My nearly five year old (Laurie) didn’t really like school. He’s been going now since September and every morning he’s been horribly upset as I’ve left him in class.
This year I decided I was going to change that and I have done everything possible to make sure he goes to school happily. This has meant using rewards, sticker charts, helping him visualise happy moments at school and, most importantly, changing my own behaviour.
In the last week I have made sure I am super organised so there’s no room for panic and worried feelings, I’ve left for school earlier than normal so that we have time to stand in the playground for a few minutes and adjust to the new environment. I’ve also used positive language when talking about school and focused on the “five really great things about school” instead of talking about what Laurie doesn’t like. I have also created a moment for us to say goodbye to each other and given Laurie something to do (change his book) as I leave.
Compare this to last year when I would talk to Laurie each day about why he didn’t like school, I would often leave things to the last minute so that we were flustered and rushing by the time we left for school. I would plead with Laurie not to cry as I left, rather than giving him something positive to do while the separation occurred. It might all seem like common sense but I kind of lost my way for awhile.
And now Laurie bounces in and out of school. On Friday he told me he had a brilliant day. “I loved it” he said. This morning he went in with a smile on his face. As I was walking home I realised that Laurie’s feelings about school had changed because I changed the way we were doing things.
It's just the same when it comes to your little one’s sleep. I often hear people say, “Don’t worry, when she’s ready to sleep through, she will”. But more often than not, that isn't the case and sleep problems that start in babyhood can continue for life. Ever heard the saying, “If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got”?
If you don’t make changes to improve your baby, toddler, or child’s sleep, then it is very unlikely that it will improve. I’m not saying it’s easy, and you might face a difficult journey ahead. But the result could make you feel as good as I felt when I dropped my smiling son off at school today. So if you do wish you could change your little one’s sleep habits, take a look first at what you are doing now, and then think about how you could do that differently, which may result in a different outcome. And if you need support, you know where we are. And you can always ask a question the Sleepytot Forum.
Have you thought about how the holiday festivity may affect your little one’s sleep?
More often than not travelling, or the general high energy atmosphere at Christmas can disrupt your child’s sleep. Since this is a time when they may be in the company of people they don’t know very well, or there is lots of noise and activity, little ones can easily become over stimulated. Which results in disrupted sleep and overtiredness.
Here are some tips to make sure your little one gets the sleep she needs over the Christmas period.
1 – Use a baby sleep CD or something that plays gentle, rhythmic sounds. This will help to drown out the noises in the house and encourage your little one to sleep longer.
2 – Try to stick to your little one’s regular sleep routine but allow her to sleep for longer at nap times if she wants to. She may need more time to process all that’s going on around her when she’s awake.
3 – If grandparents and other visitors want the little ones to stay up late, remember that it’s you who will have to deal with a fussy and cranky child the next day. Worse, your very little ones may become overtired, causing them to wake frequently at night. What I do, is say something like this... “oh I know, I wish I could keep them up too, but it’s so unfair on them when they’re sooo tired and I do want them to enjoy this holiday...” then I whisk them off to bed. If you involve your visitors in the bedtime routine that often pleases everyone as well. Take an opportunity to sit down with a glass of wine while grandma baths the baby!
4 – Perhaps when you were small Father Christmas would fill your stocking in your bedroom and you’d like to continue this tradition. But consider how scary it may seem to your toddler or pre-schooler that a strange man with a huge white beard may be visiting them when they’re asleep! It’s often easier to say that that Father Christmas will leave the pressies and stocking fillers in the front room meaning no nightmares or pre-bedtime fears.
5 – Keep an eye on what your little one is eating. Too much sweet stuff right before bed can make it hard to settle down and even cause an upset tummy. Stick to foods that your little one is used to and keep treats to a mininimum. Boring as it sounds!
6 – Stick to your usual routines to help little ones transition between awake time and sleep. Nap and bedtime routines will be more important than ever when there is so much fun to be had and will mean your little one rests better at each sleep. And finally, enjoy yourself.
If you have a baby, toddler, or other small person, you may be thinking about how the clocks going back at 2am on Sunday 31 st October will affect their sleep.
Is your 6am early riser going to be bright and bushy tailed at 5am instead? How will you keep your toddler (who is normally shattered by 6pm every evening anyway), awake for an extra hour each night? The good news is that if your baby is in a good sleep routine, her internal clock will probably adjust itself naturally once you start putting her to bed at the new time. But to make things easier for you and your child, here are some tips:
1 - Start putting your baby or toddler to bed 5 minutes later each night between now and Sunday 31st October. This gives her time to adjust her body clock slowly and should prevent her from becoming overtired.
