Some of our constant concerns when it comes to our kids is sleep: Are they getting enough? How is the quality of his sleep? How do you establish a bedtime routine that will stick?
Here are some practical tips to improve the quality of sleep, from newborn to preschooler.
1. The key to sleep success is a bedtime routine.
Not right away, however. A newborn needs to wake up several times a night to feed. But, as she grows older, these night time wakings will lessen, and she’ll start to benefit from a constant bedtime routine. “Research shows that sleep rhythms begin to develop at around 6 weeks, and most babies are developmentally capable of regular sleep-wake cycles by 3 to 6 months,” says Dr. Tirona-Remulla. “As your baby begins to understand the difference between night and day, it’s the perfect time to help improve his sleep routine.”
A sleep routine that starts with the most energetic activity progressing to the most calming is recommended. The routine can start with a warm bath, that increases baby’s body temperature helping prep sleep. Then move on to a massage, and end with quiet time where you sing her a lullaby or read to her. For a routine to be effective there has to have more than one activity.
2. Put the baby down when she’s drowsy — not when she’s completely asleep.
There’s something magical about watching your baby fall asleep in your arms, but if you want her to be able to sleep longer in the night — and you as well — make sure you put her down when she is drowsy, but not completely asleep.
What happens is when you make the child sleep in your arms and then you put them down, it wakes them up. And when they wake up, the last thing they remember is they were very relaxed and in your arms. So they will keep looking for that situation to be able to fall asleep. And then it becomes a vicious cycle until the mom just gives up and makes the baby sleep on her [arms] throughout the night. This is all right if the baby is 1 to 2 months old, but later on, you need to try the above.
3. Encourage self-soothing.
For babies a little older, parents can encourage falling asleep independently and self-soothing. This means that when the baby wakes up in the night, she will be able to go back to sleep on her own without your help. [Babies] will wake up at night, but they need to learn that most of the time it’s all right to wake up, calm down, and just go back to sleep.
This may be difficult for first time moms as it takes a little more experience to identify a real cry (one that says your baby is hungry for example). If you respond to your child’s every single demand, she’ll learn to expect you to come for every small cry.
4. Bring in reinforcements.
Toddlers need several hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. Proper sleep impacts the immune system and is critical in weight regulation, promotes cognitive development by building memory and supports learning, and helps improve social skills, among many other benefits.
If you’re worried about your toddler’s constant night wakings, a “transitional object” might help. This can be a stuffed toy, a blanket, a nightlight or any other object you introduce during bedtime. Give your child the object before bed, and your child will associate it with you, a feeling of security and sleep. When your child wakes up in the middle of the night, the object can take your place as a soother, and she’ll hopefully be able to go back to sleep on her own, without your help.
5. Don’t make a big fuss during nap time.
There are a couple of tricks to help toddlers get their naps during the daytime. First, make sure that the environment is quiet and relaxing. Ideally you should have it in the same place where nighttime sleep occurs because the sleep association remains strong in that location. Second, be picky with what your child eats and stay away from food that will make it harder for her to fall asleep like caffeinated drinks (aka soda). Also, don’t make a big fuss about nap time, says the doctor. Better if you just say ‘Okay, it’s naptime’ and then just lie down. The more fuss you make, the more she’s stimulated, and the more difficult nap time will be.
6. Some preschoolers need naps — some don’t.
Don’t force naps on preschoolers who don’t want it. You’ll just be taking away from your child’s sleep at night. If you’re not convinced, recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, say that children 6 years old and above don’t need to nap at all. Sleeping for 9 to 12 hours a night for kids in this age range is enough. See the full sleep guidelines that cover infants to teenagers here.