Another great guest blog post from the lovely Lucy from Sleepmatters.ie – I’ll be picking up some of these myself I think.
If you have decided that 2017 will be your year for sleep, then look no further as I have put together 17 sleep tips you to help you get started. Beginning to help your child sleep better and longer can take time and patience but a new year and a better rested you and family is possible with a few adjustments and a change in mindset.
- Decide that you are about to make a lifestyle change, as with any self improvement attempt you will need to be open about making adjustments to your current life, some will be long term, others short-term, but in order to open up the airways for your child’s sleep, change is necessary
- Accept that as parents, we are going to be tired in general, and that children do wake up overnight, they also can tend to wake early in the morning, however what you can anticipate if your child is 6 months and older, is longer and more consolidated stretches of sleep
- Don’t continue to wait for your sleep problems to resolve by themselves; many parents assume that sleep will get better when solids are introduced or when your child starts to move; and although it may improve, it may not, unless you start to make the adjustments that allows positive sleep to emerge
- Take your baby to your GP and ask for a review and if they feel that they should be sleeping better or longer based on their history, age, feeding structure for example
- Avoid making comparisons between your friends and neighbours baby and yours. All children are different and comparing yours to another will only make you feel like you are a failure. Just as all babies are different, all parents’ perceptions can be too, and what you find draining, another may be tolerant of. Also, some parents don’t tell the truth!
- When you have made a decision to be proactive about positive sleeping patterns within your family unit, allocate a time frame of at least 3-4 weeks within which time, you should put weekends away and sleep overs on hold and avoid any disruptions to your typical schedule. You don’t need to take time off work, but it can be helpful to start going into a weekend
- Before you begin, make an effort for both you and your child to be extra well rested-do what works-rock, roll, feed, bed share and build up theirs and your sleep reserves. The more rested your child can be in advance, the easier the learning process will be and the more open to change they will also be
- Make sure that your child is getting enough outside activity and fresh air. An hour a day is the recommendation, so I suggest 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. This can help get you out of the house and get some headspace but also will help to fill your child’s sensory diet and regulate their sleeping patterns
- Create a suitable sleep environment, make sure that it is adequately dark; black out blinds and a night light are a good solution for night time and day time sleep. Make a special effort to avoid hall lights and bathroom lights overnight as this can have a negative impact on your child’s sleep
- Reserve music and light shows for your bedtime routine only and avoid the music or white noise staying on whilst your child is falling asleep unless you are prepared to commit to this noise for the entire sleep period . A general rule would be if it is on when your child goes to sleep then it should stay on for the entire sleep period, otherwise you run the risk of night time awakenings that require the music to be turned back on
- Observe a regular wake time between 6 and 7.30am and always anchor the day with a feed, even if your child has fed frequently overnight. By providing a feed first thing and pressing start on the day, regulates the feeding schedule and ensures that both the feeding rhythm and sleeping rhythm can run in sync with each other and not at odds; this helps to avoid feeds and naps from clashing; a presentation that often prevents day time sleep from happening or from being long enough
- Avoid allowing your child become overtired. Bear in mind that overtiredness is obvious-intense eye rubbing, big type yawning, agitation, clenched fists, stretched limbs, vocal, whiney, fussy, hyper or entertaining. Try to attempt sleep before you see these symptoms as it will make going to sleep less challenging and increase the chances of longer sleep duration
- Consider earlier bedtimes as you help improve the sleep situation. Most children sleep better when they are in bed asleep between 6-8pm. Most under-rested children adjust well to 7 pm bedtime and if they are under 8 months they respond to a wakeful period not exceeding 2.5 hours before bedtime, between 8-17 months, 4 hours works well and 18 months onwards 5 hours of wakefulness before being in bed asleep can have a significantly positive impact on the overnight presentation
- Go to bed earlier yourselves. As we accept that parenting is challenging then doing so on fractured sleep is even more difficult. Factor in a few early adult bedtimes too in an effort to get more sleep yourself
- Share the load as you begin to make changes, take in turns if applicable, draft in support if it is a possibility and be kind to each other as you work through the problems. Ask for help with older siblings, any assistance will only be needed at the very start until you get into your new sleep groove with your soon to be great sleeper
- Establish an appropriate bedtime process to help prepare your child’s body for sleep. Do this activity specifically in the child’s bedroom to help ingrain positive associations with sleep and to avoid breaking the spell of your hard work by changing locations at the end. Introduce low impact activity –reading, softly singing, puzzles, shape sorting. Do this in a dimly lit environment, with plenty of physical and eye contact to help your child feel relaxed and supported close to sleep time. If your child could be relaxed and awake when they get into their cot or bed, the less exposed to night time activity you will be
- Manage your expectations. Better sleeping patterns can take 3-4 weeks+ to emerge depending on the issues and your child’s age. Early improvements may be represented by improved mood and behaviour, better eating, easier to get to sleep and then longer stretches will start to emerge. It is not an upward only spiral of improvement it can fluctuate throughout the few weeks, sometimes getting worse before it improves or you may find it gets better and then regresses, this is normal, so be prepared and confident in your new approach Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie , t: 087 2683584 or e: lucy@sleepmatters