2 – As much as is possible, adjust meal times and nap times as you go along. So as bed time gradually gets later, so too will nap times, and meal times. This might not be easy if you have an older sibling at school or you and little one wait for daddy to come home for dinner. If this is the case and the gap between dinner and the bedtime routine becomes too big, try a relaxing walk in the buggy, drag out bath time and read books for longer than usual.
3 – If your little one doesn’t adjust her wake up time right away, don’t worry, she will do over the next few days. It takes awhile for our internal clocks to reset themselves.
4 – Sunlight plays a really important role in helping to establish our biological clocks so get outside for lots of fresh air and exercise in the day.
Of course, if your little one has been going to bed too late for your liking, now is the perfect time to fix this. Simply put her to bed at the original time and you gain an extra hour in the evening!
But remember, even if you do none of this when the clocks go back and simply put your baby to bed at the new time, she will eventually adjust. The important thing is that you keep the bedtime routine and your behaviour the same. It may be tempting to bring your baby into bed when she wakes at five every morning but this can become a habit that's hard to break. Stick to what you've always done, and she will know what to expect. This way any sleep disruptions will quickly settle down.
A common problem parents face with their little ones’ sleep, is nap time. Naps are really important for babies to rest their little bodies. But, perhaps more importantly, naps enable them to organise what they have learned while awake.
In a recent study, the University of Arizona found that babies, like adults, need sleep to transform the knowledge they are given during waking hours into abstract thought. When babies are first born, there is so much going on around them that they can only really cope with being awake for 20 minutes before they need to nap and organise their learning. As babies grow, the world becomes more familiar and they are able to stay awake for longer and longer. But there is still so much learning to do and many little ones will still need to sleep in the day until they start school. Some even after this!
A baby or toddler who naps poorly anddoesn’t have this opportunity to process her learning, is likely to become over stimulated, find it harder to fall asleep and will finally do so when she is exhausted. Her behaviour may also become very difficult to manage. Toddlers in particular can be very difficult to handle when they are overtired, but babies can be tough too, crying more often, for longer, and becoming very clingy. Certainly I can recall days when my babies hadn't slept well and it was impossible for me to get anything done.
So how do we encourage our babies to nap well in the day?
Firstly, you need to know (roughly) how long it is appropriate for your baby to stay awake. Take a look at the article, How Much Should My Baby Sleep? for guidance. Once you know this, you will be able to prevent your baby (or toddler) from going beyond the point where she needs to sleep, to reaching what is called “a second wind”. Trying to put your baby to sleep once she has reached this point is doomed to fail. But get her down when she is tired (but not over tired) and she should fall asleep easily.
Nap time routines are just as important as bedtime routines. Perhaps even more so because you are asking your child to transition from wide awake play, in a busy environment, to sleep, in a very short space of time. Set up a predictable nap time routine which may consist of: face wash and nappy change, some soothing sleep sounds, a little story or sing song, cuddle and bed. It doesn’t need to be longer than 5 to 10 minutes. But once you get this going and repeat things in the same order each time, then you will find your baby responding to the nap time cues, and life will be easier. Make sure you start your baby’s sleep routine 5 or 10 minutes before she is due for a sleep. For example, a six month old baby is probably comfortable staying awake for about 2 hours. So 10 mins before that 2 hour mark, start preparing her for sleep.
If you were going to take a nap in the day, where would you most prefer to sleep? Probably in your own bed, right? With the curtains closed and your own pillow and blanket. It works just the same for babies. Of course, it’s not reasonably practical for you to always stay in for nap times but here’s my advice: make sure at least one nap of the day is in your baby’s usual sleep environment, preferably the longest one. If you are just getting things on track with your baby's sleep, then try and stay at home for a week to follow the routine and put your baby down at the right times. Once your baby is napping well, then you can be more flexible. You can also do things in your baby’s room that will help her to fall asleep. A baby who is easily over stimulated (I had one of those) may need blackout blinds. Use soothing sleep sounds to drown out any outside noise and help your baby “tune out”.
Teach your baby to self settle
If your baby can settle herself to sleep from awake, then she will be able to put herself back to sleep when she wakes early for a nap. This can take time and I generally recommend doing all of the above for at least a week and then starting on some sleep training if necessary. Check out the following articles for baby sleep training options:
Items that will help your baby to self soothe might be a cosy sleeping bag or blanket, a baby comforter or lovey, a soother or dummy and/or some soothing sleep sounds. Anything that helps her to relax when you’re not there and drift off to sleep.
Changing sleep habits and patterns is not always easy but it is worth it. The key to success is consistency and commitment. Once you and your baby figure it out, you will have set the foundation for healthy sleep habits for the future.
