Sleep…if I had to think about it, I’d say sleep is probably my favorite occupation. In Occupational Therapy School I learned that an occupation is any meaningful activity. Sleep is definitely a meaningful activity for me. I’ve always loved it. I’ve always needed more than others. I’ve always been able to just fall asleep wherever, whenever. And sleep through anything.
Working in the pediatric world, one of the first topics I discuss with parents is sleep. I have an entire section on sleep on our intake forms. How does your child sleep? Do they nap? How many naps? What time does your child go to sleep and wake up? Do they wake up during the night? If so, how many times. Of course the answers I receive vary depending upon the age of the child. But I often find that many of the children that present with attention difficulties or behavioral problems often lack consistent sleep routines.
When my daughter was born, I was suddenly thrown into the sleep hygiene world. I was now experiencing everything first hand. Knowing how important sleep is to me, and to development, I wanted to make sure that my child was getting enough. My older sister (who has a pre-teen and teenager) always told me that kids learn when they sleep. Whether or not this is a scientifically proven fact, I don’t know. But I liked the sound of it. And truth be told, it always seemed true because whenever my nieces woke up from a nap or evening sleeping, they seemed to know more than they did the night before.
Anyways, as I’ve stated before, I’m not here to tell you what you must do as a parent. But I would like to share with you my professional and now personal experience of sleep in infancy and early childhood. So today I’m going to tell you about what I believe are the 3 most important aspects of infant sleep:
1. Swaddles are your friend
Many parents come in for an initial meeting and tell me that their child hated being swaddled. They could never really figure out how to swaddle them, their child was a magician and always escaped, etc. Here’s the deal: swaddling is an extremely effective technique to calm your child and promote sleep. It provides proprioceptive input (sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that let you know where your body is in space) similar to the input your child received in the womb. Swaddle that kid so they are snug as a bug. Yes, your child will struggle against it, but this struggle is exactly what is providing them with the sensory feedback they need to calm themselves.
Learning to swaddle can be scary. Not everyone can complete the perfect swaddle that the nurse does in the hospital. But here’s the good news: if you can’t swaddle with a muslin swaddle blanket like those made by Aden & Anais there are several options on the market today that will make swaddling easy for you:
- Miracle Blanket – This has a pocket for your child’s legs, individual wraps for each arm, and then 2 large wraps that wrap your baby up tight.
- SwaddleMe® Original Swaddle – This is actually what I used with my daughter. It has a pocket for your child’s legs and then 2 flaps that Velcro down over your child’s chest, keeping their arms snug.
- Halo®SleepSack® swaddle – This swaddle grows with your child. Once my daughter rolled over and we weren’t able to use the SwaddleMe® for safety reasons we moved on to the Halo®. This zips like a sleep sack but also has the 2 Velcro flaps that wrap over your child’s chest. What’s great about this swaddle sack is that you can begin to use it swaddling both arms, however, it allows you to move to swaddle just one arm or no arms at all. Even if you’re not swaddling arms in, it still provides a little extra proprioceptive pressure across your child’s chest.
*just an FYI, the above products are not the only ones on the market or the only ones I recommend, they just happen to be the ones that I have used and like
Children should be swaddled when they are napping or sleeping. Your child should begin to associate swaddling with sleep, because if they are awake, they should be on their tummies free from a swaddle, enjoying their environment (but that’s a conversation for another time).
At 20 months we still place my daughter in a sleep sack for naps and bed time. She knows that when we pull out the sleep sack it means time to go night-night. 🙂
2. Sleep Begets Sleep
I know what you’re thinking…what on earth does that mean? Basically it means that a rested child will sleep better than an overtired or chronically sleep deprived child. A lack of sleep essentially makes falling asleep more difficult and ‘wearing your child out’ can actually backfire. Babies have different sleep cycles than adults. I have this discussion with my husband often…just because HE would have a difficult time going to sleep 1 ½ hrs after waking up from a nap does not mean that our daughter will experience the same thing. Babies sleep…A LOT. And they need restful, restorative sleep.
A well-rested baby goes down easy, sleeps more and wakes less during the night. Here’s a helpful chart displaying typical sleep requirements:
It’s important to begin to learn your child’s cues. Children display tiredness in a variety of ways:
- Rubbing Eyes
- Hyperactivity (yes your child can seem very hyper and wired but really be overtired)
- Lack of Focus
If your child is experiencing any of the above and it’s close to nap time or bed time, they are probably trying to tell you something. If they consistently act like this well before their ‘scheduled’ rest time, you may want to think about changing the schedule to accommodate their needs.
3. Routine, Routine, Routine
I’m going to share a secret with you now…kids CRAVE routines. They THRIVE with routines in place. The first couple of months of your child’s life are a free-for-all. Everyone is just getting used to each other and you are starting to learn your child’s cues. However the more consistent you can keep your routine (i.e. start to create a ‘bed time’ by performing your ‘bed time routine’), the happier everyone in your family will ultimately be. Begin to create a bedtime routine. Every night before your little one goes down for bedtime (typically between 6:00pm – 7:00pm: yes that early) put them in their swaddle (swaddle means sleep), choose a book to read or a song to sing. Then continue to do this every night. I still sing the same songs to my daughter each night and say the same little phrase. She now anticipates it. It’s our routine.
Try to establish a routine that works for all of you. But remember, you now have a little one in your life…and your day/night revolves around their schedule until they are old enough that a set routine has been placed. Eventually life will go back to ‘normal’…or whatever your new ‘normal’ is. Just hang in there…you can do it!