Getting into a routine

03 Sep Getting into a routine

Routine provides children with predictability and security – essential to their ability to self-settle, fall asleep with limited resistance, and sleep for longer. Children feel more confident and secure when they know what they can expect – from having structure in their day i.e. meal times, nap times, bed times and play times; to our responses to them, and the boundaries that we establish for their behavior.

An age-appropriate routine can help minimize overtiredness; the main catalyst for bedtime resistance, catnapping, early rising, frequent night waking, and the habits that parents develop to counteract the overstimulation which occurs as a result (e.g. feeding, rocking, patting or holding to sleep). When a child is overtired i.e. from lack of day sleep or appropriate rest or wind down time, their cortisol levels escalate (cortisol is a stress hormone, which has a far more potent stimulant effect than caffeine). Bedtime resistance and erratic behavior commonly ensues, making it extremely challenging for a child to fall asleep and remain asleep without parental intervention, therefore making changes to sleep patterns futile.

Other variables with a child’s routine that may impact sleep ability include: undertiredness (from too much day sleep), developmental stage, a change to the sleep environment, lack of stimulation or physical activity, lack of connection (i.e. listening, play and quality time), overstimulation or exhaustion, travel, holidays, a change in carers and dropping naps.

Our current emotional state will also discern our level of responsiveness to our children, and our commitment to any parenting or sleep method. When parents are confident in their decisions and follow through, our children feel safer, and are more responsive to change. We all have our days, or times in life where things feel increasingly difficult or stressful, so remember to be kind and patient with yourself. Nobody is perfect, and ‘good enough parenting’ is good enough.

The 80/20 rule

In terms of child sleep, behavior and parenting, the 80/20 rule maintains that; what we do 80 percent of the time establishes our habits and patterns – whether we are conscious of this or not. The remaining 20 percent affords families with some flexibility to accommodate for life’s unexpected turn of events: illness, teething, developmental leaps, life transitions, travel, holidays, temporarily being out of routine and missing the sleep window.

We are all human. It is unrealistic to expect that anyone can sleep through the night undisturbed 100 percent of the time, given the sheer number of variables. The 80/20 rule also applies to breaking habits. For example, if you can ensure that 80 percent of the time you are not feeding to sleep, if your baby happens to fall asleep on the breast every now and then, it’s not the end of the world. Similarly, if your child can self-settle 80 percent of the time, but occasionally requires some additional assistance to fall asleep – typically common during times of teething, illness, separation anxiety and developmental milestones – you need not assume that you are creating long-term ‘undesirable’ sleep patterns.

The rule of three

When making any changes to a child’s routine, remaining consistent for a minimum of three days – ideally one to two weeks – will allow you to appropriately gauge the effectiveness of the change implemented, before pursuing alternative methods or avenues. I recommend focusing on one change at a time to avoid overwhelm and confusion. Three days also seems to be the average timeframe whereby a child may develop new sleep patterns – or crutches. Therefore, when changing habits that require a gradual withdrawal of intervention e.g. rocking or feeding to sleep, ensure that you remove your intervention slightly every three days.

Rather than work on rigid times for sleeping, feeding, and waking, I prefer to focus on the appropriate awake time’ for a specific age group and factor in milk, meals and play time around this;

Birth to One Month:
Focus on an awake time of 40 to 60 minutes. If your baby has only slept for 20 to 30 minutes (the infamous ‘catnap’), then ensure they are back to bed 20 to 30 minutes after they wake

Tip for colicky/reflux newborns:
* It is especially important to keep your eye on the awake time with babies who have colic or reflux (symptoms usually present from week three, although can be earlier). Be especially mindful to avoid overstimulation during their awake time, and put them back to sleep within a shorter awake time than normal – even 30 minutes at the beginning.

1-2 Months:
Focus on a max awake time of one hour, to one hour and 15 minutes.  If your baby has only slept for 20 to 30 minutes, then ensure they are back to bed 20 to 30 minutes after they wake. Lean toward 40 minutes for colicky/reflux babies

2-3 Months:
Wake time is one hour and 15 minutes to 90 minutes – or the duration of the last sleep time (if less than one hour). If colic or reflux is still an issue at this age, lean toward a maximum awake time of one hour.

3 to 4 Months:
Focus on a maximum awake time of 90 minutes to one hour and 45 minutes – or the duration of the last sleep time (if less than one hour). Where possible, aim to have your baby sleep for at least one sleep cycle at this age (i.e. 45 minutes).