At about 18 months, many parents agree that their toddlers sleep less well than usual for naps and at night time. In their brilliant book, The Wonder Weeks, Hetty Vanderijt and Frans Plooij refer to a development leap between 18 and 21 months, which results in what they call “fussy behaviour”. Parents have come to call this “the 18 month sleep regression”.
At around 18 months of age, toddlers are truly on the go from morning to night. No longer just walking, many are running, jumping and climbing. They are able to imitate older siblings and adults, and language development suddenly takes off with many toddlers being able to use hundreds of words (although we might not recognise them all just yet). It still surprises me a little when I ask my 18 month old, Frankie, to do something , like fetch me some socks from the drawer, and he does it without hesitation.
No wonder then, that with all this going on, their sleep is disrupted. I have found that toddlers at this age often become exhausted, waking frequently at night and struggling to nap for very long in the day. In my experience, this is usually over within a a few months and you should then enjoy a period of calm. But when you’re in the middle of it, suffering from seriously disrupted sleep and a fussy toddler who can’t wait, won’t wait...and is just learning that he can say “no”, it’s not always easy to remind yourself that this will pass.
Something you can try which has worked for both of my boys, is increasing day time sleep. So if your toddler was already down to one nap, or having just one long nap and one short nap, then reinstating two longer ones can actually work. For example, just over a month ago Frankie dropped his afternoon nap and was having one long sleep in the middle of the day. This was great for me because I like predictability and it also meant he was very tired by bedtime and so was fast asleep by 6:30pm. But on the 10th August he reached the 18 month milestone and within a week I could see that he was exhausted. He was tired by 9am and although I’d keep him awake for his nap until 11am, trying to keep the routine on track, he’d be too tired to sleep well. As a result he’d be crying when he woke up and be cranky all afternoon. And then sleep really badly during the night.
After 3 nights of getting up to him three of four times, I decided to give him two naps a day again. So I put him down at 9am and again in the afternoon when he seemed tired, around 2pm. Within 2 days this worked. He was better able to manage the challenges of his development leap during the day, he napped for longer, woke happy and started sleeping through the night.
I plan to leave things as they are for the next few weeks and then he will be ready to go back to one nap once the development leap is over between 20 and 21 months. I remember the same thing happening when Laurie was this age. At the time I couldn't understand it as I was sure he should be having only one nap by then! Given that there is so much going on for 18 month old toddlers, and this is such a major development leap, it is no surprise that they may be more tired than usual, need a little more “time out” to restore their energy, and some extra sleep so the brain has time to file, sort and store all the new information it is handling. Not all toddlers are the same and it may not work for you, but if you’re struggling with the 18 month sleep regression, trying to increase the number and length of day time naps might just keep you sane!
If you’re anything like me, bedtime doesn’t always go smoothly. Some days all is great and those last few minutes with the little ones snuggled up in bed listening to you finish the bedtime story are just perfect. But there are many nights when the baby won’t go to sleep or your toddler asks for a drink for the 5th time, you’re frazzled from a long day and you just want the kids to GO TO SLEEP! On evenings like this, I can say for certain that I’m not exactly “emotionally available”.
Yet new infant sleep research suggests that parents who are “emotionally available” to their babies and toddlers at bedtime help their children to sleep better at night. Researchers videotaped mothers in 39 families as they put their babies to bed, and also had them fill out questionnaires and sleep diaries. Dads were recruited to participate in the research but not enough of them interacted with their little ones long enough and so the study focused on mothers.The research, led by Douglas M. Teti at The Pennsylvania State University, found that, “Parents’ emotional availability at bedtimes may be as important, if not more important, than bedtime practices in predicting infant sleep quality”. The study showed that mothers who are calm, warm and sensitive with their baby and/or toddler promote feelings of safety and security, which results in better-regulated child sleep. If you’re struggling to get your baby to sleep through the night, or go to sleep at bedtime, it is only natural that you may feel yourself becoming anxious or tense as bedtime approaches. Your baby can pick up on this, finding it harder to feel safe and sleep less well as a result. Here is a technique that I regularly use in my life for many issues and works very well when dealing with baby sleep problems.
Whenever you have a spare moment (just before you go to sleep or when the baby is napping), lie down and imagine you have a valve (like in a paddling pool) in each foot, each arm and in your chest. Now close your eyes and imagine the valve on your foot has been opened and all the air is slowly going out. Work around your body like this until you are eventually flat (in your mind ). All the while you are doing this, repeat to yourself “calm body, calm mind”. Try and do this every day. It should only take 5 to 10 minutes. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to your body and focus on your body parts slowly deflating. Then when you are on the countdown to bedtime, anytime you find yourself becoming anxious or getting annoyed, say to yourself “calm body, calm mind”. Keep saying it until you feel yourself calming down. Then carry on with bedtime.
