If you find yourself struggling to establish better sleep for you and your young child (over 6 months of age) then it may be worth considering making some changes when it comes to sleep time and throughout the day and how you manage your child’s awakenings.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of parents report various sleep challenges, from resistance to bed or nap time, frequent night awakening, early rising and short naps, to name a few. Although sleep is a natural process, so many force factors have a major influence on your child’s sleeping pattern.

I am known to explain that everything that your child thinks, feels, sees, does, eats and drinks affects their sleep- where they sleep, who they go to sleep with and how, what they wear- also has an effect. Today I want to share 3 key changes that might have a positive impact on your child’s sleep profile, that you could implement today!

1. Bring bedtime earlier

Your child’s bedtime may be attempted when your they are already overtired. This can result in a chemical response of cortisol and adrenaline to the system that has two main functions: Firstly it may make it hard for your child to achieve sleep, resulting in a resistance to sleep when you address bedtime, meaning that it can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to actually get your child to sleep at bedtime and secondly the hormonal secretion can make it hard for your child to stay asleep-causing frequent night awakenings outside of biological waking for feeds, reassurance and transitioning through sleep phases.

Consider your child’s mood and behaviour before you are commencing the bedtime routine. If they are obviously signalling that they may be tired with intense eye rubs and yawns, agitated, cranky or increasingly upset, or perhaps hyper and entertaining, then it is likely that an earlier onset of bedtime may be suitable here. Sometimes, adjusting bedtime forward, as little as 20 minutes can have a significant, positive impact on the overnight sleep duration.

Most children over the age of 6 months seem to benefit from a bedtime that is between 6-8pm- that is quite a range- to help you figure out what time your baby needs to be asleep at then maybe start with aiming to be asleep by 7pm and then adjusting that earlier or later depending on how they seem. If you report that your baby is routinely asleep by 7pm or earlier then this represents their natural bedtime, and you can continue to provide this and reduce overtiredness as a result.

mother napping with baby on couch

2. Provide more or less day-time sleep based on your child’s age range

Your child may be getting too much or not enough day time sleep. Establish how much sleep your child may require based on their age group and aim to get closer to the suggested amount. The closer you get in achieving their average sleep need suggestion then the potential to stay in a deeper night-time sleep for you increases.

Conversely, if your child is napping far more than the suggested sleep need then consider curtailing the amount that they are getting, to re-distribute the sleep into night-time. Don’t be tempted to limit the day sleep far below the amounts outlined in my books The Baby Sleep Solution and All About the Baby Sleep Solution as that intervention may initially improve sleep and then reverse and increase your night-time activity.

3. Create a nap balance that promotes better sleep

A day-time nap imbalance can have a pernicious impact on night-time sleep. Your child may be getting the close to their day sleep quota, but it is not in sync with their natural body clock.  The intervals of wakefulness between nap periods can sometimes be too long resulting in some children under 8 months of age missing a crucial 3rd nap and in some older children being awake too long before bedtime. Furthermore, some children may have too long a nap in the morning and as a result not enough in the afternoon.  

Most children from 8 months to 15-18 months sleep very well when they are having 2 naps per day with the second nap of the time being of equal duration or longer than the 1st nap and a wakeful period not exceeding 3-4 hours before bedtime. This seems to create the best nap gap dynamic which in turns helps for a better night-time sleep to emerge.  

Once your young child is ready to have one nap per day then the recommended wakeful period, before bedtime, ideally should not exceed 4-5 hours ensuring that overtiredness does not unnecessarily interrupt your child’s night-time sleep.

Conclusion

I’m hoping one or all these suggestions could help you further on your sleep journey: remember, these key changes may also need to accompany changes to other cause factors that also limit your child’s sleep profile. I always encourage you to think about your sleep environment, diet, exercise, interaction; your child’s skill at putting themselves to sleep together with what you do when they wake, all play a part in developing their sleep profile. I wish you all the best on your quest for better sleep.

Lucy Wolfe is a Sleep consultant, Co-creational Parent and Relationship Mentor, Author of The Baby Sleep Solution and All About the Baby Sleep Solution, creator of “Sleep Through”, a natural bed and body sleep spray and relaxing rub, and Mum of four. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise, and valuable support to families around the world. See www.sleepmatters.ie |+35387 2683584 or |lucy@sleepmatters.ie