Sleep in Kids: How to Help Your Baby (and you) Get Some Zzzz's

Updated: Jan 18

Tips for Sleep Success

First, a little celebration! The Pediatric Mama Blog has been voted Top 100 Pediatric Blogs at Feedspot. Check us out at https://blog.feedspot.com/pediatric_blogs/


Now let's discuss helping your child to sleep. Restful sleep and good sleep hygiene is crucial for us all. It is important for your child's brain development and important for your mental health as a parent. So let's discuss how to help everyone stay happy (and sane) by helping your baby or child get better sleep.


Let's break it down since sleep can be slightly different for babies versus older children. I will talk about babies in this section and later about older children.


HELPING YOUR BABY SLEEP


A word on sleep training.

"Sleep training" is a term that you may have heard that generally refers to different methods that are meant to help your baby become an independent sleeper. These methods involve helping your baby fall sleep without excessive rocking or a feeding and teaches your baby to self-soothe. This can also help with nighttime awakenings by helping your baby get back to sleep on their if they awaken, without you having to respond to them.


Remember that sleep training and weaning from nighttime feeds do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Your baby may still need to feed once or twice during the night, even once they are old enough to fall asleep and get back to sleep independently.


Some experts and parents swear by one method or another of sleep training and you can try some of these methods as early as 4 to 6 months of age. However, sleep training can be effective no matter what age you start and even for older children. Some methods require more "tough love" than others and may involve lots of crying but promise a quick improvement over only days. Other methods allow for less crying and more bonding and comforting but may take weeks to help your child sleep independently. You can read more about the different methods of sleep training here https://www.todaysparent.com/baby/baby-sleep/most-popular-sleep-training-methods-explained/.

Regardless of how you decide to help your child sleep more independently, there are a few guidelines that will make the journey smoother for everyone involved and are helpful for a child at any age.


Ensure their own sleeping space

The first rule of sleep hygiene is that your baby should have their own sleeping space whenever possible. This should be a crib or bassinet in your room or in their own room.


While there may be other reasons that you decide to co-sleep, if your baby is sleeping in your bed, it will be extremely difficult to encourage good sleep habits. Your child will likely get in the habit of needing you to fall asleep and to get back to sleep if awoken during the night. Not to mention, every movement you make during the night will likely wake your baby and every movement your baby makes will likely wake you, resulting in less sleep for everyone.

Recognize signs of sleepiness

Watch for signs of sleepiness, such as yawning, rubbing eyes, or becoming more fussy. It helps to put your baby to sleep when they start to show signs of sleepiness rather than when they are already overly tired and extremely cranky. This will help your child go to sleep more smoothly and stay asleep longer. It also helps to lay your child down when still awake but sleepy, rather than trying to place them down ever-so-gently once already sleep, only to awaken them again and having to start all over.


Establish a bedtime routine

Create a consistent routine around bedtime, ideally at the same time every day, to help signal your baby and your baby's body to get ready for sleep. This routine may involve bathtime or reading a book just before bed. Avoid using a feeding to help your baby fall asleep. Instead, give your baby's last feeding just before you start their bedtime routine. This will help to prevent your baby needing a feed in order to fall asleep.

Avoid stimulating activities

Avoid any activities that may overstimulate your baby just before bedtime, usually for at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. This means no electronics and avoiding any rambunctious play just before bedtime.


Use calming activities to your advantage

Read your baby a book, play some lullaby or other soft music, or give your baby a calming bath before bedtime. These calming activities help relax your baby's mind to prepare for sleep.


Keep the room dark

A nightlight may be helpful so you can see your baby at night in case you need to check on or respond to them. However, otherwise keeping the room fairly dark will actually help your child sleep. This helps to eliminate distractions and things that your child may see around the room that may stimulate them to want to play or engage.


Wait to respond

Try not to rush to your baby as soon as you hear their first whimper or cry. Babies may make noises and toss and turn a bit in their sleep but may fall back asleep on their own if you just give them time. Even if your baby is fully awake but is not crying, you can give them time to drift back off to sleep if it is still sleeping time. If your baby has been crying for more than 30 seconds (may feel like a long time for parents), then you may respond, unless you have chosen a method of sleep training that advises against it.

Avoid late naps

While your baby will still need naps during the day, try to avoid having your baby nap too close to bedtime, unless absolutely necessary. This can disrupt their ability to sleep at their desired bedtime. Try to end naps at least 2 hours before bedtime by waking your child up if they happen to fall asleep close to this time, as long as they have had at least 30 minutes of sleep for their nap.


HELPING YOUR CHILD SLEEP


Ensure their own sleeping space

The first rule of sleep hygiene is that your child should have their own sleeping space whenever possible. Once your child is 12 to 18 months of age, this should ideally be a crib or bed in your child's own room.


If your child is sleeping in your bed, it will be extremely difficult to encourage good sleep habits. Your child will likely get in the habit of needing you to fall asleep and to get back to sleep if awoken during the night. Not to mention, every movement you make during the night will likely wake your child and every movement your child makes will likely wake you, resulting in less sleep for everyone.

Recognize signs of sleepiness

Watch for signs of sleepiness, such as yawning, decreased activity, or becoming cranky. It helps to help or encourage your child to go to bed when they start to show signs of sleepiness rather than when they are already overly tired. This will help your child go to sleep more smoothly and stay asleep longer.


Establish a bedtime routine

Create a consistent routine around bedtime, ideally at the same time every day, to help signal your child and your child's body to get ready for sleep. This routine may involve bathtime or reading a book just before bed.


Avoid stimulating activities

Avoid any activities that may overstimulate your child just before bedtime, usually for at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. This means no electronics, such as TV, cell phones, tablets, and video games. Your child should never have a TV in their room, regardless of age. You should also avoid or have your child avoid any rambunctious playing and/or exercise just before bedtime as this can overly stimulate their mind and derail being able to get to sleep.

Use calming activities to your advantage

Have your child engage in more soothing activities that actually help relax their mind and help them to drift off to sleep easier. This may include reading them a book or encouraging them to read on their own. Listening to soft or calming music or bathtime before bed can also help.


Keep the room dark

A nightlight may be helpful, especially for toddlers and preschoolers, to curtail fears of being in the dark alone. However, otherwise keeping the room fairly dark will actually help your child sleep. This helps to eliminate distractions and things that your child may see around the room and want to play or engage with. Studies have shown that it is much easier to fall asleep in a dark room.


Avoid late naps

While toddlers or preschoolers may still need a nap during the day, try to avoid naps too close to bedtime for all ages, unless absolutely necessary. This can disrupt your child's ability to sleep at their desired bedtime. Try to end any naps at least 2 hours before bedtime by waking your child up if they happen to fall asleep close to this time, as long as they have had at least 30 minutes of sleep for their nap.


Don't rely on sleep aids or medications

Sleep aids and medications are not generally recommended for children to help with sleep. While not addictive, some of these medications can be habit-forming, meaning your child develops a habit of not being able to sleep without them.

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