Gentle Tips to Improve Your Child’s Sleep Habits
Guest Blog submitted by Kaila Wakelam of My Little Dreamer Sleep Solutions
When our little ones aren’t getting the sleep they need we often see the results in their day-time behaviours. Children who are not well-rested tend to have a hard time focusing, can be seen as cranky, and are often less tolerant to change. Not only does sleep deprivation affect behaviour but it ALSO affects sleep – children who are over-tired will often sleep less than you think they should, have a hard time falling asleep, wake frequently in the night and start their day earlier than most. Here are some gentle tips to help improve your child’s sleep habits.
1. Teach your child to fall asleep independently.
If your child is currently fed, rocked, bounced, sang, or snuggled to sleep this is likely the cause of their night-time awakenings. When they wake in the night they are looking for the exact same things to happen in order to fall back asleep. Instead, put them in bed drowsy-but-awake and offer reassurance and support to help them fall asleep. As they develop this skill you can remove your presence altogether. The goal is to allow them the opportunity to become comfortable and confident (with your guidance) with falling asleep in their own bed without the need of external factors. This is a process that takes time, consistency, and patience.
2. Create a predictable routine for bed-time.
Help prepare your child for sleep not only physically but mentally as well. Bed-time routines allow children to anticipate what’s coming next, time to wind-down, and an opportunity connect with their caregivers before they get into bed. A good bed-time routine consists of 3-4 activities that occur in the same order each night and last for 15-30 minutes (ex…bath, book, song, massage). Another good tip: restrict bed-time routine activities to bedroom (and bathroom for bath & teeth brushing).
3. Respect (and know) your child’s sleep needs during the day.
Watch for your child’s sleepy cues throughout the day. If they are yawning, rubbing their eyes, or become irritable, promptly get them to bed. An over-tired child has a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep & often wakes in the wee hours of the morning.
4. Make sure your child isn’t going to bed too tired.
Bed-time is biologically the easiest time of day to fall asleep (thanks to natural circadian rhythm & the release of melatonin) so this is the prime time to help your child develop the skills to fall asleep independently. If your child goes to bed too tired it usually looks like: A. they fall asleep as soon as their head hits the mattress. OR. B. It takes your child a verrrry long time to fall asleep (45 min +). If your child is falling asleep too quickly they are likely not having the opportunity to develop the skill to fall asleep independently. If they do not learn at the easiest time of day they will not be able to do so at a more difficult time; in the middle of the night and/or early morning. If your child is taking a long time to fall asleep first ensure that they are getting enough sleep during the day and keep their wakeful window between nap and bed-time no more than 4 hours (5 hours for children over two). Watch for sleepy cues in the evening to ensure your child is going to bed soon after they become tired, if these cues are ignored your child will become wired and have difficulties falling asleep (think “second wind”).
5. Respond consistently at bed-time and at night awakenings.
After your child resists sleep you sometimes give him a bottle, you sometimes rock her to sleep, and sometimes you give-in and bring him to bed with you. Responding in an inconsistent manner actually increases and prolongs negative behaviour. Why? Your child isn’t sure what is expected of them – so they will pull out all stops until someone puts them to sleep. The message at bed-time and awakenings should be: “it is time for sleep; mommy/daddy will stay with you until you fall asleep but we will not do all the work for you”.
Improving sleep habits should be seen as a process – remember for a lot of little ones these habits have been in place since day 1. Stay consistent, patient, and supportive as your child learns these new skills.
Certified Gentle Sleep Coach
My Little Dreamer Sleep Solutions