Sleeping through the night , especially in the first years of a child’s life, can seem like a mirage for many parents. At first it seems that the newborn confuses the day with the night, then the colic arrives, then the teeth, then again the nightmares. In short, being mom and dad can be really tiring!
Some children manage to stabilize their rhythm over time while for others the path seems to be much more difficult. There is no one-size-fits-all rule but there are still a number of tips that can be extremely useful for regulating children’s sleep.
Among the opinions of pediatricians and pedagogues, medical studies and recommendations, we have tried to clarify the world of infant sleep . In fact, it does not depend exclusively on what happens during the night but on a huge amount of factors, habits and behaviors that can have a positive or negative impact on sleep.
So let’s see together 12 tips to help your baby sleep through the night:
1) The difference between day and night
The day / night alternation is not clear in the child. During the first months of life, his whole day is marked exclusively by the rhythm of the feedings. The hormones that come into play for milk production are prolactin and oxytocin . The latter is also responsible for the contractions that trigger childbirth and is mainly produced during sleep, which is why most labor begins in the middle of the night. This premise is necessary to understand how, at least in the first phase, it is very rare to be able to make a newborn sleep all night, especially when breastfed. That said, as the months go by it is still possible to adopt a series of strategies, rituals and good habits to accompany the child to an adequate differentiation between day and night.
2) Establish a place to sleep
Identifying a precise and comfortable space for sleep is essential. As advised by the Montessori pedagogist Grazia Honegger Fresco , author of the book Let’s go to sleep , up to the first year of age the child should sleep next to his parents. Whether you prefer to let him sleep in the bed or in a cot in your bedroom, know that this practice helps the child to harmonize his sleep rhythm more quickly with that of adults. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends this method for preventing cot death or SIDS.Sleeping next to the parents guarantees a peaceful but lighter sleep to the child who is therefore able to wake up in case of regurgitation, covered on the face or obstruction of the airways.
3) The cot and the bedroom
After one year of age, the child can be accompanied towards a first form of autonomy , learning to sleep in the cot or even in his own bedroom. It is important that the change of habit is not sudden but gradual. The bedroom must be a hospitable and “child-proof” place . The bed must be safe – with high and covered bars – or of Montessori inspiration, placed on the ground to allow the child to reach it and get out independently. The room must also be not too hot and have the right degree of humidity. It is important to experience the bedroom with the child , devoting time to games or perhaps reading in that room. At the moment of going to bed, accompany him towards Morpheus’ arms staying with him until he feels sure he can fall asleep: he must not perceive abandonment.
4) Light and sound
Children do not appreciate total darkness and the complete absence of sound. What most calms a newborn (but more generally children), are warm and soft lights and white noises. Creating a similar context during sleep almost means bringing them back to the uterine environment, when the perception of sounds was muffled and the light was very dim. White noises are so called because they are formed by the sum of many sound frequencies, just like white light which is the sum of all the colors of the visible spectrum. An English study, published in 1990, proves its effectiveness on infants with difficult sleep, 80% of whom fall asleep after only 5 minutes of listening.Devices that emit white noise must be placed at a certain distance from the baby, at a low volume and must be turned off once the baby falls asleep.
5) Naps during the day
Babies typically sleep between 14 and 18 hours a day , but up to about age 5, all babies need an afternoon nap. To clearly distinguish them from the long night’s sleep, a good strategy is to have them in places other than the space dedicated to night sleep. In the stroller, on a bouncer, on the sofa or perhaps in a hammock, preferably positioned in a space of the house dedicated to daytime activities. It is also good that during naps the house does not become as silent as during the night just to mark the difference.
6) Set up a routine
If during the daytime activities may be different and vary depending on the day of the week, in the evening you should follow a very specific routine that is recognizable by the child. Dinner should always be done at the same time and be placed in a context of precise rituals. The ideal, according to the educator Fresco, is to start between 18 and 20 with a warm bath (water at 38 degrees) lasting about 15/20 minutes. We put on our pajamas and sit down at the table. After dinner, a couple of hours should pass to allow digestion. During this time , quiet games, relaxing music or singing and reading books are recommended. If you adopt this routine from birth it will certainly be easier to accompany him towards onesleep more serene and, therefore, also more durable.
