I thought I would share with you what I believe to be the best way to help your child sleep better. First though, just a caveat. If cry it out or controlled crying works for you then fine, it’s just not my bag. And conversely, if your little one’s sleep is poor but you’re managing, happy and content to just ride it out then absolutely go for it. I’m not judging anyone and as parents I think we should all support each other no matter our differences in parenting. There is no rule book.
Anyway, back to business! So, clients who come to me specifically tend to be exhausted, overwhelmed, losing confidence in their decisions about their child’s sleep, but unwilling to just leave their child to cry alone. They’ve usually already read lots of sleep books and obtained advice from health visitors, friends and family but tend to be lost at sea in a muddle trying one thing after another without success. Here’s how I approach sleep and why it works:
Good sleep is not just about sleep training. There’s a whole host of issues to investigate and address if you want to make the best go of improving your child’s sleep and long term relationship with sleep. Here are my key areas I look at:
1. Pregnancy, labour and birth: I tend to find that in 75 percent of cases there has been some trauma or stress during the pregnancy, labour or birth. This is of course nobody’s fault but it can have an impact on the baby. Often they tend to be more anxious or higher needs, more difficult to settle or put down, and generally more tricky! Sometimes cranial osteopathy can help if there have been difficulties in labour; other times it’s just useful to understand why your baby seems to have been born with more sleep difficulties than average. Once you have a bit of understanding at least you won’t feel like you’ve done something wrong. Never feel like that.
2. Temperament: Every child is different and whilst there’s nothing you can do to change a child’s temperament, there are ways to support them better. So if your child is anxious then there are ways to support and help them through their anxiety. If your child is stubborn and resistant then it’s wise not to engage in bedtime battles.
3. Daytime behaviours: if you are having difficulties with behaviour during the day (whether it be tantrums, emotional meltdowns, separation anxiety, fears etc.) then these will also manifest at bedtime and during the night. Knowing how to help your child release their emotions during the day, and also manage tantrum type behaviours will vastly help with nighttime struggles.
4. Sleep environment: correct room temperature, complete darkness, white noise and a positive relationship with the room and bed are all conducive to happy sleep. If your child uses a dummy but can’t replace it themselves then there are options for addressing this.
5. Nutrition: from breastfeeding, to bottle feeding, to weaning, and full meals - good nutrition and fuelling the tank during the day is essential for complete night sleep. If your child is struggling with feeding/eating then this is definitely something that needs addressing for good sleep.
6. Daytime routine: consistent morning wake time, bedtime and correct naps are essential for helping a child to fall asleep easily and stay asleep during the night. A child that is overtired will not sleep well. As children come out of the newborn phase, getting bedtime and morning wake time consistent will help to create a schedule that supports their sleep.
7. Bedtime routine: a familiar, calm and nurturing bedtime routine can help a child to relax for sleep. This can be tricky though - too sleepy and they may ping awake when popped into bed. A routine that is too drawn out can promote silliness and overtiredness. Toddlers and preschoolers often try to negotiate during the bedtime routine - try not to fall into this trap! Stay loving, consistent and firm.
8. Self settling: AFTER all of the above has been addressed, and only then, do I look at how the child falls asleep at bedtime. Children will cry when you change the support you provide at bedtime but I never suggest to leave a hold crying alone. And then when a child can fall asleep independently at bedtime we can look at reducing night wakes. In most cases nights have already improved just through steps 1-7. But without these steps you’re just asking for more stress and crying than necessary, which will likely result in giving up as it’s too stressful or tiring.