1. Setting your baby’s body clock
New born infants generally sleep between 16-20 hours in a day. While this sounds like a lot of sleep, little infants need all this sleep to help their little bodies and brains grow and develop. The common problem that parents generally face with new born infants is that the baby is sleeping mostly through the day and the limited awake time is restricted to the night when mummy wants to sleep!
This happens mainly because babies are not born with a developed internal clock or circadian rhythm. What this simply means is that the baby’s body clock does not register the difference between day and night, like ours does. Some simple steps parents can take to help babies set their circadian rhythm are: keeping activity level higher during the day, keeping the baby’s room darker and calmer at night, taking the baby outside during the day to enjoy fresh air and light etc.
2. Timings and Schedules
In the first three months, babies tend to sleep and feed a lot and at varying times. By 4 – 6 months of age, babies start to enjoy a little more awake time and start to appreciate more structure in their day. Creating an age appropriate schedule of feeding, napping, activity time and night sleep can go a very long way in helping babies sleep better and more easily.
3. Bed time Routines
Babies need time to calm down and unwind from the activity of the day and smoothly transition to sleep. Having a calming bed time routine can be very helpful in relaxing the child and letting them know that sleep time is coming. Bed time routine can include massage, bath, changing clothes, nursing or feeding, reading a bed time book, singing a song etc.
4. Sleep Environment
While a calming bed time routine will help your baby unwind, it is also important to ensure that the baby’s sleep environment is also conducive to sleep.
Babies need to be adequately dressed for the weather or the room temperature. Over dressing (a common mistake made by many parents) or underdressing a baby will make the baby too uncomfortable to fall asleep, and stay asleep.
Stimulating toys like mobiles over the bed, light up toys, musical toys etc. are best saved for activity time rather than sleep time. Keeping room lights dim or turned off, and baby toys away from the baby’s bed will help the baby to fall asleep without any distraction.
5. Sleep Cues
All babies display some kind of sleep cue when they start to get sleepy. Some get cranky while others may become very quiet; some babies may start rubbing their eyes, while others may start pulling at their ears, some babies may even become hyper alert or hyper active while some may simply just yawn!
As parents, it is important to learn to recognize your child’s sleep cue. When babies start to display their sleep cues, it is a great time to quickly start preparing them for bed. As these sleep cues only tend to last for only a few minutes, children may get their second burst of energy if parents don’t act quickly. Once you miss out on the ideal sleep window, you may find that you child takes much longer to fall asleep later and may have trouble staying asleep for a longer duration.
Certain foods like chocolates, sodas, packed juices etc. that are high in sugar, preservatives, artificial coloring or caffeine can act as a deterrent to sleep especially when consumed close to bed time. On the other hand, foods like tuna, certain types of nuts, cottage cheese, hard cheese, unsweetened yogurt, soymilk, soybeans, eggs, bananas etc. that contain tryptophan, a sleep inducing chemical, are better suited as meal choices close to bed time. Breastfeeding mothers should also be aware of their own food intake as some babies can be especially sensitive to certain foods and caffeinated drinks.
7. Consistency and Patience
With all babies learning is done by repetition. Inconsistencies with how you put your child to sleep at bedtime and with your responses to your child’s awakenings in the middle of their sleep, is generally one of the root causes of disturbed sleep among babies and children. Creating an age appropriate schedule and routine, and following it daily will help your child know what to expect and will thereby help him to settle into it much more easily.
The author, Ajita Seethepalli is the Founder of KidsCenter.in and practises as a professional Child Sleep and Child Food Habits Consultant. She is the creator of the Sleep Right and Eat Right programs for children. Ajita’s core focus is based on the premise that food and sleep are inextricably linked in terms of their importance to a child’s life, physical growth, and cognitive and behavioral development.