Tips for babies 0-4 Months:
* Follow an EAT, PLAY, EAT, SLEEP routine around the recommended awake times.
* Follow an EAT, PLAY, SLEEP routine for babies with reflux.
* Keep an eye on sleep cues, as you may need to put them to sleep sooner than recommended on some days depending on activity levels, illness and developmental stage.
* For tips on optimising the sleep environment, click here.
*Recommended bedtime between 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm (closer toward 7:00 pm for three months and older).

 4-6 Months:
Focus on a maximum awake time of 90 minutes to two hours

Tips for babies 4-6 Months:
* This is usually the time where solids are introduced, and therefore you can build in breakfast, lunch, and dinner into their daily routine.
* Babies still are heavily reliant on milk feeds – and you can expect they will need anywhere between four and eight feeds per 24 hours (on average).
* A great resource for readiness for solids and which foods, when – click here.
* I recommend a shorter awake time for the first nap (i.e. 90 minutes to one hour and 45 minutes) to ensure your baby does not begin the day overtired. The first nap of the day is the most restorative, so it is important to get off to a good start.
* Keep an eye on sleep cues, as you may need to put them to sleep sooner than recommended on some days depending on activity levels, illness and developmental stage.
* For tips on optimising the sleep environment, click here.
*Bed time recommended between 6:00 pm and 7:30 pm 

6-8 months:
Focus on a wake time between two and three hours

8-12 Months:
Focus on a wake time between two hours, 30 minutes to four hours

Tips for babies 6-12 Months:
* Keep an eye on sleep cues, as you may need to put them to sleep sooner than recommended on some days depending on activity levels, illness and developmental stage
* As solids are established from six months, you may even begin to introduce a morning and afternoon snack as they get older.  Eventually, meals will slowly replace the milk feeds, but it is recommended to include breast milk or formula in their diet until at least 12 months. Average milk feeds for this age group with range from four to six per 24 hours.
*Water can be introduced from six months.
* I always recommend a shorter awake time for the first nap (i.e. two to three hours) to ensure your baby does not begin the day overtired. The first nap of the day is the most restorative, so it is important to get off to a good start.
* For tips on optimising the sleep environment, click here.
*Bed time recommended between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm

For premature babies, it is recommended to use their corrected age for sleep requirements and routines

1-3 Years:

I still recommend two naps per day until somewhere between 14 to 18 months, and then one nap per day up to the age of three. For tips on transitioning your toddler from two naps to one, click here. As your toddler gets older, they will be capable of longer awake periods. It is still important to Keep an eye on sleep cues to ensure they are not becoming overtired. As they further establish solids and can eat more at each meal, their reliance on milk will gradually decrease, and hence you may attempt night weaning if you haven’t already. My tips for this process here.

Your routine leading up to nap time can include the following (to create positive sleep associations):

  • Quiet time in your child’s room
  • Draw blinds, turn on a soft night light
  • White noise
  • Swaddle/sleeping bag
  • Sing a song, read a book
  • Kiss and cuddle goodnight

 

It is also just as important to ensure you have a consistent, relaxing night time routine, and it is never too early to start this. Things to include are:

  • Bath
  • Quiet play
  • Brush teeth (for older children)
  • Talking about the day (debrief)
  • Draw blinds, turn on a soft night light
  • White noise
  • Swaddle/Sleeping bag
  • Sing a song, read a book
  • Kiss and cuddle goodnight

 

* Avoid blue and white light at least one hour preceding sleep times. Blue light (emitted from electronics computers, iPhones, iPads, and televisions) and white light (emitted from internal household lights and lamps) interfere with a child’s circadian rhythm because it suppresses melatonin and can lead to overstimulation and consequently, increased difficulty falling asleep and, or more frequent night waking.
* To avoid the infamous ‘second wind’ try making the actual ‘goodnight’ routine – in the child’s bedroom- no longer than 20 minutes.
* For tips on optimising the sleep environment, click here.
*Recommended bed time recommended between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm

 

MORE AGE SPECIFIC ROUTINES AND TROUBLESHOOTING TIPS FOR 0-3 YEARS HERE

 

 

 

 

Sophie Acott
sophie@sleepplaylove.co

Sophie Acott is an Australian Sleep Consultant, parent coach and mother of four. With her down-to-earth, holistic, and sustainable approach, Sophie helps families all over the world to overcome the many challenges faced by modern-day parenting. Reach out via email for queries, collaboration or consultations.

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