With a good night’s sleep evading even those for whom temperamental toddlers are no object, we wanted to talk to an expert about how sleepless parents can cuddle their little cubs into the soundest of slumbers.
It’s the pièce de résistance of extended family postpartum small talk, the question on all of your friends’ lips as they look on in awe at the fact you have produced an actual mini human: “And how are you coping with the lack of sleep?”
Everyone knows that it’s not just our tiny tots who are partial to a few tired tears when they can’t get enough kip, so for the sake of our overtired toddlers and the odd parental temper tantrum too, let’s ensure our little ones get the best chance when it comes to catching some Z’s.
We’ve turned to child sleep expert, Gemma Wade, who’s provided some simple steps to help your baby embrace bed time just as much as you do!
“For some families, the nights of disrupted sleep can last for months on end, even years,” explains Gemma. “But it really needn’t be that way. Every child is different, but assuming that your baby is healthy, you should be able to expect 12 hours of solid night-time sleep between the ages of three and six months, and definitely from six months onwards.”
So, let’s take a look at a few of Gemma’s gems of advice for sleepy parents…
DROP THE PROPS
“Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own, without any external props,” says Gemma. “These props or cues can come in many forms, from feeding to dummies, to patting, rocking, music, or even cuddles. If your baby is reliant on one or more to fall asleep, then they’ll more than likely need soothing each and every time they nod off. Whatever they go for as their comfort blanket of choice, they’ll even grow reliant on it when they wake in the night.
“Working from home has taught many of us the importance of keeping work spaces, food spaces and sleep spaces separate where possible, and the same theory applies to getting your baby to sleep. If you’re feeding your infant, try not to let them fall asleep at the breast or bottle, as this will simply encourage them to call out for food whenever they wake, at whatever hour that may be.”
CONSISTENCY AND CALM
“Be consistent,” Gemma tells us. “Whatever your order of the day is in one sleepy situation needs to be consistent with the rest to send a clear message about what’s expected, and that means every time your baby or toddler wakes in the night. Ultimately, although you might be a fan of a spontaneous trip to Tescos at 12pm to pander to your popcorn cravings, keeping a consistent schedule is key when you’re getting more counting sheep than solid sleep.”
LOSE THE LATE NIGHTS
“This step is vital to ensure that children don’t become over-tired. When your little person becomes groggy, they’ll find it more difficult to settle down and impossible to fall asleep, however hard they try,” explains Gemma.
“When sleep does come, they’ll just be more restless, and more tossing and turning means more night-time waking (and more baby monitor wailing!)
“So, try to pick a bedtime somewhere between six and eight pm, based on the last nap of the day and your baby’s age. Bedtimes don’t have to be set in stone, and you can always move them a bit earlier if your child seems tired or cranky, but try to avoid pushing them back too much later wherever possible.”
“A bedtime routine is something you can start at a very early age. It’s an excellent way to send out all the slumber signs to your baby, letting them know that it’s time to wind down for the evening.” says Gemma. “Routines should last from 20-30 minutes, and at least some of it should take place in your mini human’s room. As long as you remain consistent, structure it as you see fit! You could include a bath, pyjamas, a feed, or maybe even a song or book.” We’ve heard Little Roary Finds His Roar is a strong story choice to snuggle up with!
NAIL THE NAP
“A short daytime nap routine will help cue to your baby’s body and brain that the next step is a snooze of some sort,” explains Gemma. “It need only be five minutes or so and might merely involve closing the curtains to show it’s time to doze off, or saying goodnight to some of your child’s toys with them, but the main thing is that these pre-nap habits should happen in the same way every day.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that naps aren’t important, or that dropping them will help your baby sleep longer at night. Skipping these little siestas or forcing a late bedtime only sows the seeds for a spot of sleep-sapping baby bellowing the next day!”
A HEALTHY HABITAT
“Your baby’s room should be nice and dark, with no daylight visible at all,” explains Gemma. “Our circadian rhythm is completely set by daylight, and even a crack coming in around the outside of the blind can have a psychological and hormonal effect on a baby’s body and cause them to wake far too early.”
The latest research shows that 84 per cent of children who are experiencing sleep problems by their first birthday will continue to have them for up to five years. That’s a very long time to be deprived of a full forty winks, and you and your baby deserve the most serene snooze possible.
The good news is it’s never too late to start changing your child’s sleep situation. It can be hard, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel and in the long run, making changes will help everyone feel more well-rested and a whole lot happier!