It seems we get countless questions about baby sleep gear and habits on our social media, so we turned to Mahaley Patel, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant to share her top 10 sleep tips for babies and toddlers – Mahaley will be coming on the Gugu Guru Instagram for a takeover on May 7th, so leave any questions you may have in the comments below! And stay tuned for a giveaway on Instagram where you can win a consult with Mahaley and other baby sleep items and books! Take it away, Mahaley…
I wish I knew then what I know now: sleep is a journey. The emotional high of feeling like maybe you might have finally figured it out, and then, out of nowhere, it all falls apart. If you are struggling to get your child to sleep, you are not alone. Here are ten sleep tips to help your little one be the best sleeper he or she can be.
Routine, routine, routine: It is never too early to start a bedtime routine. Before you do anything else, you need to establish a routine. Bedtime routines are a critical asset for babies and toddlers (and hey, adults too). Examples of bedtime routines include a bath, infant massage, reading books, and singing songs. It does not need to be super long. After a bath, my daughter’s routine is about 15 minutes long. I don’t recommend anything stimulating (no TV or toys with tons of lights and sounds). The goal is to help them wind down before bed. Same rules apply for naptime, but of shorter duration. For example, we start my daughter’s naptime by going into her room, turning off all the lights except for a small lamp, and reading a book or two (or ten) before putting her to sleep.
Set up a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep: For families with babies, familiarize yourself with the AAP guidelines on safe sleep. Safe sleep is imperative, and I cannot stress it strongly enough. I’m a huge fan of blackout curtains and white noise machines. Ideal room temperature is between 68-72 degrees. Set yourself up for success when it comes to your child’s sleep environment.
80/20 rule: I often get asked: “Will I have to be home for my child’s naps forever?” The answer is no! I never want my families to feel that they are depriving themselves of family outings or of seeing friends because they feel “nap trapped.” When you are first implementing a new sleep plan, it is best if you can do it at a time when you do not have a lot going on. You are trying to establish a new routine, so consistency is important. Once those healthy sleep habits have been established, you can loosen the reigns a bit. That’s when I tell my families to follow the 80/20 rule. If your child can spend 80% of the time in their regular sleep environment, that’s great! You are doing really well. The other 20% of the time you can bend the rules for family outings, social events, or trips.
Don’t ditch the crib too early: Some of the most common phone calls I get are from parents of toddlers who transitioned to a toddler bed and are now coming out of their room at all hours of the night. Ideally, we do not want to make this transition to the toddler bed before the age of three. Why? It’s too much freedom that they are not able to handle. I know that you’re thinking “What if my child climbs out?” That’s not necessarily a reason to switch to a toddler bed. There are options you can try to get them to stay in their crib before making the switch. My favorite way is to keep your baby or toddler in a sleep sack for as long as possible. They make toddler sizes too. My daughter is two-and-a-half and still in one. She knows she’s not going anywhere!
Get an “ok-to-wake” clock: For older babies and toddlers who are struggling with early morning wakings, this is a great asset for parents. The idea is that the light from the clock is off when it’s time to sleep (some have a dim red light instead) and then turns green at a specific time in the morning (a time that you set). Once it’s green, you can get your child, or they can come out of their bed and start their day. It’s a great tool to establish an appropriate morning wake time that works for your family.
A fellow sleep consultant and friend of mine, Michelle Glenn, The Baby Sleep Engineer, is a wizard with ok-to-wake clocks. Check out her video to find out the perfect recipe for introducing the clock so that you don’t become one of the many parents who say “It just didn’t work for my child. They refused to wait until it turned green.”
Consistency: Consistency is the key to success in getting your child to sleep well. You can read every book written on this subject, but if you are not consistent, you will likely not see results. I always advise my clients, when reviewing different methods, that consistency is so much more important than the method you choose to use. There is no magic method. There are a lot of great options. Pick one that you know you can stick with, because consistency is what will create results.
TV: For families with toddlers who watch TV, be mindful of when they are watching TV and how much screen time they are getting. I recommend no less than 60-90 minutes between when TV ends, and bedtime begins. If you have a child watching TV right before bed, consider moving their TV time earlier. The AAP provides screen time recommendations for children based on their age.
Early bedtimes: Anyone who has worked with me or knows me knows that I am a huge proponent of early bedtimes. Early bedtimes are your best friend when it comes to crap nap days, nap transitions, and early wakeups. The first thing I ask when parents tell me that their child wakes up at 5 a.m. is what their child’s bedtime is. More often than not, their child is going to bed too late. Bedtimes for babies and toddlers should not be later than 8 p.m., but I often see the best results when bedtime is no later than 7:30 p.m.
There is a big myth that if you put your kid to bed earlier, they will wake up earlier. Wrong! Kids who go to bed earlier who are struggling with early mornings wakeups or short naps often sleep until their usual time or sleep later. I see it happen all the time, and I have seen it first-hand with my daughter. Do not be afraid of a 5:30 or 6 p.m. bedtime if your child is struggling with a nap transition, early morning wakings, or short naps.
Nap transitions: Let your child lead the way. Do not force the transition from 3-2, 2-1, or 1-0 naps. Give it at least two weeks of your child skipping a nap before you consider moving them down to fewer naps. Most babies transition to two naps around eight months of age and most toddlers drop to one nap around 15-18 months. When your toddler stops napping altogether, consider giving them an hour of quiet time a day. It can still be restful for them (and for you) even though they are not sleeping.
Ask for help: There is a plethora of information out there, and it can be hard to navigate when you are a sleep-deprived parent. For me, the depths of sleep deprivation made it very hard for me to see what we needed to be doing differently to help my daughter sleep better. I blamed myself, and I thought I was a horrible parent because she was not getting the sleep she needed. Reaching out to a sleep consultant was the best thing I ever did. I had a plan that I could stick to, and it took away the guesswork for me. Our consultant gave us a light at the end of the tunnel when I honestly thought I would never feel like myself again. If you are struggling, please reach out and get the guidance and support you need. Sleep is HARD, and you are not alone.
Mahaley Patel is a certified infant and child sleep consultant. She is also a Masters Candidate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy at Pepperdine University. She is the mother to her 2.5-year-old daughter, Amelie, 13-year-old Boxer, Coco, and wife to Ravi Patel. For more information or to schedule a consultation please visit www.mahaleypatel.com