There are a few simple things that parents can do to ensure that their child is getting the best sleep possible. Below are my current favorite tips!
1. Have an established and consistent bedtime routine: Providing your child with the joy of having a calming bedtime routine is the best gift that you can give them at the end of every day. The key to success is that it continues in a forward motion (no going back downstairs to play!), it is calm and relaxing, and that it involves dim lighting and lots of love. At our house the kids take a bath or shower, drink milk, brush teeth, read books, then we sing to and rock our little guy before putting him in the crib and tuck in and kiss our not so little lady (she’s almost 4!).
2. Keep the room as dark as possible: Having a VERY dark room is extremely helpful for melatonin production and keeping kids asleep (especially in summer). Natural light is an indicator to our bodies that we should be up and at ‘em so, the darker you can keep your child’s room, the better.
3. Use a sound machine: White noise is about the only “sound” on a sound machine that I suggest parents use. Any intonations can be distracting or stimulating for a child. The white noise machine is fabulous to keep outside environmental noises from waking your kids. Remember that they can also be helpful in hallways between bedrooms!!
4. Provide a lovey for a child who is 12 months or older: Prior to 12 months it is not safe to have ANYTHING in the crib with your little one, but after 12 months I suggest that parents introduce a lovey. Usually a tiny stuffed animal or small blanket that cannot smother a child is all that they need. Holding it while rocking and/or having a bottle or cup of milk can help to introduce the child to the joys of their new little sleeping companion.
5. Early to bed: I cannot say this enough!! A lot of my clients are shocked when I tell them the time that I want them to put their child to bed at night. To fix SO many sleep related issues, an early bedtime is critical.
6. Do not nurse or bottle feed in the room where a child sleeps: Because of the dreaded feed to sleep association, I suggest that all mamas/papas feed their baby outside of their sleeping room. In order for the baby or toddler to not need the feeding sensation to fall asleep, keeping the feeding outside of the room reminds them to only associate falling asleep with their own soothing mechanisms.
7. Use a salt lamp for middle of the night diaper changes: White lights, blue lights, neon lights… they are all extremely disruptive to sleep. If/when your child needs a diaper change or anything else at night it is best to have a red or orange glow to help you see. I adore the orange glow of the dimmable salt lamps that can be purchased from various places online!
8. Adjust bedtime, not nap time: Circadian rhythms fall at certain points in the day. If you suspect that your child is overtired, the best thing to do is keep naps at about the same time (9,12/1,3’ish), and then put them to bed wayyyyy earlier than usual. I’m talking 5/5:30pm early if need be. The drive to sleep is much stronger at night so an early bedtime for a tired kiddo should be no problem at all.
9. Last but not least, do not fear gates, silent returns, and a bit of crying: In order to get back on track sometimes gates, boring returns to bed, and/or a bit of crying needs to enter your lives for a brief moment in time. Gates can be fabulous for kids who are consistently leaving their bedroom. Even the threat of a gate can work wonders. If you aren’t into a gate or your child bulldozes through them, the silent returns are your best friend. Simply take your child’s hand and walk them back to their bed with no emotion, tucking in, talking.. nothing! Be the most boring parent alive and continue to return them to their bed until they get the point that this isn’t fun! Lastly, for those of you with wee ones who can’t yet leave their bed, a bit of crying may be needed to help them remember that they have the skills to get to sleep. Doing timed checks, extinction or the chair method for just one night can make all of the difference.