Sleep - or lack of is one of the most common problems that parents of babies and toddlers face …. And the most thing that we get asked about in the pharmacy and Best for Baby….. How can I get my baby to sleep?? Some babies are better sleepers than others … Personally I feel the larger the baby at birth, the easier it is for them to sleep, waking only perhaps once for a large bottle in the middle of the night and then dozing right back to sleep. Babies with feeding issues such as colic or lactose intolerance often find it difficult to get to sleep with pain. Digestive issues and how best to deal with them will be discussed by David in a blog later this year. So, what I’m going to focus on now, is how to develop a good sleep routine with your toddler.
It is a little known fact that toddlers often go through a period of sleep regression around the 18 month mark. At 18 months, a lot happens with your baby’s development. They start to communicate and understand much more about the world they live in. This can cause all sorts of dreams at night that can result in your sleeping baba waking up much more often. So, your toddler either (a) never slept well since birth or (b) has developed bad sleeping habits recently. Firstly, your toddler needs to be tired when it is their bedtime. To do this you need to consider the duration and time of their daytime nap (if they are still napping), how much fresh air they have gotten that day and how much physical exercise they had during the day. Even if they have had a “good” night’s sleep, it is important to get the nap in early to try to ensure a good chance they will be tired come bedtime. This could mean getting them outside for lots of fresh air and exercise early in the morning so they nod off quickly and early in the day. After their nap, it is important to try to tire them out again (!!!) before bedtime. This means more exercise, plenty more stimulation and less screen time. Now, I know, I know, you have to do a million other things during the day, but, spending time to develop a good sleep routine will be worth it in the long run and you will reap the benefits once you are getting a full night's sleep…..or as close as is possible to it anyway!
So, you have worked hard and got them tired enough….. what’s next?? Make sure that bed is a fun, happy place to be. If they are old enough to be moved to a bed instead of a cot, then make a big deal of going to get the new big girl/big boy bed….. one thing toddlers love is the idea of being a big girl/boy. Let them choose their bed linen and perhaps bring them to get a new soft teddy to cuddle at night-time as they fall asleep. A night-light is often a good idea too and many have melodies that come on automatically if your child wakes during the night. Some even allow you to record yourself so your child hears you speaking if they wake up. A necessary investment are bed rails so your child doesn’t go ‘bump’ in the middle of the night! The Safety 1st portable bed rails are easy to install and, as the name suggests, can be collapsed and used on a different bed with ease (great for going to visit grandparents). Personally, once our children moved to a big bed, we always put a stair gate on the door to prevent any night-time wandering and, for the first while, we also found it a good idea to use the Angelcare monitor under the mattress so we would know if they got up out of bed as the alarm would go off. It was a really good way of getting them to stay in bed!!! Next up is a good, solid bedtime routine. Make it fun and try to keep the whole process as lighthearted as possible. Do not overstimulate your toddler, so battles with nerf guns are a definite no-no!! Some people like to give their toddlers a bath before bed, this may not suit everyone as it can be quite time consuming. Have a supper - a light snack with maybe a beaker of milk. Change your toddler into their pjs just before bed. Stick to the same order every night so your toddler soon learns the routine and realises that bedtime is on the way. Let them pick out their favourite book and snuggle them in bed while you read it to them.
If they start to cry, console them and then leave the room. If they continue to cry, I would go back in for a quick, reassuring cuddle and leave again, without entertaining them. This process might take awhile before they go to sleep, but overall you are enforcing the fact that (a) crying will not result in them being taken up and (b) even though you are leaving the room, you are not abandoning them. Some people suggest leaving them to ‘cry it out’ but, personally I couldn’t listen to them crying and anyway, often they can work themselves into such a state that they cannot calm down themselves. As long as you pick a routine and stick to it, despite it seeming difficult for the first few nights (!), then you are enforcing bedtime boundaries in your child’s mind that they will learn to accept. Introducing any new routine takes time and plenty of patience. It may take a month to implement fully…. But just reminding yourself that “this time next month things will have improved” will help you to stick to your goals. Good luck!