How to set a solid sleep routine for your child

    Beat bedtime battles by establishing a solid sleep routine

    Young boy sleeping in bed sleep routine
    Credit: iStock

    Reset your child’s sleep routine with our troubleshooting guide from Louise Pyne

    As the clocks go forward on 31 March, we can look forward to brighter mornings and lighter evenings. On the downside, however, the start of spring may temporarily jolt your child’s natural sleep rhythms. “Her internal body clock controls when she releases the hormones that keep her active and alert and the hormones that help her to wind down into sleep. This biological clock is regulated by signals in her daily routines.

    Unfortunately, when the clocks move forward or backward, this has no effect on your child’s internal body clock,” explains paediatrician Dr Tamara Bugembe. This means that it may take a few days for her body to sync with the one-hour time change.

    And if your little one is generally super-sensitive when it comes to sleepy time, you may be struggling with a whole host of bedtime battles. Here we share our essential tips for getting her slumber back on track.

    Nighttime waking

    Up to half of all children under five go through periods of waking in the night, and if your child has fallen into this habit, it may be because she is relying on certain sleep rituals. “This could be the presence of a parent or a backrub, and when she wakes in the middle of the night she is likely to need the same sleep ritual to fall back to sleep. She will then cry out or come looking for the parent or backrub in order to fall back to sleep,” explains Tamara.

    You’ll need to try to break any habits and establish a sleep routine that works for your child. “Gradually pulling back your involvement and showing her ways she can achieve the same comfort independently, such as hugging a teddy instead of mummy, will make it easier for her to soothe herself back to sleep when she wakes in the middle of the night,” shares Tamara.

    An inconsistent routine 

    If you’re finding it difficult to get your child to go to bed at the same time each night, it might be due to her daytime structure. “Her brain relies on signals from the daytime routine to know when to release certain hormones. This is why she gets hungry at certain times of the day, and craves movement and activity at others,” says Tamara. Children thrive on routine, so aim to give a predictable pattern to her day. “Try to ensure that meals always happen at around the same time and that exposure to fresh air and exciting play time happen in predictable and consistent ways to help your child’s body clock release the sleep hormone at the same time most evenings,” continues Tamara.

    Overdoing nap time  

    Daytime napping is an important part of a baby’s schedule. By the time she’s reached toddlerhood, however, it’s likely that your child will have dropped down to one nap and will be sleeping for longer at night. Snoozing during the day will help set up her mood and energy levels, but if napping is interfering with her evening bedtime routine, it may be because she is sleeping for too long during the day. “Children’s sleep patterns are very individual and not all children take to daytime naps. If she has long periods of nighttime sleep, she may not feel the need to nap in the day. The quality of sleep is more important than the time spent asleep.

    Get a sense of your child’s individual sleep requirements using her mood and irritability as an indicator of how much sleep she needs and when,” suggests Tamara.

    Taking a long time to settle

    When your child resists bedtime, it can turn the evening hours into a battle of wills, and in order for your little one to settle at night, she needs to feel comfortable. “There are many things that might be making her uncomfortable. It may be the fabric of her pyjamas, the heaviness of her bedding or the temperature of her room, or she may be hungry or thirsty.” It’s also important to make sure she feels safe. “If she is afraid of sudden strange noises, use background noise like an audiobook or music to muffle it out. If it is the dark that frightens her, use a night light to help put her mind at ease,” advises Tamara.

    Co-sleeping

    Co-sleeping can sometimes seem like the most practical solution to bedtime battles when your child is a baby, but it can be difficult to break an older child’s dependence on sleeping with mum and dad. “There’s a chance that your child may have a fear of being alone, or she may be anxious about missing out on fun while she is asleep and find the idea of everyone being asleep at the same time more comforting,” believes Tamara. 

    Try taking her into her own room and lie with her while she dozes so that she feels safe and comforted, but make sure you leave before she is fully asleep so that she gets used to sleeping alone. “Use drawings and stories and act out scenarios to explore what could be making it hard for her to sleep alone, and do not brush off any of her fears, however unrealistic they are,” shares Tamara. 

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