20 sleep habits: dos and don’ts

Mandy Gurney of the Millpond Sleep Clinic shares some top tips from her book 'Teach Your Child to Sleep'.

The reasons some children don’t sleep well are often very simple and practical. If you are unsure why your child has difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, go through this checklist. You may find that you have overlooked one of the basic rules and that implementing it could make all the difference. If there is one page you should earmark in my book ‘Teach Your Child to Sleep”, it is probably this one.

DO …images

1. Do establish a regular bedtime.

This will regulate your child’s body clock and ensure healthy sleep/wake patterns.

2. Do avoid stimulating activities in the hour before bedtime.

You can start building a brief routine into your child’s pre-bedtime period from as early as 3 months, but always keep it low-key and relaxing.

3. Do stick to a set bedtime routine.

A bedtime routine might include: quiet play; a bath; a story; then lights out and a purposeful ‘goodnight’. Make it low-key and relaxing. It should take no longer than 45 minutes.

4. Do enforce clear boundaries for bedtime behaviour.

This applies to you as well as your child! If you have said you will give him a cup of milk in bed, don’t be talked into fetching a second. Once boundaries start to get stretched, most children will push at them more.

5. Do place your baby in his cot when he is drowsy, not asleep.

Try this as soon as you see the opportunity. If your baby can get used to falling asleep without your presence, he is likely to wake and demand you far less frequently.

6. Do leave your child awake when you say goodnight.

This will encourage him to learn to get himself to sleep, which will benefit both of you.

7. Do aim for your child to be asleep within 15 minutes of leaving him.

This is the maximum amount of time it should take your child to fall asleep. If he is still awake, he may be having a nap too late in the afternoon or his bedtime routine may be too stimulating
or insufficiently focused.

8. Do try to keep daytime naps regular and consistent.

This not only helps to establish predictable times, which can benefit you, but is also likely to make him a better sleeper at night.

9. Do keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature.

The room doesn’t need to be any warmer than 18 °C (64 °F), which is probably a little lower than the rest of the house. Children sleep better at a temperature slightly below rather than above average.

10. Do keep ambient noise down.

This means avoiding sudden, sharp sounds rather than tip-toeing about. It only really matters for the first 15 minutes after lights out: by then your child should be in a deep sleep.

DON’T…

11. Don’t allow your child to take a nap after 3.30 pm from around 9 months of age.

A late afternoon nap can steal sleep from the night-time and make him more difficult to settle.

12. Don’t give your child any stimulating food or drinks in the evening.

This includes drinks, such as tea, coffee and cola, as well as sweet foods. Both caffeine and sugar are stimulating.

13. Don’t put your child to bed hungry.

Most children will settle better, and be less likely to rise very early, if they have eaten well in the day.

14. Don’t create a settling routine that relies on props or requires your presence.

When your baby wakes at night, he may need them to be able to get back to sleep. Particular objects, such as a dummy, or interactions, such as a cuddle can become sleep associations.

15. Don’t bring your child into the living area during or after his routine.

This breaks the focus of your bedtime routine and sends mixed messages to your child, which he will find confusing.

16. Don’t feed or soothe your young baby to sleep every night.

This is easily done, especially with very young babies, and rarely fails. But it can create a rod for your own back if he is later unable to settle without a feed.

17. Don’t respond to repeated calls for attention after saying goodnight.

Most requests for a drink, a kiss or another trip to the toilet are excuses to string out bedtime and should be resisted so that they don’t become a habit.

18. Don’t rush to your baby or toddler when he cries or calls for you in the night.

As long as you know he is well, you should wait to see whether he settles himself. Constantly providing him with your presence could create or sustain sleep problems.

19. Don’t use bedtime to discuss any difficulties relating to today or tomorrow.

This may unearth difficulties or anxieties from your child’s day, which can interfere with sleep and are best discussed in the daytime. Try to get it out of the way at teatime.

20. Don’t send your child to his bedroom as a punishment.

If your child is to become a good and independent sleeper, he needs to feel that his bedroom is a place of harmony and rest.

Extracted from ‘Teach Your Child to Sleep: Solving Sleep Problems from Newborn Through Childhood’  by Millpond Sleep Clinic, published by Hamlyn, £9.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk

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