Even if you lose your temper or become frustrated, you can very quickly use this technique to change the mood, relax, and remain loving and tender towards your child. If you are sleep training and your baby is becoming very upset, this is a very good technique to use so that when you go back into your baby’s room, or if you are sitting in the room with him, you can stay calm and loving. It is possible to be firm, set limits and show your baby what the rules are, whilst remaining loving and “emotionally available”. Not always easy, but very possible!
How about you? Are you “emotionally available” to your small people at bedtime, or do you find yourself becoming anxious or cross? And do you have any tips to share on how you keep bedtime calm and reassuring?
Since Laurie was born 4 and half years ago, we haven’t been on holiday abroad. I don’t know why but I don’t imagine flying with small children and then holidaying in all that sun would be very family friendly. Am I wrong?
Whenever we’ve thought about holidaying, it seems somehow easier and more family friendly to stay in the UK. We can pile everything into the car (dog as well), drive a few hours down the road, and visit a part of England that we haven’t seen before. And we can stop the car as many times as we need to on the way. No screaming babies on the plane or preschoolers getting bored after sitting still for an hour!
And then there’s sleep to think about. I know that a good night’s sleep for all of us will mean we can make the most of our holiday. So a holiday cottage in the UK, where I can plan the children’s naps and make sure they’re in bed early each night will mean hubby and I also get some time to relax. It’s much easier to stick a blackout blind, sleeping bags, nightlights, and all the other bits and bobs that make for a sound night’s sleep in the car than it is to drag them all the way to Europe!
Living down here in north Devon, we’re already spoiled with the beautiful beaches and really spectacular countryside. The only thing we can’t rely on is the weather. But if I’m honest, I’m so worried about the kids getting burned or sun stroke when they're in the sun day after day, that I don’t mind an overcast day. Throughout the summer holidays, we spend rainy days at local attractions like The Big Sheep or make the most of an excuse to stay indoors and watch a family DVD.
And when the sun’s shining, we can nip out to the beach, build a sandcastle, splash in the sea and eat an ice cream. Still, even with all of this on our doorstep, we do need to get away from it all once in awhile. And as they say, a change is as good as a rest. So we often visit somewhere like Dorset or Cornwall and stay in a holiday cottage that has all the things we need – stair gates, high chairs and cots. With two children, I tend to need a fair amount of stuff. Here’s what I take along with me to make sure the nights go smoothly:
1 – Travel Blackout Blind If your little ones find it hard to fall asleep when it’s light outside, or wake up early as the sun rises, then this is a must. Blackout the bedrooms and get the kids to bed early so you can have a relaxing evening!
2 – Nightlight My pre-schooler, Laurie has slept with a nightlight since he was about 2. It is especially comforting for him if we are away as strange rooms can be alarming for children. Laurie has a Lumilove night light which is safe for him to cuddle up with in bed.
3 – Sleeping bag or blanket Frankie’s sleeping bag is a really powerful sleep association for him. He feels safe and secure snuggled up in his sleepsac and I don’t have to worry about him not liking the feel of the bedding wherever we go. If you have an older child, bring their blanket or duvet cover with you. The familiar feel and smell of his bedding will help him to relax and sleep soundly through the night.
4 – iPod and docking station. Unfamiliar places can really upset sleep routines but if you follow the same bedtime routine when you’re away as you do at home, you should your little ones settle easily and sleep well. Lullabies or white noise that you play at home can be played while away on our iPod. Or ask the holiday home provider if a CD player will be available. Soothing sleep sounds like the sound of the sea that you can play through the night will also help to mask unfamiliar noises.
5 – Snoozeshade If you’re planning on long days out, then a buggy blackout blind like the Snoozeshade will help little ones get the sleep they need. Once they’ve dosed off, pop the blind on your buggy or pram and you’re guaranteed a good long nap while you enjoy a cool drink in the sun!
6 – Comforter If your little one sleeps with a baby comforter, or, as in the case of my pre-schooler, 5 comforters! – then don’t forget to pack it! Comforters are excellent transitional objects, helping babies and children to self soothe when they are in strange environments. If your baby doesn’t have a comforter, why not introduce one now. Pop it in her cot with her at night and it will be a familiar friend when she’s sleeping in a different room. And finally, a recommendation for you.
If you’re planning a holiday down here in the South West, check out Farm and Cottage Holidays. They have a really excellent range of family friendly cottages to suit your needs and you can just call them up to check what’s available in the cottage of your choice.
