As a parent, you may be asking yourself: will I ever sleep again? Pediatric sleep is a complicated topic; it can also be confusing and overwhelming to navigate parenthood with extreme levels of exhaustion. Do not suffer in silence and know that lack of sleep does not need to become your new norm.
A child’s sleep is affected by four major factors: their sleep environment, schedule, nutrition, and sleep associations. The following are five practical sleep tips to help you get healthy sleep underway.
1. Sleep Associations.
Identifying your child’s sleep associations is the first step in unlocking and changing sleep issues. In order to identify their associations, here are some questions to ask. Does my child need something to fall asleep? Do they need to be held or rocked? Does my child need milk or a pacifier? It is very common for a child to have one or more sleep associations. You have not failed in any way if this has become your situation. Simply, sleep is a learned skill, and we want a child to learn how to sleep independently, thus breaking any associations they may have. The best way to break sleep associations, is to eliminate them. Healthy uninterrupted sleep comes as a result of a child being able to self-soothe and sleep independently.
2. Quantity & Quality.
How much sleep does my child need? A lot! Children need 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. To ensure that your child is getting the amount of sleep they need, a great place to start is with a good bedtime. The optimal window for children to fall asleep is between 6:00-7:00pm. An early bedtime is key because when we miss an optimal window for a child to fall asleep, children are likely to become overtired and overstimulated. It is important to note that for newborns (or typically between 0-4 months) bedtime will likely fall between 8-8:30pm due to their higher quantity of naps.
We often do not think about the important link between nutrition and sleep, but they are crucially connected. We want to help children create a healthy association with nutrition vs. eating to soothe. We do this by teaching children to feed efficiently during the day time. It is very common for a child to get into a pattern of on and off snacking throughout the day and night. When this happens, they are never truly full. Feeding efficiently means that a child is consuming enough calories during the day. When this is accomplished, it aids in a child being able to sleep longer stretches at night. If you are a nursing mother, when a child has efficient feeds, your breasts are fully emptied. This is important as milk supply is based on supply and demand. The more fully you empty your breasts, the more milk your body will make.
It’s important to note that between 0-3 months of age, we do not expect nor want newborns to be sleeping through the night or to be on a schedule. Newborns will wake through the night to feed. Feeding on demand is also common and encouraged at this age depending on the child’s weight gaining needs. In general, offering a feed approximately every 2-3 hours for 20-30 minutes typically provides adequate nutrition. A great way to encourage efficient feeding at this age while nursing is to offer both breasts during each feed. Depending on the child’s health, age, and weight, there would be longer stretches of sleep at night for a baby nearing 4 months.
4. Sleep Environment.
I recommend creating a calm and dark room free from distractions. You may also consider investing in a simple white noise machine. When we sleep in a dark room, our bodies are able to relax and release melatonin. Additionally, white noise does not stimulate brain activity, therefore, it is a great addition to drown out any internal/external noise that may disrupt your child. Whether your child is sleeping in a crib or bassinet, make sure to keep it clear of blankets, pillows or toys. Safety first and placed on their back is best.
5. Bedtime Routine.
With children, it’s all about routines and being consistent. It’s never too early or too late to start a bedtime routine for your child. Think short and sweet and even make it a family affair. My favorite ingredients for a bedtime routine are: bath, pajamas, feed, books or a song, then into their crib awake.
When a child has learned the skill of sleep, when they have a predictable schedule that you can rely on, they are happier, rested, and are able to cope with their environment and rapid development. It truly makes parenting easier and more enjoyable. We sacrifice for our children and we just deal with exhaustion, but know that they need rest and so do you!
Being a parent means we have a laundry list of responsibilities, understanding the ins and outs of pediatric sleep does not have to be one of them. You are doing an amazing job and getting support for sleep means healthy rest for the family.
Bio: Anne Del Valle is a mother and a Certified Infant & Toddler WeeSleep Sleep Consultant, She is passionate about helping children and families get the sleep they need and deserve. She loves being a support system for parents. Her approach is customized, empathetic, guided, educated, and effective. She offers a free 15 minute sleep consultation: https://www.wee-sleep.com/anne-del-valle/?v=7516fd43adaa