Establishing a baby sleep routine will really help for smooth bedtimes in the future.
When it comes to bedtime, one thing is for sure: babies love routine.
Routine is vital for babies because once they know that they can expect a certain thing to happen every day at the same time, they will begin to realise that it will be a regular occurrence. Don’t worry too much about routine when your baby is very young. Newborns sleep for up to 18 hours out of 24 but wouldn’t sleep for more than three to four hours at a time. Although it’s possible that baby may sleep through the night at eight weeks old. You’ll be glad to know that the erratic sleep stage doesn’t last forever – by three to six months babies will usually develop regular sleep patterns. There are ways to help your newborn establish a sleeping and eating routine. From about four to six weeks on, you can look at implementing a routine around sleep
For example, an example of a baby sleep routine could include the following:
When your baby wakes up:
- Offer a feed.
- Change your baby’s nappy.
- Take time for talk and play.
- Put your baby back down for sleep
Establishing a regular bedtime routine
While the full routine is not always required, you should try to develop the same habits when putting your baby down for their nap or night time sleep. It could be something as simple as lying them down in the cot, tucking them in and saying ‘sleep well, I love you’.
- Feed your baby after a bath or after you change her into pyjamas.
- Use a dim light to feed your baby at night. A light that is too bright may over-stimulate your baby.
- Do not talk out loud when you feed your baby at night. It’s better to whisper as talking might encourage your baby to stay awake.
- Reading your little one a story, no matter what stage they are at, can be a really special bonding time for all to enjoy. If your baby is breastfed, story time can be a nice activity for daddy and baby to have together. Your child’s bedtime routine should be consistent and it’s important to keep it as calm and peaceful as possible.
How will I know if my baby is tired?
A newborn baby’s (0-3 months) tired signs:
- Fluttering her eyelids
- Jerking of arms and legs
- Arching her back
- Having a worried expression on her face
- Sucking on her fingers
- Difficulty focusing her eyes
Older baby’s tired signs:
- Crying easily
- Looking for constant attention and becoming clingy
- Losing interest in toys
- Becoming fussy with feeds
- Displaying grizzly behaviour
How to reduce stimulation at bedtime:
- Speaking in a soothing, quiet voice.
- Using soft lighting.
- Closing the curtains and blinds.
- Taking your baby to their cot.
- Calming your baby with a cuddle or by reading a story or singing.
- No television or screen time of any kind at least two hours before bed.
- Encouraging an end of day activity like tidying toys away before going upstairs (and they do not return downstairs again). This will be more suitable as your baby gets older.
- Always putting your baby down awake. They may grizzle a little, but listen to your baby without letting them cry or becoming upset. This teaches them to self-soothe and to become comfortable in their sleep environment.
- Having a flexible bedtime routine so that it can be used on holidays or in relatives’ houses; the familiarity of their routine will help your little one to settle well in a strange place.
“I wish I hadn’t been so hell bent on getting my baby into a routine. At the beginning, they are just too young. They settle into it themselves and trying to force an eating/sleeping routine at the start is only going to upset you and your baby. Go with the flow. I wasted so much time and energy trying to enforce a routine and when I stopped my baby settled into her own.”
– Emma Coogan
Young infants don’t sleep for long periods of time in the beginning, but from six months onwards, it is reasonable for new parents to start to get longer, more consolidated stretches of sleep. Here are a few ideas to help the situation:
1. Regular sleep times are key.
Waking and going to sleep around the same time every day helps to regulate the body clock and promote good sleep. However, all wake and sleep times are not equal and the time that your baby wakes and sleeps has a significant impact on the quality of that sleep and therefore the duration. Waking by 7.30am is a good anchor to help get the day off to the right start and most young children from four months onwards, benefit from a bedtime in the region of 7pm-8pm.
2. Ensure your child gets appropriate daytime sleep.
If your baby doesn’t get enough sleep during the daytime then you may find that they wake more frequently over night, and even stay awake for long periods overnight as a result. It’s a good idea to fill their daytime sleep quota to promote great night-time sleep.
3. Read their language for sleep.
Recognising your baby’s sleepy cues can enable the onset of sleep, which prevents them from struggling to fall asleep. Brief eye rubs, decreased activity, staring into space often represent sleep readiness and would be the optimum time to begin a sleep time. Intense eye rubs, big yawns, agitation and fussing are typically too far gone and may either cause a resistance to sleep and/ or short naps and frequent night awakenings
4. Have a peaceful bedtime ritual that signals to your baby ‘it is time for sleep’.
Do this in the bedroom, with the lights turned down. Your task here is to relax your baby in advance of sleep but beware of putting them all the way to sleep at the same time. Young children who are parent dependent at bedtime will be more likely to wake overnight than those who are not. Give your child the opportunity to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC., Paediatric Sleep Consultant, birth to six years +35387 2683584 www.sleepmatters.ie
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