Expert Opinion

Lisa Dinnie’s tips on healthy sleeping patterns and routines this Holiday season

What are some of the things that can negatively impact my little ones sleep?

Baby sleep – is a topic discussed in great detail in forums and the like. When working on a baby’s sleep, the fundamental key is knowing what outside elements can bring about more sleep or impede sleep. I think the key elements that can negatively impact on your little one’s sleep are environmental factors and overtiredness – I see these issues frequently.

You’ve probably been advised to sleep your baby in a light room to ensure that they know the difference between days and nights. However, around 6/8 weeks, a light room for naps can start to negatively impact on sleep. At this age, babies start to wake up, and become more alert, and, therefore, a light room can prevent them from sleeping and sleeping well.

Babies like a womblike environment for sleep – which if you think back, was dark, warm, and noisy – so this is what you are aiming to replicate.

The other big issue I see negatively impacting on sleep is overtiredness: keeping your baby up longer than what they are physically capable of staying awake for. This causes a rise in Cortisol in their system, putting them into flight and fight mode, and can cause a lot of tears when trying to settle your baby, frequent wakings, and short naps. You need to find that sweet spot!

How important is natural light?

Natural light and sleep – what are the benefits? Natural light actually tells us that we are meant to be awake, so when we get our baby up to start the day, that first burst of natural light can help regulate our little ones’ internal body clock – the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm helps to regulate our wake and sleep cycles, and when exposed to natural light as we start our day, around the same time each morning, it starts to set a pattern and, therefore, can help the timing of naps for the rest of the day.

Natural light also helps with the production of serotonin which is a calming hormone – perfect and necessary for sleep!

How can I encourage a night-time/wind down routine?

Babies love routine! Encouraging the same series of events, around the same time each night, helps your baby know that it is time for bed. This series of events should consist of 5/6 things that span across a period of around 20/30 minutes.

So, after dinner, I always encourage a bit of outside play, if possible, before moving into a bath. Once we have had a bath, we can then start to head into that wind-down period. Communicating with your little one about what is going to happen next is key, and the wind down might be something like getting into pajamas, preparing a bottle of milk, brushing teeth, and then, finally, into their room for a beautiful snuggle whilst reading a book, singing a song and then, tucking them into bed.

Each step along the way preempts what is coming up next – saying goodnight to the rest of their family, their teddies. The more relaxed the parent is, the more relaxed the baby will be too.

How often should my little one be napping? How long should they be napping?

Babies at different ages have different sleep needs – in fact, even same-aged babies can have different sleep needs. Usual transitions for naps happen around 4 months – where they sit with a three-nap routine. At 8 months, they will move to two naps, and at 15/18 months, they will move to one nap – that nap will stay in place until they are around 3 years old.

When they nap depends on how long they can stay awake, and how long they sleep for also depends on how many naps they are taking and how much sleep they need across the day. If you have a baby that needs around 3 hours of sleep across the day, but they take a 2.5-hour nap in the morning, then sleep isn’t spread evenly across the day, and may lead to a very overtired baby come bedtime.

Social events can mean sleeping patterns and routines are interrupted… What are some tips you have for the holiday season?

We all want to be able to live our lives over the holiday season – visit family, have some late nights, and not worry too much about routine and naps.

A great rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule – 80% routine, 20% life, and living it! Over the festive season, it may look more like 60/40. I think the key over this period of time is just relaxing expectations on your baby’s sleep, and acknowledging that you aren’t going to be able to be home for every nap, but if you are out and about ensuring you take your little ones “home sleep associations” with you ­– such as their white noise, sleeping bag, sheet off the bed and cuddly comforter.

Also, I love suggesting that if you’re using a portacot for the first time over this season, actually practicing naps in the portacot at home in your baby’s own bedroom, so that they are used to the feel of the different cot, is really important.

If you’re going to be having some late nights ­–add an extra nap into your little one’s daily routine if you think bedtime at a normal time cannot be achieved.

Lots of people, lots of new toys, lots of stimulation – this is going to be the case for a lot of babies and toddlers, so you may need to spend extra time winding them down before they are able to settle off to sleep.

Ultimately, everyone wants to have a good time and not stress about routines, so pick your battles. Perhaps if you know you have some big days coming up, plan to have a day at home to catch up on any lost sleep, and not just for your little one – for your whole family!

What are some tips you have on encouraging a positive relationship with bedtime?

Bedtime can be a stressful time for everyone in the family, it is often a rushed period of time, where everyone is tired and fractured as they come to the end of the day.

To create a positive bedtime, it pays to just stop and take some deep breaths and see bedtime from your child’s perspective. You want to market bedtime to your children as a positive part of their day, so take your time, don’t rush it, and be calm – your calmness can rub off on your child.

Spending time in their sleep environment, outside of nap time and bedtime can create a positive association with their bedroom – thus leading to smoother bedtimes as well.

With older children, bedtime can be a time to offload their thoughts and feelings about the day ­– so spend the time listening and talking, it may mean putting them to bed 10/15 minutes earlier, but bedtime can be such a beautiful time to make connections with your children and that’s something to encourage.

About the author

Lisa is the founder of Cherish Your Sleep, Co-Regional Director (Australia/Pacific) of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, an experienced certified baby/child sleep consultant and a mother to 3 young children.
She has always loved children and has worked in the industry for over 20 years as a qualified child care worker, working primarily with children aged 0 – 3yrs.
A successful outcome is not only good for the parents and children, but also giver Lisa a sense of satisfaction and happiness – there’s nothing better than hearing from a parent who finally got their first full night sleep since having a child.
Becoming a mum and meeting and seeing other mums struggle with their babies and children’s sleep made Lisa really want to reach out and help. She doesn’t see that there is a one size fits all to helping families – sleep is almost like a Puzzle – you need all the pieces in place to achieve the full picture and those pieces are what she shares with families.
Lisa uses a holistic approach to sleep, focusing on emotional wellbeing of families and ensuring the parent child connection in not only maintained, but enhanced. She knows how easy it is to become overwhelmed and frustrated, so it’s her passion to help find solutions that will work for you, your baby and the rest of your family.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto