Isobel Mary Champion
Better Sleep and Bedtimes with my Sleep Consultant
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
Hello, and welcome to this bedtimes-based blog post, featuring all my very best tips for improving bedtimes, and providing answers to several of the most common questions from my free online "Better Bedtimes" parenting surgery earlier this month! This Q&A is extra special, because it features not only my own answers to your questions, but each question is also answered by my special guest, Hertfordshire based mum of two, Child Sleep Consultant Alexandra Collingbourne, aka Sleep by Alexandra. Alexandra specialises in safe, holistic methods of getting your baby, toddler or child to sleep in a way that empowers parents to live better, happier, and with more energy! She also provides postnatal depression and anxiety support if needed. Thank you Alexandra in advance for your time and words of sleep-wisdom!
Before we get to the Q&A featuring advice from both myself and Alexandra, I would like to share with you my 5 top tips for making sure your bedtime routine is really calm, consistent and positive, which I like to go through with all parents who are experiencing problems with their child's sleep and bedtimes. If you would like more personal advice on any of these themes, please get in touch! Parental sleeplessness, child bedtime refusal, and night wakings are some of the most stressful, and most often discussed issues in parenthood, so rest assured, you are not alone, and there is always someone there to talk to (a friend, family member, a health professional, or somebody like myself or Alexandra).
Top 5 Tips for Better Bedtimes
1. Be gentle at bedtime
If your child is acting up at the moment at bedtime, seems a little more demanding, is taking longer to settle, wants to sleep in your bed with you, or is asking for an old comforter back, try not to get frustrated – this is their way of showing you that they need a little more love and reassurance right now. As we go in and out of lockdown, and try to adapt to new ways of living and working, we are all going through a very stressful time, and children will have been picking up on all the stress and anxiety around them. They are having to deal with regular changes to their daily routine, and emotional ups and downs from those around them, and it is unsurprising if they need a little more reassurance at bedtime. Be gentle with them, and try not to lose patience.
2. Daylight and exercise
Make sure your child gets plenty of natural daylight and exercise during the daytime (winter time included - there is no "wrong weather" for going outside, only the "wrong clothing"!). You will find this makes a big difference to how well (and for how long) they sleep, and how sleepy they feel at bedtime. Make sure they get outside during the daytime and are exposed to lots of natural daylight. Get them running around, skipping, jumping, cycling, playing catch, and generally doing as much exercise as possible. In addition to this, try to limit the amount of screen time and sugary foods they are given, especially the closer you get to bedtime because these things are not going to help them feel sleepy.
3. Don’t rush the bedtime routine
Your bedtime routine is a transition period that takes your child from the “awake” part of their day, to the “asleep” part of your day, and it is very important that you don’t try to rush it. This transition period needs to be consistent and should begin and end at roughly the same time every day. Make sure you do the same things each day – a warm bath, putting on clean pyjamas, having a bedtime snack or milk, having a quiet play, and then finally having a bedtime story and some one-to-one time together. Your child will sense if you are trying to rush things, and this will put them on edge, and probably make them more resistant (any parent who has ever tried to get their child ready for bed quickly before going out for the evening will know this never works!). Take your time, and keep things calm.
4. Reading at bedtime
Bedtime stories are a really important part of bedtime, and all parents should aim to read to their child every night before bed. You can take turns with your partner, encourage an older sibling to read to a younger sibling or let your child take a turn at reading out loud themselves. Reading just before bed is an extremely calming, soothing activity that encourages closeness and bonding, and also improves literacy skills. So choose a few favourite books, get nice and cosy on your child’s bed, and spend some time reading together. If you want some great story book recommendations, get in touch (or I may do a top ten of my personal favourites for reading to young children in the future!).
5. Unpack your child’s “emotional backpack”. The last thing you should do before saying goodnight and turning out the lights is to help your child to unpack their “emotional backpack”. Children generally start each day afresh with a blank slate (think of them with an empty “backpack” on their back). By the end of the day they have accumulated all kinds of thoughts, worries, fears, memories, and experiences, that they are now carrying around with them (their “backpack” is now full and weighing them down). To help them relax and feel at peace, have a little talk with them about all the things they might be carrying with them in their “backpack” – maybe they got very upset during the day, or had a tantrum, maybe you had an argument, or they fell over and got hurt. Maybe they watched a really scary movie or heard something disturbing on the news. Maybe they heard you and your partner arguing, or are nervous about something that is going to happen tomorrow. Gently talk through whatever might be in their “backpack”, and reassure them that they have nothing to worry about, that you still love them, and that everything is going to be alright. This will help them to feel much more at peace and will make it easier for them to fall asleep (it may also give you a new insight into what is going on in their life, and how they are feeling).
Now, for some of your sleep and bedtime questions, answered by Child Sleep Consultant Alexandra:
1. My child is hungry at bedtime, I don't want to start giving snacks or it will become a habit, but I feel guilty making him go to sleep hungry. Is he really hungry, or just delaying bedtime?
Alexandra*: "Giving your child a snack before bed isn’t uncommon or unhealthy. As long as you give a small snack that is conducive to sleep and isn’t bad for them such as a banana, carrot cake bar (Goodies) or peanut butter on a cracker. I recommend you give them a small snack around 30 mins before bed, obviously age dependant - 2years +."
2. My 8 month baby screams in the night, most nights, for an hour or two without stopping, at around 2am or 3am. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with her, maybe she just needs some comfort, but her screams are deafening, it is ruining my own sleep and I am exhausted!
