Getting my two (4y 5m & 2y 8m old) off to sleep has, quite frankly, become a bit of a shit-show over recent weeks… I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here… (please, tell me I’m not alone...) Light, and let’s face it - sweaty - summer evenings, certainly don’t make things any easier as they’re simply not registering the fact that it’s, well... erm, bedtime! Consequently, they’re not getting sufficient sleep over night - and we all suffer the consequences one way or another.
I’d love to hear your sleep secrets… especially if you manage to do this consistently… All hail the Sleep Queen if this is you! In the meantime, here are some of my recent findings. I hope you find them helpful...
1) Know (approximately) how much sleep your child should be getting
As a very generalised guide:
1 to 4 weeks olds - need approximately 16-17 hours a day, with periods of wakefulness lasting 1-3 hours. Newborns are yet to develop a night/day sleep cycle. Most parents quickly learn the importance of adjusting their own sleep schedules to accommodate!
1 to 4 months old - similar to newborns although when their night/day sleep cycles gradually kick in, they start sleeping for slightly longer periods at night, in-between feeds and changes.
4 months to 1 year - approx. 14-15 hours a day. Older babies may begin sleeping for longer stretches at night whilst also taking up to 3 naps during the day. This is a key time to begin establishing healthy sleep habits for your little ones.
1 to 3 years - approx. 12-14 hours a day, but this may be impacted by the schedules of others in the house, with naps reduced to 1 a day.
3 to 6 years - approx. 11-12 hours of sleep. Younger children may still require a short daytime nap.
7 to 12 years - approx.10-12 hours of nightly sleep, but may only get 9-10 hours.
13 to 18 years - approx. 8-10 hours of sleep, but many rarely get the full amount they really need due to the demands of schoolwork, after school programs and activities which often cut into their nightly sleep. Most teens report getting about 6-8 hours of sleep, which is far from ideal.
2) Establish a bedtime a routine
Most children thrive on structure as it gives them a sense of safety and security. In fact, having systems and structures in place can be sanity saving for everyone involved! Establishing a consistent bedtime routine, helps them develop sleep associations which prepare them for sleep.
Sleep experts recommend beginning the bedtime ritual (I do love a good ritual), with wind-down time approx. 15 - 30 minutes before the actual routine begins. For us, this looks like no more screen time and playing relaxing music instead, perhaps whilst we read, do some colouring or play a game such as Uno, the Shopping Game or Snakes and Ladders… Other suggestions include; dimming the lights/drawing the curtains/blinds, talking in softer voices and even moving more slowly: subtle changes which signal to your child that bedtime is approaching.
Bedtime routines generally comprise of many different relaxing and sleep promoting activities, tricks and tactics! For example;
◦ A relaxing bath with lavender drops/bubbles;
◦ Calming and sleep promoting pure essential oils dropped/sprayed onto pillows;
◦ Putting on PJs;
◦ A drink of warm milk - breast/bottle/cup;
◦ A light, healthy snack;
◦ Brushing teeth;
◦ Bedtime story;
◦ Relaxing music;
◦ Goodnight cuddles and kisses
Once you find what works best for you and your little one(s), the most important part moving forwards, is consistency.
3) Create an ideal sleeping environment. Bedrooms should help to promote sleeping. Keep them dark, quiet and cool. Some children take comfort from a nightlight or dim light. Some prefer silence, others associate sleep with peaceful music or white/pink noise.
4) Turn off/remove electronic devices. TVs, iPads and so should be removed from bedrooms at least an hour before bedtime. Both their content and the light emitted, promote wakefulness, tricking the brain into thinking it needs to stay awake. Electronics should be turned off or taken away at least an hour before bedtime.
5) Make sure they get regular exercise. Getting plenty of exercise during the day will help your child/ren wind down much more quickly at night - so long as their last playtime is at least 3 hours before bedtime, or they may still be too stimulated for sleep.
6) Avoid meals (and caffeine) before bedtime. If you do allow your child the occasional soft drink, be mindful that if it contains caffeine, it will act as a stimulant and have an impact upon your child’s sleep, therefore avoid within 3 hours of bedtime. Small, healthy snacks are usually fine before bedtime. A warm glass of milk is ideal or something like a banana, a small bowl of porridge or an oat biscuit.
7) Seek support. If you've established a consistent bedtime routine and made adjustments to fit your child's individual needs and they are continue to find bedtime a challenge and/or have difficulty sleeping, it’s advisable to seek help from your GP. There could be an underlying issue which they could support you with.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you! I'd love to hear your feedback and welcome your ideas and suggestions. We're not meant to do this on our own, so let's help each other out.
By the way, what does your sleep routine look like? Do you have any rituals you enjoy which help you to wind down and settle off to sleep after a busy day?