A sleep expert’s tips on how to coordinate sibling sleep schedules

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Why sleep schedules are so important for kids 

Most of us know that sleep is important for our children’s physical and emotional development and is essential for good health, including a robust immune system.

Sleep, or lack thereof, is also directly linked to moods and the emotions. According to a 2017 Happiness Survey conducted by the University of Melbourne, involving over 40 000 Australian children, results showed that sleep was the biggest indicator of happiness. The online survey found that getting enough sleep made children twice as likely to report feeling happy lots of the time.

Sleep has also been found to strengthen neural pathways in the brain, helping to build stronger connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which is key to maximising learning, memory and creativity.

ALSO SEE: What is sleep training and should you try it?

How to help your children get more sleep 

Worldwide statistics show that babies and young children in general aren’t getting as much sleep as they should.

Experts agree that the key to combatting sleep deprivation and ensuring your child gets enough sleep in each 24 hours is to establish a regular nap and bedtime routine and stick to it as far as possible. We know this can be tricky if you have more than one child. You might wonder how to keep your baby’s midday nap consistent when you’re on the go taking older kids to extra-murals, or perhaps your toddler waits up at night because you’re putting the baby down to sleep first.

ALSO SEE: 6 tips to help you set up a successful nap routine for your baby or toddler

We asked Petro Thamm for solutions on how to handle the most common sleep schedule problems

Q: My toddler’s school drop-off and pick-up times fall into my younger baby’s nap times, and there’s no one at home to stay with my baby. 

A: “Relax! Although sleep schedules are important, we also need to realise that life happens in between and sometimes we have no control of the circumstances. It helps if babies (especially young babies) are lulled by movement such as the car. My advice is to just go with the flow and when your baby wakes up (when you get back home or arrive at school) just monitor her awake time (the amount of time she can comfortably be awake for her age) to determine what time the next nap should be. It’s important not to try and keep your baby awake while you’re running errands or dropping older kids off. An overtired baby is never a good idea as it’ll be harder to get her to fall asleep and stay asleep for the next nap.”

Q: I struggle to get my toddler to nap after school. I can see he’s exhausted, so how do I get him to sleep? 

A: “Try to keep your toddler awake on the journey home. One of the biggest culprits of short or no naps is that the child falls asleep briefly in the car and then it’s impossible to get them back to sleep when they get home.

When it comes to toddler sleep, it all boils down to one word – discipline. Sleep becomes a discipline. Children naturally push boundaries and they will test you endlessly, especially with sleep. The toddler stage is also the time between infancy and childhood when your little one learns and changes in so many ways. Therefore, consistency is of utmost importance. Toddlers’ attention spans are also very short, and they don’t remember rules, which is why they have to be repeated and enforced.

For example, your nap or bedtime rules could include:

  • You aren’t allowed to get out your bed and run around.
  • No climbing out of bed once you’re tucked in.
  • You need to close your eyes, think of happy things and lie down quietly.

It’s also important to take the focus off the phrase, ‘You have to sleep’ and rather put the focus on ‘You need to listen to the nap or sleep rules’. It’s also fine to have ‘down time’ or ‘rest time’ if your older child won’t sleep while your baby is napping. Kids aren’t robots and you won’t always get it right.”

ALSO SEE: 10 ways toddlers avoid going to bed

Q: How do I get my older child and baby to nap at the same time? 

A: I don’t recommend forcing your baby and toddler to sleep at the same time. Work on your baby’s awake time schedule, as an overtired baby is generally an unhappy baby. For your toddler, have a consistent sleep time when they get home. The ideal is from 12pm to 2pm so that your toddler’s nap time doesn’t interfere with bedtime.

I’ve also seen that many parents find it useful to implement a reward and consequence structure regarding sleep. Good behaviour (sticking to the sleep ‘rules’) should be rewarded and breaking them (such as climbing out of bed) should have a consequence. Rewards should be immediate, not for sleeping well the whole week, and consequences should matter. Remember the reason why we make these rules as parents is that we understand the importance of sleep for our children’s wellbeing and most kids don’t like to miss out on life by going to nap or bed, so we have to be strict about it.”

ALSO SEE: How to use reward charts

Q: How do I get my baby and toddler on a similar bedtime routine as they’re at totally different ages and stages?

A: “This will depend largely on your children’s ages. For children older than two and a half years, you can tweak their bedtime slightly, between 6.30pm and 8pm. But with babies, it’s important to watch their sleep signals carefully and put them to bed after the adequate amount of awake time.

For a newborn, this is between 45 and 90 minutes and for children around six months old, their awake time is around two and a half hours. Half an hour before your baby needs to be in bed, bath both children and follow your usual bedtime routine. While you’re focusing on putting your baby to sleep, allow your toddler to have some down time doing a quiet activity such as reading, drawing or completing a puzzle. Switch off the TV, phone or tablet after bath time as these devices are stimulants and won’t help your child calm down for sleep. This downtime can vary depending on how quickly you get your little one to sleep. Of course, it’s also useful to have help at bedtime so that you can manage one child while your partner, family member or nanny manages the other.”

ALSO SEE: 8 tips for a calmer bedtime routine

To book a sleep consultant, visit www.goodnightbaby.co.za.

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