implement a consistent routine - they’ll usually be ready for this around 3 to 4 months of age.

Creating a routine - and sticking to it - can not only help everyone in your house get a better night’s sleep, it can also act as a preventative against later sleep problems. This way, children learn how to put themselves to sleep - which, unfortunately and somewhat surprisingly, is something that does need to be taught!

Another great reason for implementing a bedtime routine is that it places a structured period of one-to-one parent and child time in the day. Some children don’t want to go to bed as they would rather be with their parents. If you work, this may be the time of day when you are most free, and your little one will know that. On the flip side, if you are with your child throughout the day, they may be somewhat reliant on your presence, so implementing a routine with a set end can make it easier to part at bedtime.

So how should you go about creating your routine? 

For very young children, you can really have your pick. Keep an eye out for activities that particularly calm your child, such as reading or singing, and remember to include plenty of cuddles and eye contact. 

For older children, get them involved in setting the routine! This gives them a sense of autonomy, and can help them to identify the things that help them feel calm, aiding in the development of self-soothing techniques. You could then create a chart or timetable of your routine, and go over it with your child every evening before you begin.

Whatever you choose, keep it under 45 minutes, and stay consistent! You should try to go through the same routine every day, at the same time, no matter what.

Here are a few possible ideas you may want to consider including in your routine:
  • Bathing
  • Brushing teeth
  • Putting on pyjamas
  • Dimming the lights or turning on a night light
  • Talking about your day
  • Sharing something you are grateful for, or something that made you happy today
  • Reciting a mantra or self-affirmation
  • Reading a book (remember to plan the number of books included in the routine!)
  • Singing a song
  • A gentle stretch
  • A massage
  • Lots of cuddles!

What else can you try?

As amazing and as important as routines are, they’re not a cure-all, and there are lots of other things you can do to help your child get a good night’s sleep. Here are our top tips:

  • Differentiate between day and night
    Right away, it’s a good idea to get your little one used to the idea that day and night are different: one is for sleeping! You can do this by keeping lights turned off and avoiding playing or talking too much when they wake at night. During the day, don’t worry about staying completely silent while they’re napping: it’s important they get used to a certain level of daytime sound pollution.

  • The day affects the night
    Just as you want to stay quiet and chilled out at night, having lots of fun and exercise during the day is important too. Make sure your little one is getting in plenty of activity - burning through energy helps us all to sleep! - and getting outside in the sunlight is important for developing a properly functioning body clock.

    It’s also important that your little one gets adequate naps. While napping for too long can, of course, make it harder to sleep at night, becoming overtired will also disturb your little one’s sleep… and make them stressed and grumpy!

  • Say goodnight to screens
    Sitting in front of a screen can inhibit production of melatonin and serotonin, the sleepy-time hormones. Try to put the tablets and phones away, and switch off the TV, an hour or two before bedtime.

  • Spot sleepiness
    Keep an eye out for signs that your little one is getting sleepy, and, if they are, get ready for bed! Signs of sleepiness in babies and small children can include:
  • Yawning
  • Jerky movements
  • Becoming quiet
  • Not wanting to play
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Crying
  • Becoming fussy
  • Clenching their fists

  • Put them down before they’re asleep
    While some babies, in the first few months, may only fall asleep on a parent, it’s important that your little one quickly gets used to falling asleep in their cot or bed. To achieve this, start putting them down when they’re drowsy, but not yet sleeping.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene
    It’s good practice for your little one to associate the bed with sleeping and being calm. Make sure toys are all packed away before your wind-down routine starts (if possible, putting them away in a different room is perfect). Make sure there are no distracting noises or lights at night, and, once they’re old enough - around 12 months - you can put your child down with a comforting teddy or blanket.

  • Communicate
    Even if they’re not speaking much themselves yet, you can explain to your child the sleepy-time procedure. Let them know when you will be back, or tell them that they can call for you when they wake up in the morning and you will come to them. For children too young to read the time, clocks are available that change colour at a set time, thus giving your little one a visual clue for an acceptable time to get up and out of bed!

  • Soothe from cot-side
    When your little one wakes in the night, try to avoid getting them out of the cot. Soothing and letting them know that you’re there is, of course, really important, but you can do so from the side of the cot. Try gentle pats and kisses over rocking or cuddling.

  • Stay positive
    It’s so frustrating when your child wakes you up for the seventh time that night, but try to remain calm. Avoid telling your little one off as you take them back to bed (remember, try to be boring at night!), as this could create negative associations with being in bed.
    Instead, consider rewarding good sleep behaviour. You could implement a sticker chart showing the nights they manage to sleep through. After a week, they could get a reward, like some fun one-on-one time with you!

  • Consider changing their bedtime
    If your little one has recently, but consistently, started to struggle to fall asleep, or is getting drowsy earlier, they may be ready for a new bedtime. Developmental and lifestyle changes alter your little one’s body clock, so these changes will happen!

So, I hope you found something in this blog to try at home! However erratic your little one’s sleep schedule is right now, it will improve, and I hope you get a good night’s sleep sooner rather than later!

If you have any questions, want to share your own tips for getting a good night’s sleep, or have a topic you want to hear more about, you can drop us a message via Instagram.

Sweet dreams!

Content Creator at MEplace


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