Research shows that sleep is crucial for replenishing the body’s energy and processing learning and memory. Some parts of our brain are more active during sleep than when we are awake. It doesn’t take a super-alert, well-rested genius to know that we feel better and enjoy each other more when we’ve all gotten some sleep. And as we all know, that starts with our baby.
When baby sleeps, we all sleep
In The Happiest Baby on the Block program, Dr. Harvey Karp aptly describes the first three months of life as “the fourth trimester.” The Parenting Center offers a class, KOHLS Happiest Baby on the Block, to expecting and new parents to teach them how to calm newborns and increase sleep by using simple steps called “The 5 S’s” —swaddling, side/stomach position, sshing, swinging, and sucking. Learn more about the class and register at theparentingcenter.net.
Sleep like a baby
Realistic expectations can help parents avoid disappointment or feeling they are failing when their infant is waking every few hours—this is what babies do. Babies are not ready to “sleep through the night,” meaning a five or six-hour stretch, until after four to six months. Most babies achieve this milestone by nine months.
Parents can, however, help babies develop routines and sleep associations that will lead to longer stretches of nighttime sleep:
*Increase daytime activity with and around your baby. Give her more and longer feedings, talk and sing to your baby, go outside and visit with friends and family, play;
*At night, use softer and fewer words to soothe your baby, dim the lights, and keep the house calm and quiet;
* Start a bedtime routine, going through the same steps each night at the same time, to signal to your baby’s brain that it is time for sleep;
* Keep track of your baby’s sleep habits and look for patterns. Follow his lead and learn to anticipate when he may be tired to find his best times for sleep.
* Place your baby in her bed while drowsy but awake to help her learn to fall asleep on her own.
Safe sleep practices are also vital. Check out The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Parent’s Guide to Safe Sleep at healthychildren.org.
Toddlers and preschoolers
Between 18 months and three years, children benefit most from a consistent, comforting bedtime routine. Start at least 30 minutes before your target bedtime. A typical routine might include a bath, some lotion or a good towel snuggle, teeth brushing, a few books or stories, lights out/dimmed, a song and some back pats, and, of course, a good night kiss. Your family may have variations, but consider these tips as you find what works best:
* If your child watches TV or plays with any screen, turn it off 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
* Bedtime is a good time to remember the high points of the day: “We had fun walking the dog today.” It is not a good time to review challenges.
* Beware of stretching the evening out too far. Watch for your child’s sleep cues—eye rubbing, whining, yawning—and be sure your routine happens in that time frame; don’t let him become overly tired.
* Don’t let bedtime become a struggle. Respond to resistance or stalling with the understanding that it’s hard to turn off the excitement of the day. Instead of focusing on the unwanted behavior, find a way to help.
by Jenni Evans of The Parenting Center