I really believe that having a good sleep routine for your baby is important when you are starting to wean your baby onto solid foods. So many Mums that attend my class are really struggling to get their baby into a routine. This is why we enlisted the help of Lucy Wolfe, Paediatric Sleep Consultant and Author of The Baby Sleep Solution. We asked her why was it important to have a sleep routine for your baby and most importantly how to achieve a good routine.
The importance of having a routine
There is often a resistance from parents to be routine based with their children and I am aware of all of the arguments for and against. However, if you are having sleep issues with your child, then having regularity to your days will have immediate positive effect on their sleeping pattern. Biological timekeeping forms one of the main contributory factors of sleep issues that parents experience. It is not about pacing or stretching feeds or having a rigid approach, but rather operating some key pieces of advice that can help your child sleep better. Of course many parents will report that they are already routine orientated and still sleep is elusive. I must point out that all routines are not equal and that you may well have a structured day, but if the timings are not aligned with your child’s natural rhythm and/or they are dependent on parental input, then the sleep challenges have a tendency to continue.
I generally try to help parents create a feeding and sleeping balance to the day based on the child’s age.
Have a regular wake time
The basis of a good night time sleep starts first thing in the day. All wake times are not equal. Our bodies are designed to start relatively early in the day. Waking in between 6 am and no later than 7.30 am allows for the body to be hormone regulated. Somehow, anything after 7.30 am even by as little as 10 minutes can have disastrous impact on the rest of the day. Having a start time in this 6-7.30 am bandwidth actually serves two main functions; it helps the body to establish the correct biological bed time and it also in turn helps to open up the natural times for your child’s day time sleep.
Some mistakes with the right wake time:
- Your child is awake anything from 6.00 am, but you don’t get up until 7 am or later, instead you hang around the bed or bedroom, you might even have the morning bottle before leaving the room. I recommend for you to get up and start the day if your child wakes in this time frame. Get up, leave the room, have the morning feed outside of the bedroom separate to sleep. Exposing your child to light will help reset the body clock and regulate sleeping patterns
- Your child is awake a lot overnight so when they are asleep in the morning parents are reluctant to wake them. This is a fundamental sleep mistake. Waking by 7.30 am is a must to stop perpetuating the sleep difficulties that you have. So create a new rule, by 7.30 am you will wake your child, regardless of what has happened overnight
The importance of the day time sleep
- Day time sleep has a large controlling impact on your child’s ability to sleep well overnight. The dynamic between each day time sleep is also important. Limiting your child’s day time to improve night time may sometimes work to your advantage, but in my experience, it may only improve the night time presentation in the short term and then the issues re-emerge, sometimes worse than they were originally. Or you may be confused as your child naps incredibly well during the day and still your have sleep issues overnight.
Some common nap issues may be:
- Your child takes inadequate day time sleep, may be easy or difficult to put down either in the cot or the buggy or car, but the nap never exceeds 40-45 minutes. Although you may have a series of short naps, it may not be enough to meet your child’s sleep need resulting in an overtired child at bedtime who will either be challenging to get to sleep or easy, but will awaken frequently throughout the course of the night and maybe even stay awake for large periods of time during the core part of the night
- Your child may take excellent day time sleep, but the balance may not be right. When I refer to balance it is because naps take the sleep pressure off the brain each time, but at certain intervals during the day this is more significant than others. One of the most pernicious nap dynamics is what I call a top heavy day. This involves your child taking a marathon first nap in the morning for 1-2 hours+ and then weaker or no more sleep for the rest of the day. This creates too long a wakeful period before bedtime which in turn enables frustrating sleep problems. Whether your child requires 2 or 4 naps throughout the day (age-related), the first two naps are the most significant. However, you may need to be beware of what I call the “power play” between nap one and nap 2. If your child is a decent nap taker, what you may observe is a very healthy first nap as mentioned earlier and then weaker subsequent sleeps. In fact, of the first two day time sleeps, the second nap is the more significant. There is a very real competition between these two sleeps with nap 1 wanting to be stronger and longer; and nap 2 as a result being weaker, as in less than 1 hour. The ideal is that there may be equality between the 2 naps-they can be of equal or similar duration and this comes down to your child, or if only one nap appears to be over 1 hour then you need it to be nap 2. Nap 2 carries the weight until bedtime so that your child is rested at the onset of bedtime and is able to go to sleep with ease
- You may find that no matter how early you prepare for a nap, how well you read sleep signals, the nap is still hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. This can be caused by a too late bedtime and then frequent night awakenings throughout the night, resulting in an under-rested child before the day has even started which feeds the cycle of tiredness and perpetuates the problem. By beginning to implement a feeding and sleeping balances for your child, then it will help to unlock your child’s mechanism for both night-time and daytime sleep-this will take time but slight improvements may be reported from the start
Making sure that your child goes to sleep before they become overtired is also a key part of a good day layout. Very often the day is text book, but errors are made in the evening with bedtime attempted when your child is already overtired. Generally, appropriate bedtimes for children under 5 years of age, would be somewhere between 6-8 pm. Very often with an under-rested child even 8 pm is too late. Be vigilant and try to observe when you feel your child is getting tired and prepare for bedtime before this point. Once your child sleeps better, then this can be adjusted later.
Keep in mind that it takes time for the benefits of a regular day to take effect. Make sure that you implement these strategies for a good 2-3 weeks before reviewing your progress as it may take this long for you to start to see improvements.
For all of my age based feeding and sleeping suggestions along with my stay-and-support approach for encouraging better sleep check out my book The Baby Sleep Solution, available online and in all bookstores.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant, Author of The Baby Sleep Solution and mum of four young children. Check out www.sleepmatters.ie