When I speak about healthy sleep habits with families, it often surprises people to know that I use attachment parenting tools. My husband and I have shared our bed with our children. We have shared our room with our children. We cloth diaper. I’ve breast fed. We believe in baby wearing (neither of my children saw the inside of a stroller until they were 7 months old). But we also believe in independent sleep skills.
Having a child that has healthy sleep habits while embracing attachment parenting philosophies doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Sleep problems in children are more often than not the result of a lack of independent sleep skills, but it’s also important to consider other contributing factors such as daytime schedules, establishing consistent and predictable routines and creating a comfortable sleep environment.
The following tips will help you to understand the unique sleep needs of your child and can help to ensure that everyone is getting the rest they need.
Respect the Nap
Naps are often overlooked as an important component in achieving healthy sleep habits for children. While many families strive for long periods of sleep at night, it’s rare to achieve that goal unless your child is also well rested during the day. Sleep pressure can build rapidly in a child’s brain creating a need for sleep during waking hours. It’s not really about how many hours of sleep in total, but how long a child can tolerate being awake before sleep is biologically required again.
It’s crucial to respect the fact that your child needs to nap during the day. That doesn’t mean you can’t leave the house, but I encourage families to limit scheduled activities, outings and errands during naptime. Instead, find other opportunities to spend time together when your child is well rested.
While every child is different, the number of naps they need during the day to keep them well rested is based primarily on their age. Use the following table to see if your child is napping enough.
|Average awake periods and number of naps per day|
|Age||Awake Period||Number of Naps Per Day|
|0-3 months||45 minutes to 1 hour||4-5|
|3-6 months||1-2 hours||3|
|6-12 months||3 hours||2|
|12 months and up||5 ½ hours||1|
Get into a Routine
While the focus is usually placed on bedtime routines, it is equally important to develop and follow a predictable naptime routine. When children know what to expect, it makes it easier for them to make the transition from waking to sleeping. Consider the following when creating sleep routines:
- Orderly. Maintain the order of the routine to help your child know what to expect next.
- Short. Bedtime routines should be approximately 30 minutes in length so that your child doesn’t become over tired. Naptime routines should be 3-5 minutes.
- Enjoyable. The process should be enjoyable for everyone, so if something isn’t working, take it out of the routine.
Setting the Stage
Room conditions also play an important role in quality sleep. Create a calm, relaxing and safe sleep environment by following these tips:
- Safe. Visit the Canadian Paedeatric Society to learn more about safe sleeping environments for infants and children.
- Dark. Our sleep patterns are regulated in part by light and darkness. Light cues trigger chemical changes, including the release of the hormones melatonin and coritsol. Melatonin is released as the light in our environment decreases and is responsible for helping the body prepare for and maintain a state of sleep. Coritsol, on the other hand, helps to prepare the body to become alert and active and is released when we are exposed to light. Click here for a review of room darkening options.
- Quiet. Respect that your child is trying to sleep. Consider using a white noise machine or fan to block out environmental noises such as street traffic or noise from siblings.
- Relaxing. Make sure clothing isn't restrictive or uncomfortable. Think about the type of clothing you would want to nap in. Cute overalls probably doesn't make the list for you, why would it for your child?
Which sleep habit could use an upgrade in your household and how do you plan to make it a routine ? Tell me in the comments below.