William Blake is thought to have said, “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.”
If this mantra makes you want to weep in despair and longing for just one day that works that way, we’ve got your back. Sleep influences everything – from our appetite to our ability to process information… so let’s break it down for you.
Research has shown that we’re sleeping fewer and fewer hours on average compared to before – and that’s all of us, parents and kids alike. Our children probably sleep less than we or our parents did as children.
Almost a third of our lives are spent sleeping. Sleep increases concentration, attention, decision-making, creativity, social skills, emotional well-being, and physical health, while simultaneously decreasing mood changes, stress, anger, and impulsiveness.
It is fundamentally important for us to give our children (never mind ourselves) a good night’s rest.
Good sleeping habits should be taught from birth. Research has indicated that children who struggle to sleep develop into adults with deficient sleep habits. While it may sound impossible, a good night’s rest can be attained in five steps.
1. KEEP A CONSISTENT BEDTIME ROUTINE
Does a bath and bedtime story every night really make such a difference? A study by Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia has proven that it does. It shows that children with a consistent routine fall asleep faster, with fewer and shorter night-time wakings.
Get your bedtime routine right from the start:
Keep it short
30 minutes maximum is enough time. Rather feed your baby before bath time. Then give Baby a nice and relaxing bath. No sugar, caffeine or exposure to screens (TV, tablet, cellphones) before bed.
Keep it consistent Always do the same things in the same order, so that your baby knows what to expect.
2. DON’T FORGET DAYTIME SLEEP
Contrary to the popular myth that keeping your baby up during the day will make her sleep better at night, daytime sleep actually induces nighttime sleep. So, make sure that your baby is getting an age-appropriate amount of shut-eye during the day.
For daytime naps, a short routine prior to sleep time will cue his brain that sleep is on the way. It is also worthwhile to keep your baby’s sleep environment as calm and as dark as possible without too many distractions. Having a consistent nap space (like her bed or cot) also does wonders if you struggle to get your child down for naps.
3. GIVE BABY ENOUGH AWAKE TIME
Babies get overstimulated very easily, and an overstimulated brain is difficult to switch off when it comes to time to sleep. Make sure that you don’t keep your baby awake for a period longer than what he can handle. Watch your baby, and learn the signs that he gives (as all children are different) to know when he’s overstimulated. Some babies yawn when they are overtired, while others arch their backs or cry.
Try to find your baby’s window of opportunity – this is the amount of time your baby can be awake before he gets tired, but not overtired.
For some babies, just 10 minutes can make the difference between being irritable or a happy camper.
4. STICK TO AN EARLY BEDTIME
Contrary to what some people believe, putting your child to bed as late as possible won’t help him sleep better. It’s best to put a child to bed earlier (around 7pm) in order to fit in with his body’s natural circadian rhythms (our awake and sleep cycles) and metabolic processes that aid sleep.
Making sure that your child gets the adequate amount of sleep during infancy will give him adequate amounts of sleep for brain development.
Putting your child to bed later (as you might think the reward will be a lie-in the next morning) will have the reverse effect and make him wake up even earlier.
5. GIVE HIM A CHANCE TO FALL ASLEEP ON HIS OWN
Probably the biggest mistake parents make is not allowing their children to fall asleep on their own at times. Developing good sleep skills is a natural process (as is walking and talking), if given the right type of environment for such development.
From early on, give your baby the opportunity to fall asleep without sleep aids such as rocking, soothers, music or a feed.
He might just surprise you and fall asleep without you swaying him because he’s learnt how to soothe himself to sleep.
IS MY BABY NORMAL?
There is no one secret thing that will make your baby a good sleeper or not. Sleep always needs to be assessed from a holistic perspective, taking everything from nutrition to light exposure into consideration, especially as there is a wide range of what is considered “normal sleep” in young children.
No two babies are the same either, which means that some advice might work for some, and some not for others. However, getting off to a great start really doesn’t hurt.