16 sleep tips to help your baby sleep better in 2016
Some minor adjustments and a change in thinking is all that's required to see your family sleeping better this year, writes sleep expert Lucy Wolfe
If you have decided that 2016 will be your year for sleep, then look no further, as I have put together 16 sleep tips to help you get started. Beginning to help your child sleep better and longer can take time and patience - but a new year and a better-rested you and family is possible with a few adjustments and a change in mindset.
1Decide that you are about to make a lifestyle change. As with any self-improvement attempt, you will need to be open about making adjustments to your current life, some will be long-term, others short-term, but in order to open up the airways for your child's sleep, change is necessary.
2Accept that, as parents, we are going to be tired in general, and that children do wake up overnight, and can also tend to wake early in the morning. However, what you can anticipate if your child is 6 months and older, is longer and more consolidated stretches of sleep.
3Don't continue to wait for your sleep problems to resolve by themselves. Many parents assume that sleep will get better when solids are introduced or when your child starts to move; and although it may improve, it may not, unless you start to make the adjustments that allow positive sleep to emerge.
4Avoid making comparisons between your friends' and neighbours' babies and yours. All children are different and comparing yours to another will only make you feel like you are a failure. Just as all babies are different, all parents' perceptions can be, too, and what you find draining, another may be tolerant of. Also, some parents don't tell the truth!
5 When you have made a decision to be proactive about positive sleeping patterns within your family unit, allocate a time frame of at least three to four weeks, within which time you should put weekends away and sleep-overs on hold and avoid any disruptions to your typical schedule. You don't need to take time off work, but it can be helpful to start going into a weekend.
6Before you begin, make an effort for both you and your child to be extra well rested. Do what works - rock, roll, feed, bed share and build up both their and your sleep reserves. The more rested your child can be in advance, the easier the learning process will be and the more open to change they will also be.
7 Make sure that your child is getting enough outside activity and fresh air. An hour a day is the recommendation, so I suggest 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. This can help get you out of the house and get some head-space but will also help to fill your child's sensory diet and regulate their sleeping patterns.
8Create a suitable sleep environment, make sure that it is adequately dark; black-out blinds and a night-light are a good solution for night-time and daytime sleep. Make a special effort to avoid hall lights and bathroom lights overnight as this can have a negative impact on your child's sleep.
9Reserve music and light shows for your bedtime routine only and avoid the music or white noise staying on while your child is falling asleep, unless you are prepared to commit to this noise for the entire sleep period. A general rule would be: if it is on when your child goes to sleep, then it should stay on for the entire sleep period, otherwise you run the risk of night-time awakenings that require the music to be turned back on.
10Observe a regular wake time between 6am and 7.30am and always anchor the day with a feed, even if your child has fed frequently overnight. By providing a feed first thing and pressing start on the day, it regulates the feeding schedule and ensures that both the feeding rhythm and sleeping rhythm can run in sync with each other and not at odds. This helps to avoid feeds and naps clashing, a presentation that often prevents daytime sleep from happening or from being long enough.
11Avoid allowing your child to become over-tired. Bear in mind that over-tiredness is obvious - intense eye-rubbing, big-type yawning, agitation, clenched fists, stretched limbs, vocal, whiny, fussy, hyper or entertaining. Try to attempt sleep before you see these symptoms as it will make going to sleep less challenging and increase the chances of longer sleep duration.
12 Consider earlier bedtimes as you help improve the sleep situation. Most children sleep better when they are in bed asleep between 6pm and 8pm. Most under-rested children adjust well to a 7pm bedtime and if they are younger than 8 months, they respond to a wakeful period not exceeding 2.5 hours before bedtime. Between eight to 17 months, 4 hours works well, and from 18 months onwards 5 hours of wakefulness before being in bed asleep can have a significantly positive impact on the overnight presentation.
13Go to bed earlier yourselves. As we accept that parenting is challenging, then doing so on fractured sleep is even more difficult. Factor in a few early adult bedtimes, too, in an effort to get more sleep yourself.
14 Share the load as you begin to make changes, take it in turns if applicable, draft in support if it is a possibility and be kind to each other as you work through the problems. Ask for help with older siblings. Any assistance will only be needed at the very start until you get into your new sleep groove with your soon-to-be great sleeper.
15Establish an appropriate bedtime process to help prepare your child's body for sleep. Do this activity specifically in the child's bedroom to help ingrain positive associations with sleep and to avoid breaking the spell of your hard work by changing locations at the end. Introduce low-impact activity - reading, softly singing, puzzles, shape sorting. Do this in a dimly lit environment, with plenty of physical and eye contact to help your child feel relaxed and supported close to sleep time. If your child could be relaxed and awake when they get into their cot or bed, the less exposed to night-time activity you will be.
16 Manage your expectations. Better sleeping patterns can take three to four weeks to emerge, depending on the issues and your child's age. Early improvements may be represented by improved mood and behaviour, better eating, easier to get to sleep and then longer stretches will start to emerge. It is not an upward-only spiral of improvement and it can fluctuate throughout the few weeks, sometimes getting worse before it improves, or you may find it gets better and then regresses. This is normal, so be prepared and confident in your new approach.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep-consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie, telephone 087 2683584 or email lucy@sleepmatters