8 tips to get your child to sleep better
Desperate for some shut-eye because your LO (Little One) is keeping you up all night? Here are some tips from sleep experts to help get your baby or toddler to sleep better so you can all catch up on some much-needed zzz.
1. Understand how sleep hormones work.
“The key hormones that govern sleep are melatonin and cortisol. By working with these hormones, half your sleep battle will be won,” explains infant specialist Meg Faure, who wrote the bestselling parenting bible Baby Sense.
“Cortisol is the hormone that keeps us awake and alert. Melatonin, on the other hand, increases in the absence of light and prepares us to fall asleep.”
So how can you work with these hormones?
• Avoid putting your baby to sleep when she’s overtired and her cortisol levels are too high, which means she could battle to fall asleep - and sleep peacefully, Faure says. “It’s like an adrenalin rush. The body goes into fight or flight mode,” explains Raylene de Villiers, a Joburg-based sleep consultant for Good Night, a South African child sleep coaching company.
• Get her into her “sleep zone” beforecortisol starts rising. “Studies have proven that with the onset of melatonin, we need to be in bed within 30 minutes for an optimum sleep experience,” says de Villiers.
• Cortisol peaks in the morning, dropping throughout the day. Taking a late afternoon walk with your child and watching the sun set releases the maximum levels of melatonin in your sprog’s brain, helping them sleep better – and you, too.
2. Feed your child the right stuff.
There’s evidence to suggest that the amino-acid Tryptophan can induce drowsiness, de Villiers says. So make sure to include foods high in Tryptophan in your child’s diet, such as turkey, cheese, and eggs, especially for dinner. It’s an added benefit that these are healthy food options.
3.Have a consistent bedtime routine.
“This programmes your child’s brain that sleep is coming,” says de Villiers. Make use of the same “sleep cues” such as a lullaby, or a key phrase such as “dudu time”.
Often parents put their children to sleep when they’re showing “sleepy signals”, such as rubbing their eyes. But de Villiers says this is often too late.
“Instead of watching for their sleepy signals, rather keep an eye on the time.” Aim to put your child down at around the same times every day. You can base this on your child’s optimal “awake time”, which is dependent on their age.
De Villiers says she often sees parents multiple times as their children grow from babies to toddlerhood. “As a child grows, their sleep needs change.”
4.Early to bed, early to rise…
Really does make children wise, says Good Night founder Petro Thamm. “For many parents, sleeping late means rising at 7am. Why can’t children have a snooze button?”
There’s actually a scientific reason for this. Until they reach puberty, “children wake early because of their internal body-clocks that are regulated by circadian rhythms”, says Thamm. If you want to make the best use of these natural sleeping rhythms, she suggests putting them to bed by no later than 7pm.
5. Lights out.
Make sure your child’s room is as dark as possible, including for day naps. Make sure the curtains have blackout, and remove interesting objects out of her line of sight, de Villiers says, in case she can make out the silhouettes.
6. Make a noise.
That’s right. Playing background white noise can help your child sleep better. Look out for one of the many white noise apps on the market. White noise muffles any “environmental noise” (like that yapping dog next door) and you don’t have to worry about tiptoeing through the house, Thamm says.
Unlike white noise, “music doesn’t contain the wide range of frequencies that are needed to mask intrusive sounds”. So rather use gentle music to help your child unwind in the lead-up to bedtime. “White noise should ideally be kept on all night to create a consistent sleep environment.”
7. Learn about how your child’s personality type influences their sleep habits.
Knowing your child’s personality type (consult a sleep training book or a sleep coach for advice) will help you understand which methods will be most effective to get your child to sleep soundly.
A “sensitive social butterfly” personality type, for instance, loves interacting with the world, explains de Villiers, and so often fights hard against sleeping and is prone to overtiredness.
“Because a sensitive social butterfly gets over-stimulated quite quickly, she needs firm boundaries in place to prevent overtiredness. Make sure to have quiet time before a nap and bedtime, and try keep noises after she has fallen asleep to a minimum as she will feel she is missing out if she hears the world continuing without her.”
8. Consider hiring a child sleep coach.
A sleep coach teaches parents various techniques to help their babies and toddlers improve their sleep and will often come to your home, even staying the night if requested.
A good sleep coach will ask thorough questions about your child – everything from their nutrition to environmental factors –to properly assess the situation and determine their needs. Since each child is different, a good sleep coach should tailor a programme to the wonderful, unique child you know yours to be.
Choose wisely and ask lots of questions, says Thamm. Does the consultant’s values fit with your parenting approach? Ask about their credentials and experience. There are people out there who have just read a book and now they’re sleep consultants.”