Tuesday, 10 February 2015
How to: Get an older baby to sleep well
Everyone wants to get their baby into good sleep patterns. But what happens if, when they start teething, all the good habits unravel? Sleep expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Sleep Book, shares her essential tips
1. Is it common for previous good sleepers to become bad sleepers as they get into toddlerhood?
It is incredibly common for sleep to regress as a baby gets older, particularly as they enter their toddler years. This can come as a big shock to parents as generally we tend to believe it is the early months that are tricky when it comes to sleep. Everybody expects a lot of broken nights with a baby, but much less so with a toddler.
2. What could cause this change is sleep pattern?
So much however happens in the toddler years that can cause sleep to dramatically deteriorate. This includes the effects of potty training, eating more solids, moving rooms or moving into a bed, issues with control and autonomy, anxiety of starting nursery or becoming a big sibling and the real onset of nightmares and night terrors. Importantly what happens in the daytime can hugely effect nighttime sleep including too much screen time and over or understimulation. Toddles go through a lot, in body and mind, and this shows in their sleep.
3. Do you think a different approach to sleep routines is needed?
Obviously you would expect different of a toddler and a newborn's sleep. Toddler sleep could involve many more different things than a newborn's such as diet, screen time, the effect of nursery and psychological issues such as welcoming a new sibling, but largely it's important to approach all baby and child sleep holistically and recognising that they are all individuals, there is no "one size fits all" magic solutions that apply at certain ages.
4. What are your top tips for toddler sleep?
My top toddler sleep tips would be:
* Look at the problem holistically, very often sleep problems are actually a reflection that something is not quite right in the daytime. Fixing the real issue is far more important if you want a long term solution.
* Be aware that many of the most popular toddler foods, drinks and even medicines contain additives and ingredients that are known to cause problems with sleep. Removing as many of these as possible can really help. Similarly supplementing magnesium and omega 3 oil can have a big impact, most people are deficient in both of these.
* Don't be afraid of creating a clingy child. If your toddler needs you in the night it is far healthier to give them your attention. This will create confident and independent children.
* Make sure the sleep environment is optimal. Look at the lighting, the temperature and think about sounds and smells too.
* Make sure you are not putting your toddler to bed too early, the average toddler bedtime is between 8 and 8.30pm. Research has shown that earlier bedtimes, before the sleep hormone melatonin has risen in the toddler's body, can cause sleep disturbances.
* Have a good, solid bedtime routine that lasts between 30 minutes and 1 hour and keep it consistent every night.
5. How long does it take to reteach good sleep patterns?
I usually tell parents not to expect any change at all for four weeks, by six to eight weeks they should be noticing some pretty obvious improvements, but it can take longer, particularly if you're hoping for the coveted 'sleeping through the night'. What we need to realise is it has usually taken many weeks, months or even years to create a particular way of sleeping. It is therefore going to take time to change it, especially through gentle methods. It's important to remember that there is no 'quick fix' magic secret when it comes to infant sleep, no matter what others may tell you. If it's quick it generally doesn't last and almost always comes at a price.
6. What last resorts can you try if your toddler just won't play ball?
Consistency. It is a toddler's job to test boundaries, The most important thing you can do is to make a plan and stick with it. Far too many parents give up on something too quickly because they think it is not working. They need to try something for at least four weeks every single night before assessing if it's working.
7. What would you say to a mum struggling with toddler sleep?
"It's normal, you're not alone and it won't last forever". I never fail to be amazed at how powerful it is for parents to understand that they haven't made a hideous parenting mistake, their child is normal, their problems are common and most importantly they are transient. In the meantime the most important thing a mother can do is to look after herself. Taking 'me time' is not selfish, it's a vitally important part of being a parent. If she could get some R&R for herself it can make everything easier to cope with and often the toddler's sleep will improve when the mother is calmer and less anxious.