Help your littlest ones sleep tight
New parents will soon learn that lie-ins are a thing of the past and – for the unlucky many – an unbroken night’s sleep becomes the stuff of dreams. Before you know it, you’re fuelling yourself on a diet of caffeine and sugar to cope with the exhaustion.
Tired and stressed out mums and dads, striving for the ideal of their newborn ‘sleeping through’, are increasingly turning to the help of sleep trainers, with the baby sleep industry now worth millions.
Sleep is crucial to a baby’s development and wellbeing, says Jo Tantum, author of Baby Secrets and a baby sleep expert on the Pampers Love, Sleep and Play panel.
“Night time sleep is when REM sleep tends to occur for babies. This is when the building blocks for brain structure are laid down. In fact, the brain reaches 75% of an adult’s size by year one, so the first year of sleep is the most crucial in a human’s life. Research has proven that babies who sleep well are more alert, function better socially and wake in the morning in a better mood.”
But for those parents panicking that their child ‘should be’ sleeping through by now, Tantum asserts that every baby is different – and just because your friend’s baby is already getting a solid 12 hours a night, it doesn’t mean yours should be too.
Tantum has devised five different baby sleep types, to help parents identify what kind of sleeper their child is – which may change – and what will help them (all) get a better night’s sleep…
Sleeps in the same position, on their back with legs and arms out. Wakes often and regularly, but does go back to sleep easily after you intervene with a sleep prop, for example rocking or a feed. They need this to get to sleep.
YOUR SLEEP AID: A muslin square, knotted in the middle. To provide more comfort, tuck it down your top before giving it to baby so it smells of you and comforts them. Try and teach your baby to fall asleep on their own gently. Start in the day, at nap times, watching for tired signs such as staring into space and rubbing eyes, then settle them for a sleep in their room. They’ll get used to their own space, instead of being put in a strange room with different smells and sounds.
Awake early in the morning, singing and shouting and refuses to go back to sleep, whatever you try!
YOUR SLEEP AID: Wave sounds. This can be a sleep App or sound machine. Keep it on continually while baby is asleep, so when they come into a light sleep phase it soothes them back to sleep. Total blackout is also key here, as even a small patch of light can stimulate them. Remember babies can’t tell the time. They don’t know it’s 5am. Babies have a very light sleep between 5.30-6.30am, as do adults. This goes back to the days when we woke with the sun! So try to respond to your baby as though it’s still night, rather than creating a habit of early waking, expecting something to happen. It can take seven-14 mornings of soothing and not getting up until morning. So be consistent, as it does work.
Loves sleep and can sleep anywhere and everywhere. A great sleeper day and night – lucky you! But what happens when they wake up? It’s likely to be because of a growth or developmental spurt, or they are teething or not well.
YOUR SLEEP AID: Increased feeding. Increase the feed by five minutes if breast feeding and by 30ml if bottle feeding. If your baby is close to six months old, they may need weaning. If your great sleeper wakes up it can be an awful shock. So check for teething signs and temperature. Often this can happen at the 4-month sleep regression. Remember it is a phase! So be consistent, try not to get into bad habits and they will get back to sleeping well again.
Goes to bed late and wakes in the night. Is wide awake for long periods and can’t get back to sleep.
YOUR SLEEP AID: A Sleep fest. Allow your baby to sleep for three hours during the day to reset their internal clock. Babies need lots of sleep. And it’s a myth that if you don’t give them naps, they will be so tired they will sleep through the night. In fact, the opposite happens. Your baby will find it difficult to settle, wake often and have long periods of waking. Babies who wake often and don’t go into a deep sleep cycle will often have low immune systems, because when babies sleep more deeply it repairs skin and boosts their immune system. Make sure your baby has enough naps in the day. As soon as you see tired signs, let them nap in their room as much as possible, rather than downstairs or out and about where it can be noisy.
Stands up, moves around trying to get comfortable all night, doesn’t want to sleep; always on high alert. Late to bed, early to rise.
YOUR SLEEP AID: Wind-down time. Try bath-story-feed to establish a calming bedtime routine. Your baby is overtired! Babies need lots of sleep so when they are overtired from not having enough naps or night-time sleep, they will thrash around trying to get comfortable just like we do. They will have lots of energy around bedtime and early in the morning, as their bodies and minds are overstimulated and likely to go into meltdown at any time. There should be an hour before bedtime of no screen time or noisy interactive toys, as this stimulates rather than calms your baby.
Top sleep tips from Jo Tantum
Follow a bedtime ritual consistently every night. Babies and toddlers relish routine and ritual, and they like to know what’s coming next, they like certainty.
Treat every hour between 7pm and 7am as night time, which means dark and quiet with no talking and no games or activities. Baby will soon understand the difference between night-time and daytime.
Try not to let your baby fall asleep in your arms or while feeding and always lay your baby down awake.
Don’t rush to your baby at every sound – many of the noises a baby makes are his attempts to fall asleep.
Give your baby a late-night feed or ‘dream feed’ at the same time every night even if you have to wake him to do so. Continue until he is ready to sleep through the night.
Set a base time for his middle of the night feed and never feed before it: stretch that time gradually until your baby sleeps through the night.
Ask the expert
Q: “My three-year-old still comes into our bed in the night and we’re usually too tired to return him to his. He also can’t get off to sleep in his ‘big boy bed’ without mummy being there too. How do we break this cycle, so he can go to sleep on his own and stay in bed all night?”
A: Kathryn Mewes, author of The Three Day Nanny, says: “All children tend to sleep solidly for four hours when they are first put to bed. After this they wake every 90 minutes, coming into a light sleep or actually waking.
“The way in which you put your child to bed is what they will expect when they wake in the night. This is why your child comes to find you in the night, because he believes he needs you with him in order to fall to sleep. This isn’t easy to break, but it can be achieved over three nights if you are consistent and focused.
“Simply create a calm and relaxing bedtime routine and aim to be leaving the bedroom by 6.45/7pm. Aim to read two stories lasting no longer than 15 minutes.
“When you say goodnight and leave the room, the shouting will begin. As they leave the room you simply remain calm and turn your child’s body to face their room and guide them back to bed. DO NOT SPEAK TO THEM.
“You will continue to return them to bed, this could take up to 90 minutes, but only if you remain silent. It could take longer if you speak. You then need to repeat this process when they wake in the night.
“If you can be consistent and return them to their bed for three consecutive nights, you should be well on the way to the entire family sleeping solidly.”