“Sleep all you can while you are pregnant. You won’t get good sleep after your baby is born.” Most parents get this advice from family, friends, and those who love giving unsolicited advice (I know!). While this has been true for a lot of parents out there, a good sleep pattern is more of a science than a fluke. A report from Childrens’ Hospital Colorado suggests that insufficient sleep causes decreased brain development, learning problems and more frequent negative emotions. In this blog, we are going to talk about how you can introduce good sleeping habits for your child–be it a newborn or a 5-year old.
While some parents being really particular about the sleeping times of their children is often frowned upon by Indian society, it is probably the best thing you can do for your child as this habit can stay with them for a lifetime. It is important to know that all children are different and you need to adapt your approach based on the observations.
If you feel your child has abnormalities in sleeping or have a gut instinct that something is not right, always check with your paediatrician.
Follow a consistent bedtime routine
Think about dimming lights, putting on some white noise, massaging the baby, reading a book, bringing the blanky, a warm bath, or anything that is not overstimulating. When you do this every day (remember every day), the child starts associating these things with sleep time. Be patient with them while you are building this new sleeping habit. Sometimes, you will have to ignore them when they start asking for other things that may stimulate their brain. With time, as soon as you start the routine, they will calm down and know that they need to sleep now. For toddlers or older children, jumping before bedtime can actually be good. Children need to utilise their daily quota of energy before their body feels ready for sleep. So, if your child is jumping before bedtime, let them do it. And as soon as they are done, start your bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine can be anything. A routine is anything that can be done every day at the same time in the same way. You don’t have to go into laborious tasks like giving your baby an elaborate bubble bath before sleeping, setting up the whole nursery for sleeping, or doing a bunch of activities before bedtime. Let’s all agree that we have hectic life and the time and energy that a parent can give differs vastly from another. Do something that you can realistically do every day. Remember that festivals, visits from family and friends, travelling are not exceptions for the routine.
Manage meal times
Ensure your child eats their dinner well. You definitely don’t want a hungry child waking up in the middle of the night crying and sobbing. Also, eating just before bedtime is not ideal. There should be around an hour of break before bedtime so that the child utilises the sugar (all foods have sugars) from the meal. This will ensure your child feels full through the night but also falls asleep when it is time to sleep. Also, having fixed meal times will make them hungry at the same time and they will eat better.
Exercise for the sleep
Ensure your child has exhausted their energy in the day so they feel calmer and are in the need of good sleep. Exercise has so many benefits, but it is crucial for inducing good sleep. We all have that day when we worked so hard and slept in seconds of lying down. This is the impact you should expect from good daily exercise. For newborns, give them enough time to kick their hands and legs, give them a massage, and walk around with them. For older children, at least 1 hour of playing physical games is essential to get their energy well utilised.
Reduce nap time by a few minutes at a time and see if this helps the night sleeping. Naps replenish energy levels and your child may need more exercise to drain this energy. Most children don’t need naps during the day after 3 years. So, if your child takes a nap in the day and sleeps late at night, gently reducing the nap time may actually help them. However, every child is different and not getting the nap can make them irritable. Hence, it is important to be gradual and adapt accordingly.
Tuck them in
Tucking a child at night makes them feel secure and safe. Even if it is the hottest day in summer, use a thin sheet to cover their hands and feet and let them feel that they are ready for resting. It is proven that using a blanket actually helps reduce blood pressure and makes people relaxed. If they remove the blanket while asleep, don’t worry. Some kids prefer their arms and legs outside the blanket.
In smaller babies (below 6 months), swaddling helps a lot while sleeping. It gives them the warmth and the closeness of being inside the womb. Swaddling in fact helps babies sleep longer as most movements around them cannot be felt inside a swaddle.
Turn off the lights
Most new parents worry about keeping the child in absolute darkness. The fact is that babies sleep better when in complete darkness in their sleeping room. In fact, turning off lights can send a signal to the baby that it is time to sleep (this could be a part of your bedtime routine). Even if they get up in between, they just notice it is still night and try to fall asleep again.
