Parenthood

As a sleep specialist working with parents of babies and toddlers, I meet new families almost every day. I am rarely surprised by anything anymore, including the different approaches and lengths many tired parents go to, in terms of catching some all important zzzz’s.

And while generally, I am invited into peoples’ homes hoping to impart what my studies have taught me, I often discover that making smaller rather than big changes can make a big difference.

1. Darkness is a really good idea

Sometimes mums and dads think their young babies are afraid of the dark. While it can be true, it’s rarely a big problem. (In fact, sometimes parents are a little afraid themselves, and so it can be a great excuse to have lights on!). I recommend dark rooms for little ones as it encourages the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone. The darker, the better!

2. Routine

Having a bedtime routine that’s the same each day (or, at least, similar) will stand to you in the long term. It teaches the little ones that there’s a sequence of events, and they learn what’s coming next. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process (and doesn’t always have to include a bath). A simple body wash, nappy change, pyjamas, story, milk and bed is “routine” enough.

3. Independence

Teaching little people to fall asleep independently can lead to them being better able to settle themselves later on at night. The more you have to do to get them to fall asleep at bedtime, the more you’ll have to do later too.

4. Which room?

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The best time to move your baby out of your room is when you are BOTH ready. I would strongly recommend that you wait until at least the six-month mark, but it really is whatever suits your family – some go a little sooner, and some never leave.

5. The big move

When getting ready to move out of your room, offer daytime naps in the 'new' room so that little ones get used to the space.

6. The 'Dream Feed'

If you are worried that your little one needs a feed overnight before they have started solids at 6 months – you are probably right, they do! But in order to help them not wake from hunger overnight, a dream feed is a great idea. It means you can be fairly confident that hunger isn’t waking them later on. You can drop this once they are established on solids. It won’t create a habit of waking for feeds as they are so sleepy when it happens.

7. The affects of food

Don't over-feed babies and toddlers at tea-time with a heavy meal that might be hard to digest. Instead, give them their main meal at lunchtime and have a lighter snack around tea-time. Chances are, they are following this meal with a large bottle or feed of milk, and that can leave their little tummies in a bit of discomfort at bed-time.

8. The tiredness factor

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If your little one is struggling to get to sleep at night and stay asleep in the early part of the night, they are more than likely, overtired. It’s a good idea in these instances to have a look at naps during the day. If the naps are relatively good and of adequate length for their age, sometimes having a look at the timing of these naps can help. If the big nap is too early in the day, it's then a long way from bedtime, and again, you might see them struggle to get 'into the zone' in the early part of the night.

9. From cot to bed

Once your child shows signs of being ready to move from a cot to a toddler bed, then it’s a good idea to just do it! Once they get out of their cots that one time, it's time to change things up. Ideally, they will stay in their cot until they are around 2.5yrs (as they have a tiny bit more sense), but it's not unusual for a 24-month-old to be in a toddler bed. A good idea is to let them get involved in the process of picking out bedclothes or choosing which teddy goes with them for sleepy-time so they feel they are somewhat in control and have ownership over their little slumber pad.

Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes.

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