I’m not a big believer in strict routines to help a baby nap well in the day and sleep at night. Babies and children do need us to help structure their sleep by setting bed times and making sure they get good quality naps in the day. But I haven’t found one, perfect routine that works for all babies. Every baby is different. Getting sleep right for our little ones comes down to paying close attention to what they’re doing, what they need, and then guiding them into the ideal routine.
But recently, lots of you have been asking me to outline some sleep routines from birth to pre-school age. I understand why it makes life easier and less confusing if there is a rough guide to follow. So I’m going to tell you what I do and what works for me.
Baby Sleep Newborn to 6 Weeks
Just enjoy this time! Let baby fall asleep wherever and whenever. You can help your baby start to learn the difference between day and night by making day time busy and bright, and night time quiet and dark. Give your baby the chance to learn to self settle by occasionally popping him in his cot or moses basket while he’s still awake. If he falls asleep, great. If not, give him a helping hand.
Baby Sleep 6 to 12 weeks
Start a bedtime routine to clearly mark the end of the day and the beginning of the night. Let your baby nap where she sleeps at night. Start to introduce sleep cues like soothing sleep sounds, darkness, a certain blanket or baby comforter cuddled while feeding. During the day, put your baby down for a nap every 45 minutes to 1.5 hours (so a 6 week old baby should only be awake for 45 mins but by 12 weeks she will probably be able to stay awake for 1.5 hours).
I generally suggest you push your baby along a little now and then so she gradually becomes accustomed to staying awake for longer. Right now, it is less important how many naps your baby has a day and much more important that she doesn’t stay awake for too long.
Baby Sleep 12 to 16 Weeks
Now you should find sleep starting to settle down into a bit of a predictable routine. Your baby may have lots of 45 minute naps, or 3 longer sleeps in the day. The maximum time awake between naps should be about 1.5 hours. As you approach 16 weeks, push your baby’s awake time along a bit until he is comfortable staying awake for 2 hours.
Baby Sleep 4 Months to 9 Months
Now I recommend you follow the two hour rule, which means putting your baby back down for a nap after she has been awake for two hours. So long as she is able to self settle at night time and for her naps, you should see her gradually falling into a sleep pattern that works for her. Some babies have long morning naps, some prefer the afternoon sleep. Generally now, your baby will be having about 3 naps a day.
Baby Sleep 9 to 12 Months
Your baby will now drop a nap. This is a difficult period as he doesn’t need three naps but two naps aren’t quite enough. The afternoons can be a bit difficult and your baby may sleep less well at night due to overtiredness. To make this as easy as possible for you both, gradually push the morning nap backwards by 30 minutes and do the same with the afternoon nap. Bring bedtime forward by 30 minutes. You may also find that going through the motions of the third nap for a week or two is very useful. Just putting your little one in his cot and leaving him for a little while is enough for him to recharge his batteries. And on days when he’s very tired, he may even have a cat nap. Don’t let him sleep for long though. Choose relaxing activities like buggy walks, car drives and playing quietly. By 12 months of age your baby will be able to stay awake happily for 3 to 4 hours. A routine that many parents find useful at this age has become known as 2-3-4 which is basically an awake time of 2 hours in the morning, 3 hours between naps and then 4 hours until bedtime.
Toddler Sleep 12 to 16 Months This is a relatively easy period. Most babies will have two naps a day totalling about 2 to 3 hours and are usually sleeping through the night. If your toddler isn’t sleeping through, take a look at our article, Stop Your Baby Waking at Night for advice. Now what I do is slowly push the morning nap back a bit, week by week, and when this starts to affect the afternoon nap and bedtime, I gradually shorten the afternoon nap. So between 14 and 16 months, a sleep routine might look like this:
And this is gradually adjusted to look like this at 15 months:
And then at 16 months:
Nap: 15:30 until 16:00
This last nap might be missed on different days but you should always put your toddler down for it and go through the motions. Firstly because she may only need it every three days now but if you don’t put her down, how will you know? And secondly because even if she doesn’t sleep, the rest will do her the world of good and help her make it through to bedtime.
Toddler Sleep 16 to 20 Months
Between 16 and 20 months, continue to push the morning nap along a little. By 18 months it is ideal if you can reach a nap start time of between 11:00 and 11:30am. What’s important to remember at this stage is that the transition from one nap to two naps doesn’t happen overnight. What typically happens is that your baby can go without the second nap just fine one day, and then the next you will notice he is exhausted much earlier than usual. When this happens, just let him have a two nap day and put him down at 10:00am and then again in the afternoon. The transition from two naps to one is more difficult than the move from three naps to two for two reasons. Firstly it takes longer, and secondly your toddler is more active and able to resist sleep. Do what you can to manage your child’s sleep at this time and try to avoid slipping into bad habits.
