How Can I Help?
During the past crazy week, I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Mr. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
So, as we all try to navigate these scary times together, I started thinking about how I could be a helper. Since my expertise is around young children and sleep, I wanted to share a few things with you in the hope that you’ll find them helpful.
First, since we’re all focusing on staying healthy right now, it’s a good time to remember that one of the very best ways to maintain a strong immune system is to get a good night’s sleep.(There’s a lot of complicated-sounding science behind why this is, but it has to do with “T-cells” being better able to fight infected cells when stress hormones are low. And stress hormones are at their lowest when we are asleep!) Now, if you’ve got a baby or toddler in the house who isn’t sleeping well, getting that good night’s sleep can obviously be a little trickier — for you AND your little one. However, I have provided some of my best sleep tips for you to try starting as soon as tonight. And while none of these are guaranteed to work for every child, these are 6 sleep tips that I have found to make a big difference.
Sleep Tip #1: Watch The Awake Time Between Naps
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep, especially for babies and toddlers is overtiredness… and many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired! Sleep begets sleep meaning that daytime sleep and nighttime sleep affect each other; It can become a vicious cycle when the two are not in harmony.
Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:
Newborns (0-12 Weeks): 45 minutes
3-5 Months: 1.5–2 hours
6–8 months: 2–3 hours
9–12 months: 3-4 hours
13 months to 2.5 years: 5–6 hours
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps before they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily. The same goes for bedtime.
Sleep Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
All humans sleep better in the dark. I suggest making your child’s room as dark as possible. I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard or black trash bags over the windows… whatever it takes! In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle! If there is a night light in your child’s room, make sure the light is red or yellow so that it does not negatively affect your child’s natural production of melatonin (the body’s natural hormone that makes us feel sleepy).
BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day!!
Sleep Tip #3: Be Predictable Even If It Means Being A Little Boring
Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. A predictable bedtime routine lasting no longer than 30 minutes, is a great way to let your child know that sleep is approaching. After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to “drag out” bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc. Don’t participate.
If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Try not to react by giving the stalling tactics any kind of attention and the games shouldn’t last too long!
A typical bedtime routine might look something like this:
- Nurse or offer a bottle (if applicable)
- Brush teeth, Pajamas
- Read a book
- Sing a song
- Lay in crib AWAKE
Make sure that this routine is the same every single time because you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child.
Sleep Tip #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
For a lot of babies and toddlers, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association. In other words, your child has “linked” the ideas of feeding and sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.
By feeding right after naptime rather than before you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
EAT, PLAY, SLEEP, and REPEAT- All day long!
Sleep Tip #5: Same Place, Same Time
Children love predictability. It’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place at the same time every day. This means that naptime should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep rather than in car seats, strollers, your lap at the coffee shop… within reason. I like to use the 80:20 rule here because let’s face it, life is not always ideal.
For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep. On a side note, if your child is with a sitter or in a daycare I would suggest making sure their sleep environment is consistent. With consistency your child will have a routine at daycare and a routine at home; either way your child can know when sleep is coming thanks to routine, predictability and consistency that has been laid out at home and in daycare.
Sleep Tip #6: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing. No throwing your toddler in the air… or watching TV… or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I totally encourage tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just NOT in the five minutes before bed. Right after waking up is a great time to play!
As I mentioned, since every child is unique, I cannot guess which of these will work for your family. And the truth is that if your child’s sleep problems have been going on for a long time, there is a good chance that no single “trick” is going to get them sleeping through the night.
So, how can I help? If you feel that your child’s sleep needs more attention than implementing a few sleep tips, please reach out and I will be overjoyed to come alongside you to help you reach your sleep goals. Two weeks…. On average that is how long it takes to help families reach their goals. Sleep really is just around the corner. Don’t hesitate, Mama. Let’s do this.