We understand better than anyone that when your child gets a great night’s sleep, you do too and regardless of whether you’re a new parent or a veteran, sleep advice is always something which is met with differing opinions. Some mums (and dads…don’t forget the dads) are firm believers of the attitude that ‘a decent night’s sleep will come eventually,’ whilst others will try every ‘method’ under the sun to help their little one sleep.
As such, we asked 21 sleep experts from across the globe to share their top tips for helping your child to get a great night’s sleep! We really do believe that we’ve had the opportunity to chat with some of the world’s VERY BEST sleep expert’s and that every single one of the tips offered are nothing short of fantastic!
How many have you tried? Have you had success with any already? Let us know!
My best tip for parents is simple: choose the sleep coaching method that best fits your parenting style and your child’s temperament. Then be consistent!
Know that sleep coaching your child will take time (at least a few weeks in most cases, though every baby is different). But if you are very consistent with your new plan and do not see any progress at all after 3 to 5 days, then stop. Really.
Kim offered us such an in-depth set of tips that we felt they deserved their own space! You can find Kim’s full tips for helping your child get a great night’s sleep here.
Many solutions to the hugely common sleep challenges with babies and young children are counter-intuitive and I believe this to be a big reason why so many parents are left scratching their heads when trying to find a way to help their little one sleep well.
One thing you can do to help your little one sleep better is: Avoid Over Tiredness.
It might seem rational to think that if you wear your child out enough during the day, he will surely sleep well that night right? Wrong. The opposite is actually true. An overtired child is more likely to have a harder time settling to sleep, have more awakenings in the night and be prone to early rising. (I class anything before 6 a.m as early rising).
Sure, you may get the occasional fluke where a super exhausted child will crash out for the whole night but this is not sustainable and will not work daily. Babies and young children need their sleep for important brain development and we parents need our sleep too for our health, well-being, ability to function and, well, our sanity! So getting enough sleep is crucial for the whole family.
So how can you avoid over tiredness? Start by making sure your little one is well rested during the day and getting roughly the average amount of sleep recommended for his age. For example, the average amount of sleep for a 6-9 month old is 3 – 3.5 hours during the day spread over 3 naps. For a toddler aged two on the other hand, the average day will consist of one nap of 2-2.5 hours in length.
Knowing how much sleep they really need in the day is one thing but also knowing how long they can manage to be awake in one stretch is also key. A new baby is likely to only be able to be awake for 45 mins before needing to sleep again where as an eighteen month old can go around 5 hours awake in one stretch. This doesn’t mean they need to be awake the full 5 hours before being ready for sleep and sometimes might need to go to sleep sooner but it helps you to be aware of what their maximum ‘wakeful window’ is so that you can avoid over stretching this and having an overtired child on your hands.
Don’t be fooled by a lively little one who doesn’t appear tired at all. This is often how an overtired child can appear. When the brain tells the body it needs to wake up, hormones are released and this s like adrenaline to a child. It gives us what we often call a ‘second wind’ and can make a child seem wide awake, wired or full of beans when actually they have missed the optimum window to settle and it will now be much harder to get to sleep.
Particularly alert children are very good at hiding the signs that they are tired so if you see eye rubbing, yawning or general fussiness that would usually make you think your little one is tired, these are the signs that that window for settling to sleep is closing fast and you are about to allow him to get his second wind as he becomes overtired. So son’t wait for this e signs to show up, keep an eye on the time and you you know your little one has been awake for around his maximum wakeful time, you need to get a nap underway.
Put your baby down AWAKE so that they learn to fall asleep independently without the use of props, such as a dummy or bottle of milk. Using props to lull your baby to sleep will encourage them to wake throughout the night that will mean you having to use props again to help them fall back to sleep. Helping your baby to learn how to sleep soundly and independently is a gift you can bestow on them that will encourage not only healthy development but also a happy, well rested child.
My top tip would be to figure out from the start which sleep approach fits best for your child and your family. There is no one ‘right’ way to do things. In my book The Baby Sleep Bible, I look at four different approaches you can take which fit in with your lifestyle and your child’s sleep characteristics. It doesn’t matter how you live – you might be a stickler for routine or perhaps need to fit in with a childminder’s working day; you might be looking for an approach which suits attachment parenting and a looser way of living; you might need to co-ordinate routines with work commitments or split living arrangements; you might be dealing with twins or multiples, or have children with large age gaps to consider.
