Here are some tips that worked for our family

Babies

Babies can sleep through the night at 3 months, but not all babies do.

Bearing in mind that I have had fair success with my four children. Here are the strategies that were useful:

11 top tips to help babies sleep

  1. A full tummy before sleep
    I gave the babies a good feed in the evening. My babies seemed to want to be breastfed from about 5 till 7!). In the hope of a good nights sleep, I let them stock up! Eventually, when about six months a final feed of solids about an hour before bedtime seemed to help them settle.
  2. Play and bath after last feed
    My babies had a play and a bath after the feed. Although they were drowsy after the feed I wanted them to settle themselves in their cot, not rely on a feed to make them sleepy.
  3. Comfort blanket or toy
    My three girls loved lying on a long-haired soft baby sheepskin. My son liked my (old, worn-out) silk pyjamas. They loved the feel against their skin, and it settled 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.
  4. Encourage your partner to settle the baby
    I encouraged my husband to spend time with each baby near bedtime and gradually go from play to cuddling, swaying and rhythmic patting. He was very good at being patient in the evening. Whereas I had often looked after the baby all day and needed some space. If you are a single parent you will need to stay calm and patient a little longer to settle the baby yourself.
  5. Calming music before bed
    We found soothing music near bedtime set the mood. My eldest daughter settled best when we played classical music. (The child-minder was amazed at the quieting effect on my daughter of playing Mozart)
  6. Put into cot awake
    I put the baby in the cot when they were awake but sleepy. Some of my babies cried a little, but on the whole, they managed to go to sleep by themselves.
  7. Dream feed
    When the baby was less than three months old I woke the baby at about 10.30, to give them a final feed. Then I let my husband settle the baby whilst I went to my bed. This way I managed to get the longest stretch of sleep possible.
  8. Be boring at night
    I am not good between the hours of 11 and 5. If the baby woke for a feed I spoke very little, kept the lights dim, changed the baby’s nappy (diaper), then fed the baby and left.
  9. A regular after-lunch nap
    I always put the baby down for a nap after lunch. I tried not to do any activities that interfered with this. This was my best chance of catching up with some sleep if I needed it or getting on with things. My eldest daughter continued her nap until she was 4! Fantastic!
  10. Ditch the dummy
    At one point I used a dummy (pacifier) with my son. The night after I had to get up three times to put the dummy back in his mouth the dummy became history! My babies had to learn to settle themselves.
  11. Controlled crying after 6 months
    We did use the ‘controlled crying’ technique. When the baby found it hard to settle itself we would make sure they were warm and dry. Then leave the baby to cry, coming back every few minutes to reassure the baby with words and touch. Then leave the room again. I have to say it does work. However, it was much harder to do when the baby woke in the middle of the night and we didn’t want our other children/neighbours disturbed.

    My reasoning behind using this technique was that I can cope much better with my baby if I have a good nights sleep. I 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 was worth the week of training the baby to settle itself.

Tips for controlled crying if baby is six months’ old

If you are going to do try controlled crying, 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, it’s useful to involve them 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. All of my babies learned to settle themselves within a week of starting this method, but it can take up to two weeks.

Put baby in a different room

In the early weeks, the baby slept in a Moses basket next to my bed. However, after a few months, I moved them to their own room to avoid me waking when they made little noises. Or just whimpered in the night.

Water and medicine, where needed

After three months I only gave the baby water in the night.

When the babies were sleeping through the night and unexpectedly woke up, we often gave them a paracetamol elixir. Or paracetamol and anti-histamine -even better for helping baby sleep if they have a cold or cough. My theory was that if there was no other explanation why they are crying in the night, they were probably teething or in pain. Strange how sometimes they settled and stopped crying the moment they tasted the medicine! Possibly a placebo effect, but it worked, and in the middle of the night that was what I needed.

Young Children

My children have always been good at going to bed, so what helped?

8 top tips to help young children sleep:

  1. Having a set bedtime
    With the younger children going to bed earlier
  2. Having a bedtime routine
    With tea, play or children’s TV, bath, Clean teeth and Pyjamas, quiet play, a familiar bed-time story, family prayers and then sleep. (A tip that I heard at the Parent Practice is that 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)
  3. Toilet and drink of water
    We made sure that before we left them the children had used the toilet and had a water bottle by their side
  4. Expect children to stay in bed
    Once the children had gone to bed, we expected them to stay there.
  5. Be boring after bedtime
    I will admit to being a bit grumpy if the children woke in the night.
  6. The ‘dummy fairy’
    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.
  7. Sleepy pad
    If they really could not sleep I would give them a ‘Sleepy pad.’ This was a cotton pad with a drop of lavender oil to put next to their pillow
  8. Make bedrooms ideal for sleep
    We did not use the bedroom as a discipline tool if they needed some time out. We painted their bedrooms in colours they chose and made their rooms a haven, where they could enjoy their own space. They had a good light to read and inviting bed covers. They loved their beds!

Older Children

4 great tips for getting older children to sleep

  1. Bedtime routine
    We still had the bed-time routine and staggered bedtimes
  2. Early bedtime to encourage reading
    We expected the children to go to bed fairly early (between 7 and 7.30.) However, if they were not tired, I encouraged them to read until they were sleepy. I did not have a rule about how long they could read, and they were always sensible about not reading into the night. So, this worked well for us. (It had the added effect of getting the children to love reading)
  3. Calm Bedtime and rituals
    We always gave our children a good-night kiss and said ‘good night, sleep tight’. If we chatted with them we kept things positive and calm.
  4. Children sleep in their own beds
    Apart from weekend mornings, our bed was out of bounds. So, the children never ventured into our room at night.

Teenagers

5 tips for teenage sleep

  1. Early bedtime
    We still expected our teenagers to go to bed at a sensible time – about 9 or 9.30. Because we noticed that their behaviour is better when they are not tired.
  2. Address any issues of tiredness
    We expect them to regulate their own bedtime. If we notice that they are staying up late we have a one-to-one chat with them. We 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 usually works
  3. Herbal remedies
    During exam times and especially stressful times, when they said they could not get off to sleep, we provided our children with herbal tablets (Valerian) to help them relax before sleep
  4. Keep mobiles out of bedrooms
    We ask our 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)
  5. Wake them up gently, with a chat if possible
    Our teenagers have alarm clocks that wake them up gradually. However, I always go in to see them in the morning. I 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. When my daughter is home from University I wake her with a cup of tea and a chat. Which she just loves!

I hope some of these tips have given you a few ideas for you to try to help your babies, children and teenagers to sleep well

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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