In today’s world, sleep is treated as a luxury rather than a necessity. And in the middle of the night when your little one wakes up for the third, fourth or eighth time, parents will do anything to get their child to go back to sleep again.
In order to start teaching your child good, healthy sleep habits, here are my 5 do’s and don’ts:
Become your child’s prop. Does your child only fall asleep if they are fed, rocked or cradled? Do they almost immediately wake up when you try to put them down again? Will they only fall asleep if you are there next to them? Your child has learned you are their sleep prop, meaning that you are the object that they associate with sleep and need to sleep. As children get older, this becomes a harder habit to break.
Skip naps. For babies and young toddlers who don’t sleep well, many parents are told to skip the afternoon nap to make night-time sleep easier. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Naps are vital to a healthy circadian rhythm and for the energy needed to learn and grow. Skipping naps makes your little one too tired at night, often making falling asleep a bigger challenge.
Feed your child too much processed food. If your child has trouble falling asleep at night, diet could be a contributing factor. If your child is eating too much sugar or processed food throughout the day, it could keep your child up when they should be resting. Imagine how difficult it would be to fall asleep if you’ve been drinking coffee throughout the day?
Over-do screen time. Screen time, especially before bed, can greatly reduce the production of melatonin a hormone to make you sleepy. Blue light that is emitted from tablets, phones, computers and TV screens tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
Not stick to a schedule. When bedtime and wake up time change from day to day, it does not allow your body to get accustomed to a routine. By teaching your child’s brain that sleeping and waking happen at the same exact time every day, it’s much easier for your child to slip into deep sleep and stay asleep longer.
Get your child to bed earlier. When bedtime is pushed back, kids miss that window of opportunity to fall asleep easily and become overtired. What does that look like? Hyperactivity. When a child is overtired, falling asleep can be a big challenge. The closer to 7pm you can get your child to sleep, they are more likely to fall asleep easier and sleep longer through the night.
Create a routine. Kids love routine! Having the same bedtime and pattern of activities each night, they will not only go to bed peacefully, but their brains will also learn the “cues” to start winding down for the day. I follow the same routine every night – brush teeth, pajamas, read, lights out. Because I follow this every night, my brain knows that I am getting ready to start my first sleep cycle for the night.
Give your child the right sleep props. If someone took away your pillow and blanket, would you be able to fall asleep easily? Probably not. We need them to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. When teaching a child to fall asleep on their own, I recommend that parents give their little one a toy or blanket that is specifically for night time. These “lovies” will help to strengthen sleep associations.
Feed your child dinner 1 - 1.5 hours before bed. If your stomach is still working and digesting as you are trying to fall asleep, this could affect how long you are up for and it may affect your body’s natural circadian rhythm. For many children with reflux issues, laying horizontal soon after a meal can aggravate their symptoms. So, give your child a cushion of at least 90 minutes between dinner and bedtime to allow for proper digestion.
Be consistent. In order to create new, healthy habits and break bad ones you have to be consistent. That means that bedtime needs to be the same every night, the routine has to be the same, as well as wake-up and nap times. Consistency applies to parents as well – you have to make sure that night-time wake-ups are handled the same way every time; that if you want your child to fall asleep without need you rocking them, holding them, etc. you have to resist the temptation to revert back to your old habits.