The main thing is to forget what you ‘should’ be doing, forget ‘perfect’ (it doesn’t exist!), just choose what’s right for you, and then stick to it. Consistency is key!
As for a quick tip for a much-needed nap – if your baby or younger child desperately needs a sleep but won’t settle, try a ‘white-out’. If you’re on the go, you can face their pram or baby carrier towards a white wall. If you have a clean muslin, drape it in front of them. The idea is to block out stimulation and allow your child to ‘switch off’. ‘White noise’ can also have the same effect – a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine in the background, even a radio on static. Don’t get your child used to only sleeping in perfectly silent conditions – the aim is for them to be able to settle themselves in a variety of conditions, so that you can carry on with real life!
Bedtime battles are incredibly common with toddlers and preschoolers, who can turn the simple bath, teeth, PJs routine into an epic negotiation and/or battle of wills that can push even the most patient parents to the limit. If your bedtime routine is starting to feel more stressful then soothing, one thing which can help is giving your toddler choices so that they feel they have a little say in proceedings.
So instead of asking them to put their PJs on, ask them if they’d like to wear the blue or the red ones. Rather than telling them it’s bath time, skip straight to enquiring which toys they’d like to take in with them. Be sure to keep their options limited, and be really positive when they make a choice. This is a great method of sidestepping power struggles – it can be applied in lots of different ways, and is win/win everyone feels as though they’re getting their own way. Sleep tight 🙂
We asked Tizzie to share her top tip for helping your child get a great night’s sleep and she came back with 5! As such, we thought it’d be rude not to feature them all!
My top five tips are as follows:
- Follow a routine from as early as possible, babies feel safe and secure if they know what and when things are going to happen.
- Always feed your baby until your baby is full, once your milk has come in never restrict the amount of time your baby drinks at the breast or if you are bottle feeding never give your baby a set amount of milk. If your baby drinks the bottle offer your baby more milk and solids you give your baby.
- Make sure you put your baby to bed when they are tired enough to sleep not catnap. Catnapping can be caused by hunger, coldness or too little awake time. If you put your baby to bed at the first sign of tiredness your baby might be tired enough to nap but not tired enough to sleep.
- Make sure your baby is warm enough to sleep safely and well. Too little bedding can cause an older baby to roll to the unsafe sleeping position of their tummy.
- Always put your baby to sleep where you intend for your baby to wake up or your baby will wake up be confused and not get to the next sleep cycle.
My top tip for helping a child sleep through the night is to be very consistent when handling wake ups. If your child gets different responses, this will confuse and frustrate them thereby increasing crying. To keep frustration levels to a minimum, choose an approach that feels right for you and your child and follow it through consistently.
There are many factors that contribute to good quality sleep in babies and children 0-6 years of age, and laying the foundations for healthy sleep habits can go a long way. Little ones like predictability and stability, and so an age appropriate day routine with the right amount of naps is crucial to pave the way for sound slumbers at night. This prevents the release of cortisol and the possibility of your child becoming wired and overtired at bedtime. This can lead to restless sleep and early rising.
The wind down and bedtime routine at the end of the day is also a great way of helping set healthy circadian rhythms and promote good night sleep. So do the same thing at the same time every night which might include a bath, story and massage and should last no longer than about 30 minutes. For babies and children between 6 weeks of age and 6 years, bedtime will usually be between 6 and 8 in the evening. My final tip for great night sleep is to gently remove any current sleep associations that your child might have (suitable from 6 months-6 years). Encouraging your child to feel confident to fall asleep and get back to sleep without your help will enable them to sleep soundly through the night.
My top tip for helping your child sleep at night is to focus on the reason why they’re struggling. There is so much information out there to help your Little One sleep and the majority of it focuses on how to fix behaviour. This to me is a little like putting a plaster over a sore…it’s a temporary fix.
There is always a reason why your Little One isn’t sleeping, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or something going on around them. Once you establish why, it’s so much easier to help them sleep. It’s not a quick fix but it does bring a long term solution. The first thing I get my clients to do is keep a sleep diary, to see whether there are any patterns with food, routines or activities – you’d be amazed what you can find out!