Toddler Sleep 20 Months Onwards
From now on, your child will usually just need one nap a day. This may vary in length depending on daily activities, growth spurts, illness and development leaps. But try to make it start at the same time every day because your toddler’s body clock will organise itself according to this. Your toddler may sleep at 11:30am for some time and the nap may then gradually move along a little until it starts at 12:30 or 1:00 when your child is about 3 years of age. I tend to do lunch at 11:00 during this time so that little ones don’t get hungry and wake up early from their sleep. So that’s how I manage sleep routines from babyhood to toddlerhood. The main thing I hope you will take from this is how flexible it is. There are no set times or exact instructions. Instead, it’s more like a gentle guiding hand, to help little ones get the sleep they need in the day. And since good quality day time naps mean a good night’s sleep for you and little one, it’s worth it!
A new study by researchers at SRI International in California has found that children who go to bed around the same time every night and sleep at least eleven hours get better results. Getting less than this was linked to lower abilities in language, reading and early math skills. Many studies before this relating to baby and child sleep have published similar findings.
In February, a study by academics in Finland suggested a good night’s sleep could reduce bad behaviour and hyperactivity in children. Previous studies have found that babies learn and grow better when they nap and sleep well at night. Poor sleep habits in babies and children have been linked to obesity, hyperactivity, poor behaviour, slow growth and learning difficulties.
Despite the frequent studies telling us of the negative results our babies and children are suffering as a result of poor sleep habits, we still find it hard to teach them how to sleep through the night. I think there are three main reasons for this:
1 - The parents I speak to aren’t viewing sleep as a behaviour issue in the same way that they do everything else. If we look at sleep as something our little ones have to learn how to do, then we understand it in context with children learning how to behave. In the same way a family has a “no biting” rule, they should also have a “sleep all night rule”.
If your toddler cried after you told him off for biting, you wouldn’t say it was ok for him to bite again. But when a toddler is waking up many times through the night, or a preschooler refuses to go to sleep at bedtime, parents don’t know what to do. It helps if they think of sleep as a basic behavioural issue. We teach children how to behave the way we want them to through positive reinforcement of the good, and by ignoring, sometimes punishing, the bad. Babies and children have to test our rules in order to make sure they are real. Testing them may mean grizzling, moaning, shouting, even having a full scale tantrum. The way we show our little ones that the rule stands is by sticking to it. Often parents try a number of things to get their little ones to sleep, from rewards to angry threats. And when this doesn’t work, they give up. But you can teach your baby or child to sleep. The best way to do this is through consistency.
2 – The advice from the parenting experts is conflicting. I think I have probably read all the baby and child sleep books out there. I also keep up with the media’s coverage of baby and child sleep issues. Whilst much of the information is really good and useful, it is also conflicting. On the one hand, allowing your baby to “cry it out” can cause mother and baby attachment issues, child behaviour problems, and even brain damage. On the other hand, a poor sleeper will never do well at school and grow up obese and hyperactive.
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But the information is presented as an interesting story, rather than providing real life help and advice. And the trouble with this for sleep deprived parents is that they don’t really know which way to turn. The truth is that it’s not that complicated if you view your baby or child’s sleep as a journey. Working towards the goal of a child who sleeps well means knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. It doesn’t have to be something you achieve overnight, or within 7 days, or whatever your midwife/friend/parent/colleague/new book tells you.
What’s important is that once you have made the plan, decided on what works for your family, then you must be consistent. There is nothing more important in teaching your baby or child to sleep (or anything else) than consistency.
3 – Parents aren’t given the advice on time. When I was a first time mum to be, I went to all the classes offered by my midwife and as my bump grew I learned about how to give birth and how to feed my baby after the birth. I never remember anyone talking about sleep. And yet, alongside feeding, your burning question in the first few weeks, months, maybe even years is…“when will he sleep through the night?”
There’s nothing much you can do about how your baby sleeps in those first few weeks, and each family will make individual choices that work for them. Nonetheless there is some basic information about sleep that every new parent should know before the baby arrives. That basic information is laid out for you in our baby sleep guide (you can grab a free copy of this by entering your details in the boxes on the right). This information helps you to avoid starting habits that will later cause your baby to wake more frequently and possibly develop sleep associations which are hard to break after 6 months. You can also find lots more advice in the Sleepytot Forum and Sleepytot Community.
When the lights go off, your little one is suddenly plunged into darkness and for a child with an active imagination, this can be very frightening.
Once they reach the age of two, toddlers are just starting to read different types of story books and perhaps see programmes on television which refer to monsters, or dragons. The answer for many parents is to leave a light on at bedtime and during the night to reassure their child.
