Expert Opinion

Sleeping tips you need to know

What are your absolute top three tips for creating good and positive sleeping habits in children?

My absolutely top tips for creative healthy sleep habits in children would have to be:

  1. Set up the optimal sleep environment in the early days – there is a lot of conflicting information out there about what the sleep environment looks like, but I go with the dark room, white noise and ensuring your baby is warm enough.
  2. Be consistent – create a loving wind down and bedtime routine  – a series of events that your child can rely on – this can be done from birth – bath, milk feed, story, song, cuddle and bed. Children are natural pattern seeks so being repetitive in our actions around bedtime is key for healthy sleep habits. We want our babies to enjoy going to bed and consistency will help.
  3. Understand your child’s tired signs, act to get them to bed before you see too many tired signs because an overtired baby will fight sleep, and there can be lots of tears and overtime bedtime can become stressful for everyone.

My child is starting kinder/day care in the new year, and I am worried this will impact their sleeping schedule. What are some tips you have on making this transition as smooth as possible?

Having run baby and toddler rooms for many years, I know too well the panic that parents feel when starting their children at childcare. Firstly, I think it’s important to note that childcare workers are absolute angels and have magical ways of getting our little ones to sleep – but you can help them by bringing as many of their familiar sleep items from home to childcare – their comforter, sleeping bag, book, white noise.

I also highly recommend that you talk to the childcare centre about doing a slow transition where your baby can take a nap or two in their new room before starting. Give the educators an outline of their daily routine and what you do to get them to sleep at home so they can replicate that at childcare.

I think it is reasonable to expect that sleep and eating will be affected in the first few weeks as your child adjusts to their new routine, so early bedtimes, an extra snack or milk feed when they get home might be needed. Sleep may go a little bit off routine for a little bit but it will come back into place.

My child has been waking up frequently from nightmares and bad dreams – what are some of the best ways to handle this?

Around 2 years old, your child’s imagination is really amping up – they are able to understand more about what they see on television, what they are reading in books and this in turn can definitely impact on their sleep – and yes nightmares can definitely start.

Therefore, I think being conscious of what they are viewing and reading during the day is the first step in hopefully decreasing the chance of nightmares. With nightmares, children will be able to recite what they dreamt about and will remember the following morning. So, I do think that, at the time it is happening, reassure them that they are safe, let them know they are okay, and, in the morning, rationalise with them that it was just a dream and put some logic on the situation. You can do this by discussing how what they dreamt about likely won’t or can’t happen in real life.

Also, being conscious that stress, being overtired and not getting enough sleep overall can result in nightmares – these can be eliminated easily by bringing bedtime earlier and talking through your child’s day with them before they fall asleep at night.

In the lead up to a new experience – such as school or kinder – children are likely to experience stress. How does stress impact sleep? And what are some ways to manage it?

When it comes to stress and sleep, the first thing to understand is that stress in our bodies results in the increased production of Cortisol – the stress hormone. Cortisol tends to put us in flight and fight mode, making bedtime difficult, and leading to possible night time wakings and early rising.

Managing stress in children is individual, but as with any new experience, practice makes perfect. A good childcare, kinder or school should have in place a transition program so that your child gets to know the environment before they start attending – this is imperative in my opinion.

I also love with older children, creating a “routine board” or a “story photo book” that outlines in photos what their day looks like when starting something new like school or kindergarten. Reading the book before they start, and things like mapping out when drop off and pick up time is, can 100% eliminate stress for our children.

I also think that before bed at night, a good session of rough housing/connection time with parents, can allow children to offload stress and anxiety through play and laughter, which allows them to sleep more settled because they aren’t carrying that stress in their little bodies.

What’s the relationship between vitamins and sleep? Do I need to give my child supplements of some kind to complement healthy sleeping patterns?

Whilst this isn’t my area of expertise, it would require a doctor or naturopath to diagnose something like a deficiency, I can say that yes, vitamin deficiencies can absolutely impact on sleep.

Iron deficiency in children is more common than what one might think, and is often overlooked, particularly for toddlers (who might drink a lot of cow’s milk, or perhaps are picky eaters and aren’t eating iron rich foods). It causes sleep disruption, restlessness in bed, frequent wakes up and sometimes long overnight wakings.

Similarly, magnesium deficiency can also be a cause of poor sleep. Magnesium is crucial for relaxing the nervous system, it helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.

I think if you are having issues with your little one’s sleep, the key is to always get a full medical check up, including testing for deficiencies because it may be as simple as a supplement being offered.

Over the holiday period, my child’s sleeping routine has been disrupted. How can I ease them back into routine?

Holidays are about having fun, not sticking to routine, late nights, sleeping in, more junk food than normal – that’s what holidays are all about – even a sleep consultant (me) is guilty of throwing everything out the window over school holidays when it comes to routine – and that is okay!

My tips for reigning everything in would be to slowly but surely start bringing bedtime earlier by 15-20 minutes in the week or two preceding the start back of school. This may mean waking them earlier to start their day as well. Get back into the habit of putting into place your predictable evening, bedtime routine of bath, milk, book and bed.

Ensure the room environment is optimal and that you are starting to decrease any sugary foods leading into bedtime, and across the day in general.

We also tend to have more technology time on holidays so wind that back as well – particularly in the two hours before bedtime, as that blue white light exposure can suppress melatonin levels.

I am all for reintroducing relaxation music at bedtime too, and keeping it going for those first few weeks of starting back at school – where their little minds are so incredibly stimulated – that relaxation music can help them wind down at night time.

I  absolutely love a good routine chart – older children can tick off all the “jobs” they have to do before bedtime, with the last thing they tick off is “getting into bed”.

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 Ron Lach