Alexandra*: "Unfortunately this is common, especially for this age. However, I have found that 6-12 months is the best age to work on a great sleep routine to encourage good sleep habits. I would look at her day routine, is she sleeping the correct amount? Try and see if her naps need reducing or increasing. Also I try to encourage putting baby down awake or sleepy at this age to help her learn to self settle. I have a blog post with tips for this age that can help too….Good Luck!!"
3. How to discourage co-sleeping with an older child? My six year old still regularly gets into bed with my partner and I.
Alexandra*: "If you feel your co-sleeping journey has come to an end, then I would first try by creating positive associations with your child’s room i.e playing with their favourite toy in their room during the day. It will be a tough habit to break, however if you are consistent then it can be done in 3-5 days. I have a great technique for older children so if you feel you need extra guidance, I am here to help :)"
4. My 6 year old child doesn't seem to need sleep (she lies awake in bed for ages, and wakes up early). She often has bags under her eyes but just doesn't seem to sleep! The rest of the family do, and I also worry about her lack of sleep!
Alexandra*: "It sounds like she may be overtired. I would first try by bringing her bedtime forward. Studies show that putting bedtime’s later only encourage early wakings more due to over tiredness. I would also encourage a relaxing bedtime, no screen time at least an hour before bed and add lavender oil drops to her bath with a nice gentle massage after. This will help her release melatonin, the sleep hormone. If you are concerned there may be a deeper issue regarding sleep then definitely contact your GP as they will be able to help fully understand her needs."
5. My children (3 and 5) go bonkers at bedtime (excited, laughing, jumping, giggling), it drives me mad, I end up shouting at them, and they seem to be at their naughtiest, just when I am trying to make them sleepy! How can I prevent this? They don't eat lots of sugary food or watch much TV in the evenings.
Alexandra*: "Ah yes, the witching hour!! Unfortunately it’s something we all have to deal with. I encourage an early bath time, then downstairs in pjs with no screen time, a healthy snack and a calm activity such as a puzzle, colouring, reading. You are not alone. If that doesn’t work, the threat of an early bedtime normally calms the storm for me haha!"
6. How to encourage my toddler to settle themselves back to sleep rather than coming into my room?
Alexandra*: "There is a great routine for this called ‘Gradual Retreat’. It encourages your little one to stay in their bed whilst also knowing you are close. Have a Google or contact me for more details."
7. How to drop the dummy at night-time? My child is nearly one.
Alexandra*: "There is no need to rush this. If your little one is sleeping and happy then I would hold off until they are able to better understand. When they are ready, I would encourage swapping the dummy for something they like such as a toy or book. With my eldest, who was obsessed with his dummy, we took him to the shop and ‘paid’ for his new scooter with it. I politely asked the lady at the til to play along and he was very happy with himself. Only make this transition when you are both ready, because once you’ve taken it away, the worst thing you can do is give it back as it will be harder to take away the next time."
8. How to break the habit of rocking and singing child to sleep? My child is nearly 2 now, and will only fall asleep when held, sung to and rocked! It is becoming ridiculous! The only other time she falls asleep is in the back of the car.
Alexandra*: "It is a hard habit to break, however I do not know of a single parent who hasn’t had to face this obstacle. I would encourage putting your little one to bed awake for day naps as well as night time sleep, again a routine called ‘Gradual Retreat’ will work wonders. It encourages your little one to stay in their bed whilst also knowing you are close. Have a Google or contact me for more details."
9. My baby is 7 months now. How to break the habit of breastfeeding to sleep at night?
Alexandra*: "My question would be are they sleeping through the night? If so then I don’t see the need to break the habit. However if your baby wakes in the night to be breastfed back to sleep then I would encourage putting baby down sleepy but not fully asleep, if baby stirs then try a routine called ‘Pick up, Put down’. It is a great routine for this age range. Have a google or contact me for more details."
10. I have three kids who all go to bed at different times, and I find it really hard to get the little one (aged 4) to stay in bed and go to sleep. He keeps popping out of his bed, and he seems to think it is a game, he keeps coming out, we keep putting him back to bed, nothing seems to keep him in! What can I do?
Alexandra*: "First of all, hats off to you for coping with 3 different bedtimes. One is hard enough! Second, could you maybe combine two bedtimes to help you focus more on your 4 year old? It sounds like he may not be tired enough for bed or you could try the ‘Door Closing’ technique. You simply say the door will stay open if you stay in bed, however if you do not then I will close the door. And then repeat. It encourages your little one to stay in their bed whilst also knowing you are close. Have a Google or contact me for more details."
*Please note, all Alexandra’s responses are how she would typically deal with that particular issue. Alexandra can not know exactly how to help without a full consultation. Contact her for more details.
Visit Alexandra's website Sleep by Alexandra for a range of services to fit your time and lifestyle. She offers personalised one-on-one packages that you can work through together, regular online coaching to empower you to get through the difficult stages of your routine, and soon will be offering digital packages for you to work through at your own pace. Get in touch to talk about how your child is sleeping!
Check back soon for my Winter newsletter, and more advice from my Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness and Nutrition expert, Emma West (in the meantime why not read our two latest blog posts, about Pre-and Post-Natal Exercise, and Pre- and Post-Natal Nutrition)! Read my other posts for more info and advice on screen time, dinner times, fussy eaters, buying pre-loved children's clothing, decluttering before your new baby, and thinking about whether or not your family could foster a child.
Visit the rest of my website to find out more about my parenting coaching services, child development, child behaviour, and positive parenting! Get in touch for more information on any of the topics mentioned here or elsewhere on my site, I would love to hear from you!