What a challenging time we've found ourselves living in! As parents, we are not only navigating life for ourselves but also for the little ones in our families. I have a few sleep tips that I believe can help your child's sleep improve and let's face it, when our children are sleeping well, everyone is happier!
First, since we’re all focusing on staying healthy right now, it’s a good time to remember that one of the very best ways to maintain a strong immune system is to get a good night’s sleep. (This goes for your kids and for you!) In case you are curious about why, it has to do with “T-cells” being better able to fight infected cells when stress hormones are low. Stress hormones are at their lowest when we are asleep!
Now, if you’ve got a baby or toddler in the house who isn’t sleeping well, getting that good night’s sleep can obviously be a little trickier -- for both of you.
That's why I've put together some “sleep hacks” you can try -- starting tonight -- that can make a big difference! And while none of these are guaranteed to work for every child, I've found that they actually CAN help your child sleep better!
Sleep Hack #1: Watch the Waking Hours
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep – especially for babies and toddlers – is overtiredness… and many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired!
Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:
Newborns (0-12 Weeks): 45-90 minutes
3-5 Months: 1.5–2 hours
6–8 months: 2–3 hours
9–12 months: 3-4 hours
13 months to 2.5 years: 5–6 hours
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime… AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too!!
Sleep Hack #2: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep better in the dark.
Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. (You can use blackout blinds, tape cardboard over the windows, whatever it takes!) In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle!
If you have a toddler that is legitimately afraid of the dark, pick a night light with a warm hue (orange, yellow, red) and try to block it slightly with a piece of furniture. Many nightlights give off too much light - your toddler just needs that slight glow to comfort them.
BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day!!
Sleep Hack #3: Be Predictable (And a Little Boring)
Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. A bedtime routine (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.
BONUS TIP: After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to “drag out” bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc. Don’t participate.
If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!
Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child!
Sleep Hack #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
For a lot of babies, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association.
In other words, your child has “linked” the ideas of feeding and sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.
By feeding right after naptime – instead of before – you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
Sleep Hack #5: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, it’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place – at the same time – every day.
This means that naptime should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep – rather than in carseats, strollers, your lap, etc. Obviously this won't be the case for every nap, but you can aim for this the majority of the time!
For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
Sleep Hack #6: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is calm and relaxing.
No throwing your toddler in the air… or watching TV… or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.
PLEASE NOTE: Tickle fights are highly encouraged and a great way for your child to get out some energy as well as fill up their "love tank". A great time to play is when your child wakes up!
Now as I mentioned before, since every child is unique, I cannot guess which of these will work for your family. And if you want some honest truth, if your child's sleep problems have been going on for a long time, there is a good possibility that one "trick" won't magically help them sleep through the night. BUT it wouldn't hurt to try, would it? See if you notice any improvements after a few days. If you find that one of these helps your family, I’d love to hear about it! And if you have a specific question about your child, feel free to get in touch. I'd love to see if I can be of any help to you.
Please note, since we all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus, I am NOT currently offering “in-person” sleep consultations. HOWEVER, I am offering consultations by phone or zoom.
One final tip:
For those of you with toddlers, remember that daily routines are VERY comforting and reassuring for them. I know that many of us have had our normal daily routines upended (ie. no daycare, pre-school, etc.), but I would encourage you to set up a new daily routine to follow.
This will not only give your toddler an important sense of security, but it will also help keep you calm and focused too!