Our best sleep aids for little ones


Did you know babies and toddlers need between 12 and 18 hours of sleep in 24 hours? It might sound like a lot, but sleep is critical for a child’s optimal physical and mental growth and development. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “By the age of two, most children have spent more time asleep than awake and overall, a child will spend 40% of his or her childhood asleep.”

Babies and older children don’t sleep soundly all the time − they alternate between two types of sleep:

  • Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep – also known as quiet sleep. This is where tissue growth and repair takes place, hormones are balanced and energy is restored.
  • Rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep – also known as active sleep. This state of sleep is often when the brain is active and dreaming occurs.

As experts from Stanford Children’s Health explain, newborns spend almost half their total sleep time in the REM sleep state. This means their sleep cycles are shorter and they wake often to feed. By around six months of age, little one’s wake up less for feeds and their sleep cycles lengthen, which means they tend to sleep for longer periods.

ALSO SEE: Newborn sleep patterns – what to expect in the first months

More about sleep cycles

As research shows, a full sleep cycle for a baby (with stages of light and deep sleep) lasts anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes, while a toddler’s sleep cycle is between 60 and 90 minutes. If you have little ones, you’ve more than likely experienced those short 30 to 45-minute naps − just when you put your baby down and make a cup of tea, she’s awake again.

During the day, there’s lots of natural light and stimulus (surrounding sounds etc), which is why many babies and toddlers struggle to fall back asleep after one sleep cycle. At night, a child goes through many sleep cycles, and will either be able to fall back asleep with ease or not. Some children wake fully multiple times a night for the following reasons:

  • Being wet, overtired or hungry
  • Needing mom or dad to help them fall back asleep
  • Feeling scared
  • Illness or teething
  • Wanting a sleep prop like a dummy, which is hard to find in the dark.

ALSO SEE: 5 reasons why your baby might not be sleeping through the night

This is where sleep aids come in. After much research, (and hearing from you, of course), we rounded up our top list of sleep aids, which have all been designed to encourage good sleep habits and help your little one settle faster.

A swaddle sleep sac

Photographer, blogger and mom of two Kate Rankin noticed a massive difference with her baby daughter’s day and night sleep patterns when she started using the Love to Dream Swaddle Up. In a recent Instagram post she said, “I just had to wake my baby from a four-hour nap and look how happy she is! Guys, if you haven’t invested in a Love to Dream Swaddle for your baby yet, it’s a sleep game changer!”  Kate says her daughter is secure and happy in her sleep sac and it helps her to sleep peacefully for longer.

The swaddles come in various shapes and sizes, depending on your baby’s age, and there is an option to unzip your baby’s hands and arms as they transition from swaddling to sleeping in a sleep sac.

Love to Dream Swaddle Up, available in a variety of sizes and colours online, from R429.

Love to dream sleep sac

A sleep companion

Not just any soft toy, the Lulla Doll sleep companion is unique in that it plays a recording of real sounds of breathing and heartbeat (by a mother who is also a yoga teacher) for up to eight hours. The unique design of the doll is based on scientific research, which shows how closeness improves sleep and wellbeing. It’s also made with the softest cotton fabric, so it’s super comfortable as a sleep companion. Plus, the fabric can absorb your scent if you hold it close to you every day. This will help to make your little one feel safe and secure while sleeping.

Lulla Doll, available online for R999.

lulla doll

A sleep balm

Certified organic by the USDA, Badger Sleep Balm is a natural sleep balm for babies and kids (it’s ideal for adults too). It contains a natural blend of rosemary, lavender, bergamot and balsam fir. It doesn’t contain any harsh, synthetic or artificial ingredients. To use, rub a tiny amount on your child’s chest, back or temples.

Badger Sleep Balm, available at takealot.com for R200.

badger sleep balm

Portable black-out blinds

Studies show excess light in the bedroom can affect sleep quality, disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm. This is especially true for babies who are still getting used to the difference between day and night. If you want your little one to sleep soundly for longer, consider investing in potable black-out blinds so you can take them along to friends, family dinners or holidays. The Magic Blackout blind is easy to put up and fits most window frames. Sheets can also be overlapped to fit larger windows. Plus, you don’t need any tools to assemble and they can be cut to size.

Magic Blackout Blinds, available online for R850.

magic blackout blind

Night-time soother

As occupational therapist and author of Baby Sense, Meg Faure explains, “It’s well known that the mouth is full of touch receptors and is a zone of great comfort for little ones. As early as the second trimester of pregnancy, babies start to suck on their thumbs. So, I believe, without any hesitation, that babies need to be able to use their mouth to sooth. There are three ways a baby can do this – they can suck on the breast for comfort, suck their thumb or suck a dummy. Therefore, my advice is that you shouldn’t stop your baby from sucking – rather guide them into sucking something that works for you and them. I do love dummies; I think they’re a good method of non-nutritive sucking.”

If you agree with Meg and want to avoid constantly running into your child’s room to replace the dummy they can’t find in the dark, invest in a few glow-in-the-dark dummies to strategically place in your child’s cot so he can find them in the middle of the night.

The Philips Avent Night Time Pacifiers are great, because they emit a soft light that won’t affect your child’s sleep and they help to train the muscles of the lips, jaw and tongue and won’t negatively affect your child’s teeth. Suitable for kids aged 6 to 18 months.

Phillips Avent Night Glow-in-the-Dark Soother Twin Pack, R140, available online at Loot.

night time pacifier

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