Humans have several different body rhythms working simultaneously. For sleep, we have a circadian rhythm where our energy dips down and goes up throughout the day. We also have something called a homeostatic rhythm – what we do to burn energy and create the need for sleep. If these two rhythms are working together, sleep comes much more easily.
For toddlers and older children, there are lots of great activities that can help create the need for our body to sleep. This includes hiking, running, biking, swimming, playing games in the back yard, a trip to the playground, and more. In the US, there is a campaign called “Play 60” to get kids exercising for up to 60 minutes daily for their overall health – but I recommend at least this amount for sleep, too. The best time of day to get this activity is in the morning. We’re all coming off a (hopefully) good night’s rest and exercise in the morning gets the day started off right. Be careful not to do too much activity close to bedtime as you run the risk of getting your toddler a little too revved up before bed, making it a bit more difficult to settle for the night.
And, what about babies?
I am a firm believer that “tummy time” or floor time is crucial for babies. It’s important to help achieve not only mobility milestones, but it helps to achieve milestones in areas of vision, hearing, talking, and more. That’s because with more tummy time, the brain starts to make the connections to do higher level activities!
Give your baby the opportunity to explore the environment – if they can crawl on their bellies, do lots of it. If they can creep on their hands and knees, again, do lots of it. If you have a very young baby, just having the opportunity to be on the stomach begins to open the door to those higher levels of function.
With young babies, I encourage an EAT/PLAY/SLEEP schedule. The first few months of life, babies sleep a lot and have short stretches of sleep at night. Having this EAT/PLAY/SLEEP schedule creates predictability and makes it easier for their brains and bodies to learn the difference between day and night.
What better way to play then be on your tummy? Again, this helps to burn energy and create the need to sleep. It’s also very good for babies who have digestive issues as well. For babies who are still a bit irregular, it helps to get things moving, if you know what I mean.
If your baby has trouble staying on their tummy, or doesn’t enjoy tummy time, start with really short sessions throughout the day. This allows them to become more accustomed to this position and it allows for success from the very beginning. Even if it means it’s only a few seconds at first, celebrate when your baby has been on their tummy! If they see mommy or daddy is happy with what they’re doing, they’ll keep doing more of it. Gradually, the time can increase as your baby gets accustomed to the floor and as they start to figure out how to use their arms and legs.
Even a few minutes a day may be all a baby needs to get on a good sleep rhythm. Remember, we have to work around a feed and nap schedule as well so if this isn’t reached every day that is totally fine.
So, get moving to get sleeping! If your little one struggles to sleep well through the night look at what they are doing during the day and see what fun activities you can incorporate in your day for a better night’s rest.