Last updated on December 16th, 2016
Getting baby to sleep is a struggle for all parents. So follow these simple principles to maximise you and your child’s happiness and health
It is true that there is no magic cure to your baby’s bad sleeping habits – or you just cannot find a way help your baby sleep immediately after you put some strategies to use. You have to be patient and be ready to have some sleepless nights. Once you see your babies sleeping on their own, sleepless nights will definitely feel like a small price to pay.
That being said, go through the rest of this post to know what you should and should not do in order to help your toddler develop good sleep habits that will allow him to function at his best every day.
Determine your child’s ideal bedtime.
Contrary to what many of us adults do, kids need to go to bed before they feel sleepy. To find out what your kid’s ideal bedtime is, observe him for a few nights. He’ll likely slow down and exhibit signs of being physically tired at around the same time. Take note of when this is, and establish bedtime before he becomes sluggish.
The reason for this is simple: if you wait until he’s tired before he goes to bed, he might overcome his sleepiness and get a second wind. This is due to his body releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin which will try to keep him going. When this happens, it will be harder to handle him, and he’ll find it more difficult to sleep.
Keep a sleep diary.
Do this if you want to go a step further than just making a mental note of your child’s ideal bedtime. Write down relevant observations in a notebook, and do so consistently for a period of time. Information that’s worth recording includes the following:
- Time he exhibits tiredness (explained in the previous point)
- His activities during the day–The amount and type of activity your child engages in will have a huge effect on sleep quality. The more active he is, the easier it is to sleep at night.
- Nap times–When and how long your child naps will enable you to determine not only his ideal bedtime but also how much sleep he needs at night.
- Food consumption–What he eats throughout the day can affect sleep. Some food items make sleeping harder, while others help by regulating mood and other functions associated with sleep.
Do something special during bedtime.
People are by nature creatures of habit, so establish a routine that will signal to your child that it’s near his bedtime. The movies you see where a parent takes time to read a story then tuck in her daughter every night? That scene and many others like it will give you a good idea of what a bedtime routine should be.
Remember, though, that regardless of the routine you establish with your child, the night should always end with “lights off”. Also, your chosen bedtime routine should be slow and calm–this will signal his body that it’s time to call it a day.
But keep it simple.
An elaborate routine takes a lot of time and effort may seem fun and effective at first, but it’s likely you won’t be able to do it regularly simply because it requires a lot from you. Stick to simple things–these will still get the work done sans the resource drain. Some of the most common and relatively easy bedtime rituals are the following:
- Reading a bedtime story
- Having a quick bath/shower
- Light snacking
Stick to your chosen bedtime ritual.
Many studies have been done on sleep, and there are many points over which experts argue, but if there’s one thing that everyone agrees on, it’s that people are more likely to get quality sleep if they have a routine.
As such, help your young one develop a good sleep habit by making sure that you don’t skip your bedtime ritual. You may think a routine doesn’t do much, but actually, it sends a subconscious message to your child’s brain that it’s bedtime, making it easier for him to fall asleep.
Ensure his comfort before he goes to sleep.
If your child has a problem sleeping, and/or it doesn’t automatically mean he is suffering from a health condition/disorder. Sometimes, the reason behind the issue is simple. A kid may wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to sleep back simply because:
- His feet are cold;
- It’s noisy outside;
- He can’t find a comfortable sleeping position;
- He has to pee;
- He’s hungry or thirsty.
These are all minor predicaments that can be solved easily. Before he goes to sleep, make sure he is comfortable by doing the following:
- Dress him appropriately.
- Have him relieve himself before getting into bed.
- Have him eat/drink something before bedtime.
- Make sure his room is conducive for sleeping.
Make use of “white noise”.
If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s a type of noise / sound produced by the combination–in equal amounts and intensities – of numerous frequencies within the range of human hearing. Simply put, it’s unobtrusive noise that is unvarying and steady, and which is often used to mask the unwanted sound.
There are many “white noise” machines available on the market, but you don’t need to purchase one to reap its benefits. “White noise” can be produced by simply turning on an electric fan in your kid’s room–the constant and low humming will help him sleep better. You can also play relaxing music (in particular nature sounds like waves crashing)–this does the trick, too.
