I'm a child sleep trainer and these are the 5 rules I use every time to get kids to sleep through the night
GETTING children to sleep through the night is no easy feat for parents.
But we’ve spoken to a trained sleep consultant who provides parents with practical advice and actionable help to achieve consistently good sleep for their little ones.
Emily Houltram, Sleep Consultant and Owner of The Sleep Chief work with parents of newborns up to four years to help them learn to teach their little ones to sleep well.
This can cover babies who are waking up, up to 20 times a night, children who are only wanting to co-sleep with a parent, and everything in-between!
She revealed the top five rules she uses to get a child to sleep through the night.
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RULE 1 – LOOK AT THE DAYTIME ROUTINE
For young kids and babies, their daytime sleep (or lack thereof!) can affect the night sleep.
Emily said: “They can be going to bed in an ‘overtired’ state which can cause frequent night wakes, waking up crying or screaming, being difficult to settle and early rising in the morning.
“Equally if they are getting too much daytime sleep you might have a situation where they are not wanting to go to bed until late or are waking in the very early morning feeling ‘refreshed’.
RULE 2 – THINK ABOUT THEIR SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
One of Emily’s rules to get kids to sleep through the night is keeping the room dark. Is your child’s room totally conducive for sleep? We want it dark – especially if you have an early riser!
She said: “Other things to consider are making sure it is not too warm or too cold, that their sleep space is clear of toys, books and any other distractions.
“Ensure they are not being disturbed by noise inside or outside the home. Have a think about using a white noise machine in their room.”
RULE 3 – IS YOUR CHILD ABLE TO FALL ASLEEP INDEPENDENTLY AT BEDTIME?
Another one of Emily’s rules is to teach kids to fall asleep by themselves.
If your child is relying on input from you to fall asleep, there’s a good chance they will need that same thing when they come in and out of sleep cycles during the night.
Emily said teaching them how to fall asleep by themselves is often the key to cracking nighttime wakes and helping them learn to settle themselves back to sleep during the night.
RULE 4 – WHAT HAPPENS IN THE RUN-UP TO BEDTIME?
Make pre-bedtime relaxing, advised Emily. The hour or so before bed ideally should be calm and predictable with minimal stimulation.
This could be a bath, brushing teeth, some gentle play (depending on age), some one-on-one time with a parent, a story or some reading time with a dim light, a cuddle etc.
Then some time to “wind down” in their bed before sleep.
If they are getting too much daytime sleep you might have a situation where they are not wanting to go to bed until late or are waking in the very early morning feeling ‘refreshed
RULE 5 – AVOID SCREEN TIME FOR 1-2 HOURS BEFORE BED
Exposure to the artificial light that comes from electronic devices and televisions can directly affect sleep. The blue light can act as a stimulant, making children more awake and alert.
Emily encouraged: “Try to avoid any screen time, TV, tablets, computers and phones, for 1-2 hours before sleep, ideally 2 hours if you are looking to improve sleep.”
Why your kids won’t sleep through the night and how to help
Overtiredness causes children to produce too much cortisol in their bodies which can make it physically harder for them to unwind and fall asleep.
HOW TO HELP – Emily advised parents to look at younger kids' daytime sleep and make sure they are napping for long enough and at the right times.
For older children, bring a bedtime routine and bedtime earlier.
2. THEY NEED TO LEARN TO SLEEP ALONE
How kids are falling asleep and the sleep association that they need at the start of the night, could be what they’re relying on in the night to get back to sleep.
HOW TO HELP – Emily said: “Teach them to fall asleep independently at bedtime and this is where traditional sleep training methods come in.
“So either ‘controlled crying’ where you leave your little one for short intervals and go back in to reassure them. Or ‘controlled comforting’ where you stay in the room and comfort/soothe your child to sleep but with them staying in their sleep space.”
3. THEY'RE GOING INTO MENTAL OVERDRIVE
As kids’ imaginations evolve, fears around night time and sleep can emerge.
HOW TO HELP – Talking to your little one about these fears can be really useful.
Emily said: “You can explain in simple terms that the body actually needs darkness in order to rest and grow big and strong. And that the sun has gone to sleep and so they are too.”
4. THEY NEED TO EAT AND EXCERSIE WELL
For children over three, factors like diet, exercise and screen time can affect sleep. For babies, make sure they are feeding/eating well during the daytime.
HOW TO HELP – Emily said: “Making sure your child is getting a good amount of exercise, that their diet is not too sugar-heavy and minimising screen time before bed.
“For babies, making sure their milk feeds and meals are evenly spread over the course of their 12 hour day will help minimise the need for excessive nighttime feeds.”
The child sleep expert added that sleep isn’t always straightforward and parents should get support if they need it.
She said: “Firstly, you are not alone and you have not done anything ‘wrong’.
“Sleep often feels quite emotional with parents that I work with feeling that how well their child is sleeping is somehow linked to how good they are as a parent, which simply isn’t true.”
Making sure your child is getting a good amount of exercise, that their diet is not too sugar-heavy and minimising screen time before bed.
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