Sleep is the most talked about topic for parents. Kathryn Stimpson is a qualified Family Sleep Consultant, previous insomnia suffer and mum to Oliver the former sleep thief.
“Drained, exhausted and unhappy; not the most ideal words to describe my very first experience of motherhood. Even when Oliver reached 9 months, he was still up at least 4 times a night and I was lucky if he napped for 29 minutes a day. Here are my 5 essential steps to helping your child sleep through the night”
You may have seen the BBC article, “13 Weird Ways parents get their children to sleep”. I wasn’t at all surprised that pre sleep consultancy days I had tried three of these. I remember when Oliver was trying his hardest to not take his only 20 minute nap, we left him (safely) in a pile of clean laundry, as the smell would send him to sleep for those precious 20 minutes. Reading the article really reminded me of how desperate I was to find a solution, yet pure exhaustion really did cloud my judgement.
It really is amazing how quality sleep gives you the chance to see the world from a totally different perspective. When Oliver was awake for most of the night consistently, I felt sad, desperate, exhausted, low and lonely. Now he sleeps through most nights (apart from when he is ill) I feel calm, reassured, energised, happy and have such crystal clear clarity, well most of the time.
This is probably why I can look back and smile at the memories of me rocking him for 3 hours and him still being awake, driving for 90 minutes in the hope he would sleep (he usually didn’t) or build an Oliver shaped clean laundry pile to put around him. Although I can safely say at the time it was not funny, I was broken!
Having been through this life transformation, I am sharing with you my 5 essential steps to support you to help your baby, toddler or child to sleep through the night.
You may have heard it a thousand times before but exposing your child to natural daylight is without a doubt one of the most important steps to ensure they have a good night’s sleep. The reason for this is our sleep and awake times are triggered by light and darkness.
The hormone that wakes us up is called cortisol and the one that tells us to go to sleep is melatonin. In a regular circadian (daily) rhythm, at night our melatonin is high and cortisol is low at and in the morning our cortisol is high and our melatonin is low. It is daylight that triggers a surge of cortisol and darkness that tells our bodies to release melatonin.
However if you and your child are not sleeping through the night, then it is likely that this daily rhythm is all out of sync, so by exposing both of you to 20 minutes of daylight (preferably in the morning) then this will help to regulate sleep and awake cycles.
It pains me that my husband was actually right about the ideal temperature of Oliver’s room, when he was born I had this motherly instinct that was telling me to keep him as warm as possible.
However, now that I am a certified Sleep Consultant I can tell you that this is not the safest or the most ideal thing to do to ensure a good night sleep. The safest and ideal temperature for sleep is 16-18 degrees. If you are thinking that this sounds rather chilly. It is actually better to turn off heating in bedrooms, keep the room temperature low and dress your child (and yourself) appropriately.
There are many conversations between parents as to how many layers to put on your child, the best way to know this is to feel their chest. If it is cold, then they do not have enough layers on and if they are clammy, they have too many.
It really is true that day and night time sleep are very much interlinked. Have you ever not slept and then been rushing around busy all day and found it difficult to fall and stay asleep? This is the same for children, it is because your cortisol (awake hormone) is high in order to keep you awake, yet it needs to be low in order to stay and fall asleep.
Children who are sensitive sleepers need to have adequate and well timed naps in order for them to sleep through the night. Most children who are three and under require a day time nap, allowing them to get the recommended sleep for their age. To find out why sleep is important for a child's development here.
As children increase in age, their sleep requirements decrease, so for example an 8 month old would need significantly more sleep during the day compared to a 18 month old. As a nap guide (although all children are different, but this gives you an idea if your child is anywhere near their recommended day time sleep):
- Children aged 4-7 months: 3-4 hours
- Children aged 7-10 months: 3-3.5 hours
- Children aged 10-12 months: 2.5-3.5 hours
- Children aged 12-16 months: 2-3 hours
- Children aged 16/18 months+ : Starts off at 2-2.5 hours and gradually decreases until the child is 2.5/3 years old
Equally as children get older their cognitive, emotional and social awareness is developing at such fast rates. For this reason, they start to experience separation anxiety which can be seen as early as 6 months.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood, yet it is extremely frightening for young children especially during the night, which is probably why it is the biggest cause of sleep challenges. It isn’t a phase that can be avoided or prevented as it is a sign of a healthy child, but there are steps you can take to help your child through the peaks of it, each step varies depending on the age of the child.
One common separation anxiety strategy for all children is to make sure they have quality 1 to 1 time with you daily. It doesn’t matter if it is 15 minutes, as long as they have some time to play and be close to you where you can put aside your own daily worries of running a house or work.
For example, for a baby or young toddler playing games like peekaboo and talking to your child to tell them you are leaving the room and then coming back are very helpful. For older children of 3 and above, be sure to have fun time playing hide and seek as well as treasure hunts, this gives your child the opportunity to learn they are safe and secure without you.
Sleep Success Environment
Lastly, but not least! It is important that your child’s bedroom or nursery is the most successful environment for sleep. The room should be neutral and non stimulating, for example plain walls, with minimal images/photos and where possible leave play to the communal areas.
The bedroom should be used for sleep only, with no blue light devices (e.g. mobile phone, TVs or tablets) and I would remove any projectors which just seem fascinating to little eyes. Giving your child a comforter to sleep with is also a good idea, as they will learn to take comfort from it during periods of being unsettled.
There are my five essential steps to helping your child to sleep through the night.
Of course, if you feel you have tried absolutely everything to help your little one to enjoy better sleep and you are totally fed up and exhausted, book your discovery session with me now to start getting your family’s sleep right back on track.