Baby Sleep Consultant and Child Psychologist, Rebecca Askew shares eight tips to help you support your child to achieve a positive and sustainable sleep routine
Bedtime can be a challenge for many families and can often lead to battles. As parents, we need to understand that it is ‘normal’ for this to be a tough process and forgive ourselves for finding it a struggle.
Try some of these tips to help your little one get into a good routine, sleep independently and ensure you all get a good rest at night:
Research shows that babies are not flexible. They need a routine, and they thrive on familiarity. Maintaining a schedule is especially important for newborns because their biological clocks have not yet become synchronised with the 24-hour day. If you can keep to a regular schedule, your baby will be more likely to able to sleep during their natural nap/sleep windows and begin to understand day from night.
If you can be consistent with your sleep training approach, and you are doing it for a significant period (not just a day), then in time your child will pick up on the method. When there are two parents involved either in the same household or co-parenting, then both parents need to be doing the same thing, at the same time, for this to be successful. For example, bath time comes before story time. If one parent is consistent, but the other is not, it can be confusing for your little one because they won't know what to expect from you both.
Tempting as it is (especially if you’ve just come back from work) to talk to your child at bedtime, as they get older asking about their day and chatting, it can be disruptive as it stimulates their minds and can therefore prevent them from feeling sleepy. Instead, keep your voice quiet and talk to them softly. It’s a good idea to teach your child that night-time is different to daytime right from the start, and that they need to be quiet when it’s time to sleep. Older children often love to tell you the minutest of details about their day, just when it’s time to sleep. This is just a delay tactic, don’t be fooled!
Encourage winding down by stopping playing with your child up to an hour or half an hour before bedtime. Reading a book while speaking softly, is a great alternative ‘bridging activity’ as this will be soothing and calming. Reading to your child not only helps to calm them, but it can also support an interest in books, even from a very young age.
Babies have a sleep window, just as adults do. If you miss the window, your baby will most likely be overtired, meaning they struggle to fall asleep, can wake up early or keep you awake at night. The reason for this is simple: when we are overtired, we can't fall asleep. Babies are no different from us in this respect. It will help to put your children to bed at the right time every day for their age. It’s always worth remembering that later bedtimes do not equal later waking-up times. The NHS have a guide to show the average amount of sleep babies and children need during a 24-hour period.
Settle them into bed and sit with them for a few minutes. You can try soothing tactics like rubbing their backs, stroking their hair, singing lullabies and shushing them gently when they talk until they wind down, ready for sleep.
If your child begins to follow you out of the room at bedtime, gently guide them back. You might have to do this repeatedly and consistently; it can take several days. It is vital to avoid a power struggle by talking or picking up your child. This is a known as a "Silent Return".
The first rule of bedtime is that you don't actually need an hour to get your child down. Don't get into delay tactics, as many children are masters at attention-seeking as a survival mechanism. So, when your child has been fed, changed and had a story, tell them it's time for bed, and be firm that that's final.
Rebecca Askew is also known as The Sleep Witch. As a psychologist, with qualifications in child behaviour, she is also a fully qualified sleep consultant with an MA in Primary Education (Policies and Practices). Her mission is to help parents give the gift of sleep to their children and in turn, themselves.