SLEEP IS A MULTI-FACTORIAL PROCESS. TOP TIPS FOR OPTIMAL BABY AND TODDLER SLEEP
Georgina Windebank is a Holistic Sleep Consultant, Qualified Naturopath & mother. She is passionate about babies and toddlers achieving age appropriate sleep for optimal development and to enable parents to be well rested and thoroughly enjoy the journey of parenting.
Baby and Toddler sleep is a complicated thing! It is a multi phase biological process which requires several physical, emotional and biological concepts to be aligned in order to create optimal sleep for your baby. Of course, each child according to age and individuality requires a varying amount of sleep but generally there are several factors that we can put into place in order to achieve the best quality and age appropriate sleep for your child. When working with families I always find the factors that need to be put into place are not 100% implemented which means we aren’t giving out little ones the best chance of achieving optimal sleep. Once we work through the individual needs (in a Holistic way) of each family at a pace that works for the child AND parents, we achieve success for more restful sleep necessary for a child’s development as well as more rest and self care for the family. Some of these steps below are necessary for optimal child sleep:
This element of successful age appropriate sleep is so under acknowledged. Replicating the womb- the organic state where babies were most comfortable before entering this stimulating world is a great place to start. Babies are SO sensitive to their environments and very used to the dark, warm and noisy space of the womb. Implement these elements and you’re on your way to more zzzz’s!
Warmth-we have always been taught not to “over dress” our babies, but in fact every client I work with is under dressing their babies and they are too cold. Being too cold means they cant get to sleep and stay asleep, it also means… get ready for a 5.30am wake up! Babies are unable to regulate their own internal temperature until about 15 months so we need to do this for them with warmth and appropriate clothing.
Darkness-repeatedly clients tell me their babies bedroom is “pitch black” and yet I go into the room and its it up like the Taj Mahal! There has to be absolutely NO light poking through blinds. A dark room kick starts the body to produce Melatonin (the sleepy hormone) in response to darkness. With these sleep hormones on board, sleep is not far away!
White Noise-background noise has sooo many beneficial effects for child sleep. Cast your mind back to being pregnant, your baby was in your womb cosy, warm and it was NOISY in there for them! We get out babies home, put them in a quiet room and expect them to comfortably sleep? Not going to happen! White noise is useful as babies float from one sleep cycle to the next. If they wake up in silence having being so used to the noise in the womb it is very disconcerting for them. It also blocks out outside noises like garage trucks, birds, dogs barking and anything in between.
ROUTINE & SCHEDULING
I hate to tell you but babies and children love, love, love routine! Yes its true. They like to know whats coming next in their day. No surprises means no cause for anxiety.
Routines don’t mean you need to be stuck at home for all naps, 7 days a week. It actually means you can be flexible in your life as you know what is happening when! You can arrange that coffee with a fellow Mumma when you’re baby is sleeping so you can actually have an uninterrupted chat!-Say what?! Or arrange a play date with a friend when you know both babies are awake. You can plan early family dinners, always prioritising sleep but not being a slave to it. As babies they are so drowsy and new to the world so they can only handle short periods of wakefulness. As babies develop they can handle longer awake times. A schedule that is 100% right for your babies means the prevention of an overtired baby! Now who likes an overtired baby? Not me! It results in grizzly, inability to feed, crying, resistance to naps and my least favourite early rising. So the real question is with all these difficult factors that create overtired children, if families don’t have routines in place, why wouldn’t you pop your child on an age appropriate routine? A suitable bedtime for child is also crucial to avoid overtiredness. Babies and toddlers should be going to bed at 6-7am and that same for rising-6am-7am. This is in optimal alignment with their circadian rhythms (aka internal body clocks).
PRIOITISING BABY SLEEP
One of my top tips is to prioritise your child’s sleep and in fact your own! Often baby sleep is seen as a luxury or society classifies babies as “good” or “bad” sleepers. This really frustrates me! If we prioritise their naps and aspects of healthy sleep like age appropriate bedtimes we are setting them up for quality sleep as they get older and doing the best we can for their development. Age appropriate amount of sleep also means better moods and improved eating/feeding. We can still take our babies out and about, but having naps at home is also crucial for stability and predictability around sleep. This also means, WE can have a rest when they rest. Yes! Its important to prioritise our own sleep and wellbeing especially when they are newborns or we are having trouble with their sleep, we need to literally sleep when the baby sleeps! This will make for more tolerance and a better overall experience as a parent.
ONE ON ONE TIME TO BUILD EMOTIONAL CONNECTION
There are many components to successful child sleep and emotional connection is defiantly one of the top three! Children ultimately need to feel safe and secure in order to achieve a restful sleep. Well actually, we do too! Sleeping on a park bench would be really difficult for an adult that is used to sleeping in a bed as we wouldn’t feel safe and secure. Safety also relates to “emotional safety”. Emotional safety is crucial for adequate sleep. Especially when we are expecting our children to go to sleep independently and sleep on their own sleep space.
Toddlers (and babies) need to feel emotionally connected and secure with their parents or care givers. If a child doesn’t feel connected and engaged with mum and dad throughout the day or reconnected if they have been at a care environment during the day, they will often seek this connection overnight. Children may wander into mum and dad’s bed or cry out, in the pursuit of connection. We need to ensure our connection time is happening in the waking hours not the
middle of the night. This is particularly relevant for toddlers as they start to spend more time away from their parents and the home. Whether it is Child Care or time with Grandparents, we need to RE-connect when they come home and ensure this time is 1 on 1 with each child and each parent to feel completely connected.
DON’T JUMP INTO TRANSITIONS TOO EARLY!
One of the key factors to Toddler sleep is not transitioning your little one for big changes TOO quickly! As parents we are so eager for them to get to the next stage and society reinforces this “Are they walking yet?” “Are they sleeping through the night?” and on it goes. But let’s just hold up a minute! There is no rush for milestones, and generally children will achieve all milestones in their own time! Everyone said this to me about my son. He was big and strong and it happened at 17 months but boy did I get endless questions about WHEN he would walk!
Transitioning to 1 nap and the Big Bed Transitions are two of the transitions I see in Toddler-hood that are rushed. I find there are issues with a child’s sleep so parents will make a drastic change (like either of these transitions) in an attempt to “fix” the sleep challenge. So often, the child is not ready for these changes and the wheels fall off even more because making huge changes like these is not necessarily the solution to their current sleep challenge. So hold off, and seek advice before making big sleep changes!
It is also important for toddlers to have a routine as well as babies. As they embark on tantrums in their toddler days and navigating how to self regulate their emotions, it is important to create stability and predictability in their little worlds. They are learning new skills in all areas of their life. Toddlers should still be having a day on average until the age of 3 years old. If not, quiet time during the day to recalibrate. It is important to incorporate meals and sleep as well as one on one time into their daily routine. In addition, the bedtime routine is crucial for toddlers. Overstimulated toddlers means an overstimulated nervous system which often translates into sleep difficulties. Consider stepping back from devices and having specific steps you follow each night as they head into the “wind-down” stage of their night as their nervous systems calm down from the day.
If you have all these foundational elements of sleep in place but your child is still struggling with shut eye, Georgina can walk you through the next stage of achieving optimal sleep for your family
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