Sleep training your baby (or child) can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be if you can establish a solid sleep routine. These tips will change how you approach sleep training!
I’m going to share with you my dirty little mom secret. The mom secret that I never share because nobody wants to hear it. Are you ready?? Both of my kids are great sleepers. I mean they are the kind of sleepers that sleep through the night every night, they don’t wake up and need us, they don’t crawl into bed with us, the don’t take hours and stories upon stories to fall asleep. We put them to bed, they go to sleep, and they both sleep a solid 10-12 hours a night. Every night. It’s awesome!!
I told you it was my dirty little secret. I say that because if you’re the parent whose kids struggle with sleep, you probably kind of hate me right now. And that’s ok. Because I’m going to help you!
And do you know how we managed this? No, we didn’t just happen to birth good sleepers. We made good sleepers, and I’m going to tell you all of my tips. You can start tonight, and soon you’ll be snoozing through the night too!!
Establish the Right Expectations
I’m going to share with you the biggest mistake that parents make about sleep and their kids. Are you ready? They don’t expect their kids to sleep.
Somehow our society has painted this picture that kids think sleep is evil and will reject it at all costs. And sure, no kid wants to stop playing so they can nap (not even mine) but they all want to sleep. They all need to sleep. How do I know this, because think back to the last time your kid missed a nap or didn’t sleep enough at night. Are they pleasant to be around or kind of a tiny terror that makes you consider buying stock in condoms? Probably the second, am I right? That’s because they’re tiny bodies are growing and changing and they need sleep!
So when you’re approaching sleep with your kids you must first set up the expectation that they want to sleep, they need to sleep. And your job is to create the optimal environment for sleep.
Routine, Routine, Routine
I laugh out loud when people say they hate routine. Because it either means you don’t have kids or your kids are probably running amuck. Routine is life with kids. And when it comes to sleep, routine will be your savior.
I am a slave to my kids’ nap and bed time routines. To the point that I have missed outings, left events early, or just refuse to leave the house because we need our sleep routine. But guess what? My kids sleep and it’s worth it. In fact, my almost fiver-year-old still takes a daily nap. And while I fully accept those naps are probably close to ending, it’s been a glorious 5 years.
I hear parents say all the time they dread bed time. They dread the inevitable battles, the screaming, the endless stories, or even the amount of times Junior will surely be up out of bed for water before he finally dozes off. But I don’t dread any of that. Because we have an established routine. Bedtime is easy and (almost) effortless.
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that my kid never wines when it’s time for bed. Or that he never gets out of bed 15 times begging for water and more stories and more back rubs. He does do that. But that is the exception to the rule, not the rule. In our house, bedtime is a welcome end-of-day routine. And he usually falls asleep easily.
Advocate for Your Child’s Sleep Training
Creating a solid sleep routine and high expectations is only half of the battle. The next step is to stick to it by advocating for your child’s sleep training. This might mean that if you’re out to dinner one night you’ll have skip dessert to get home in time for the bedtime routine. Or you might have to miss out on a fun outing to stay home for naps.
This won’t be easy, especially if you have a lot of friends and family who don’t have kids. They won’t understand the importance of the sleep schedule. But that doesn’t matter. Stick to your guns. Advocate for what you know your child needs. It will all pay off in the long run.
Create an Optimal Sleep Environment
Stop and think for a second about what makes you feel the most comfortable when you sleep. Do you have to sleep on a certain side of the bed? Or maybe you can only get good sleep with your favorite set of sheets. Maybe your pillows have to be stacked and placed juuuust right. Or the room needs to be pitch black. Whatever it is, we probably all have our little quirks when it comes to optimal adult sleep. I know I do!!
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And the same is true for babies and kids. The problem is they can’t always tell you exactly what they need in order to be most comfortable. So you’ll have to experiment. Every baby will have a different preference for optimal sleep so you might have to adjust different things over the course of a few weeks. Here’s a list of some details you might want to adjust for an optimal sleep environment:
- Lighting: Some kids and babies might do better in pitch black, some might need a nightlight, and it might change with age.
- Sound: Obviously, it will need to be mostly silent for optimal sleep, but different kids might do better with certain sounds to help fall asleep. My oldest never needed any sound, he did better dozing off if his room was silent (he still does). My youngest prefers a quiet song for about 10 minutes while he drifts off.
- Temperature: Again, every baby and child will be different here. When babies are first born it’s best to keep the room on the warmer side since they need to reserve energy (and not spend it regulating body temperature) but as they get older they might prefer a cooler room. Or warm jammies. Don’t be afraid to try layers of clothing and different style PJ’s. I love this sleep sack and have used it with all of my kids. And remember to always talk to your pediatrician about what age is appropriate for your child to begin sleeping with a blanket. Children under a certain age should be in bed alone (no blankets, pillows or stuffed animals) and your pediatrician can help you with this
- Time: I believe there is an ideal sleeping window for kids of a certain age, but there really isn’t a perfect time. It really comes down to what works best for you and your family. I remember when Bubba (my oldest) was about 18 months he went through this phase where sleep was tough for us. My pediatrician finally suggested playing with his nap and bed times and guess what?? Two days later he was back to sleeping like a champ. The time of optimal sleep might change with age so don’t be afraid to change it up if you notice a change in sleep quality.
- Activities: Take some time to consider what is happening in the last few minutes before nap or bed time. Are the kids running through the house and wrestling with daddy? Are you rushing home from preschool to get to nap on time? What happens in the hour and minutes leading up to nap time matters. My oldest can wrestle with daddy right up until 5 minutes before bed, but my youngest needs a quiet place to wind down before he lays down. Most parents have the instinct to give their kids quiet time before bed, and for most kids that’s probably what they need. But if that doesn’t seem to work for you try giving them a more active activity in the last few minutes before bed. They might need to get some extra energy out at the last minute. And of course, activity level during the day matters as well. Some kids need more activity than others, but if you have a child who isn’t very active day in and day out that could be impacting their sleep quality.
- Fresh Air: I’m sure I could Google “fresh air and sleep” and find thousands of results that talk about the benefits of fresh air on sleep. But I can tell you from personal experience that both of my children sleep better when they’ve had fresh air during the day. Even if it’s just a little. We live in Colorado and every now and again we’ll have a stretch of a few days where it’s too cold and snowy to get out and by the third of fourth day I see a serious decline in sleep quality and quantity.
- Change of Environment: I tend to be a bit of a homebody and for the most part my kiddos do ok with that. But every other day or so I try to change up their environment. Even if it’s just a quick run to Target for toothpaste (ha! who goes to Target for just toothpaste???) I have found that it’s very stimulating to be in a different environment. And stimulation equals fatigue which eventually equals a better nap!
And my favorite thing about these tips is that they aren’t age specific. You can use these on your baby or your 6 year old. No matter your child’s age, if you are struggling with sleep these tips will help!
I have found a great deal of success with my kiddos and their sleep. Sure, we have our nights where babies wake up with teething pain or preschoolers have nightmares about the belly button snatcher (thanks to the preschool teacher who thought that was a good story….) but 90% of the time our children not only sleep well, they don’t fight us on it either.
Do you have any sleep tips? Drop a comment below and share the wealth!