Please enjoy this guest post from Jessica Begley. Jessica is holds a Master’s degree in public health, and is an Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and Certified Lactation Counselor. She is the founder of The Baby Sleep Geek and is passionate about helping wee ones and their families get the sleep they need to be happy, healthy, and well-rested.
When my child was an infant I was more of a Baby Sleep Freak as in I was always freaking out that my child slept horribly. I could have used her gentle advice back then. Read on–Part 2 coming next week!
I’m not an expert in positive parenting, or in any form of parenting for that matter. I’m just a parent like you who strives every day to implement the aspects of positive parenting with my very spirited son while keeping my sanity, a full-time job, and a somewhat sane household. But I am a sleep enthusiast. And I know one thing is for sure. If my son hasn’t had enough sleep, and thus neither have I, it is incredibly tough for me to respond to him with two of the most important aspects of positive parenting: empathy and patience.
This is why I firmly believe that regardless of your parenting style, ensuring that your child gets the right amount of sleep, day and night, is crucial. It gives your child the mental and physical restoration needed to handle those big emotions, tricky challenges, and huge developmental milestones they need to tackle every day from toddlerhood through high school. And we all know that when children sleep better, parent sleep better. Which leaves you with more mental clarity to face the tough job of being a responsive and rational parent! Here are some tips that will help your whole family sleep better, so you can parent better.
Respect your child’s need for sleep. Just as you would respect his need for nourishment by packing healthy snacks for a day running errands, anticipate when your child will need to sleep next and do your best to provide the environment to do so. You wouldn’t expect him to skip lunch just because you have things to do or people to see, don’t expect him to skip his nap either. Sleep is food for the brain!
Use a consistent sleeping space. After about the first four months, children sleep more soundly when they have a consistent sleeping space. It is at this age where we see our baby begin to make connections through those first social smiles. This is a clear sign that your baby will now be fighting sleep in order to continue learning and interacting with the world around him, and this continues throughout childhood. Providing a consistent space also helps him create a strong sleep association with his sleeping space, which will increase the release of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, and allow sleep to come more easily.
Protect an early bedtime. In today’s overscheduled society, it’s easy for bedtime to get pushed later and later. But the truth is, most children are not getting the amount of night sleep they need and considering most are also early risers by nature or necessity, an early bedtime needs to be protected in order to fit sleep in. Most children need 11-12 hours of overnight sleep through the preschool years and a bedtime falling between 6:00pm and 8:00pm is a reasonable way to get there. A good indication that bedtime is too late is if your child is waking often during the night or exceptionally early in the morning. This is a clear sign he could be overtired and bedtime is too late. Try pulling back bedtime by 15 minutes. Chances are he will actually sleep later and even if he doesn’t, I promise he will not wake any earlier!
Implement an age-appropriate napping schedule. A well-rested child will fall asleep quicker, sleep more soundly, and sleep longer. The best way to keep your child well-rested is by making sure he is getting the right amount of both night and day sleep. Naps are very important and serve a separate purpose from night sleep. For babies and toddlers still on two naps, morning sleep is mentally restorative while afternoon sleep is physically restorative. A recent study released in Frontiers in Developmental Psychology found that toddlers who napped after being read to, had significantly greater cognitive function, specifically word recall. Most toddlers up to 15 months old still need two naps, and from 15 months through the preschool years need one nap. So don’t drop those naps too soon! If your preschoolers starts skipping his nap, require a rest period in his room. Many do go through a no-napping phase but the nap will often return if the time is protected!
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