One of the hardest parts of parenthood is sleep. From sleepless newborn nights to toddler tantrums, it can be a challenge for your little one to get a solid night’s sleep! No matter what age and stage your child is at, here are our top 6 tips for parents seeking to help establish better bedtime practices in their family!
The first thing parents should keep in mind is how much sleep children actually need. While adults can function on 7-9 hours of sleep, growing children need much more! Sleep is important for memory and cognition, mood, and physical growth. Most infants 4 to 12 months old need 12-16 hours of sleep during every 24 periods (including naps), and toddlers 12 to 24 months need 11-14 hours (including naps). Preschoolers need a little bit less - 10-13 hours - and they may drop their nap at this age.
So, how can parents help their children sleep better?
1. Consistency is key.
If you’re going to “sleep train” (which can mean so much more than just cry-it-out), pick your method and stick to it. What works for one family may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to figure out a method of sleep training that feels right to you and your baby! Get all other caregivers on board with your plan (daddies, babysitters, grandparents, etc) and stick to your routine. If you’re confused on where to begin, do some research online for different sleep methods, or check your local library for books on infant sleep.
2. Have a bedtime routine.
Children of all ages thrive on routine. Bedtime routines can include a bath, lotion and massage, reading books, singing songs, doing a puzzle, putting on pajamas, using the bathroom, brushing teeth, and rocking in a chair. Your routine can include whatever you want! Just make sure they are calm activities and ones that avoid screen time. Research shows that the light emitted from screens can hinder the brain’s natural production of melatonin. Write down the bedtime routine so that other caregivers can easily follow it. And remember, nursing to sleep or giving a bottle of formula or milk should not be the final part of the routine. Breaking the association between eating and falling asleep can be helpful for babies who have a hard time falling asleep for other caregivers. The bedtime routine should last anywhere from 20-50 minutes.
3. Have a naptime routine.
The naptime routine should resemble the bedtime routine but should be much shorter (5-10 minutes). Instead of reading 3 books, maybe you can just read 1. Instead of singing 3 songs, you can sing one or two or practice a nursery rhyme. Instead of a prolonged bath, you can wash hands or do a quick wipe-down or sponge bath. Again, don’t nurse (or give a bottle to) your baby to sleep for naps either, as this can be a tricky association and a hard habit to break later on. If it is very bright during the day, consider using blackout curtains in your little one’s nursery.
4. Establish an early bedtime.
To figure out what time your child should go to bed, research how many hours of sleep they need at night, and then figure out what time they wake in the morning, and work back from there. For example, if your 6 months old wakes up at 7 am and takes a 2-hour nap during the day, then she should sleep for at least 10 hours at night - meaning her bedtime should be 9 pm at the latest. Unless your child is in the rare group that sleeps in, there is no benefit to letting your child stay up late! Establish a solid bedtime and stick to it.
5. Teach your child to fall asleep independently.
Some children become dependent on what some researchers call “sleep props.” From rocking in a chair to sleeping next to a caregiver, to using a pacifier, these habits can be hard to break as your little one gets older. It is important to teach your child to fall asleep on their own. For most, this means putting them in bed awake or drowsy - not fully asleep. All children at some point need to learn to lie down in bed and fall asleep without adult intervention. The longer you wait to help your little one fall asleep on their own, the harder this process will be. Of course, those habits aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves - and pacifiers have even been shown to reduce instances of SIDS. But if you find yourself getting up every hour each night to give your child the pacifier he threw out of the crib, it is becoming a problem.
6. Cut the tie between eating and falling asleep.
This is the hardest one for many parents. It can be so easy to fall into the routine of nursing to sleep or giving a bottle until the baby falls asleep. Unfortunately, this pattern creates a habit of dependency that is hard to break over time. Most sleep experts urge parents to put their baby to bed drowsy but awake. Let your baby drift off peacefully in his own bed, so he learns to fall asleep naturally, without parental interference. It is important to keep in mind that newborns will want to eat around the clock, so don’t try to start any kind of “sleep training” until they are closer to 4-6 months of age and under a pediatrician’s approval.
Don’t forget to include KeaBabies products in your sleep routine! As your little one approaches 18-24 months, it may be time to try the KeaBabies Toddler Pillow to perfectly cradle their head and neck for a peaceful, comfortable night’s sleep.
Sweet dreams, KeaBabies family!