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17 ways to help baby sleep

Is your little one not settling down to bed when you want? Don’t worry, follow our basic sleep dos and don’ts for a night of sweet dreams.

Establish a bedtime routine

This is a set of events that happen at the same time each night in the same order; for example, short bath, changing into bedclothes in the bedroom, last breastfeed or bottle, story, cuddle and bed.

Avoid stimulating activities an hour before bed

Keep tablets, smartphones, video games or a TV out of the bedroom. Generally make the hour before bed a time for winding down and avoid lots of physical activity, bright lights or loud music. Light in the eyes (for example, from screens) can prevent or decrease the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep.

Stick to a set time for bed

Keep your baby’s bedtime the same throughout the week and weekend. It helps to set your baby’s natural circadian rhythm to have bedtime the same time all the time.

Enforce clear boundaries for bedtime

Try to stick to the elements of bedtime that you want. As your child gets older, they can become very skilful at extending bedtime with snacks, trips downstairs, needing a drink of water etc. Have everything you need in the bedroom and make sure you don’t send your baby or child to bed hungry so you can be confident they are ready for bed.

Place your child in the cot when they’re drowsy, not asleep

It is thought that babies are happier to drop off to sleep again if they wake in the night and find themselves in the same place as where they fell asleep. So if they fell asleep in their cot or bed, it’s easier for them to go back to sleep again than if they fell asleep in your arms in the living room. We have a natural checking behaviour (babies do, too) when we come into light sleep and if we notice that we’ve woken up in a different place, we are more likely to wake up fully.

Aim for your child to be asleep within about 15 minutes from when you’ve said goodnight to them

Falling asleep can be quite abrupt and if your baby or child is comfortable and relaxed, you would expect them to fall asleep within 15 minutes after the bedtime routine has finished.

Try to keep daytime naps and routines consistent

The times and lengths of naps can have big knock-on effect on the big sleep at night time, so keep your baby’s naps consistent.

Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature, about 18°C

Bedrooms and bedclothes that are too hot are a SIDS risk and a cold bedroom is uncomfortable to sleep in and could be dangerously cold. Have a room thermometer (as it may be different from the rest of the house) and aim for a room temperature of 18°C. Find out more about safe sleep for babies.

Keep ambient noise down

Keep your music and television noise down after your baby’s bedtime and also make sure that older siblings are not making lots of loud noise or playing near the bedroom.

Don’t allow your baby to take a nap after 3.30pm when they’re nine months old and above

If older babies take very late naps, they can wake up in the early evening and not be ready for their bedtime until very late. Bear this in mind if your baby drops off in the car as afternoon trips may result in very late naps.

Don’t give your weaned baby stimulating food or drink for about an hour before bedtime

Babies should not be eating food and drinks containing caffeine or added sugar and certainly not before bedtime.

Don’t put your baby to bed hungry

Younger babies will need to wake in the night to feed (it’s an important part of breastfeeding). When your older baby is no longer waking in the night, you can consolidate this by making sure they get plenty of food throughout the day. If your baby has supper or a snack, choose those containing tryptophan which promotes sleep – for example, bananas and porridge (not sugary cereals or caffeinated drinks).

Don’t create a settling routine in which your child relies on props to help him to get to sleep

If you baby wakes through the night, they will generally need the same soothing and props (for example, a dummy or a jiggling pram) as they had to help them fall asleep at bedtime. If you are happy to use the same soothing techniques in the night that’s fine, but if not, try to avoid including them in the bedtime routine.

Don’t bring your baby into the living room or play area during the bedtime routine

Bedtime needs to be darker (to promote melatonin production) and calm, so try to stay in your baby’s bedroom throughout. If you take them back into a bright room, they’ll start to feel energetic again.

Don’t feed or soothe your baby to sleep at bedtime

If you are breastfeeding, your baby will probably naturally fall asleep at the end of a bedtime feed. Don’t worry about this when your baby is little. However, as your baby or toddler gets older, it can help them to fall asleep by themselves if they have a night-time feed before their story so that feeding doesn’t lead directly to sleep. Otherwise, you’ll need to feed them again each time they wake through the night to get them back to sleep. They need to learn to fall asleep on their own.

Don’t respond to repeated call-backs once you’ve said goodnight at bedtime

While you should never leave a baby crying without reassurance, older toddlers and children can get very good at prolonging bedtime with lots of chat, requests for things, stories and food. It can be very hard not to carry out every request, but if your child is not hungry, unwell or frightened, you need to be firm that it is their bedtime.

Don’t rush to your child or toddler when they cry out for you in the night

It is good to respond quickly to your baby during the day and at night. However, sometimes children cry out in the night and make noises when they are still asleep.  Try to listen for a moment to see if they have gone back to sleep before you go to them and risk possibly bringing them from light sleep into wakefulness.

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