But research has shown that leaving a light on can affect the development of child’s circadian rhythms and even impair the quality of their sleep. This is because light affects the production of the hormone, melatonin and to get a great night’s sleep, we need an increase of melatonin at bedtime.
Fortunately, experts, including Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University, assert that low-level light, such as that produced by a night light, will have no affect on melatonin levels. Light from an ordinary household light bulb would be too bright, as would daylight.
You may have heard that night lights can cause myopia (near-sightedness) in babies and children. This is the result of an American Study in 1999 which found this might be the case but researchers later backed away from the study and further research has found no relationship between night lights and near-sightedness. So this isn’t something you need to worry about.
Using a night light in your child’s room will provide reassurance at bedtime, as well as when he wakes in the night, without affecting the quality of his sleep. A nightlight can be comforting for your little one and also enables you to check on him without disturbing his sleep. The perfect solution to keeping those monsters at bay while you all get a good night’s sleep!
The clocks go forward on Sunday 28th March, but our babies will, of course, have no idea. If you have a baby who has a regular sleep routine and you’re worried the clocks going forward might affect this, here’s how you can keep your baby's sleep on track.
Between now and Sunday, start to put your baby to bed 10 minutes earlier each night. So if your baby normally goes to bed at 7:30pm, move bedtime forward to 7:20 tonight, 7:10 tomorrow night, 7:00 on Saturday night and so on. After the clocks go forward on Sunday, you can continue to move bedtime forward in 10 minute increments each night until you reach the perfect bedtime for your family and your baby.
Do the same thing at nap times and your baby’s wake times should automatically adjust themselves. If they don’t, then you may need to wake your baby a little earlier in the morning and at the end of each nap to help her adjust her sleep schedule.
The important thing to bear in mind is that babies have no idea the clocks have changed. We can mentally make the adjustment simply by glancing at the time. But babies need their body clocks adjusted. It’s better to do this over a few days than all at once or your baby’s sleep could get in a bit of a muddle. Also keep in mind that you will be putting your baby to bed when it’s as bright as day outside and she will soon be waking up with the sun shining into her bedroom at 5am.
To make things easier for you both, you may find nursery blackout blinds help. For blinds that you can hide behind your lovely nursery curtains and that totally block out the light, check out these blackout blinds .
Using behavioural techniques including ‘controlled crying’ to help infants to sleep does not lead to later emotional and behavioural problems, according to new research by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
The world-first study followed 225 six-year-old children who had received behavioural sleep intervention as babies to assess their health including emotional wellbeing, behaviour and child-parent relationship. It found techniques including ‘controlled crying’ – which helps babies learn to put themselves to sleep by letting them cry for set periods of time - and positive bedtime routines, had no adverse affects on the emotional and behavioural development of children or their relationship with parents when compared to children who as babies had sleep problems but received no sleep intervention.
Lead researcher, Anna Price, said the study would help reassure parents and health professionals about the safety of sleep interventions in infants aged six months and older, especially as a strategy to prevent and treat postnatal depression.
“Sleep problems can affect up to 45 per cent of babies aged six to 12 months and can double the risk of postnatal depression,” she said. “Without intervention, sleep problems are also more likely to persist into childhood, potentially leading to behavioural and cognitive problems including aggression, anxiety and attention and learning difficulties. Given that behavioural sleep techniques are cost-effective in reducing sleep problems and maternal depression, health professionals can feel comfortable offering these interventions to families presenting with infant sleep problems. Parents can also feel reassured they are not harming their babies by using sleep interventions.”
The findings form part of a longitudinal study by Murdoch Childrens Research Institute into infant sleep, which has shown intervention during infancy significantly reduces sleep problems in children and depression among mothers during the first two years of the child’s life. The results will be presented at the World Congress of Internal Medicine, hosted by the Royal Australasia College of Physicians, the Internal Medicine Society of Australia and New Zealand and the International Society of Internal Medicine, in Melbourne from March 20-25.
For a straightforward techniques to help your baby learn to self settle, visit our baby sleep and toddler sleep information sections.
Feeling guilty is part and parcel of motherhood. But there are many techniques we can use to both prevent and minimise the guilt. Try "drawing a line under the bad stuff" to quickly break the mood when you're having a bad day with your preschooler!
If we’re honest, we sometimes feel guilty as parents, right?
My two small people were poorly last night with a tummy bug and awake for most of the night. So I’m tired today. Snappy and grouchy. I’m looking forward to 7:30pm when I can close the boys’ bedroom door and have some grown up time. But I know it won’t work like that. I’ll feel guilty instead. Cross with myself for all the times I was irritated in the day, sorry for responding grumpily, for rushing through bedtime and hurrying my little children into bed.