7) Who makes the baby fall asleep
For many parents this argument is a point of contention. It often happens that a child tends to fall asleep more easily with one parent than with the other and cannot sleep at all with grandparents, relatives or babysitters. For a more equitable distribution of the efforts and for a good autonomy of the child compared to the parents it is good that from the beginning we focus on the bedtime routine. It is the practices and habits that accompany the child to sleep, not the person who does them.This does not mean that anyone can put your child to sleep: an intimate and trusting relationship is necessary. Certainly and, however, the autonomy granted by this type of approach will help to shape the attitude of the child who will tend to be more autonomous, independent and extroverted even when it is time to leave him at the nursery or kindergarten. Believe me, even the mother / father relationship will benefit a lot!
8) Meals before bedtime
At the first international Paidoss Forum , held in Naples in 2014, it emerged how food can be connected to the most common childhood sleep disorders. Once your child is able to eat cooked dishes at the table, it is good to choose the right menus to facilitate digestion and sleep. Foods such as milk, yogurt, rice or legumes contain tryptophan, an amino acid that acts on the mechanisms that regulate mood, giving the baby peace of mind.Zucchini, carrots, plums, chicken or spinach can also contribute as they contain potassium, a mineral that can regulate the heartbeat. On the other hand, avoid red meat, fish, broccoli and chocolate-based products: too energetic and more suitable for lunch.
9) Herbal teas before going to sleep
Infusions and herbal teas can also be administered before bedtime , perhaps to start replacing the last feeding or the last bottle of milk before going to bed. Chamomile, hawthorn, lemon balm, lime, valerian or verbena are ideal for promoting sleep as long as they are not sugary. To make the herbal tea more palatable it is possible to sweeten it with honey. Paola Marangione, head of Neonatology and Neonatal Pathology of Humanitas San Pio X , recommends its use in infant nutrition as it is a natural and healthy food . However, the doctor also points out that this should absolutely not be administered to children under the age of 1 year.In infants, in fact, the intestinal bacterial flora is not yet fully formed and the spores contained within the honey could cause infant botulism, a serious form of intoxication.
10) Don’t tire him too much during the day
During the day, even when very young, the child should be free to move and explore the surrounding world. At home, the newborn should stand on large support surfaces that promote progress such as turning around or starting to move towards objects of interest and should go out for walks at least once a day. When the child is older the activities increase: he could go to the nursery, the playground, visit relatives or follow the parents during the daily errands. The important thing is to balance activities with his need for rest. Excessively tired a child will not make him fall asleep in the evening, quite the opposite. When a baby is too tired he becomes restless, nervous and short-tempered making bedtime a real nightmare.
11) Avoid monitors and TVs
In 2019 the World Health Organization released the document entitled Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep which, among other issues, also defines the number of hours that a child, depending on age, should spend in front of a screen. . Access to devices such as tablets, TVs or PCs should be denied to children under one year of age, from 2 to 4 years no more than an hour. Beyond the questionable content that can be found on TV or on the Internet and the sedentariness to which the practice predisposes, it also emerges how harmful screens can be for sleep and how the abuse of these technologies leads to real atrophy. of emotional capacity. In the hours preceding bedtime, therefore, the use of any electronic device is absolutely not recommended.
12) Awakenings at night, bad dreams and requests
Despite the adoption of good practices to promote sleep, nocturnal awakenings are to be considered absolutely normal. In a first phase, most likely, they will coincide with the feedings so, as far as possible, try to be quick so as not to turn awakening into a desperate cry that is difficult to console. When the baby is older and starts to sleep alone, the reasons for waking up may be the need for water, the need to go to the bathroom or maybe a bad dream. At this stage it is essential to keep the bedroom e as a reference placereach the child in their room to satisfy their need. In particular, when it comes to fears, having it return to Latvian can be extremely counterproductive. Move to his bed and help him calm down by letting him know that this is the safest place.