Getting a good nights’ sleep is good for you and your children. So how can you help your children sleep through the night? It is mostly about establishing a night-time routine that puts children in the mood for sleep, helping your children learn to settle themselves and establishing good habits of nutrition and exercise to make sure that children are tired and ready for sleep in the evening.
- Babies can sleep through the night at 3 months, but not all babies do. Here are a range of things that you may find help:
- Give your baby a good feed in the evening (some babies, who are breast-fed want to be fed from about 5 till 7!). In the hope of a good nights’ sleep maybe let them stock up! Eventually, when about six months a final feed of solids about an hour before bedtime may help them settle.
- Think about letting your baby have a play and a bath after the feed. Although they may be drowsy after the feed it may be best if they learn to settle themselves in their cot, not rely on a feed to make them sleepy.
- Consider a comfort blanket, long-haired soft baby sheepskin or a silky sheet. Babies are sensory beings and love the soft feel against their skin it helps to settle them quickly. Find out what your baby loves. Eventually a favourite soft toy will emerge that will help the baby to feel secure and reassured when they go to sleep.
- Encourage your husband or partner to spend time with each baby near bedtime and gradually go from play to cuddling, swaying and rhythmic patting. Some partners are very good at being patient in the evening, whereas if you have looked after the baby all day you may need some space. If you are a single parent you will need to stay calm and patient a little longer to settle the baby yourself.
- You may find soothing music near bedtime sets the mood. You can try classical music, relaxing melodies or just soothing sounds such as waves breaking or natural womb sounds
- If you can, put the baby in the cot when they were awake but sleepy. Some babies cry a little, but the hope is that the baby will learn to go to sleep by themselves.
- When the baby was less than three months old, consider waking the baby just before you go to sleep and offer a final feed. If you are tired and your husband or partner is willing it may be and idea to let them settle the baby whilst you go to bed. This way you will manage to get the longest stretch of sleep possible.
- If the baby wakes for a feed in the middle of the night, speak very little, keep the lights dim, change the baby’s nappy (diaper), and then feed the baby and leave.
- Consider putting the baby down for a nap after lunch. If your baby sleeps well you may like to try not to do any activities that interferes with this. This may be your best chance of catching up with some sleep if you need it or getting on with things.
- You may consider using a dummy or pacifier if your baby likes to suck to get off to sleep however a word of warning, if your baby associates sleep with sucking you may need to get up in the night to put the dummy back in their mouth! It might be best if your baby can learn to settle themselves.
- You may like to try the ‘controlled crying’ technique. If your baby finds it hard to settle themselves make sure he/she is warm and dry, then leave them to cry, coming back every few minutes to reassure them with words and touch, then leave the room again. I have to say it does work, but it is much harder to do if you have other children / neighbours you don’t want disturbed.
Most mothers can cope much better with my baby if they have a good nights’ sleep. They can respond more positively and have more energy and enthusiasm. A happy mum means a happy baby, so getting the baby to sleep through the night is worth the one to two weeks of training the baby to settle themselves.
If you are going to do try this technique, plan to start it on a Friday night or at a time (holiday) when you and your partner can afford not to be firing on all cylinders, and can take it in turns to comfort the baby. If you have a partner, get them involved with settling the baby and in consoling you when you find it difficult to hear your baby crying. If it is hard, just remember why you are doing it and how much your baby will benefit when you both get a good nights’ sleep. It can take up to two weeks.
- In the early weeks you may prefer to let the baby sleep in a cot or Moses basket next to your bed, but after a few months you may prefer to move them to their own room to avoid them waking you when they make little noises or just whimper in the night.
- After three months it may be best to only give the baby water in the night.
- If your baby is sleeping through the night and unexpectedly wakes up, you may consider giving them a paracetamol elixir (or paracetamol and anti-histamine [Medised] -even better for helping baby sleep if they have a cold or cough). If there is no other explanation why they are crying in the night, they may be teething or in pain. Some babies settle and stop crying the moment they taste the medicine! Possibly a placebo effect, but if it works in the middle of the night that may be what you need
Things that can help young children go to bed are:
- Having a set bed-time, with the younger children going to bed earlier
- Having a bed-time routine with tea, play or children’s TV, bath, clean teeth and pyjamas, quiet play, a familiar bed-time story, and then sleep. Bedtime is a great time to tell your child what you appreciated about their behaviour that day, what they did well and any positive effort that they made – a lovely way to end the day
- Try to make sure that before you leave them the children have used the toilet and have a bottle of water or ‘sipper cup’ by their side
- Once the children have gone to bed, let them know you expect them to stay there.
- It is ok to be just a little grumpy or uncommunicative if your children wake in the night. It gives the message that it is sleep time and not play time.
- If your child still goes to bed with a dummy and you would like them to stop I have heard of families leaving the dummies for the ‘dummy fairy’ in return for a present. But be prepared for a few difficult nights when they have to learn to go to sleep without their dummy.
- If they really can not sleep consider giving them a ‘Sleepy pad’ which is a cotton pad or square of cloth with a drop of lavender oil to put next to their pillow
- Try not to use the bedroom as a discipline tool if your child needs time out. Think about painting the children’s bedroom relaxing or pale colours and make their rooms a haven, where they can enjoy their own space. Make sure they have a good light to read and inviting bed covers. Give them every reason to love their beds!
- Continue the bed-time routine, and staggered bed times if you have children of different ages.
- It may be best to encourage the children to go to bed fairly early but if they are not tired allow them to read until they are sleepy. You may consider allowing them to read until they are tired enough to sleep. This has the benefit of developing a love of reading and helping them to learn about managing their own sleep needs. If you find this flexibility is being abused you can always go back to a ‘lights off’ time
- Give your children a good-night kiss and wish them a good nights sleep. If you spend any time chatting with them keep things positive and calm.
- Apart from weekend mornings consider having a rule that your bed is out of bounds. If a child ventures into your room at night always put them back to sleep in their own bed. It will discourage the habit of children coming into your bed which is a problem if you find they disturb your sleep.
- Have a rule that teens to go to bed at a sensible time –This may be as early as 9 or 9.30 for some teenagers as their behaviour is often better when they are not tired.
- Teach teenagers to regulate their own bedtime. If you notice that they are staying up late, have a one-to-one chat with them and ask them what they feel about the benefits of getting enough sleep and how it affects them the next day if they are tired- it sometimes works
- Talk to your teen about what helps them to sleep. It could be a warm shower or bath, a milky drink, reading a book or listening to gentle music. During exam times and especially stressful times, if your teenagers cannot get off to sleep, consider providing them with herbal tablets (such as valerian) to help them relax before sleep.
- Ask your teenagers to turn their mobile phones off at night in case they get calls or texts from friends who are up late into the night. (If internet access is an issue, it may be best to turn off your router or wireless network overnight)
- Make sure your teens have alarm clocks that wake them up gradually, but in addition you may choose to go in to see your teenagers in the morning. You can sit on their bed, ask about their night, have a little chat about their day ahead and get them spurred on to get up and ready. If you are positive and gentle it may be just a little moment to enjoy with your teenager. A cup of tea or coffee would also be a lovely start to the day for some teens!