LOCAL EXPERTS OFFER WISE WORDS ON ESTABLISHING HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS FOR KIDS.
Expectant parents often hear how little sleep they will get after having kids. While the first few weeks with a newborn are tough, sleepless nights shouldn’t remain the norm. We spoke to Laura Hunter, co-founder of Moms on Call, and Natalie Carney, a certified infant sleep coach and newborn specialist, about how to establish and maintain good sleeping hygiene for children, newborn to 8 years old. After all, a well-rested family is a happy one!
Establishing a routine in the first year is key. “The way kids and little ones tell time is by doing the same thing at the same time every day,” Hunter says. “Create a realistic routine right from the get-go. Laying down that foundation of great sleep starts very early.”
To prep for bedtime every night, Hunter suggests a bath followed by pajamas, story time and a final feeding in the baby’s nursery. For children under 12 weeks, she also suggests swaddling.
Creating an environment conducive to sleep is also important. Hunter recommends a new crib and mattress as well as a high-quality sound machine of muted white noise—no high-pitched frequencies or noise that changes. The room temperature should be between 68 and 72 degrees and pitch black. “The body works on light patterns,” Hunter says. “We want the body to know it’s nighttime, and we are going to get this nice, long stretch of sleep.” If light is needed in the room, Carney suggests a red light that doesn’t interfere with sleep.
Listening to your baby’s cues is also vital, Carney says. For example, if your baby has a bad nap day, consider putting him or her to bed a little sooner. And don’t always jump at the chance to solve all their sleep issues.
“Parents are really eager to fix things for newborns, but I give them time to practice,” Carney says. “It’s not screaming their heads off, but if they flinch or make a sound, [consider] giving them a few minutes to see if they can do it on their own without rushing to fix it for them.”
Keep kids active during the day and make sure they get a nap (or naps) so they can make it to bedtime. After age 2, many kids drop all naps. During this transition, it may be helpful to adjust bedtime a little earlier.
“If they decide not to nap, give them a solid two weeks before you actually drop it to make sure it’s not a progression thing, and then adjust bedtime [earlier],” Carney says. “You can eventually go back to that [later] bedtime, but giving them the opportunity to have that extra time if they need it is important.”
After turning 1, many kids don’t have trouble sleeping through the night, but don’t take this as an opportunity to lose all structure. Keep the bedtime routine consistent with a bath, story time and lights out around the same time each night. A well-designed sleep environment continues to remain important. Hunter suggests keeping toddlers in the crib until they climb out or you need the crib for another child.
“If we can keep the crib until 2 to 3 years of age, that’s great. We look at the crib as that safe area while they are navigating standing up and moving around,” Hunter says.
Routine is still important, but there can be more flexibility. Try to work around extracurricular activities to keep a bedtime routine in place and get kids to sleep as close to 8 p.m. as possible.
“We are still trying to hit the goal of what’s the earliest time we can get them to bed and work around what is going to be most consistent most nights,” Hunter says.
If kids want to stay up later on weekends, Carney suggests giving them an extra 15 minutes to start and monitoring how it impacts wake-up times and morning moods.
“It gives you the opportunity to see where they are and whether they can handle it or not,” Carney says. “If they can, you can increase it another 15 minutes.”
Turn off screens an hour or two before bedtime to protect sleep-inducing melatonin. “The blue light can be disruptive and, if the child is sensitive, it can keep them awake for long periods of time,” Carney says.
Contributing home editor and design columnist at Simply Buckhead. Travel & Business Writer. Mother of Two.