Below are The Sleep School’s top tips to help your baby establish strong sleeping patterns for life.
1. Developing a sleep / wake cycle – In the first few months, newborn babies tend to sleep anywhere between 14 and 18 hours and at any time during the day or night. Unlike adults, they are not yet aware of the light and dark cycles that govern our planet and regulate our sleep. Getting them outside into the daylight and darkening down in the evening is a great way to help adjust their internal clock and encourage the beginnings of a healthy sleep / wake cycle.
2. Active days and quiet nights – Our internal clock, and therefore our sleep / wake cycle, is not only regulated by the rise and fall of the sun, but also by our activity levels. To help your baby differentiate between day and night, see if you can make your baby’s daytime awakenings and feeding times active, social, and fun, and nighttime feeds calm and quiet.
3. Winding down – To help your baby gently transition into slumber, develop a calm, quiet wind-down routine that lasts no more than 30 minutes and includes a warm bath, bedclothes and a lullaby. Mimic the natural decrease in light levels by dimming the lights at the start of the routine every night.
4. Repetition – For a wind-down routine to be effective it must be consistent. Repeat the routine at the same time every night and help your baby learn that the move from the living room to the bathroom to the bedroom means it’s time for bed. To avoid confusing your baby, don’t return to the living room once you’ve moved to the bathroom or bedroom.
5. Warm baths – A warm bath acts as a gentle sleep aid for your baby by promoting the release of the sleep hormone melatonin and by causing your baby’s body temperature to slightly drop – both essential for sleep regulation. Aim for a calm, short 10-minute bath with warm (not too cold or hot) water.
6. Bedclothes – Every aspect of your baby’s wind-down routine should be calm, and that includes putting on bedclothes. Build on the calming effect of your baby’s bath, dim the lights and aim for this process to last no more than 10 minutes.
7. Books and a lullaby – Bedtime stories and lullabies have been sending children off to sleep for generations, and are indeed an important part of any any wind-down routine. Opt for 1-2 age appropriate books (in a dimmed light) and a soothing lullaby.
8. Late arrivals – Given the timing of a child’s wind-down, it’s likely that it will coincide with exciting arrivals, including Mum or Dad returning home from work. Whilst it’s great for working parents to see their children before bed, it must all be done with an air of calm and peacefulness so as not to undo the effects of the wind-down routine.
9. Leave the feed – If tired, most babies will fall to sleep whilst feeding, which can feel like a dream to any new parent. Unfortunately this can quickly turn into a nightmare if your baby becomes reliant on food to sleep. Feeding before the wind-down helps to break this association and encourages your baby to self settle.
10. Settle and Soothe – Learning to self-settle can occur from as early as 3 months old and is an essential life skill for any baby to learn. When it’s time for your baby to go to sleep, give them a loving kiss and cuddle, place them in their cot and then turn off the lights. It’s only normal for your child to cry at this moment and this is where you adopt the settle and soothe approach. Sitting a small distance away, intermittently (every 30 seconds or so) make your presence known by saying things such as “Mummy’s here, sleepy time”. If your baby sounds distressed, go ahead and place a hand on them or pick them up for a short period. Once the crying has stopped place them back into their cot and repeat the process.