I get it, baby sleep is a big deal for parents. Often due to unrealistic expectations set by the sleep training industry, but I believe it mostly boils down to the fact that most parents truly just want to do what is best for their little ones (and getting some improved sleep yourself wouldn't be so bad either, right?).
The following steps you can take to improve and optimise your baby or young child's sleep is supported by research and is 100% "unresponsive-technique" and "separation based method" free!
#1 Consistent and relaxing bedtime routine:
(Emphasis on consistent!)
Research shows us that this one thing is the most effective intervention for infant sleep. It's an important part of good sleep hygiene AND it informs your baby's brain that it's time to get ready for sleepy time
Research shows that it reduced sleep latency (how long it takes baby to fall asleep), bedtime battles and the number & duration of night wakings.
I usually recommend a bed-time routine of about 45minutes, including bath time.
Be sure to tailor it to your child's needs - what may be relaxing for one baby, could be stimulating to yours.
Bed time in our house: (just an exmple)
Rough and tumble play
Dim lights, switch on bed-time music
Bath, jammies and brushing teeth (15-20minutes)
Read 2 books
switch off bed-time music, and switch on whitenoise
Milk & rock to sleep (youngest)
Prayers and lie in bed until asleep (oldest)
#2 Healthy sensory diet:
Every child has a unique sensory profile, which means they have unique sensory needs.
They crave the input of information from their environments, so filling their sensory "cups" with healthy sensory input can help sleep to come more easily.
On the other side of the coin, unhealthy sensory input or sensory overwhelm can have a negative impact on sleep, contributing to longer sleep latency, more frequent over night wakes and a longer duration of wake time over night, as well as early morning wakes.
Some healthy sensory input ideas:
Spend time out doors
Rough and tumble play
Deep touch (baby massage)
Swinging, rolling, climbing, jumping, running, resistance (pushing and pulling), etc.
Playing bare-foot and with their hands in the grass, sand, mud and water
#3 Keep an eye on feeds and nutrition
When it comes to feeds, there are three main factors that can really impact sleep:
Firstly, Nutrition - nutritional deficiencies can affect and disrupt sleep in multiple ways. But just like nutritional deficiencies can disrupt sleep, some nutrients are known to actually help with sleep as well. For example, breastmilk contains sleepy-hormones that help babies fall asleep easier. Some foods that are rich in a chemical known as Tryptophan (helps with production of serotonin and melatonin), like red meat, cheese, eggs, chicken & turkey, sunflower and sesame seeds and even banana, can also have a positive affect on sleep.
Secondly, Calorie intake. keeping an eye on your little ones feeding patterns through the day can help you minimise "unnecessary" feeds overnight (I use the term unnecessary very loosely here. Please feed your baby overnight if they need it). We all need a certain amount of calories in 24hours, but because young children's circadian rhythm is still developing, they can often spread out their calorie intake over the full 24hours (unlike adults). If they are feeding poorly throughout the day, they may need to make up for those lost calories at night.
Lastly, Allergies and sensitivities. This is also something to consider: is your child experiencing any discomfort due to food sensitivities or allergies. This can definitely affect sleep and contribute to more fragmented and disrupted sleep.
Look for any signs of tummy discomfort, gassiness, reflux, constipation or loose stools. In more serious cases you may find abnormalities in their stools, like excess mucus or even blood.
#4 Sleep Hygiene
This includes a consistent bed-time routine, but also any good, healthy habits that would affect sleep in a positive way. For example, limiting artificial blue light exposure late in the day. Some more examples of good sleep hygiene:
Consistent wake-up time and bed-time
Exposure to natural light throughout the day
Adequate wind-down time before bed
Calm and relaxing sleep environment
Cool temperature, dark room
Good sleep timings - sleepy, but not over-tired
Lots of sleep associations
Consistent, predictable bed-time boundaries and responsiveness
Learning that their sleep space, and sleep state, is a safe place to be
#5 Tuning in to find your baby's unique sleep rhythms
Watching for wake windows can be stressful for some parents, but I've found this is usually only the case when parents are trying to fit their babies into generic daily schedules with one-size-fits-all wake windows.
Every baby and child has unique sleep needs, therefor some babies may need more awake time than their peers. And some babies, may need less. Some babies are also naturally early risers or prefer a lie-in (this is based on their chronotype.)
Knowing and following you baby's unique cues helps you to understand and meet their needs more effectively. This in turn has been found to reduce overnight waking and increases parental confidence (supporting their mental wellbeing). Following their unique rhythms and cues instead of a generic schedule also reduces maternal frustration and stress associated with infant sleep.
Need some more support or guidance with your little one's sleep? I'm your girl!
Reach out for a consult or check out one of my parent-led, self-paced courses launching soon!!
Jenness, R., "The composition of human milk", semin perinatol.,1979
Hartmann, E., "Effects of L-Tryptophan on sleepiness and on sleep", journal of psychiatric Research, 1982
Peirano, P et al., "sleep alterations and iron deficiency anemia in infancy", sleep medicine, 2010
Touchette, E., Dionne, G., Forget-Dubois, N., Petit, D et al, "Genetic and Environmental influences on daytime and nighttime sleep duration in early childhood", Pediatrics,2013
Price, A.M, Brown, J.E., Bittman, M., Wake, M., Quach, J., Hiscock, H., "Childrens sleep patterns from 0 to 9 years: Australian population longitudinal study, 2014
Ball, H.L, Taylor, C.E., Douglas, P.S, & SBY working group(2020). Developmet and evaluation of "Sleep, Baby and You" - an approach to supporting parental well-being and responsive infant caregiving