It’s time to turn the page on 2017 and commit to a new year. Maybe it’s the perennial favorite of a better diet or a new exercise program, or maybe it’s a commitment to spending more quality time with your family. Better sleep is one New Year’s resolution that will help you keep up with every other resolution you make this year.
Proper sleep supports greater neurological functioning, better appetite stabilization, and a more positive outlook on life. This is true for you as a parent, and for your children.
Here are 6 practical steps to improve your entire family’s sleep in 2018!
Make Naps a Priority
For babies and children three years and younger, making your child’s naps a priority each day will go a long way to improving his overall sleep health. You know from experience that when your child misses his nap he may become overtired. But this doesn’t mean he will sleep more soundly at night. His body, in an effort to stay awake after a missed nap, secretes an alerting hormone which excites and disrupts normal sleep patterns for a few hours. It may lead to him waking more during the night and being more likely to rise early in the morning.
It’s ok to have some naps on the go — we always need to remain flexible — but the norm should be a consistent nap schedule with a soothing pre-nap routine. If you recently started sleep coaching your child, it’s particularly important to be home for naps, and give it your full attention for 2-3 weeks.
Keep an Early Bedtime
Establishing and maintaining an early bedtime is one of the most practical ways to help your child get enough sleep in 2018. And, a bedtime is a perfect New Year’s resolution. Children typically need a bedtime between 7 and 8 p.m. A later bedtime often leads to difficulty falling asleep, early rising, night-wakings, and not enough sleep overall.
In order to keep an early bedtime, establish a consistent dinnertime and a soothing bedtime routine. Include things like putting on pj’s, teeth brushing, potty time, reading a book, snuggling, saying a prayer, or singing a song, and into bed. Do these in the same order each night. Children thrive on routine — even when they seem to resist it — and will benefit immensely from your consistency with them each night.
You can even try a Sleep Manners Chart with stickers as an incentive. Download and customize here.
End Early Rising
Ideally, your child’s day begins between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Earlier than 6 a.m. is considered early rising, and these few tips may help your child adjust:
- Add room darkening shades to keep out the light in the early morning.
- Use a sound machine to drown out noises from outside or the rest of the house.
- If your child is under 8 months old he may be waking while hungry. In this case you can incorporate a dream feed into his nighttime sleep.
- Keeping an early bedtime will help your child sleep more restfully and not wake too early.
- Make sure you are putting your child to bed drowsy, but awake.
Try a toddler clock for your child over 2.5 years old. Teach him that he must stay in his bed quietly until his wake-up light comes on.
Read more about early rising and toddler clocks here.
Pick a Date to Begin Gentle Sleep Coaching
Sleep coaching is another great New Year’s resolution. If your baby is 6 months or older and does not know how to go to sleep and put themself to back to sleep independently, then it’s time for some gentle sleep coaching. My method is not a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approach, but an individual, tailored approach for your family.
In gentle sleep coaching your child learns sleep skills while you stay with them, offering physical and verbal reassurance, implementing a strategy that is called fading in behavioral science and which I call the Sleep Lady Shuffle.
Think you’re ready for sleep coaching your child? Check in with your doctor first and get the green light before you begin and check out this list of 10 things to do before you begin sleep coaching. Next, check out my blog for tips on creating a sleep plan tailored to your child’s age and particular needs.
Once you create a sleep plan, pick a start date and commit to making this your priority for 2-3 weeks. Say “no” to activities that keep you away from home during naps and bedtime routines during this time. Your commitment to consistency will go a long way to making this coaching process a success for your child.
If you find yourself in need of some individualized help, my certified sleep coaches are available to partner with you in creating a sleep plan and providing strategies to solve your child’s sleep problems.
Reduce Screen Time Before Bed
Avoiding screen time an hour before bed will help your child’s body change gears and slow down for sleep. Computers, tablets, and smartphones all emit short-wavelength, blue light that suppresses the body’s natural sleep hormone, melatonin.
Read more about how to protect your child’s sleep amongst the many screens, here.
Make a New Year’s Resolution for Your Own Sleep
Last, but certainly not least, make a commitment to your own sleep. This may draw a laugh or two, since we all know that your sleep often depends on your children’s sleep! That may mean that you must begin some gentle sleep coaching to help your child sleep through the night so that you can. A new year is a great time to get out the calendar and pick a date! A rested parent is a happier, and often better, more patient parent. Once they’re sleeping, make your own sleep a priority.
Many of the same rules apply to adults as children. Reducing before-bed screens, getting a healthy amount of sleep — 7-8 hours for most adults — and keeping a regular schedule can help parents and adults be at their best.
Read some more tips on sleep for moms (and dads), here.
May you have a Happy New Year and improved sleep for the entire family in 2018!