Childhood sleep is not consistent and doesn’t progress in a linear form. Things that are happening in their lives, and yours, can change sleep patterns, and certain developmental stages can cause sleep regressions.
No two children are the same when it comes to sleep, but it’s also good to know what is in the typical range. Total sleep requirements (including daytime naps and nighttime sleep) usually range from around 12-16 hours for a baby up to the age of 1, 11-14 hours between 1-3 years of age and around the 10-13 hour mark for a preschooler.
Sleep deprivation can cause stress, but our stress levels can really impact on how well our child sleeps.
Some tips to promote better sleep
Have a really consistent bedtime routine that is the same every night and allows your child to wind down and relax. Try not to do anything during or just before the bedtime routine that is really exciting or overstimulating and have a think about when milk feeds or snacks fit in. A child no longer having milk can usually benefit from a snack or meal not too long before the bedtime routine starts and milk will almost always feature in the bedtime routine of babies.
Think about the lighting in your child’s room – if they’ll sleep with no light then this is great, but if they sleep better with some form of low light on then look for lights that don’t emit any kind of blue light.
Ensure that children aren’t around screens for at least an hour before bed.
Look at sleep in its entirety; include daytime naps in this. Shorter or fewer naps don’t automatically lead to better nighttime sleep for children under 3. Overtired children will struggle to sleep well. Read up on ‘awake’ periods to see what is a typical window of time that a child of your child’s age can stay awake for without getting overtired and watch out for your child’s signs of tiredness. Remember that tiredness won’t always present as drowsiness and many children get more energetic if overtired.
Make sure your child has had plenty of opportunities to be physically active in the day, even if they’re not yet crawling or walking – plenty of time unconstrained by a high chair, buggy or your arms is important.
Being too hot can make sleeping well particularly tricky, 16-18 as a room temperature is really ideal for sleep.
The way your child falls to sleep at the start of the night will not always, but quite often, mirror the way they will want to fall back asleep if they wake. So if they have a particular way that they like to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, don’t be surprised if they want to fall asleep in the same way during night wakings. If that method works for you all, there’s no need to make a change, but if your child falls asleep in a way that isn’t working for you then this may be something to work on together.
White noise and alpha music can both be very effective for helping children to sleep and get back to sleep and tend to be far more effective than lullabies or other music.
Your child may have something that helps them to settle back to sleep like a comforter or having water accessible.
Some babies find dummies incredibly soothing and it really helps them to get to sleep. It is recommended not to introduce a dummy until breastfeeding is fully established and to stop using a dummy for sleep when your child is between 6 and12 months.
If your child currently falls asleep in a way that isn’t working for them or you, and you’re all struggling with sleepless nights as a result, think about ways that you can ‘nudge’ them into the next stage of sleeping by gradually nudging your child towards new normals and expanding their comfort zone.
If you’re still struggling with sleepless nights
If it’s a phase caused by a sleep regression or another change in your child’s life, stay as consistent as you can with your child’s bedtime routine and your general approach to sleep, but accept that things might look different for a little while. If what you were doing with sleep worked before the regression or blip, you’ll get back there with consistency.
If your child is waking in the night and you’re having to resettle them back to sleep, try to be as boring as possible – your signals need to clearly show that it’s not a time for play.
If you can find a way to stock up on sleep to support you to manage sleepless nights, see if you can find a way to do this.
Check out the NHS and Lullaby Trust for information on sleep safety.