It’s often tricky to know how to get your little, or big, one to settle and sleep well at nap and bedtime. Sleep is incredibly important to all children, especially for their growth and development. I’ve put together my top tips to help your children, whatever their age, to settle and sleep well!
Sleep Tips for Newborns
If you’re a new mum or dad, then I’m sure you’ve heard that your baby will get themselves into a routine. They probably will… but that may involve sleeping for long periods in the day and being up all night! Not ideal for day to day life! Babies and young children thrive on routine; they crave the security of knowing what’s coming next. Routine also gives you a clue about what the grumpy face or tears may be about, hungry, getting tired, overstimulated? Knowing what your baby’s needs and when s/he needs it is incredibly important to their welfare (not to mention your sanity). I’m certainly not suggesting you should start waking your six-week-old to fit in with a routine but, at this age, you can start introducing the idea of night and day so your little one knows when s/he should be playing or sleeping!
1. In the day time make sure the room is bright and noisy (no problem if it’s not your first child). At night ensure it’s dark and quiet.
2. As a rule of thumb, newborns can’t stay awake longer than 2 hours (as a maximum) without becoming way too overtired. Some can’t manage much more than 45 minutes-1hour, especially if siblings make their waking time lots of fun!
3. Keep an eye on the signs that they’re becoming tired so you don’t end up with an overtired newborn, that’s no fun for anybody.
4. Feed your baby when s/he wakes up so you avoid feeding them to sleep during the day. Initially this is unavoidable because, no sooner have they fed and had a nappy change, they are ready for another snooze. After the first few weeks you can encourage them to ‘play’ a little after they’ve fed, then ensure they have a good nap before you repeat this.
5. Once your little one is a few weeks old you can start to introduce a bedtime routine, e.g. a bath is a great signal that this is a different time of day, then keep the room quiet and dark. The guidelines are clear that your little one should stay in your bedroom until 6 months, to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so this will need to be relative, until they can go into their own room.
6. While I know, it is totally gorgeous for your little one to fall asleep in your arms, you may not be able to keep that up forever. Try to put your little one down before they’re fast asleep. This is the same if your little one feeds to sleep. Again, it’s almost impossible to stop in the first few weeks, just bear in mind the aim is for your child to be able to connect being tired with falling asleep. Otherwise they will want to recreate the same way they went to sleep each time they wake up.
7. Finally, enjoy these precious weeks, be kind to yourself and try to relax a little. Babies’ circadian rhythms and sleep cycles will mature and develop over the coming months so (if they’re guided in the right way) they will be more alert in the day and give you a few hours, of much deserved, sleep at night.
Sleep Tips for 3-18 months’ old
Between 12-16 weeks’ babies sleep cycles mature and consolidate so they can sleep for much longer periods of time. Hopefully they have been guided in the right direction and will start to fall asleep independently…but they still might need a little help.
- Consistency is vital at this age. Children of this age thrive on boundaries and if those boundaries move they will be pushed again and again. It is vital to be consistent with children so they know what is, and is not, going to happen
2. Another crucial element for teaching children to go to sleep and stay asleep is helping them develop self-soothing strategies. We all have them; some of us have a certain pillow whilst some of us need the window open to fall asleep. Whatever it is, we all have ways that we sooth ourselves into sleep. If your child depends on a “prop” to fall asleep like feeding, dummies, patting or rocking, then they will find it difficult to get back to sleep without their “prop.” It is important that we teach our children these skills so they can do it themselves and begin to sleep more peacefully. If they rely on something external to fall asleep, something beyond their control, this will increase their anxiety and make it even harder for them to fall asleep by themselves.
3. Make bedtime the same time every night, and at a relatively early time (around 7pm). If bedtime is too late, your baby might find their second wind; and not go to sleep until much later.
4. There should be a bedtime routine which is the same every night and takes no longer than 20-30 minutes. Again, if it is longer, they may find their second wind and be very difficult to settle to sleep.
5. Pay attention to naps! Some people may suggest that keeping your little one up for longer in the day will make them sleep at night – this is not the case. Children of this age need 2-3 naps to be well rested and not overtired at bedtime. Good naps mean a better night’s sleep too.
6. Like a newborn, keep an eye on their sleep cues. If you miss those yawns or the clear signs of tiredness you may well end up with an overtired and cranky tot on your hands.
Extra tips for older children
Older children have rapidly developing personalities but they are also going through huge developmental stages. A major task for toddlers and pre-schoolers will be learning independence and needing to be independent. It is important that you support your little one’s need for independence, as best you can, whilst ensuring his/her need for routine and structure is met. Toddlers live in a world of black and white, not grey where we spend most of our time as adults. Therefore, consistency is so crucial and you need to follow through with all consequences and promises. To make this difficult process more challenging, toddlers can’t remember rules; they learn through repetition and frequency so this is another reason for consistency.
Older children need routine and consistency too. It is easy to think that, as children get older and towards school age, they can regulate their emotions and can sleep when they need to. If they have bad habits which have grown with them, or a lack of boundaries, these habits are going to be very tricky to break and you may continue to get ‘midnight visitors’ and late bedtimes for years! This isn’t going to help your older child get the sleep they need to learn and fulfil their potential at school.
To help avoid your toddler, or even older child, becoming overtired, I’ve put together my top tips to get your little-big one settling and sleeping well:
- The tips for younger children still apply so keep the consistency and be aware of their bedtimes, routines and cues – even though they’re older!
- Don’t allow your little one any screen time 2 hrs before bed. This may sound obvious but it includes iPads, phones and television; no relaxing in front of cartoons before bedtime! This will simulate their minds and the blue light will prevent their little bodies creating melatonin which is vital for bedtime.
- Did I mention consistency?! As I said, consistency must be present 100% of the time, otherwise you are creating a confusing message for your child, which is unfair (and will cause difficult behaviour for you later down the line).
If you need some support with your consistency, or are struggling to figure out the right timings for your little one, get in touch… Little Dreams can make your days, evenings and nights run smoothly! Imagine how much happier your house will be with well rested children (and adults); you might even find time for yourself!
For bedtime help for your tiny tot email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 07572 309404 or 01275 546919.