Four Ways to Improve Your Child`s Sleep
Guest Post By: Joleen Dilk Salyn, founder of Baby Sleep 101
Most new parents expect to have some sleepless nights once their baby is born. Well-meaning friends and family will often give them a chuckle and warn them to “sleep now, before the baby comes.” It tends to become a rite of passage to endure those first few months and come out the other side, still somewhat functioning.
But what happens if you’re the parent of a toddler or preschooler who still doesn’t sleep well at night? For many families, it becomes very stressful to endure a nightly ritual of battling with a toddler or preschooler at bedtime. In addition to just trying to get them into bed, many parents also face the challenge of keeping them in bed and sleeping soundly all night. I’ve heard of too many moms and dads who end up sacrificing their own health with extreme sleep deprivation, because they are at a loss how to solve the problem.
Of course for some families, having a child waking multiple times through the night isn’t an issue, but for parents who are experiencing stressful bedtime battles, separate sleeping arrangements, marital discord, lack of patience and no energy from the lack of sleep…you are not alone and your situation can be fixed.
Here are four quick tips to help you get your family on the road to better sleep.
1. Start With a Consistent Wind Down Routine
Toddlers and preschoolers thrive on routine. It may seem boring to you, but they do extremely well on having a predictable pattern before every nap and bedtime. This wind down period is essential if you are looking to improve your child’s sleep. It doesn’t need to be long, but should be the same from day to day. Some options to include are:
- Use potty
- Brush teeth
- Bath (bedtime only)
- PJs on
- Read a story
- Say prayers
- Into bed
2. Try an Earlier Bedtime
By far one of the biggest roadblocks to solid sleep is if a child is overtired at bedtime. Many parents mistakenly believe that the more tired the child is, the better they will sleep. But, in fact the opposite is true. If a child is overtired, they will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep.
So what’s a great way to help your child sleep better? Try putting them down to bed earlier. Most kids under the age of 5 do best with a bedtime of (and that means being asleep at) 7:30pm or earlier. If you find yourself saying that your child won’t fall asleep until 9 or 10pm, then very likely they are overtired and have hit their ‘second wind’. Move bedtime up earlier for 2 weeks in order for their body to adjust and to see improvement.
3. Teach Your Child to Become an Independent Sleeper
If you want your child to sleep well through the night, then they need to have the skills in place to do so. Falling asleep unassisted and independently is a learnt skill. And how do children learn any skill in life? With lots of practice!
We all go through periods of light and deep sleep at night called sleep cycles. When one cycle ends, often a child will partially wake up. This is normal and happens frequently. Problems can arise though if they don’t know how to go back to sleep by themselves. This is then when they will end up calling for mom or dad.
If you want to change this, then you need to provide the opportunity for your child to learn how to fall asleep by themselves – without whatever action you were doing for them before. If you were always lying down with your child until they were fast asleep, then this is what needs to change. It can be challenging for the first few weeks, but if you remain consistent you will see progress.
4. Lead Through Example
If you want your child’s behavior to change, then you should model it and be consistent in your approach. Stay calm and confident when your child protests and don’t ‘give in’ and go back to old habits. If you follow your new plan some days and other days you don’t, your child will not know how to react because the expectations are constantly changing.
- Be Fair – Allow for some flexibility in your routine if it’s appropriate. Let your child have some control over minor decisions such as which books to read at bedtime.
- Be Firm – Say what you mean and mean what you say. Exude confidence when trying to change your child’s sleep habits, even when the going gets tough. Allow for natural consequences to happen and don’t rescue your child from experiencing them. For example, if bedtime is 7:00pm and your child has stalled, protested and not followed directions, then you would simply point at the clock and say “I’m sorry but it’s time for bed and we don’t have time to read any stories. The good news is that you can try again tomorrow.” Then tuck your child into bed and leave. Not getting stories would be the natural consequence of taking too long getting ready for bed.
- Be Consistent – If you have told your child that you will silently take them back to their room if they come out at night, then that’ s what you need to do whether it’s eight times or eighty.
Consistency is the number one predictor of success. Be prepared for a few weeks of your child trying to test you to see if you really mean it this time, but once they see that you do, bedtime will go a lot smoother.
Addressing sleep issues takes time, patience and a lot of consistency. It can be quite difficult in the beginning, but with some perseverance, sleepless night and chronic exhaustion can be a thing of the past and both you and your child can have healthy sleep habits again.
About the author
Joleen Dilk Salyn is an independent certified Baby and Child Sleep Consultant, founder of Baby Sleep 101 and mother of two children; ages 3 yrs and 10 months. She received extensive training from the Family Sleep Institute and is a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. Baby sleep 101 was created out of a passion to support parents who are struggling with their child’s sleep issues. It is Manitoba’s only certified child sleep consulting service and is independently owned and operated. Visit www.babysleep101.com for more information or tune into The Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page for a free live weekly child sleep Q&A from 8pm-9pm CST every Wednesday night.
Have questions about your toddler`s sleep routine? Post them in the comments below!