There are so many reasons that a child may not be sleeping well and I feel that there is rarely one quick answer to fix all of your sleep problems. As a sleep coach, I work with families to create a plan that addresses all of the root issues behind a child’s sleep challenges, including behavioural and environmental sleep concerns and overall sleep hygiene which allows us to solve their sleep problems once and for all!
My number one tip for improving your child’s sleep right away is EXERCISE! Our children have high energy levels and they need an outlet for that energy before they are asked to rest. Science has proven that exercise, especially in combination with healthy nutrition, leads to better overall sleep and a decreased risk of developing childhood sleep apnea. So after dinner, I encourage you to leave the dishes in the sink and go straight outside for some active play! A bike ride, time at a playground, or even a walk with your child will allow them an opportunity to release some of that energy before bedtime! In my experience, a little bit of fresh air and play, leads to a more compliant child during bedtime routine, an easier time falling asleep and often even a longer duration of sleep! What do you have to lose? At the very least, you had some great, healthy, family bonding time! Sleep well!
The top tip I would give parents to help their child sleep better at night is to avoid too late a bedtime. Children who are up past their body’s natural bedtime quickly become “over-tired/wired”. This makes it more difficult for them to both fall asleep at bedtime and stay asleep overnight. Familiarise yourself with recommended bedtimes for your child’s age and do your best to make it happen whenever possible.
My top tip is to let babies, toddlers and children to learn to calm down independently, without the help of their parent, or a dummy or comforter. When little people rely on movement, patting or comforters to calm them down, they will need them when they wake during the night. If they can learn to calm down independently during the day, they will be able to do it when they wake in the night. But if every time they cry during the day, they have help calming, they won’t be able to do it on their own at night and will disturb their parents. Some babies find it harder to calm than others, and some are very strong-willed, but they will all eventually learn. However, they won’t learn to calm down if they are never given the chance to try.
My second top tip for baby and toddler sleep is this…When you are trying to let your baby or toddler adopt new sleep habits, you can only do your best. You will have good days and bad days. If you’ve had a bad day, or a tough night and things haven’t gone to plan, don’t despair, tomorrow in another day and you can try again. The more often you try, the sooner you will have success.
Consistency, perseverance and happiness are the keys!
We all understand the difficulties involved with your child not sleeping…feeling tired and emotional and defeated. It’s ok; with a few small changes you can have a beautiful sleeping baby and no more dark circles and tears (from you and baby)!! The key to good sleep is choosing a technique you are happy with and you and your family can stick to because consistency is the key to success! Once you are committed to your approach persevere…you will have times when you are taking one step forward and two back, but with a constant and positive approach before long your child and you will be sleeping through the night.
For newborns – try to remember where they’re coming from. They’ve been tightly held in your womb, protected from light, cold air and noise, rocked by your movements, never put down and surrounded by white noise. They can’t just adapt overnight! So try to recreate a womb-like environment for them to help them adapt and feel safe. Try white noise, using a Sleepyhead (or make your own nest with a rolled up towel), leave something with your smell on and dim the lights.
For older babies and toddlers pay attention to what they eat in the day- avoid simple carbohydrates at tea time which are metabolised into sugar and cause manic bursts of energy just when you’re trying to help them calm down. Pick protein instead which stabilises blood sugar and provides sustained energy. Also make sure that your sleep problem isn’t an allergy or intolerance in disguise! For instance – people think that grey shadows under the eyes always mean tiredness, but in children they usually mean an allergy – cows milk is the most common culprit. Finally, check your child has a good mix of foods – iron deficiency anaemia is more common that people think and can cause difficultly settling, increased night waking and early rising due to poor quality sleep. Choose iron rich foods like red meat, dark green vegetables and avoid too much cows milk which inhibits the absorption of iron.
If your child can put themselves to sleep at bedtime, they are more likely to put themselves back to sleep throughout the night. We all have partial arousals during the night as we move in and out of sleep cycles. As adults, we might not even remember them occurring. We might adjust our pillow and go back to sleep. A child, who doesn’t put themselves to sleep at bedtime, will wake up during these partial arousals and need a parent to put them back to sleep.
