In this episode, Kerry explains five tips to help your little one drift off into a good night’s sleep. Listen to learn about bedtime conversations and the optimal time to lay your child down to rest.
Download the podnotes card to remind yourself of the top tips.
Fay – Hello and welcome or welcome back to the Bright Horizons Early Years podcast. My name is Fay and today I am joined by Kerry, who’ll be giving us a few tips to help your child get a better night's sleep, which is definitely something we could do with a lot more of. Hi, Kerry. Welcome to the podcast.
Kerry – Hi, Fay. Thanks for having me.
Fay – Thank you for coming along today. So, before we go into the five tips, could you just quickly tell us why a good quality sleep is so important for children?
Kerry – Quality sleep is really vital for children's growth and development, and different age children need different amounts of sleep, so really key to get a good sleep routine in place for your children.
Fay – Definitely, and not just for the child, but also for the parent as well, I imagine!
Kerry – Absolutely.
Fay – Shall we go straight into tip number one?
Kerry – Yes. So the first tip is setting a good bedtime routine with your child. You can do this from kind of really, really early on, around 3 months is a great time to start looking at a routine. The importance of a routine creates predictability for your child and supports their emotional wellbeing, as it really shows them what to expect and what is going to happen next in that routine for them.
It also helps you as a parent, especially as a new parent, planning your day and kind of knowing what time you want things to happen.
Fay – That makes sense. It’s something actually, I think, that whole routine and scheduling that I've come across with people in other podcasts where they say, actually, it's nice to give your child an idea of what's going to happen in their day. But I suppose, within that whole routine of morning, morning, afternoon, evening; you can also have the mini routine of the night part, like the night time preparation. So that's its own thing that follows dinner, for example, and then you kickstart that routine.
Kerry – Yes. And that really leads on to the second tip, which is about setting those rituals, those key times before bedtime, such as washing, having a drink, having a cuddle, a time for a story, time for the children to talk about their day when they reach that reach that age. For children, their brain is going ten to the dozen all day, they're super busy.
So, they'll often use that time to kind of offload and talk about lots of things, what have happened in the day or ask lots of questions. They really need that time and that opportunity because that's them relaxing their mind, ready, ready to sleep. Part of that is really important as a parent to be consistent in what you say.
So, for example, if you say, okay, it's one story and then a kiss and then sleep, bedtime. Stick to that. Don’t, ‘You know, okay, have two stories, three stories,’ because that's kind of pushing out their routine.
Fay – Yeah. Yeah. You know, something I found quite interesting in what you just said was how it's a good idea to have a conversation with your child and talk to them before bedtime. Because I would have thought that, you know, making your child excitable or getting them to be talkative would keep them awake, but actually, talking through their day and getting all the thoughts out of their head sounds like it helps them to be more calm and therefore better prepared for a good night's sleep.
Kerry – Yes. I mean, that's like us. We may write a list before we go to sleep if something's on our mind that we need to think about for the next day. For the children, it’s that real opportunity to kind of offload and be kind of ready to sleep.
Fay – Yeah, so it’s emptying their minds of anything that they really want to get off their chest, what they're worried about, maybe.
Kerry – Yeah. Yes, and they may ask you the same question four times or they may tell you the same thing three times. But that's obviously something that's playing on their mind. So obviously give it, give them the opportunity to have that conversation.
Fay – Which then in turn helps the children feel more relaxed. Yeah. So, what was the third tip that you had for us?
Kerry – Reducing stimulation for children before bed. This is kind of more for kind of those, you know, older children, not necessarily babies. This is often talked about as the ‘golden hour’ and by various parents and things, or various professionals, and trying to offer things that are less stimulating and that require less concentration for your child.
This includes thinking about time in front of the TV or on a… screen time. Just be mindful of how this can keep children's brains active, and it can limit their opportunities to wind down before bed.
Fay – That makes perfect sense. And I suppose even as adults, we know that we ideally don't want to be on our phones right before bedtime. So, making sure that children aren't doing that same thing in that golden hour is really important.
Kerry – Yes, so it's thinking about if they are on a screen, what types of things are they using it for? What type of things are they on on there. And actually, could you take that away for 20 minutes, half an hour before they go to bed? Because you might notice a real kind of difference in their routine before bed and how quickly they may go off to sleep.
Kerry – So the fourth point is around children being laid to sleep while they are still awake. So obviously this won't be able to happen at all times, especially not with very young babies.
But if you put children down to sleep whilst they are still awake, it kind of supports them to be aware of that transition from being awake and going to sleep. And then when they wake up, they will be in that same place where they were, so it kind of supports their emotional wellbeing too.
Fay – I think I get it, like, if it's… if they're always used to being held and that's what helps them go to sleep.
Kerry – That's what they're always going to expect. Yeah.
Fay – Yeah, I suppose also it's part of that, like, as the child gets older, learning what happens when they go to bed, because if you, um… if a baby or a young toddler is already asleep and then you put them in bed, they’ll wake up, they'll be like, ‘Why am I here? How did I get here?’ and don’t remember that journey.
Kerry – And it could be a panic for them, because the last thing they remember is being cuddled or being sat, having a bottle, and then all of a sudden, it could be like, ‘Oh my gosh, where am I?’
Fay – And I guess putting your child down to sleep while they're still awake can help start the really early stages of that bedtime routine, the transition from being awake to being asleep. And then it just helps them know that this is bedtime and they can then go to sleep in that place and feel safe in there.
Kerry – And plus then it just supports them to be really confident of: they can sleep wherever they need to sleep. So it's a case of they can be in a cot, they could be in a coracle, they could be on a mat. They are confident to lay down and rest.
Fay – Yeah, that makes sense. I would like to be able to do that, to be fair!
Kerry – I know! It is an absolute skill; it is a skill. But we can really support children with that from really early on by kind of thinking about – and this kind of leads onto the fifth leads point – just some things to consider to really ensure a good night's sleep for your child.
That the child is not hungry, or thirsty before they go to bed. That they have a clean nappy, comfortable clothing. What is their bedding and the temperature of the room like? Because cold is a stimulant and will make children more wakeful.
So that will obviously… they may struggle to go to sleep if they're in a cold environment and also be mindful of children overheating too.
Fay – So a temperature that’s just right.
Kerry – Absolutely. And I mean, one of the key points to remember is always do what feels right for you as a parent. You know your child best and what works for some parents and some children won't always work for everyone. There are also, Fay, if parents do need more advice on this, they can always ask their health visitor.
There is the NHS website and there's also a great charity called The Sleep Charity, which offers lots of tools and tips and things for parents.
And just for all the parents out there, if you do have any questions, there's always someone here to support you.
Fay – Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Kerry, for coming along on the podcast today. For those of you listening at home, this is in fact, the last full length Early Years podcast episode that we will be producing for a while. But you'll be able to catch all the helpful tips and expert advice from our team of Early Childhood Specialists on our Instagram channel and other social accounts. As ever, thank you so much for listening and we look forward to seeing you soon.