This month, the National Sleep Foundation celebrates its annual Sleep Awareness Week from March 10 to March 16. If you’re a parent, you know better than anyone the value of a great night’s sleep, both for your little ones and for yourself.
Sleep can be a major source of stress for parents at every stage. Whether you have an infant who’s kept up by reflux or a toddler who absolutely insists upon sleeping in your bed every night, a disrupted sleep routine can make it harder for both you and your child to have a good next day.
While specific sleep recommendations can vary widely depending upon your parenting philosophy, the age of your child, and any developmental issues that you might be dealing with, here are a few helpful broad truths from our occupational therapists that can help both you and your child get the sleep you need.
It’s All About a Consistent Routine
When children know what to expect, it helps them feel secure and makes it easier to regulate their emotions. One of the best ways to start the night on the right foot is by establishing a clear and consistent bedtime routine. Your routine can evolve as your children get older, and there isn’t any specific routine that is “the right way.” Do what works for you and your child.
For example, some parents like to incorporate bath time into the bedtime routine, but if you’re traveling or already took a bath earlier in the day or got home later than you expected, a bath isn’t always an option. Personally, I like to keep things simple – jammies, brush teeth, story time, goodnight hugs, and then into bed for a few lullabies. A routine like this takes about twenty minutes, which is plenty of time to help your little one calm down, get into a sleepy mood, and drift off without complaint.
Getting Mad and Being Firm are Two Different Things
Of course, as perfect as your bedtime routine is, there will still inevitably be nights when your child simply does not want to go to sleep. If you’re dealing with a nighttime tantrum, the most important thing that you can do is keep your cool. Listen to what your child is saying and repeat their feelings back to them so they know that you are listening. Then do your best to explain why sleep is so important and how your child will feel better after they get some rest. When possible, give your child the opportunity to do one last thing they want to do before going to sleep.
But when it comes down to it, you may need to set boundaries and stick to them. Being firm doesn’t require yelling or being abrasive in any way. On the contrary, it requires patience and consistency.
The Best Way to Sleep Train is the Way that Works for You
There are plenty of “experts” in the world of child development who will tell you that there is only one right way to sleep train. That’s bologna. The way to sleep train is to wait until you feel emotionally ready, to pick a method that makes sense to you, and stick to it. In most cases, successful sleep training takes less than a week, but that can be a very difficult week. Talk to other parents. Talk to your partner. Talk to your pediatrician, and talk to your occupational therapist. Just don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you HAVE TO do things a certain way. The only thing you have to do is listen to your parenting instincts and follow through.
For more information specific to your child about setting up a peaceful sleep environment, breaking bad sleeping habits, and how sleep and occupational therapy overlap, give our office a call. We are always happy to help in any way that we can.