Having good sleep hygiene - the habits you take both during the day and before bed - are a really important part of the family sleep puzzle.
It’s important to address not only your little ones sleep hygiene but also your own, so below I'll walk you through both.
My 10 steps to improve YOUR sleep hygiene
It can be tempting to try and sort your child's sleep hygiene first, rather than facing up to the fact your own might not be up to scratch! But by addressing yours first, you may improve your own sleep just enough to give you the energy to tackle your little ones head on.
Step 1 - Get your bedroom to a good temperature.
A temperature of 16-18 degrees is ideal. You don’t want to be so hot you can’t fall asleep easily at night, or so cold that it triggers a wake-up. Think about using 100% pure cotton PJs and bedsheets, to really help regulate that temperature.
Step 2 - Make sure the bedroom is pitch black.
You might not think you’re affected by any light creeping in through your curtains, but ideally it should be pitch black in your room for optimum sleep. If you don’t have any already, you could get some blackout blinds. Also check for any electronics which may be emitting any bright or annoying flashing lights and sort these for night time.
If/when you need new curtains, opt for blackout/solar ones. These are great for blocking out light and noise and don’t need to be expensive if you shop around.
Step 3 - Go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day.
Having a consistent bedtime will help anchor your body clock. This is tricky when your little one is young, but definitely something to strive for.
Step 4 - Write down any worries before you go to bed.
We all know the feeling of lying awake anxiously worrying about something. Try and carve out some time in your day and especially before you go to bed to brain dump any of your worries. You could also share with someone you trust, if this is the way you feel best dealing with things. If you’ve done this and still feel anxious, try some guided meditation to help calm your thoughts before bed.
Step 5 - Do the same things in the same order.
We all know the benefits of a predictable soothing bedtime routine for our kids, but having a predictable routine as an adult is just as beneficial. I always put on my pjs before I settle down to some TV, but brush my teeth about 30 mins before I actually want to go to bed. See what works for you.
Step 6 - Take any medication at an optimal time.
Some medications are known to interfere or disrupt sleep. If you’re unsure, then check with your doctor. It may be you can change the timing of the medication to best optimise its benefits for sleep.
Step 7 - Get plenty of exercise in the day.
I know how hard this can be to fit around the kids. But given kids need to be physically active too, you could try and incorporate it with them. If you have a younger child you could try and find a buggy fit or sling fit class. A child that is walking could help kick a ball around the park. Even playing games such as tag gets everyone moving and heart rates higher. Being physically tired is important for sleep and gives all the added benefits of releasing those feel good endorphins.
Step 8 - Get some rest when you can.
It’s annoying when people suggest you ‘sleep when baby sleeps’. I know this can be impractical if they are taking a buggy or contact nap, or you have other children to take care of. But even resting once in the day can be restorative. If you can bring in some support when you can to allow this to happen, you will hopefully see the benefits.
Step 9 - Limit smoking, drinking, caffeine and exercise in the 2-4 hours before bed.
I think it’s unrealistic to think you won’t want to do some or all of these things. However, we know they can really mess with your sleep, so if you are struggling, it’s definitely one to think about. And remember you can't bedshare if you've been drinking or smoking.
Step 10 - Stop checking your phone/working/watching TV in bed.
The light emitted from devices can really mess with your sleepy hormone being produced and is a bad habit to get into. Try and keep the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only!
My 10 steps to improve your child’s sleep hygiene
It’s clear you could repeat a lot of the same steps for your child, but I’ve created a more bespoke sleep hygiene 10 steps guide for your little one below...
Step 1 - Introduce a set bedtime and a predictable bedtime routine.
Having a set bedtime helps anchor your child's body clock. I’m not suggesting this is exactly the same time every day - that’s not practical. But aim for within no more than 30 minutes either side where possible once there in any sort of individual routine. It doesn’t matter what forms part of your bedtime routine, what's more important is it’s done in roughly the same order and followed consistently. This level of predictability is very calming for your child and helps get them in a relaxed state ready for sleep.
Step 2 - Make sure there is a distinct wind-down time before bed.
In the few hours before bed, normally after dinner time, try and get the last bits of energy out and then shift gears to some more relaxing activities, dim the lights and lower your voices to signal it’s time to start getting ready for bed. The silly time is just as important as the relaxing time here, so definitely allow the time to get any last wiggles out however that may be.
Step 3 - Make sure you limit their exposure to screens in the 2 hours before bed and think about taking screens out of the bedroom.
In this wind down period before bed try and limit any exposure to screens which can affect both sleep quality and quantity. It messes with the production of the sleepy hormone melatonin and can be too overstimulating. I’m not suggesting you don’t let your kids have any screen time during the day, just try and time it so it doesn’t interfere with sleep and think about the location of where they are using them. Having said this, too much screen time and not enough exercise and fresh air is obviously not a winner for good sleep either!
Step 4 - Make sure they are going to bed sleepy, but not completely over exhausted.
This is where you may have to play around with some of your day time timings, maybe shifting naps if necessary. You obviously want your child to be tired going to bed, but if they’re completely next level overtired and crash into sleep, this messes with the sleep architecture and could be one of the reasons for night wakings.
Step 5 - Work on age appropriate nap timings.
As I just explained in the step above working on nap timing can really help with the nights. If you’re unsure how many naps your little one should be taking, head over to my blog on naps which gives you all the info you need.
Step 6 - Keep the bedroom as a place associated with sleep, not punishment or too much fun.
This is an important one, as you want your child to have a positive association with going to bed and ultimately falling asleep. Children can’t fall asleep from a place of anxiety or stress, so keeping everything associated with the bedroom calm and a place of security not punishment is important.
Step 7 - Optimise the light and temperature in the room.
Just as you did for your own room, make sure your child’s room is at the optimum temperature of between 16-18 degrees and installing some blackout blinds, or using a cheap DIY option can be really helpful especially in the lighter summer months. If your little one is frightened when it is pitch black, you can think about introducing a red-light nightlight. Make sure there’s no other light being emitted from devices that could be interfering such as a flashing light on a baby monitor - sometimes the silliest things could be causing a wake!
Step 8 - Make sure they are getting enough exercise in the day.
You should already be achieving this as part of your own sleep hygiene you’ve gone through. Aim for your child getting at least 30 minutes a day of vigorous energy (more if you can!) to help improve sleep. If your little one can’t crawl or walk yet, you can still try and incorporate lots of tummy time and supported sitting and standing to exercise those muscles!
Step 9 - Make sure they’re having a healthy diet and no caffeinated drinks before bed.
It’s always best to try and incorporate a rainbow diet to make sure your child is getting enough nutrients which will aid good quality sleep. We all know caffeine isn’t a good idea before bed. If your older child does have any (which isn’t recommended) then limit it in the hours before bed.
Step 10 - Review any medication they may be taking.
Just as you did with your own medications, if your child is taking any medication, consult with your doctor to see if it can be taken at an optimum time in the day that won’t interfere with sleep.
If you’d like some support with your little ones sleep, please do check out my sleep support packages, or hop on your free 15 minute introductory call. Or in the meantime, head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips.