Lucy Wolfe: Five sleep resolutions to keep in 2018
Even if all other self-improvement goals fall by the wayside, committing to better sleep practises should be a priority this year, writes Lucy Wolfe
It makes perfect sense to have a new year's sleep resolution: to aim to get you and your family better rested and "fit for purpose". Getting enough sleep, and the right amount, at the right time for everyone, promotes optimal well-being, improved mood, behaviour, appetite and development. So how can you work your way towards better and more sleep in 2018?
1 Make sleep a priority
Ring fence four weeks in which to actively work on your sleep issues. Although you would typically see improvements within 7-10 days, it really does take longer for the brain to learn a new pattern of behaviour and for your child's sleep to become more established. Coupled with this learning pattern, there are so many other elements that can slow down your progress - typically teething and sickness, but if you have a suitable response plan for these curve balls, then the great sleep that you have been working on will emerge.
Although I appreciate that you will want to look to the future for sleepovers, weekends away and holidays, if you avoid any disruption in the initial month, then it can help to future-proof your child's sleep and ensure that all your hard work gives you a yield.
2 Improve daytime sleep
Although I try not to allow you to get too overwhelmed about the amount of daytime sleep, it does play an important part in your child's sleep development. At the start, it may just be helpful to aim for "enough" daytime sleep in a way that works - so holding, rolling, feeding and then within that effort, you attempt to get the time for your day sleep perfected.
You may need to balance this, between reading your child's body language and being prescriptive. Some children are hard to read, especially if they have been struggling to sleep well. Furthermore, some children only ever give you late sleep signals - which means they then go on to fight the sleep that you are attempting. It may be frustrating to learn that anything obvious - intense eye rubbing, yawning or irritation - is normally overtired and means that you need to start the nap process sooner.
I encourage you to observe brief eye rubs or zoning out, but that may not happen and so, sometimes, working on a timed basis is helpful. For children under 12 months, initially I might prepare for the first nap within only 1hr 40mins of getting up, and then either the same again for the second nap or a maximum of 2hrs 40mins between first and second naps and the same again if you need additional naps throughout the day. This may sound daunting, but it can be very effective at the start and in essence help you "land" the nap. Later on, the time frames can be adjusted and you can also consider napping in the cot, too, if that is what you would like and I would think a very good idea, long term.
3 Find your child's natural bedtime
I am sure some parents are sick of hearing about early bedtimes and I can understand that, but please understand that having an early onset of sleep at bedtime can promote longer and deeper sleep for you and your child. Biologically, most children are designed to have a bedtime between 7-8pm, but if your child routinely wakes overnight, then even 8pm would be considered too late and can inadvertently undermine your progress.
You can "find" your child's own natural bedtime by spending a week starting bedtime early - as in 6.30pm early. Prepare them with a bedtime routine in their bedroom and then have them in their cot or bed by 6.50pm. Now, you can do this with your usual strategies, for example feeding, rocking, rolling or you could use my stay-and-support approach to help them master independent sleep, with your unlimited support and encouragement and no crying alone.
Provided of course you have finished your daytime sleep by an age-appropriate time, for example, children under eight months (two to four naps per day) by 5pm, and those under 18 months (one to three per day) by 3 to 3.30pm, then over a few nights your child will start to sleep at a regular time that you can then identify as their "sweet spot" and tailor the bedtime routine to accommodate.
4 Master their overnight sleep
Keeping your child asleep overnight is probably the biggest challenge, but what has happened by day and at bedtime actually is the determinant of whether your night-time sleep can have room to grow.
Many families report no issues at bedtime but struggle to help their child maintain their night-time sleep. Yes, children and adults wake overnight - it is natural and normal, but what is also natural and required is an ability to cycle through sleep without adult intervention - this is normally developmentally appropriate from six months onwards, meaning that your child could potentially stay sleeping without your assistance, outside of required night feeds. In order for this to become a possibility, two main elements need to be in place:
(a) Your child needs to be optimally rested by day with the correct dynamic applied for day sleep and bed timings.
(b) Your child needs to be able to put themselves to sleep without a prop, such as being held to sleep, fed to sleep or having a drink of milk too close to sleep time. This can be achieved with my stay-and-support approach that helps independent sleep emerge without leaving your child to cry it out.
When (a) and (b) are being observed, then you can apply the same approach overnight. This will gently and considerately help your child to stitch their sleep together and allow the skill of staying asleep to emerge. It is this part of the learning process that can take time - normally somewhere between seven and 21 nights, if all the measures are correctly observed. But what is 21 days versus uninterrupted sleep for the remainder of 2018?
5 Stick with it
As you work on your sleep issues, remember it can often get a little bit worse before it gets better. This can undermine you and feel that "it's not working", but that is not generally the case. Very often when you begin to address the issues, the brain needs to process the changes, which can actually result in more frequent night-time activity if you can believe it. I generally encourage most parents to anticipate frequent night-time activity, potentially long wake periods overnight and possibly early rising, too. Sounds awful, but it does diminish almost as soon as it has arrived.
Certainly the frequent night waking starts to be erased sooner, the long wake period - if you have been unlucky to experience this - gets shorter and quicker and then the early rising often takes the better part of four weeks to remove. This is why you need to view your plan for sleep in 2018 as a work in progress and something that you are continuously nudging in the right direction.
Signals that you are on the right track typically include an improvement in self regulating at bedtime, fewer night-time signals and longer nap durations by day. You may observe better mood and behaviour and increased appetites first, but if you are patient, it will start to come.
In the meantime, you do need to ensure that you are parenting yourselves and being kind to each other. When there are two parents involved, share the load as equally as you can. Take time to do something nice for yourself every day - no matter how small.
Give to yourself the gift of five or 10 minutes quiet time, where you can ground yourself and be loving to yourself.
Accept offers of help and support from friends and family. When you are well rested, you will be able to return the favour. Above all, keep reminding yourself that it will get better if you commit to the changes and you have the patience to see the adjustments through. Good luck - here's to a well-rested 2018 for all.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant, author of 'The Baby Sleep Solution' and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice and with her 98pc-effective approach for sleep, she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See sleepmatters.ie
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