Encouraging Healthy Sleeping Habits for Your Baby
12 min read
Sleep plays a role in maintaining our general health and wellbeing (1). But, for babies and children, it’s particularly important for them to rest after a day of learning, growing and exploring (2).
Unfortunately there’s no rule book when it comes to baby sleep. But, if your little one experiences restless sleep, it may impact the sleeping patterns of other members of the family.
So, understanding some common sleeping cues and equipping yourself with a toolkit of tips to help temporarily settle them may make bedtime more manageable.
The amount of sleep your child gets and how frequently they wake will change over time as they grow and develop (1). It’s important to remember that every child is unique, especially when it comes to their sleeping habits. If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep, talk to your health professional.
When it comes to their sleeping habits, no two babies are the same. While some drift off with relative ease, others may experience disturbed sleep.
At around 6-12 months old, some babies may also experience separation difficulty at sleep time. This may mean they resist falling asleep and wake frequently during the night.
If your baby cries when you leave the room, it may upset them if you try to sneak out (6). Instead, it may help them feel more secure if you stay with them until they are calm (6).
If you’re looking for ways to help reduce your child’s separation difficulty, you may like to try the stepladder approach.
By identifying your little one’s signs of tiredness, you may be able to help settle them for sleep before they become overtired or too agitated. Try settling your baby as soon as you notice them displaying sleeping cues. If they become too tired, it may be more difficult for them to settle.
There are some practices you can incorporate at bedtime to help support your little one’s healthy sleeping pattern. Whatever their specific nap times or favourite bedtime stories, the main thing to remember is that consistency is key.
Establishing a good routine at sleep times is important for encouraging a healthy sleeping pattern. After all, how your baby sleeps during the day influence how they sleep at night (4).
With this in mind, try your best to ensure that the time your child goes to bed and the time they wake up doesn’t vary by more than 30 minutes from day to day (2). Remember to implement this for both night-time sleeping and daytime naps.
For young children, differentiating between day and night feeds may also help establish a regular sleeping pattern. Try keeping daytime feeds social and energetic and reserve calm, quiet feeds for the darker hours.
Setting a bedtime routine is one aspect of helping your little one recognise when it’s time for sleep. Creating a consistent routine may help make the bedroom a familiar, calm and pleasant place for them to wind down.
The activities you include in your child’s bedtime routine should be tailored to reflect those that calm them.
Try to do similar activities in roughly the same way every night. Remember, the aim is to keep the atmosphere relaxing and positive.
It may also be useful to try turning off technology one hour before bedtime (2,5) and reserving the bedroom for sleeping, not for entertaining.
Swaddling, massage and baths may be other ways you can help to relax your little one before bedtime. But, the most important thing to remember is that every baby has their own preferences (1), so try to be sensitive to their cues.
If you want more tips to help your child get to sleep and stay asleep, you can find more handy hints here.
Do you find your little one wakes frequently during the night and struggles to doze off again? There are some strategies you can keep in your toolkit that may help to temporarily relieve their restless sleep.
One way to help lull your restless baby back to sleep may be a gentle massage. They may find your touch reassuring, creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere for them to feel comfortable drifting off again.
When babies are comforted, it helps them learn how to become calm (1). It’s not recommended to leave a baby to cry (1).
In time they can learn self-soothing strategies to calm themselves. Would you like to learn more about self-soothing? You can find more information here.
Although every baby differs when it comes to their sleeping habits, ensuring they’re in a safe position is important for all children come bedtime.
Red Nose recommends that the safest position for babies to sleep is on their backs in the cot (7).
Other steps for safe sleeping include sleeping in the same room as your baby for the first 6-12 months and ensuring their mattress is well fitted (7).
Would you like to learn more about safe sleeping? You can discover the 10 tips to putting your baby to bed safely here.
Red Nose recommends keeping soft toys out of the sleeping environment until your baby is 7 months or older (8).
Once your little one reaches 8 or 9 months old, they may become more aware of the separation between parent and child at sleep times and may appreciate a small comfort or ‘transitional’ object such as a soft toy (8).
Alternatively, offering your baby a dummy may be a helpful infant settling method. If you wish to use a dummy, Red Nose recommends:
For the first 6-12 months of their lives, Red Nose recommends children sleep in the same room as an adult-caregiver, in their own sleeping space (10).
The safest place for your little one to sleep during this time is in a cot next to their parents’ bed (10).
In the first six months, it’s particularly important that babies sleep in their parents’ room as this is a time of rapid and dynamic development (10).
Once they reach toddlerhood, if they’re happy and safe in their cot there’s no need to move them to a bed (1). But, if they look as though they may climb out of their cot, it’s time to move bedtime to a low bed or firm mattress on the floor.
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