I’ll want to get them back out of bed and tell them just how much I love them.
Of course I’m only human, and who spends the day feeling like Pollyanna when they’re seriously sleep deprived? It’s the curse of being a mum – feeling guilty for not being perfect.
Since it’s only 2pm now, I do have a plan to change the mood of the day and I thought I’d share it with you.
With my four year old, Laurie, we break the mood by drawing a line under the bad stuff. This is so simple and works instantly. Here’s what I do.
I’m going through the day as normal. I’m tired and grouchy. The small people are also tired and grouchy. Older small person, Laurie, is whinging. Cross words are spoken here and there, a few tantrums from small person, baby crying, I’m snapping and irritable.
I say to Laurie, “This is horrible. I don’t want to snap at you and I’m sure you don’t want to whinge do you?” He shakes his head. I say, “Let’s put all the bad stuff from this morning in the corner over there and draw a line under it.”
Then we jump around grabbing imaginary bad stuff, dramatically throwing it into the corner, whilst checking with each other – is there any more anywhere? And finally, we draw a big imaginary line under it. It’s so simple but so totally effective.
Because then you smile and have a hug and you’re still tired and a bit irritable, but now you feel like you’re a bit more in control and the small people feel like order is restored, and the day ahead is a lot easier.
Here’s an example of a bedtime routine which you and your baby or toddler will love.
You’ll want to adapt this depending on your little one’s age. But remember that it should be focused and not too long. 20 minutes for an 8 week old baby, moving to a maximum of 45 minutes for a toddler is ideal.
Play, splash and wash using baby safe bath time products. This is often a great time of day for dad to bond with his little one.
Cuddle baby up in a super soft towel, like the Cuddledry Baby Apron Towel, and make sure you dry between her toes, under her arms and behind her knees.
A massage for a younger baby can be soothing and relaxing (especially if she has colic).
Some lullabies playing softly while you dry and massage baby can be calming for you both.
Look for sleepsuits and pyjamas that are soft, comfortable and breathable – bamboo is a lovely fabric for baby sleepwear.
Baby sleeping bags keep baby safe by preventing her from slipping under the covers, they keep her warm and they act as a sleep cue. Bamboo baby sleeping bags are anitbacterial and help your baby to maintain an even temperature.
This is a great time to have a look at a little book with your baby or toddler.
You may want to feed your baby earlier in the routine if she’s hungry or likely to fall asleep while feeding. The milk and sucking will help her to relax. But don’t let her fall asleep on the bottle or breast. A baby who goes in the cot awake and settles herself to sleep is more likely to sleep through the night than one who relies on being fed to sleep.
Hold a baby comforter close between you when feeding so she becomes attached to something that will help her to feel secure when you’re not in the room.
Turn the light off and leave your baby to fall asleep.
Anyone who knows me, who spends a little time with me, who’s signed up to my newsletter, who reads my blog, or follows me on Twitter etc… will know that I say it’s impossible for a baby to sleep through the night, every night, without fail.
For one thing, they’re going to get sick, or have a day of disrupted naps, or be too hot or hungry… the list of reasons why a baby might wake occasionally is not short.
But there is another reason why your baby will wake. And this is because every baby has what's known as mental development leaps. These happen at roughly the same time for all babies as they go through the first 14 months of life and onwards. When these leaps happen, babies become fussy, clingy and more difficult to console than usual. They often go off their food and sleep poorly.
In their rather marvellous book, The Wonder Weeks, Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij, outline each of the major leaps and what is changing in your baby’s world. Have you ever looked at your baby and suddenly realised she can do something completely different? That she’s playing with toys in a totally different way to before? Well she has probably just finished a mental leap and if you look back, you may realise that she was fussier than usual in the weeks preceding this new development.
I have a very well thumbed copy of The Wonder Weeks. As soon as Frankie shows any signs of out of the ordinary crankiness or if his sleep is disrupted, the first thing I do is check the book. If it looks like he’s at the beginning of another major leap, it makes it a lot easier to cope with the fussy moments and the odd wake up in the middle of the night.
This book helps me to see the world from my baby’s point of view which makes me more compassionate. The truth is that these leaps can sometimes be overwhelming. So understanding that what’s going on with your baby is normal and will end, helps a lot! I highly recommend the book.
But here’s the GREAT news. A free service has been developed called the Leap Alarm system. After signing up to this system, you will receive emails, which give you advance notice that your baby is about to enter a difficult period. You’ll also get a short description of the imminent leap in mental development.
To sign up, visit The Wonder Weeks. I highly recommend it. It makes the first year easier and the fussy periods almost enjoyable! Spread the word!