During the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Mr. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
So as we all try to navigate these scary times together, I started thinking about how I could be a helper, and since my expertise is young children and sleep, I wanted to share a few things with you in the hope that you’ll find them helpful.
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.
(There’s a lot of complicated-sounding science behind why this is, but it has to do with “T-cells” being better able to fight infected cells when stress hormones are low. And 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 you and your little one.
However, there are some “tricks” you can try – starting tonight – that can make a big difference! So with that in mind, today I’d like to share with you five short pieces of free sleep advice (and a couple of bonus tips) that you can start trying over the next few nights to get your child sleeping better.
And if you’re really struggling and looking for my professional help, I have adapted my packages in response to COVID-19 to be both wallet friendly and respond to the local quarantine/social distancing requirements.
Sleep Shortcut #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 minutes of awake time
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours of awake time
6-8 months: 2-3 hours of awake time
9-12 months: 3-4 hours of awake time
13 months to 2.5 years: 5-6 hours of awake time
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 nap time, and that they are more relaxed at bedtime too!
Sleep Shortcut #2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep so much better in the dark.
Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard or foil over the windows, or 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!
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 Shortcut #3: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)
Little ones love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.
A typical bedtime routine might look something like this:
Last milk feed (10 minutes)
Bath (5 minutes)
Dress for bed (5 minutes)
Read a story or sing some songs (5-10 minutes)
Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child. 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.
If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite teddy out of their cot, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!
Sleep Shortcut #4: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, it is a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place at the same time every day. This means that nap time should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep – rather than in car seats, pushchairs, your lap at the coffee shop, etc.
For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it’s a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep.
In other words, if your child falls asleep in your arms on the couch and then wakes up during the night in a completely different place (like their cot), chances are they’ll be surprised and start crying to let you know about it!
Sleep Shortcut #5: 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 very calm and relaxing.
No throwing your toddler in the air, or watching TV, or tickle fights, in the five minutes immediately before bed.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I totally encourage tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun and enjoying all the ‘silly half hours’ you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just not in the five minutes before bed. (Right after waking up is a great time to play!)
The Next Step?
Like I said, these are shortcuts and quick tricks that, for some parents, are the missing piece of the puzzle that gets their child sleeping through the night. Of course, there is no ONE secret, no one recipe I could give you. Teaching a child healthy sleep habits is a combination of lots of different things, coupled with a lot of patience and perseverance!
And while I hope that you’ll be one of the lucky parents who’s able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks, I’m also here for you if you need more guidance and offer personalized services to help you all get the sleep you deserve.
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 video call, and they’ve been working out incredibly well! I have reduced all my full price packages to 2,000 AED.
My schedule is booking up (I think because a lot of Dads are at home right now and they are seeing first hand what Mums are dealing with!), but I do have some availability this week and next if this is something you are interested in. Just reach out by phone or e-mail and I can let you know how it works.
For those of you with toddlers, remember that daily routines are VERY comforting and reassuring for that age group. I know that many of us have had our normal daily routines upended (ie. no nursery/day care.), 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!