“I slept like a baby!”
Have you ever rolled your eyes when someone says this?
I, often, have found it amusing!
Well, sleep and children aren’t exactly an obvious combination. Sleep like a log, perhaps, makes more sense?
Every parent has a herculean nighttime adventure with putting their children to sleep!
Let me ask this:
- How does your child sleep?
- How is your child’s sleep?
- Do they have trouble sleeping at night?
- How many hours of sleep does your child get?
- Do you have a sleep routine?
While you ponder these questions, let’s explore more about sleep, how it impacts children, sure-fire ways to ensure they sleep within minutes, and much more!
(Note: There is a strong possibility of sleep slowly sneaking up on you while you read this article! Nap/sleep is highly recommended)
Parenting = sleeplessness
“Sleeplessness is almost synonymous with parenting at least in those first two years till our child is officially a toddler,” says Dr Grace, a gynaecologist and consulting paediatrician.
Every child is different. And so, it becomes vital to understand your child’s sleep. This will enable you to help them create a sleep routine and make their sleep journey more wholesome.
What is sleep?
Sleep is a state where the body is relatively inactive, the muscles are relaxed, the eyes are closed, the awareness of external stimuli is low, and the nervous system is almost inactive.
Sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it?
“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day — Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.”– Matthew Walker, in Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Imagine how impactful sleep is for your child, then!
Why sleep is important for your child
Let’s say that your child goes to bed on time, has a sleep routine, and has a good night’s sleep!
What do you observe in your child? Aren’t they happier? Lesser tantrums? Willingness to learn?
- makes them more attentive and alert
- nourishes their cognitive and reasoning processes
- strengthens their motor and coordination skills
- develops their vocabulary
- improves their mood
- enhances their memory retention
More importantly, for children below the age of 6 years, it impacts their synaptic connections. As your child sleeps, the neurons in specific regions of the brain repeat the neural pathways to reinforce their day’s learning/activities.
This enables them to absorb as much information as possible in the early years.
Thus, sleep impacts overall development.
If a child is sleep deprived or lacks proper sleep, they display overactive behaviour, irritability, low or no attention span, napping at odd times, low or erratic appetite, nail-biting, and general fatigue.
There may also be an uptick in the release of cortisol, the hormone that causes stress and restlessness.
Worry not! You can make sleep a wonderful friend for your child with these sure-shot ways and enable them to sleep like a baby or log, indeed!
Sure-Fire Ways To Make Children Sleep Within Minutes
1) Choose a sleep training method to put your child to sleep
There are various sleep-training methods that you can follow to make children sleep. Here are a few:
- No-tears method: sing lullabies, pat, and rock until the baby is asleep
This well-known sleep method for babies by Elizabeth Pantley is an assisted sleeping technique. It encompasses lullabies, patting, and rocking your child until they are just about to sleep at any moment.
- Co-sleeping with your little one: improves sleep for both parents and children
In this method, parents and children sleep on the same bed. Your child’s bedtime is your bedtime since you tuck into bed at the same time. Ensure your child’s sleep time is earlier than yours and you do not disturb their sleep.
- The ‘progressive watching’ method: teach your child to independently fall asleep
This sleep training method encourages parents to help their children sleep independently. It encourages self-soothing techniques. You can slowly increase the time to check on your child. Ensure that they are comfortable and safe.
- Mixed bag technique – if nothing else works!
Choose the suitable sleep methods that allow your child to sleep through the night and create your our method. You can sing lullabies and pat them, letting them self-soothe if necessary, and check on them. However, ensure that you don’t move them to a separate bed once asleep. It is ideal to encourage them to sleep in the same space.
2) Sleeping time according to age
“The time to sleep is as important as the process you follow to help your child sleep,” says Dr Grace.
She suggests parents who struggle to put their child to sleep can try different timings and routines to find a suitable time and routine. Depending on the child’s age, ensure they get the required hours of sleep.
What may work for one child, may not work for the other and so, keep these factors in mind while finding the timing and routine:
- A child typically needs at least 10 -12 hours of sleep. If your child takes an afternoon nap, you can adjust their bedtime accordingly.
- Maintain the same bedtime every day. This enables a fixed routine and provides your child with the required among of sleep, depending on your child’s age.
3) Calming foods – feed them right!
A sure-shot method to make children sleep – feed them right!
“What is fattening for us is calming for them,” says Dr Grace amid chuckles. She is talking about high carbohydrate, amino acid-based foods that are known to lead children into a deep snooze.
Amino acids induce calm sleep and make children sleep better:
“The most common amino acid is serotonin and eating carb-rich food releases this amino acid into our bodies,” explains Dr Grace.
Serotonin, melatonin, tryptophan are amino acids that have a calming effect on our body. Magnesium, Calcium, and Potassium (to a certain extent) also induce sleep.
Try these sleep-inducing food options for children:
- Warm milk or cheese-based dinner – it relaxes the nerves: Warm milk or cheese-based dinner contains amino acids and calcium that enable children to sleep better.
