Pandemic and Your Child's Sleep
During the past crazy 2 years, I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
So as we all continue to try to navigate these scary times together, I started thinking about how I could be a helper. And since my expertise is around young children and sleep, I wanted to share a few things with you in the hope that you’ll find them helpful.
First, since we’re all focussing on staying healthy right now, it’s a good time to remember that one of the very best ways to maintain a strong immune system is to get a good night’s sleep. Our immune system's “T-cells” are better able to fight infected cells when stress hormones are low. And stress hormones are at their lowest when we are asleep!
Now, if you’ve got a baby or toddler in the house who isn’t sleeping well, getting that good night’s sleep can obviously be a little trickier -- for you AND your little one.However, there are some “tricks” you can try TONIGHT that can make a big difference!
As a Certified Sleep Sense Consultant, we refer to these as “sleep hacks.” And while none of these are guaranteed to work for every child, these are the 6 “quick fixes” that I’ve found actually CAN make a difference.
Sleep Hack #1: Watch The Waking Hours
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep, especially for babies and toddlers, is overtiredness. Many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired!
Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:
Newborns (0-12 Weeks): 45 minutes
3-5 Months: 1.5–2 hours
6–8 months: 2–3 hours
9–12 months: 3-4 hours
13 months to 2.5 years: 5–6 hours
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime… AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too!!
Sleep Hack #2: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep better in the dark. Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. (I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard over the windows, or whatever it takes!) In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle!
BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day!!
Sleep Hack #3: Be Predictable (And a Little Boring)
Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.
BONUS TIP: After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to “drag out” bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc. Don’t participate.
If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!
A typical bedtime routine might look something like this:
bath (5 minutes)
put on pajamas (5 minutes)
read a story or sing some songs (10 minutes)
nursing or bottle (10 minutes)
Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child!
Sleep Hack #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
For a lot of babies and toddlers, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association. In other words, your child has “linked” the ideas of feeding and sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.
By feeding right after naptime – instead of before – you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
Sleep Hack #5: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, it’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place – at the same time – every day. This means that naptime should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep – rather than in carseats, strollers, your lap at the coffee shop, etc. For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
Sleep Hack #6: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing. No throwing your toddler in the air… or watching TV… or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I totally encourage tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just NOT in the five minutes before bed. Right after waking up is a great time to play!)
More Than Just Sleep Hacks
Now as I mentioned, since every child is unique, I cannot guess which of these will work for your family. And the truth is that if your child’s sleep problems have been going on for a long time, there’s a good chance that no single “trick” is going to get them sleeping through the night. But I encourage you to give some of these a try and see if it makes a difference. If it does, I’d love to hear about it!
In fact, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat about where you're at and what are some ways I can help you reach your goals.
PS. For those of you with toddlers, remember that daily routines are VERY comforting and reassuring for that age group. I know that many of us have had our normal daily routines upended here and again (ie. no daycare, pre-school, etc.), but I would encourage you to set up a new daily routine to follow. This will not only give your toddler an important sense of security, but it will also help keep you calm and focussed too!