Before my daughter was born, I knew that
healthy sleep habits were important to me.
During my 10 year career as a nanny and childcare provider, I have seen
dozens of sleep routines ranging from short and sweet salutations to long and
lengthy negotiations. I’ve rocked 2 year
olds to sleep, sat on the edge of school age children’s beds for hours, and
listened to many parents confess just how difficult bedtime is for them and how
they dread it every night.
Because of these experiences, I’ve become a bit obsessed with discovering the key to keeping bedtime as simple and pain free as possible.
1. Establish a Sleep Routine
Establishing a sleep routine that is simple and consistent is the key to a better night’s sleep for the whole family. Kids love routines. They may try to test their boundaries but they feel safety and comfort in knowing what comes next. A healthy sleep routine can start right when you arrive home from the hospital. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Mine started with bath, story, breastfeeding, bed and has evolved to bath, bottle, teeth brushing, stories, bed. Do what makes you the most comfortable!
Confession time, I was not ready to start a routine right when we brought my daughter home. I was too addicted to sweet, sleepy cuddles and would often let her have 3 hour cuddle naps on my chest. At around 3 months, I started picturing having to lie down with her at ten years old to get her to fall asleep and so I started getting serious about instilling a routine. My point is, start when you’re ready because that’s when you’ll be able to follow through. Just keep in mind that the later you start, the more “junkie” sleep habits you may have to break so be patient if it takes some time.
2. Look For Sleep Cues
Babies are often telling us that they are tired by pulling their ears, rubbing their eyes, etc. Still, I know there have been many times that I’ve waited too long and have missed the window of opportunity for sleep and have ended up with a hysterical baby. When I was sick of my 8 month old napping for 30 minutes at a time, I wrote down the times of day she started giving me sleep cues for an entire week. What I found was she was always tired around 10am, 2pm, and 6pm and so I focused on those times as her 2 naps and bedtime and found that her 30 minute naps naturally extended to 1 hour and a half each.
3. Make the Room Dark
The darker the better- blackout curtains and all. I even get a little extreme and cover the light on the fan during the summertime with a tea towel so that it is literally pitch black.
4. Get a Noise Maker
My cousin tells me this is a bit controversial but any superb baby sleeper that I’ve met over the years has had a noise maker. I like the Conair. Just keep the machine as far away from the crib as possible and the noise volume on low. If you don’t want to buy one, a fan will have the same effect.
5. Get a Video Monitor
I know they are expensive but they are so worth it. My sister made fun of me for getting one because we live in a small condo but I love knowing when I need to go in and when I don’t. If my daughter’s standing and screaming in her crib, I know that she won’t go back to sleep without a small cuddle but if she’s lying down and crying she almost always goes back to sleep within 5 minutes on her own.
6. Put Them To Bed Awake
I wasn’t always great at this but somewhere around 6 months I really made a conscious effort to do this more often especially during the daytime. If babies always need to nurse to go back to sleep, they have more trouble learning to put themselves back to sleep when they naturally wake up for whatever reason in the middle of the night as we all do from time to time.
Finally, be good to yourself and know that it’s ok to break your own rules every once and awhile. The key is to be as consistent as possible. Your healthy sleep routine won’t collapse if you nurse a sick baby back to sleep one night or let your upset toddler sleep in your bed one night on vacation.