Carb-based dinner – proven to calm the body at night: According to Dr Grace, feeding children carbohydrates through whole wheat, rice, or bran helps them sleep better. Carb-rich foods such as bananas, potatoes, oats, and eggs help in inducing sleep.
Foods that are a no-no before bedtime
- Excessive sugar/honey: The intake of sugar or honey causes a ‘sugar rush’ or adrenaline rush, which excites the body and makes it more active.
- Deep-fried/oily foods: Although these foods make your child sluggish, they don’t necessarily induce sleep. Food should not be very heavy to trouble your child’s digestive system.
4) Repeatedly remind your child about bedtime – it informs the brain to relax the body
As you near your child’s bedtime, remind them that it is time to sleep.
At least 1–1.5 hours before bedtime, you can announce that they will go to bed after the activities they are doing.
Eg: After dinner, you can wash your plate, brush your teeth, change into your pyjamas and go to bed, etc.
This invariably prepares children for bedtime. This is also a way to alert the brain that it is time to relax the body.
“Children thrive on their parent’s approval. This is just like when parents agree to do something with them and enjoy it. When you tell your child that both of you are gearing for bedtime, they want to follow you,” says Dr Grace.
5) Get rid of night-time fears – use calming activities to relax your child
Children can be afraid of the dark, suffer nightmares, and get startled by loud sounds. If you’re unable to get your child to sleep well, check for these fears and worries:
Once they are asleep, observe if they experience restless sleep-talking or any agitation during sleep. “
These may be signs of excessive fatigue or screen time,” explains Dr Grace. If your child is unable to sleep because of the light or some sounds, fix those issues.
Nighttime fears are common among children who are bullied at home or in school. Allow your child during bedtime, look for signs when they are asleep, and address them in the morning.
Some children talk in their sleep if something is bothering them.
“Fears also arise if the child has a very active day or set of days,” says Dr Grace. Do allow them to have easy hours to relax, read a book, or do a calming activity.
However, if the fears are imaginary, reassure them, which will enable them to sleep better.
6) Remove distractions – make the bedroom a peaceful haven for sleep
Namita, a mother of two, lists a few physical changes that parents can make to make children sleep better.
- No gadgets or television in the bedroom
- Use dark shades or curtains
- Ensure the mattress is neither too soft nor too hard
- Set the room temperature according to the weather outside
Make the bedroom a safe and comfortable space for your child to sleep in and be assured they will sleep like a bear!
7) Keep tab of cold/blocked nose – causes breathing difficulty and sleepless nights
Difficulty in breathing, even a little, can cause disrupted sleeping in children. A simple cold may also be a hindrance.
“If children are not sleeping well, it may be due to the ventilation in the room that causes irregular breathing,” points our Dr Grace.
Enabling your child to sleep is one thing and it requires a good sleep time routine. Your child and you can choose your routines.
Healthy bedtime routine = Make children sleep better
When you want to prepare your child for sleep, when do you start?
“We all know that making the child restful starts a couple of hours before bedtime, but how many of us do that?” asks Dr Grace.
Too much TV or active play keeps the brain excited that leads to bad sleep habits.
We have a quick list of calming bedtime routines:
a) Make a bedtime schedule – and don’t forget to stick to it!
“The key is the word routine.” Pranali, a freelance recruitment consultant and a mother of one.
She believes that deciding and sticking to a fixed time is the main ingredient of a good bedtime routine and makes children sleep without any hassle.
You can create a sleep routine that covers nap time during the day and push their sleep a little later at night. Another way is to ensure your child is in bed by 7 or 8 pm so that they can wake after 11–12 hours of essential sleep. You can be based on their day-to-day activities and school days.
Over-tired children don’t fall asleep easily and even if they do, they are uncomfortable through the night.
Matthew Walker, in his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams suggests that it is better to put children to bed when they are drowsy and not when they are asleep.
“In doing so, infants and children are significantly more likely to develop an independent ability to self-soothe at night so that they can put themselves back to sleep without needing a parent present.”– Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
b) Dress for sleep – suiting up with pyjamas will signal it’s bedtime!
“Just like you dress for playtime, birthday parties, football, etc., you should dress for sleep. Wearing pyjamas would automatically make my little one yawn,” says Noella, a child counsellor at a Mumbai-based convent.
For the bedtime routine to be set properly, changing into a night suit goes a long way.
If your child is fussy about changing into their pyjamas:
– you can choose bedtimes clothes in their favourite colours or patterns.
– you can allow them to choose their nightwear for the day.
– use child-friendly fabric softeners to rinse their nightwear after a wash.
If nothing works, you change into your nightwear and get ready for bed!
c) Make loo-time compulsory – empty bladders reduce anxiety and put an end to nightmares!
Although bed-wetting can be common among young children, it is better to avoid this.
An empty bladder reduces the sleep-time anxiety and bad dreams, says Dr Thakrey from Andheri, Mumbai.