Especially for newborns, who don’t understand the day-night transition, it is important to make the room completely dark at night and ensure that their room is NOT completely dark in the day. Showing them daylight and making them feel the hustle bustle of the day can actually make them better sleepers.
No screen time
There are rarely any parents who have zero screen time for children. Screens come in handy when we are tired and need a moment–for eating a meal or have that work call. While screen time can make eyes tired, they act counterintuitively for sleeping habits. Have you ever noticed you started watching insta reels at 11 pm and did that until 1 am? Your eyes and brain are tired but you just can’t fall asleep. Same thing happens with children when they watch cartoons at night. Avoid screen time at least a couple hours before bedtime.
In its true meaning, a pacifier is something that can make the child calm down. Find what makes your child feel relaxed–a toy, blanket, fav teddy bear–keep them near the child when they go off to sleep. We all have the need to feel safe and loved before falling asleep to glory.
For babies, there are rubber pacifiers that work as a nipple substitute. These pacifiers are not received very well in India as much as in the western countries, but pacifiers can work wonders for small babies (up to six months) to fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Pacifiers can also help avoid SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in younger children. There are arguments that suggest that pacifiers should not be used after 6 months as that is when the child starts getting the first teeth and a pacifier can impact the dental structure of the baby.
Place the baby on their back
Being on the back provides enough support for the baby’s neck and body for long hours. Keeping a child on one side can actually cause their body to ache after some time and disturb their sleep as they try to move into a comfortable position. All babies roll and twist in sleep, but when in the process of falling asleep, it is best if they are placed on their back. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing babies on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Some children are more sensitive to sound than the others. If your child is a light sleeper and there are other people in the house still working, talking, or watching television, the child’s sleep can get disturbed. Playing white noise in the background can help soothe your baby and block out any external noise that could disturb their sleep.
Most parents fear a child waking up in the middle of their sleep more than seeing a tiger in front of them. This is because the child always wakes up crying, is irritated, and very difficult to put back to sleep. Also, between the child sleeping and their own bedtime, people try to get some time for themselves. Not being able to have this time can vastly impact mental health.
Keep the baby close
Most Indian parents sleep with their children in the same bed (there are pros and cons to this method). By keeping the baby close, we mean that you should be alert if the baby wakes up in the night. Just being able to adjust the room temperature, their blanket, or position can help develop good sleeping habits. Use a baby monitor or stay alert while your child is getting used to sleeping long hours in the night.
Mostly, you don’t need to rock them back to sleep. Most children will put themselves back to sleep in a few minutes as they are in the light sleep mode when they slightly move from their positions. They are just trying to be comfortable and go back into deep sleep. But just knowing that mommy and daddy are around, makes the children feel secure.
Hang in there!
It’s important to remember that every baby is different, and it may take some time for your child to establish a regular sleeping pattern. Be patient and don’t get discouraged if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night right away.
A well-slept child eats well, develops good brain power, and is generally happy. Good sleeping habits also help parents get that much needed rest and feel fresh for the next day. A poor sleeping baby can make you really irritated, especially when you have to get up early for work or need some time for yourself after that looong day, and your baby just won’t sleep until it is midnight. Don’t blame your child by saying, “She/he is just like that! We can’t do anything.” Follow some of these tips for two-three weeks religiously, and we promise you will see the difference. Being consistent is the key. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine, creating a sleep-conducive environment, and experimenting with different soothing techniques can help a lot. Babies need to wake up 4-6 times (even more) in the night to feed; however, building good sleeping habits right from the beginning can actually make falling asleep easier. As the waking up sessions drop with age, the child can sleep for longer duration without getting up. This helps them transition quickly into sleeping through the night.
Sleep is the byproduct of your lifestyle and for good sleeping habits, a good lifestyle is a must.