When it comes to your little ones sleep routine, timing is everything. However not in the way you might think. As a sleep consultant I am constantly rolling my eyes to hear parents who are following pre-prescribed routines from books/apps which state that their babies should nap at set times each day. Why the eye rolling? Well that simply just won’t work for every baby. How does the book know my baby will be tired and ready to sleep at 9am? They don’t know what time they woke up in the morning! Timing for sleep is always 50% looking at the clock and 50% looking at your babies tired signs. Put simply, start with having knowledge of average awake windows for your baby (see sleep charts here) and use these as a guide to map out your day in balance with watching for tired signs.
So, we know the time we expect our baby to be tired, we watch them closely for tired signs (yawning, eye-rubbing, staring, moaning)… we see the yawn and whip our little one up from their play mat and place them into their cot and they don’t sleep! Why? We did everything right, right? Wrong! Most babies require some pre-nap winddown time in order to settle more happily and easily to sleep. Their little brains are buzzing, taking in surrounding, learning new skills and a good 5-10mins of less stimulating time in advance of a nap can really make all the difference. Try snuggling up on the sofa for 10mins before you feel they will be needing their nap. In addition, when taking them to their bedroom, calm your voice, dim the lights, have a snuggle and a lullaby and then place them down into the cot once they are nice and relaxed.
Controversial I know, but in my 8 years as a Sleep Consultant I can confidently say that babies who learn how to put themselves to sleep will sleep for longer stretched at night, and for longer naps too. We all possess the ability to fall asleep, there is no right or wrong time to allow your baby to develop this skill and you absolutely don’t need to do this by leaving them alone to “cry it out”. Support your little one to settle in their cot using a gentle sleep teaching method. You can see mine here.
It still fascinated me how often small tweaks to bedtime routine make such a difference to settling and night sleep in babies. Again, timing is key here. You want to aim to have finished your routine (including milk feeds) at the point at which your baby will be ready to sleep. Keep bedtime routines dark, quite, non-stimulating and consistent.
There is no such thing as a “perfect sleeper”. All babies, children and even adults wake overnight and it’s normal for babies to need reassurance, milk, water etc. at night. When making changes to your little ones routine in order to improve naps take it a step at a time. For example, if you are looking to help them develop their self-settling skills, start with just one nap a day. If you are looking to gently night wean start with reducing one need a night. Stay calm, have patience and you will get there.
For more information on how I can support you in your sleep goals see here.