If you don't read anything else about how to get your baby to sleep, read this.
Supporting your child to have a good bedtime routine is key in having a calmer and more harmonious household, both at night and during the day. Lack of good quality sleep can have a significant impact on your child’s behaviour, their ability to cope with everyday situations and their capacity to learn!
Each child is an individual and will need different things to support them in being able to relax and self-soothe at bedtime. We first of all need to look at the whole picture; think about what is going on in your child’s life at the moment? For example, have you noticed that they have suddenly mastered a new skill such as walking or talking, or have they just started nursery or school? Any developmental or environmental changes in a child’s life can have an effect on their ability to settle at bedtime.
When, as adults, we have something on our mind, we often experience a similar struggle to ‘switch off’ when we get into bed and sometimes need to listen to music or read a book to help us settle; this is no different for our children. When you are starting the wind down process with your child, try to allow for approximately an hour in the lead up to bedtime.
Keep the bedtime consistent so, for example, if this was 7pm, you need to keep this as the bedtime each night for several weeks so that your child’s body starts to adjust to this. In the hour prior to bedtime, start giving cues so that your child starts to release the sleep hormone. This will happen when they recognise certain things that indicate bedtime is coming for example, having a bath or a massage, story time etc. Whatever you might do as part of your bedtime routine, keep this consistent each night; do the same things in the same order. This will give your child a routine and security in knowing what is going to happen which, in turn, will relax them.
Try to avoid lots of stimulus before bedtime; TV, loud music, bright lights etc need to be kept to a minimum as this can interfere with the triggering of sleep hormones, which your child needs to be able to go to sleep.
Timing is key to making a successful bedtime so don’t be too quick and rush the process, but in turn don’t drag it out. Consistency is key with supporting sleep and so you need to be prepared to stick to the same routine for several weeks before you might see the full results.
Depending on your child’s age, you may find that they start to use ‘delay tactics’ which will involve calling you back numerous times for lots of different reasons…”I need a drink”, ”I need my special toy”, “the light is too bright/too dark”, ”I need to ask you a question” and so on! Try to pre-empt these by, for example, having a beaker by their bed in case they are thirsty in the night, asking them before starting the bedtime routine if there is a toy that they would like to have with them etc. By doing this, you can be sure that you have already eliminated many of the issues that might occur when you try to say “goodnight”.
Try to use the same phrase each night when you have finished stories etc, for example “It is bedtime now, sleep well, love you and see you in the morning” with cuddles and kisses. Whichever phrase you use, make sure that it is one sentence and that it is the same each night. Once you have said this and had a cuddle, you need to leave the room. If you get called back by your child, you need to repeat this sentence to them and leave again. The more you go back and forth and engage in conversation with them, the more stimulation you are providing, which in turn means that your child will find it more difficult to settle to sleep.
Another thing to consider if your child is still struggling to settle, is the child’s bedroom and the environment. Try lying on their bed or sitting at the level of the cot to see the room from their perspective. Are there any shadows that are casting on the walls which might unsettle them? Are there a lot of toys which means they are being distracted by them and possibly being tempted to get up and play rather than staying in bed? Is it too light or too dark? Are they too hot or too cold? All of these elements can be easily resolved and, in addition to a consistent bed time routine, can sometimes make the difference between your child settling or not.
The 3 top tips:
Keep consistency with your child(ren)’s routine! Go through the same process each night and don’t be tempted to rush it, invest the time and you will be repaid in your child’s sleep!
Preparation is key, have all the things that you need for the bedtime routine to hand so that you are able to feel calm and in control of the situation. Children read from adult’s emotions, so the calmer you are the calmer your child will be.
Make it about your family. There is no one way that will fit all families, so it is about being able to create a bedtime routine which works for you and your family.