Sleep. It’s that commodity for every parent, that’s more precious than gold. It’s not just that it’s very very important for a growing child, it’s for a parent that it matters too!
As you might know already, we have six kids in our family. Yep, true story, and strangely, somehow, we’ve ended up with two different generations and types of sleepers. Our first three kids all seemed to have terrible problems getting to sleep. They would be up and down each evening, driving us mental with their outlandish excuses and justifications as to why they needed to be out of their warm beds. But, on the upside, they were children who were likely to sleep in. Our younger three children, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. When they get to their bed in the evening, they have spent every last piece of whirlwind energy during the day, and when their head hits the pillow, they’re out for the count. I sometimes forget they’re there. This, however, is counter-balanced in the morning, when they very very energetically jump out of bed and are instantly at full-tilt, volume-up and ready (quite literally) to attack the day. No caffeine is ever quick enough or potent enough for these tornados.
But, having confessed to the challenges we face, for the most part, our kids have slept through the night. Sure, the occasional interruptions with a bad dream or a spew bug, but generally speaking, they’ve been solid sleepers, from the earliest days. Now, I tell you the challenges we had so I don’t sound like one of those over-zealous, Stepford-mums. Trust me, my household is just like yours. However, with this strategy, we’ve been able to establish a good sleep regimen from a reasonably early start.
MY SECRET? Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm..
It all comes down to your evening RHYTHM. It will set the scene for the next 12 or so hours that stretch ahead of her (and you!). So, lean in. You’ll note I say rhythm (not routine) and I do this intentionally. If you keep to a rhythm YOU get to call the shots, not the clock. A routine is clock-focussed, whereas a rhythm is about what you do and how you do it. Whilst surprises, for the most part, are fun things, they don’t work in anyone’s favor when it comes to creating a predictable bedtime rhythm. It’s all about keeping it the same. This rhythm teaches the baby what to expect, and in turn, she will learn what others expect of her. By relying on a rhythm, you won’t lose your marbles when daylight savings hits. And when you’ve got your heels on and heading out on a date, this will enable you to get baby into bed early, with little problem. You might need to darken her room a little, but she should sleep well regardless - a win for everyone! So, what’s a good example of a ‘rhythm’, and what does it look like? It’s as simple as BATH, BOOK, SONG, BED - but the way in which it’s done repetitively each time is what makes it work a treat.
Fill a nice, deep, warm bath and pop some bubbles in. Spoiler alert: this bit is for BABY. You might be DYING to get your poppet into bed, especially with the thought of your own soak, but resist the temptation to rush this bit, it’s important. Keeping it CALM is KEY. You can give the baby a bath as early as you’re hoping to put her to bed (within reason of course). Let her get warm and clean and keep it peaceful. Pop a few drops of essential oil like lavender in and avoid the flashy, noisy stimulating toys altogether. Keep it low-key. This one’s a little age-dependent, however, as you supervise her, use the time to engage her in conversation about her day.
What was her least favorite part of the day? This helps your small child process her day and her feelings and lessens the likelihood of nightmares - a sleep disturbance you can both do without. Dr Laura Kauffman states, ‘Tension and anxiety leading up to bedtime can often filter into a child’s dreams. This will increase the likelihood of nightmares’. Keep it peaceful, and you’ve got the best chances of an undisturbed night’s sleep. Have her jammies ready, so she keeps warm after the bath, and slip her straight into bed.
Get her to choose her book before bedtime. Whether it’s one book or two, stick to it. It’s important to be a little militant about this one. If you give in to three books one evening, trust me, you’ll be reading 8 by the end of the week. Try to decide together what to read before she gets in the bath and pops it on her pillow so it’s ready (and not up for negotiation later). Snuggle up together and read to her as she’s lying in her bed. Talk through what you see together on each page. This affords another opportunity to bond and enjoy the activity together. This builds connection and adds to your child’s feelings of safety and security and reinforces to her that she’s loved, valued, and understood. A perfect scenario to lead into a seamless sleep.
I’ve sung ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine’ EVERY night to our littlest now for six years. It’s a special little thing between just her and I and we both love it. The truth is though that I could be singing it in my least-enthusiastic voice, and it would still be essential to her long, happy sleep rhythm. She expects it and it ALWAYS happens. Sometimes it’s not me, but daddy or Grandma, but it always happens, it’s part of her rhythm and that is important to her night’s sleep.
4. BED - lights out.
Make sure her bedding is appropriate for the night ahead of her so she doesn’t wake too hot or too cold. And you’re set. For some, final goodnights may include some special kisses or prayer, but again, don’t get conned into a thousand different kisses and an all-night prayer vigil. She’ll try it on you, remain consistent!
As your little one gets older, this time provides the perfect opportunity for your child to drop their day’s bombshell. Be ready for it and listen and respond to their needs… these can be your child’s most teachable moments of all. But as I said, don’t get ‘played’, it’s BEDTIME! Sleep is at its best when it’s habitual. Body clocks and your natural rhythms and cycles all revolve around your sleep. Mine for that golden slumber using the simple: BATH, BOOK, SONG and BED rhythm and you’ll be set for the most seamless sleep. Sleepy hugs into the ether…