I sometimes think when it comes to kids and sleep it’s a total lottery – either you get a sleeper or you don’t. I know, I have one of each. Raised the same way yet the total opposites when it comes to their love (or lack of love) for bedtime.
Of course babies and sleepless nights go together like peas and carrots, but living with a baby or toddler who wants to party all night can frankly break you as a parent. There is literally nothing you wouldn’t give to have a whole, undisturbed nights sleep.
The problem is that once you’re all exhausted and all over the shop, it’s hard to even begin to work out how to fix things. You do everything you know you probably shouldn’t do because you’re JUST. SO. TIRED.
In my experience the health visiting team advice was limited – they gave the textbook answers but the fleeting chats of advice in the cold light of day didn’t always pan out the next night, leaving us feeling disheartened, frustrated and believing we were destined for a lifetime of no sleep.
Sometimes, what you need is someone who has the time and knowledge to give you practical advice, and stick with you right through to the end. If we had had known about that option three years ago, we definitely would have taken it.
Luckily for us, one of my most wonderful friends (in real life !) has recently qualified as a sleep consultant, which means that she has been able to help us through some recent issues with the Mouse (who is now four and still giving us grief!). So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to the gorgeous in every way Rhian and her practical advice on the holy grail of parenting…how to get your kids to sleep.
There are two main reasons why babies and children don’t sleep. If you crack these, you can contemplate that elusive full night’s sleep.
The saying sleep breeds sleep is true! The better the sleep in the day, the more likely they are to sleep through the night.
Don’t be tempted to keep your child up longer to tire them out in order to make them sleep better at night – this is a myth! When a child becomes overtired the light and lively environment tells the brain to wake up, as the brain takes messages from the environment. Consequently, wakeful and energising hormones are released including cortisol, this is like a shot of adrenaline! The body now goes past the tired stage and feels wired. You may relate to this yourself – when you feel like you’ve gone “past” tired – what is known as a second wind! The longer the individual stays awake, the more cortisol is released to keep the body going until sleep happens.
A child who is overtired is going to find it more difficult to settle to sleep – they will do all they can to resist it. After all, they have the cortisol to fight now! More night wakings are also seen – less restful sleep is had. As well as this overtiredness is the main cause of early wakings – this is when little ones wake for the day before 6am, typically 5am or 5.30am. Night terrors are also more likely when a child is overtired, and behaviour during the day deteriorates as the brain becomes more irrational.
So, what are the causes of overtiredness? The first is not using the correct wakeful window for your child. What is a wakeful window? It’s the period of time that your little one is awake between sleeps. For example, a child who has one nap a day will have two wakeful windows – one either side of that nap. The maximum wakeful window will vary depending on the child’s age. The second cause of overtiredness is little ones not getting sufficient naps during the day. Again, the ideal total daytime sleep varies dependent on age. The third culprit is going to bed too late – this is easily done; remember the cortisol and the second wind? You might be watching your child and thinking “no, they’re not tired yet” when actually they are past it.
How do you combat overtiredness? Know how much sleep your little one needs and when. The amount of daytime sleep children need to be getting varies by age. The same goes for their wakeful windows. For example, a baby 6-8 months old will need to be having its first nap of the day around 1.5 hours after waking for the day, and should be on a three-nap schedule, each one lasting around an hour. A baby aged 9-11 months will need their first nap around 2 hours from initial waking, and a two-nap schedule fits them well with each nap lasting around 1.5 hours. Keep an eye out for that last wakeful window – if it’s going to be too long then early to bed is a good bet. Early to bed is when you put your little one to bed up to one hour earlier than their normal bedtime – it shouldn’t mean that they’ll wake an hour earlier in the morning and it’s a brilliant way to catch up on sleep.
2) Sleep crutches
How your child gets to sleep at the beginning of the night will set the scene for night wakings. Falling asleep by ourselves is actually a learned skill, and whilst babies and children are being helped to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, they’ll look for that help to get back to sleep when they wake through the night. And we all wake through the night – the average human wakes 3-6 times per night – the difference is that we barely register it as we know how to get back to sleep ourselves. If a child falls asleep by feeding, cuddling, rocking, holding your hand, sucking on a dummy (unless they’re old enough to find the dummy when they lose it and put it back in), being in the pram, being in the car seat, they are not learning how to fall asleep themselves, and night wakings will be multiple.
The key here is to help teach your little one to fall asleep by themselves by gradually reducing your input, so that every few days they need to do more of the work themselves. The more they learn to do at onset of sleep the easier they’ll find it at night, and by working on that bedtime settling I often see babies and children not needing parental input through the night in as little as two weeks. The term “self-settling” is often mentioned in relation to babies’ sleep, and it is essential for getting them the sleep that they need.
About The Author
Hi, I’m Rhian, a Mum of two from North Wales. I’m on a mission to help children and their parents get the sleep they need and am able to help parents worldwide.
Whilst on my second maternity leave, I found myself seriously sleep deprived – a baby that would only sleep on me, and a four-year-old creeping into our bed each night. Long days of parenting the boys after a broken night’s sleep equalled a short-tempered Mama – I was not being the parent I wanted to be. When our baby reached 6 months, we decided to take control, and did some sleep training for them both. This resulted in a much happier baby, a more well-behaved 4-year-old, and a happier Mum and Dad who were able to share the same bed once more and enjoy quality time together in the evenings. We had our life back!
I was inspired to help others get their life back too, so completed training provided by The Sleep Nanny to allow me to offer sleep consultancy for parents of children aged 6 months through to 6 years old. The training course lasted for two months, and was evidence based. The methods I use are gentle, loving and responsive. I take the time to get to know your little one so that I can put together a bespoke sleep plan that becomes a living document as we start working together – no two children are the same!
Baby is fed to sleep and will only settle in your bed? I can help. Toddler will only sleep on you? I can help. Baby wakes every hour through the night? I can help. Three-year-old refuses to go to bed? I can help.
Did you know that solving sleep issues can eliminate post-natal depression? Did you know that naughty children can actually be little angels when they’ve had the sleep they need? I can help you get your life back, and help you be the parent you want to be.
For a free 15-minute chat to find out how I can help you please message me via https://facebook.com/restedmama, e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me on 07530015704.