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All I Want for Christmas Is A Good Night’s Sleep | By Katie Hilton – Expert Midwife

When you have a newborn baby or a lively toddler it’s easy to feel sleep deprived and those all-important eight hours of sleep each night just isn’t something that ever happens to you. But with the right tips and advice you could turn your baby or toddler’s sleep pattern around quite quickly and easily.

By now you have probably realised that babies and young children have very different sleep patterns to your own (don’t worry they make up for it in their teen years!) and most parents will at some point have to deal with sleep related issues with their baby or toddler and learn how to cope with the intense sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn baby.

If you’re currently going through this stage, here are some tips to deal with the most common sleep problems and what you might encounter at different ages…

As you would expect, all babies require different amounts of sleep, this can vary from age to age and even between different babies of the same age. A baby’s sleeping habits often change as they grow older and this also often happens when they go through a new development stage or when things such as illness or teething are happening. The one thing we can rely on with every baby is that they will sleep totally differently to their parents.

When we sleep, we have around 4-5 sleep cycles, each lasting between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Babies also have sleep cycles, but they vary from an adult’s in that they are much shorter, often being just under an hour. They also only have two types of sleep, active and quiet. It’s totally normal for everyone, regardless of age to wake slightly in between these different types of sleep. Most of us just turn over and go back to sleep, but for a baby this usually means waking up. So, this means your baby could potentially wake every hour or so as they go through their sleep cycles.

On top of this, younger babies only usually sleep for around 2-3 hours, before they wake up for things like a feed or a nappy change. Although a newborn baby does sleep a lot, averaging around 16 hours out of every 24 hours, their sleep and awake times don’t really match up with ours, so it would be totally normal to expect a younger baby to wake up frequently throughout the night during the first few months of life.

The silver lining is that as babies grow, they start to put together these chunks of sleep in longer periods, so you might find yourself getting six hours of sleep. Luckily from around 6 months onwards babies start to sleep through the night, but sleep issues can still occur with both toddlers and older children. There is of course lots of advice available, however there are a number of tried and tested techniques that are worth trying to help your baby sleep better.

  • Time for Bed – Don’t wait until your baby is really tired, rubbing his eyes and yawning, to put him down for bedtime. By the time you see these signs your baby is overtired. Try to pick up on the signs early and set this as your regular bedtime. 
  • Bedtime Routine – Around an hour before bedtime, start a relaxing, calming ritual to help your baby prepare for bed. Do these same activities every night and your baby will soon start to associate this with sleep. This could include a bath, baby massage, singing lullabies or reading a story. 
  • Put Down Awake – If you routinely rock your baby to sleep, what will happen when he wakes up as he goes through each of those hourly sleep cycles? You guessed it, he’ll wake up and need to be rocked again to go back to sleep. It’s important that babies learn from a young age how to settle themselves to sleep, so start as you mean to go on and put your baby down in his crib sleepy but still awake. 
  • Swaddle – Research has shown that babies who are swaddled wake up less and sleep for longer. Use something such as the Love To Dream Swaddle UP™ which enable a natural sleeping position, feature an ARMS-UP design for self-soothing and are certified by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, which allows for safe development of your baby’s hips. 
  • White Noise – If your baby seems overly sensitive to everyday household noise, then you could try using something such as a white-noise machine to help cover those sounds. 
  • Sunshine – Expose your baby to around 30 minutes of sunshine each morning as daylight suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin; this then helps your baby to start setting his internal clock, recognizing the difference between night and day and will help him fall asleep easier at night. 

Just like night-time sleep, your baby needs regular naps to give his brain and body a chance to rest and recharge (this is also a great time for you to put your feet up too!). But it can be difficult to get your baby napping consistently, so here’s our top tips. 

  • Time – In the same way you look out for those sleepy cues at bedtime, the same thing applies during the daytime hours. Newborns will nap around every 1-2 hours, so when they’ve been awake for this time start looking for those sleepy signs. By the time your baby reaches toddler age you’ll then have this process down to a tee and know exactly when to put them down for a sleep. 
  • Let them Lead – Every baby is different so follow their lead, some babies prefer three x 45-minute naps each day, whilst others prefer longer naps, taking 2 x 90-minute naps, both are fine so let your baby choose. 
  • Routine – It can sometimes be difficult for your baby to take naps at exactly the same time each day and in their regular sleeping environment, especially if you have older children, school run etc. But try as much as possible to be consistent, any change in their routine can throw off their nap schedule and it can take some time to get back on track. It’s also important for the long term that your baby associates his crib with where he sleeps. 
  • Pattern – Just as you have a bedtime routine in the evening, create a similar pattern for daytime naps. Your baby will learn to associate this with naptime. You might want to put on some relaxing music, sing him a lullaby or read a story. 
  • Be Flexible – Babies and toddlers will from time to time skip their naps. Be flexible and go with the flow, if your 6-month-old refuses to nap in the morning, offer it in the afternoon instead. 

So now onto toddlers and bedtime, your little mini-human can play havoc with everyone’s bedtime routine, often refusing to go to bed or finding their way magically into the middle of your bed every night, but first of all just how much sleep should your toddler actually be getting? 

So, at 12-18 months of age your baby/toddler should be getting 13-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, bedtime should be between 7:30 and 8:30PM and by 18 months of age most will be down to just one nap each day, often occurring in the early afternoon. Between 18 months of age and 3 years the amount of sleep adjusts to 12-14 hours and you will generally find that your toddler shows signs of needing a nap, but will usually put up a fight as they get a little older, fear of missing out is real at this age! By the age of 5 most children have completely grown out of napping. 

A range of simple bedtime strategies can help you navigate your toddler’s bedtime…

Top Tips for Toddler Sleep

  • Keep Active – Give your toddler plenty of opportunity to run around and exercise. A worn-out toddler tends to be pooped at bedtime and sleep soundly. 
  • Bedtime Routine – There is no blueprint for the best bedtime routine, but once your baby reaches the toddler age try to keep it about the three B’s: bath, book and bed. Their bedtime routine shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes at this age. The more parts you add to the bedtime routine, the less shut eye he’ll get. Be sure to keep it consistent with the same activities and the same bedtime every night. 
  • Bedtime Snacks – Be wise about what kind of bedtime snacks you offer. If you give your little one sugary snacks or drinks, then they’ll likely be wide awake and revved up. Instead opt for something simple like warm milk and a cracker or banana. 
  • Screen Time – Avoid screen time before bed including TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones. Aim to turn these off at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Research indicates that the blue light omitted from screens can lead to disturbed sleep
  • Stay in Control – If your toddler always throws a tantrum at bedtime, they’re simply trying to take control of bedtime. Let him make some decisions, such as which PJ’s to wear so he feels part of the process or add in a special 5 minutes of playing together that happens at the beginning of your bedtime routine, this way he’ll feel like bedtime is something to look forward to!
  • Avoid Bedsharing – If you often wake up to find a little visitor in your bed be consistent in returning your toddler to his own bed, tuck him in, kiss goodnight and leave the room again. You might have to do this frequently in the first few weeks, but he’ll soon get the message. 
  • Early Waking – If your toddler keeps waking up at 5am you could try installing blackout blinds to avoid that early-morning light. If it’s caused by noises outside i.e. bin lorry you could try something like a white noise machine to drown out the noise.

Every child is different but if you adopt some of these tried and tested techniques then you will hopefully see some improvements, don’t lose heart if it takes a little while, perseverance is key when it comes to sleep routines. Wishing you a very happy (and restful!) Christmas.