Sleep is vital for all humans to be healthy: it’s when we recharge so we’re at our personal best. If your child isn’t sleeping well, you’re likely not either and you probably wonder when it will end. Children with persistent sleep problems are more likely to have behavioral problems, battle obesity and have trouble concentrating.
However, if addressed early on, sleep problems can be overcome. There are steps you can take today to form healthy sleep for you and your family.
Eliminate Sleep Props
Children need to develop self-soothing strategies so they’re able to fall asleep independently and be able to put themselves back to sleep when they wake in the night. If they depend on a “sleep prop” (any device or activity they rely on to fall asleep) they will need someone – usually you! – to help them every time they wake in the night. Some examples of sleep props are: nursing or a bottle, pacifier, rocking, bouncing, patting or riding in the car.
Time for Bed
An early bedtime is best to ensure your child doesn’t become overtired, making it more difficult for them to settle down and fall asleep. Your child will have an easier time drifting off, they’ll get the sleep they need and you will get your evenings back! Reconnect with others, watch a movie, read a book or even tuck yourself in a bit early! Based on your baby’s age and the timing of their last nap, you should pick a bedtime somewhere between 6-8pm.
Create a Predictable Bedtime and Naptime Routine
Routines are a great way to let your child know that sleep is coming and it’s time to transition from day to night. It also helps them wind down from the excitement of the day, so falling asleep is easier for them.
Bedtime routines are most effective when they are about 20 to 30 minutes long, and the majority of it takes place in your child’s bedroom. Some activities that work well include a bath, massage, going potty, brushing teeth, reading, sharing thoughts or a favourite song and cuddling.
Parents should take turns doing the routine, or let a friend or grandparent do it so your child understands this is what happens for every sleep situation, no matter who puts them to bed. Routines can also be good sleep signals at nap time. They should be shorter (about five minutes): a diaper change and short story or song is perfect.
Keep Your Child Awake While Feeding
If you’re feeding your baby in the night, do your best to keep them awake.
Keeping them awake during feedings will help break the association that sleeping and eating go hand and hand. They will be awake when they’re put back in their bed, encouraging their self-soothing skills.
Sing to them, tickle their toes or use a cool cloth to keep them alert and make certain they are filling their tummies. Night feedings should be very low key: keep lights dim, speak softly and don’t turn on electronics.
This probably the most important part of teaching your child the skill of becoming an independent sleeper. Once you choose your method, you need to be consistent 100% of the time! If you give up or change rules every night, you will frustrate and confuse your child. Keeping all sleep situations the same sends a clear message about what’s expected of them.
By taking the necessary steps so your child gets restful and tranquil sleep, you will be giving your child a fundamentals that can be carried throughout his or her life. Make tonight the first step on your path to healthy sleep… sweet dreams!
Kathryn is a child sleep consultant, mom of a lively one-year old and founder of Sleep Stars Consulting; she resides in Maple Ridge and enjoys singing and dancing with her child. For more information visit www.sleepstars.ca.