He has diagnosed many children with problems of bed-wetting because their bedtime routine does not involve a compulsory trip to the bathroom.
“Children don’t realize they have to use the toilet before bedtime and so it becomes essential,” says Pranali. She makes her child use the toilet before bedtime and again, two hours after they had gone off to sleep.
Although an after-sleep washroom trip does not qualify as a bedtime routine, this can enable your child to sleep better.
d) Sing lullabies – it regulates baby sleep patterns and heart beats
It is a well-established fact that singing relaxes nerves and sets the mood for sleeping. Singing lullabies to your child, from infancy, can relax them.
Also, they are a great way to create positive parent-children connections, says Dr Thakrey.
Lullabies are a great way to connect with your child.
10–15 minutes before bedtime, settle down with your child or cradle them (for babies) and sing.
Allow them to hum along with you and ask questions.
Keep your tone soft and relaxing.
Sing the same lullaby for a few days at a stretch
As Pranali says, children love repetitions!
e) Read bedtime stories – it ensures soothing and relaxing sleep
Who wouldn’t like a bedtime story? Bedtime stories soothe your child and allow them to have a relaxing sleep.
Create a sleep routine for your child with reading.
- When it’s bedtime, snuggle in your child in the bed and read to them.
- Let them choose a storybook of their choice.
- It can be the same storybook every night or a new one.
- Read softly to your child as it would relax them.
- Like most children, if your little one has questions about the story/stories you have read, you can answer in a simple manner and use a soft tone.
- Once the stories are over, you will notice a more relaxed child who will easily drift off to sleep.
Most children fall off to sleep mid-story and that’s as ideal as an ideal can get. Isn’t it?
f) Chit-chat once tucked in – it will ease their fears and provide peace of mind
Have you noticed how your child begins to speak when they are in bed?
“Children often speak their innermost feelings when the ambience is quiet and they are tucked with their parent(s),” infers Dr Thakrey.
It is important to hear them out before they sleep. Talk about the day and listen to them intently.
It will ease their fears and allow them to connect with you as they share.
This is a good way to set your child’s sleep routine for a good night’s sleep!
g) Send the bedtime message through a massage – a proven physical stress-buster
Touch therapy and massages work wonders for children, especially before bedtime, explains Dr Thakrey.
Massages are a good way to soothe a child and convey the idea that it is bedtime. A simple foot massage can relax a fatigued child.
A quick wash or bath can precede the massage to set a nice bedtime routine.
So, send the bedtime message through a bedtime massage!
h) Give a comforting hug – it reduces stress and provides high quality sleep
Physical touch is paramount. Hug and snuggle your child to make the bedtime moments count.
“This also sets a routine in the child’s mind plus gives them happy sleep!” explain Dr Thakrey.
“The feeling stays with them through the night,” explains Noella. She talks about the importance of physical touch to relax the mind and senses of a child that can enable a good night’s sleep.
It can help avoid disturbed sleep and nightmares. So at bedtime, try the universal balm — the hug!
i) Keep gadget distractions at bay – gadgets ruin sleep patterns and harm development
Gadgets are a way to distract children. No screens before bedtime!
Dr Thakrey mentions Wi-Fi, which is electromagnetic radiation that can be harmful to a child’s development.
When the Wi-Fi is constantly switched on, especially near your child’s bedroom, it affects their sleeping pattern. “It can cause insomnia and disrupted sleep,” concludes the doctor.
To ensure a good sleep routine for your child:
- Ensure it is devoid of harmful radiations
- Switch off the Wi-Fi around bedtime
- Ensure the televisions and sound systems are turned off
- Keep your mobile phones out of your child’s bedroom
Mind your expectation
We as parents may want our children to follow the sleep routine to a ‘T’.
However, always expect the unexpected! There are multiple scenarios when this can happen:
- Children have a lot of energy and so allow them to expend it. A restful day will not lead them to sleep at night. Thus, activities can help here.
- If your child has had a long nap, they may not sleep early at night!
- If there are guests, your child is not likely to follow a routine. They are bound to throw tantrums if forced.
- Children can’t accept a new bed/bedroom (in a new city/new house/another room in your home) readily and may not sleep properly.
Children don’t sleep as per your schedule.
You can be flexible depending on these one-off scenarios!
To Conclude: Sleep better with a bedtime routine
Our approach to sleep is not the same as a child’s approach to sleep.
Research shows that a newborn has polyphasic sleep patterns, meaning short bouts of deep sleep.
This changes as they become preschool-going children as they display bi-phasic sleep patterns. In contrast, we adults have a long monophasic sleep pattern (8-hours of sleep).
Nevertheless, it is essential to create a clean sleep routine, which your child can adhere to and build on.
Sleep does, after all, act as the much-needed reset button for your child’s overall development!
Is your toddler giving you sleeping woes? What is the bedtime toddler sleep routine that you follow for your child? Share your plans to make babies sleep better. Comment below!