Take note of lighting.
Light affects the body’s wake-sleep cycle, so use it to your advantage as you help your child develop good sleeping habits. When it’s near his bedtime, keep the lighting dim, and make sure that you turn off the lights once you’ve tucked him in.
If outside light still filters through, you might want to take advantage of heavy curtains or shades that block out light and effectively darken the room. When it’s time to wake him up, turn on the lights and/or give him a dose of bright, natural light by letting the sunlight in.
Set up a comfortable and cozy bed.
This does three things. First, sleeping becomes more inviting to your child if his mattress, sheets, and pillow/s are soft and clean. Second, it makes it easier for your child to go back to deep sleep if he wakes up mid-sleep.
Finally and most importantly, when he is comfortable in his bed, he gets higher quality sleep, which in turn means better rest and recovery for his body.
Keep your child’s bed free of toys.
It’s important for you to establish that the bed is a place to sleep, and not to play or do something else. Placing stuff that can be distracting to your child will make it more difficult for you to establish a fixed sleep schedule, and for him to slip into sleep quickly.
Remove distractions from the room.
To add to what was mentioned above, it’s also important that your child’s room doesn’t hold a lot of distracting stuff that can lure him into a habit of staying up late. The top distractions that should not be present in his room are TV, computer/laptop, and gaming consoles. Research has shown that these are closely associated with sleep problems that can affect your child’s health and well-being.
Get rid of naps.
Toddlers (children between the ages of 1 and 3) are still too young to go through the day without napping. Training your child to only sleep during the night may seem like a good plan, but at this point in his life, it’s not.
Naps give your wee one time to recharge, giving him a boost of energy that enables him to stay active during the day. A nap is a necessary time out that, when denied, can lead to crankiness, stress, and decreased cognitive ability (i.e. it will be harder for him to think).
When it comes to sleep, depriving him of naps increases the likelihood of him having a second wind which will make bedtime more challenging for both of you.
Put your kid to bed with a bottle of milk or juice.
Take note of this if your toddler has not yet been weaned from the bottle. Water is okay, but any other drink can cause caries, or what is specifically referred to by experts as baby bottle tooth decay.
This condition arises when the sugars (natural or artificial) in liquids cling to the teeth for a considerable amount of time. The bacteria present in the mouth react with the sugars, producing acid that attacks the child’s teeth. The result is usually cavities (the destruction/erosion of the tooth enamel) on the upper front teeth; however, oftentimes other teeth also become affected.
When left untreated, tooth decay can result in infection and pain for your child. These can lead to more serious problems, including speech issues, damaged / crooked teeth, and the development of poor eating habits.
Give your child anything with caffeine.
Coffee and tea are not the only sources of caffeine. Sometimes, no matter how careful parents are, there always is a chance for caffeine to sneaks in their kids drink and food. Here’s a short list:
- Cola or soft drinks
- Chocolate– This includes chocolate bars and candies, drinks (hot chocolate is a favorite of many kids), and desserts (ice cream, yogurt, cake, pastries).
- Iced tea –While this drink is relatively healthier compared to soft drinks, it still has caffeine which may affect sleep quality among children.
- Coffee-flavored desserts (cake, ice cream, and yogurt are perfect examples)
- Some medicines – There are over-the-counter cold relief and pain medications that have caffeine as an ingredient.
Threaten your child into sleeping.
It’s never okay for your child to do something out of fear. Studies have shown that the best way for parents to help their kids develop good habits / behavior is through positive reinforcement. In this case, encourage your kid to sleep on time by framing bedtime positively.
This means giving him the impression that bedtime is enjoyable and not a punishment. It will also help if you make him aware of how sleep helps him grow and have the energy for activities every day. It will be easier for him to fall asleep if he doesn’t harbor negative feelings around bedtime.
Getting your toddler to sleep can be a fight. Hopefully, you’ve learned some new tools and insight into what is causing the problem, no matter what it is. Remember, consistency and scheduling are the keys to successful planning, so you need to have your journal and plan to hand at all times once you pass “go”.
About the author
Catherine is a mom of 2 kids and the chief editor of Parentinn.com, where you can find useful resources for parenting and baby care.