Top Tips to Improve Your Child's Sleepby Carla Berlin
If there was a single secret to getting your baby sleeping all night, every parent would be getting 8 hours of uninterrupted ZZZ’s each night! There are so many factors that affect how well your child sleeps, and as a Paediatric Sleep consultant at Snooze Tots it is my job when working with clients, to make sure all these factors are considered. I want to share with you my top tips that should really help improve your little one’s sleep.
Teach your child to fall asleep independently
At Snooze Tots we work with children of all ages experiencing sleep issues and the same principle stands “teach your child to fall asleep unassisted, so that when they wake in the night, they peacefully put themselves back to sleep.” To teach this. most definitely does not mean leave your baby to cry until they fall asleep due to exhaustion. (that does not teach them anything!) You can support them through the whole journey towards this lifelong skill. We often talk about the dreaded 4 month regression. Although it may not feel like it when they are waking up constantly through the night - this is actually not a regression, instead it is a progression. As well as your child developing physically their sleep cycles have matured. So, this is a great time to start teaching your child to self-settle. Likewise, if your baby is older and you are struggling with sleep then it’s never too late.
Your child’s room should be very dark
Have you heard of melatonin? It is the sleepy hormone which signals to your brain that it is time to rest and this is increased in darkness. A slight bit of light has been shown to reduce those melatonin levels in our body. So, let us give our baby’s the best chance of sleeping well! You want it pitch black for naps and nighttime sleep. So dark that if you put your hand out you would not see it in front of you. The same applies to morning – if the light starts coming through the curtains then the melatonin levels will drop and can contribute to those early wake-ups. If you don’t have blackouts or they still let some light in around the edges you can always do a DIY job yourself or there are some really great Velcro blackouts. At Snooze Tots we like the ones from Easy Blinds as they block out all the light and you can take them with you on holiday!
Toys and mobiles should be kept for playtime
They may look cute but toys and mobiles in cots often overstimulate a baby and will keep them awake longer. As well as sometimes being unsafe toys are often associated with playtime which is exactly what you don’t want when you’re putting your baby to bed! Again, mobiles over the bed have music and lights which don’t encourage sleep.
Limit total day sleep
Here is a guide of how much sleep your baby should have in the day to ensure their night sleep is not disturbed. When a baby has a bad night’s sleep parents often let them catch up the next day and let them sleep more than what’s age appropriate. All that happens is the following night they sleep badly again, and they have entered into a vicious cycle with more night wakings. So always try and give them the right amount of sleep in the day so at night they go down to bed easily and are not over or under tired.
As a guide, nap limits should be:
3-5 months – Total day sleep should be between 3.5-4 hours
6-11 months – Total day sleep should be between 2.5-3.5 hours
12-18 months on 2 naps a day – Total day sleep should be 2 hours at most
After 1 nap transition – total day sleep should be 3 hours at most
When you catch your baby at the right time when they are not over or under tired, getting them to sleep and staying asleep will run a whole lot more smoothly! This applies for both naps and bedtime and it really is about finding that sweet spot. Below is a guide for wake times but adjust accordingly for your own child’s sleep needs:
0-12 weeks: 1-1.5 hours
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours
6-8 months: 2.5-3 hours
9-11 months: 3-4.5 hours
12 – 18 months: 4-5 hours
18 months plus (usually until about 3 years): 5-6 hours
No single nap should exceed 2 hours
If a nap is longer than 2 hours, it often steals some of the night sleep. This can result in a struggle to get them to bed at night as well as more night wake ups and early morning wakings. The only exception to this is when your child is on a 1 nap schedule. Some children will sleep for 3 hours and go to bed at night no problem!
Bedtime should be between 6 pm and 8 pm
We often hear parents say “I put my baby down late at about 9-10 pm hoping they then wake up later. This rarely works! All you will have is a super overtired child which will lead to more wakeups and they will probably still wake at 5-6 am!. Somewhere between 6- 8 pm is an ideal bedtime because the sleepy hormone melatonin naturally surges during this time in a baby. So you should take advantage of the hormone being high before it starts dropping again.
Feeding should be the beginning part of the bedtime routine
Often the last stage of a baby’s bedtime routine is a bottle of milk. When this is the case, they can go drowsy and without knowing it you are assisting them into the first stage of sleep. This means they never really learn properly to fall asleep from awake on their own and rely on the bottle. So when they wake in the night they need the bottle to send them back to sleep. Sound familiar? The best thing you can do is bring the bottle feed to the beginning of the bedtime routine out of their nursery, so they disassociate feeding with sleep and then teach them to settle themselves. Either before or after the bath is ideal.
When your baby wakes and makes a noise, try to wait a short while… see what they do!
The slightest whimper and parents often rush to their baby. It’s parents’ instinct – I get it! But just by waiting a short while you are giving them the opportunity to try and go back to sleep on their own. Did you know that it takes a baby 3-5 minutes to fully wake? Do try and wait this long. By going in before this you may actually wake them up when they were just making noise as they transition between sleep cycles. (they are noisy little sleepers!)
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency!
Routine and predictability – baby’s love this and they thrive on knowing what’s coming next. Their little internal clock called their circadian rhythm starts expecting sleep at certain times of the day if you begin offering it at the same time each day. As a parent myself I totally understand it is not always possible and there always has to be a degree of flexibility. But, if you can give your baby as many naps in their cot at similar times, this really helps to improve their sleep.
I hope you have found this useful and can start putting this into practice at the next bedtime. For more information or help with your baby or toddler’s sleep you can contact me via https://snoozetots.com/ or on Instagram @snooze_tots