Respect daytime sleep and make naps a priority. Getting enough sleep during the day will help their brains grow and develop. Skipping naps will only lead to more night wakening. It is important to meet your baby’s needs and as important to find out what soothing techniques work for your baby. Every baby will have their own sleep cues, it is therefore important to know what is your baby’s unique signal and accordingly put them down when they are tired. A consistent and a flexible routine helps as they bring predictability into their little world and they will be happy knowing what to expect. And importantly, when possible Sleep when your baby sleeps!
At some point you may think of going on holiday and the simplest way to ensure easy travel and quick acceptance of a time zone change with your baby is to have a well established daytime feeding and nighttime sleeping schedule in place before you go. If your baby’s body clock is already programmed to eat during the day and sleep during the night, it will make adapting to a different time zone much easier.
Ensure your baby’s body clock is already used to the natural combination of set feed-times and naps throughout a 12 hour day, have a regular bedtime routine and for her nights to be established an 11 to 12 hour sleep throughout the night. My book gives much detailed advice on how to achieve this and their are different sections for different ages.
So, depending on where you are travelling to, you may need to lengthen the day of travel and shorten that night or visa versa and this can more easily be achieved if your baby’s body clock is already set to understand the natural difference between day and night.
For adults when travelling the advice is to get on to local time as quickly as possible and this is the best thing for baby too!
A good bedtime routine is key. Establishing this at a very young age develops good sleep associations.
Following these steps should take no longer than 30mins, otherwise, it becomes an extension of play.
Starting with a nice bath, you can still have fun. Just remember you only have 30 minutes from when you go up stairs, to when you place your child in bed.
Low lighting in the bedroom, provides a calm atmosphere. After little one is ready for bed, milk is given. Older babies & toddlers will enjoy a short story before saying goodnight.
Consistency is very important.
So follow these steps each day, and your child learns when bedtime is approaching, thus helping to promote a peaceful night sleep for all.
My top tip for a 3.5 year old who gets out of bed would be to make him independent once you have said good night. So make sure he has his cuddly toy, small non-spill drink, enough to keep him warm, that he is safe in his bed and then he has no need to require your assistance in the night.
Sleep really does breed sleep! An overtired baby will take longer to settle and her sleep will not be as deep and her will not be as well rested if kept awake for long periods. It is essential that you do not over stimulate a baby, but observe her body language and signs for tiredness. Ensure she is well fed and comfortable, a baby with wind will not settle. Once you can recognise these signs then repetition and consistency are key to encouraging your baby to sleep well.
If you have a baby that WILL not sleep no matter what, the best thing you can do is to stop worrying about it! Your baby WILL learn to sleep through the night eventually and you will learn NOT to sleep through the night eventually. So stock up on coffee and wait for it will pass. Because take it from me – it will.
Does your child wake up alert and ready to start their day BEFORE 6am? If so, your child is experiencing the difficult dilemma of Early Rising. Early Rising is one of the most difficult sleep concerns to resolve. The first step is to identify the “red flags” that increase the probably of an early rising event. Keep a sleep log of your child’s schedule to see if your child’s early rising is caused from one or all of the following scenarios:
- You child is not reaching the age- appropriate daytime sleep expectations.
- At bedtime, your child is “conking out” in your arms or on the breast or bottle.
- Your child is “too drowsy” when you actually put your child down to sleep.
- Your child is staying awake too long between afternoon nap and bedtime.
- A child that is 0-6 months is typically asleep within 3 hours after an afternoon nap.
- A child that is 6-24 months is typically not awake any more than 4 hrs from afternoon nap until they are asleep at bedtime.
- A child that is 24 months to 5 years of age typically needs to be asleep within 5 hours of waking from the afternoon nap.
- If your child’s bedtime is too late, you will most likely have a child that wakes up early.
- Until a child learns how to self-soothe to sleep at bedtime, your child will have a harder time resolving early rising and will often “need” their sleep crutch in order to go back to sleep after an early rising event.
- Unfortunately, the longer early rising remains, the harder this habit is to break.
In order tackle early rising, it is a 2 step process. First, parents need to evaluate the child’s schedule and try to eliminate the core “red flags” from their schedule. However, sometimes even after attempting to minimize these “red flag” situations, parents may only have minimal success. In this case, it is evident that the child has not yet mastered the ability to self-regulate and self-soothe to sleep without their sleep crutches. The next step is to consider exploring sleep coaching methodologies so parents can teach their child the all important life skill of independent sleeping.