Why routines are so important and actually create more flexibility
The word ‘routine’ can be off putting for the ‘go with the flow’ style family, however I’m a firm believer and advocate of a predictable schedule for young children. A regular routine ensures that they are reaching the correct amount of sleep for their age, avoiding over tiredness and fulfilling their developmental potential.
What are the benefits?
Lets start with why a schedule and the ability to self soothe is beneficial for the whole family.
· By having a regular routine I can rely on my 3 year old and 16 month old sleeping from 7pm to 7am every night, with the odd exception which is only ever due to jet lag or illness
· Theo, my youngest, will nap every day at the same time and is well rested for the afternoon. This allows me to work, exercise or get things done around the house.
· I know that either side of nap time, they are going to be on their best form, and that any challenging behaviour is mostly just that and I can rule out ‘overtiredness’ as a factor. Overtiredness leads to irritability, lack of focus, more tantrums, and worse still a terrible nights sleep ahead. This is because their cortisol levels will be high and this interferes with falling and staying asleep.
· They are tired enough for bed time at the same time each day and this allows me to be able to go out in the evening without worrying if they will be asleep or not and causing my babysitter more hassle than necessary.
· As your child gets older they get wiser and more creative and if they haven’t learnt the tools for sleep by then, you might find yourself in a difficult situation, especially when they have the freedom to get out of their toddler bed.
· Solid naps and uninterrupted sleep at night ensures greater mental and physical development, and increased focus during the day.
· If they have benefited from a regular schedule and can self soothe, then your child will be able to resume to a normal sleeping pattern after periods of illness and jet lag.
How to create a predictable schedule?
I have always prioritised my children’s sleep, which for me means that my children sleep at the same time in the same place every day. The exceptions to this are very rare for my family and we schedule our day and social activities around nap times. This might feel quite restricting for some families, however the benefits above far outweigh the lack of sleep that might arise from not doing this. Also, bear in mind that by the time your child is 3, they most likely won’t be napping any more and so it really is a short period of time to dedicate to their overall wellbeing.
Creating a routine relies on teaching your child to self soothe, and creating as much regularity in terms of where and when they sleep. These two factors combined will offer you endless nights of quality sleep. It takes a bit of work to get there, but there are steps that you can take to ensure your baby from as young as 4 months of age can be on a regular schedule. As your baby gets older, their sleep becomes more consolidated and if they have the right tools, you can enjoy all of the benefits above.
How to make naps work for you
Nap times are typically the area of sleep that can contribute to many sleep issues. For some families it’s impossible, however if you can have your baby nap in the same place (ideally in their cot at home) at the same time each day, then you are off to a great start.
If your baby is older than 4 months of age and they still take most naps on the go, they are learning that ‘motion’ is the main way to get to sleep. Whether it’s in the car, pram or a baby carrier, motion is essentially lulling them to sleep and this is very comforting as it mimics the conditions of the womb. Relying on this can quickly cause problems at night-time when they are in their cot/bed, which is motionless and they are wondering why they aren’t being wobbled around to get to sleep.
You might find yourself having to rock, sway or nurse your baby to sleep every night, and this will be required when they wake throughout the night also. You will also find that when you do wish for them to take a nap at home in their cot, they most likely won’t go down without a fuss, and when they do finally get to sleep it will only be for a short time (40 minutes or so). This is because they will be seeking out the similar cues of motion at each partial wake up that all babies have.
What did I do?
At the age of 5.5 months for each child, I set aside a week where I really focused on sleep coaching and teaching them the tools to self settle. This meant that for a week I almost didn’t leave the house as I focused on settling them down to sleep in their cots where I intended them to take every nap each day. I feel that this was a small price to pay for the long term benefits that I experience daily.
For my son Theo, naps on the go happen very rarely and when they do it doesn’t contribute to any problems at night time as the consistency around his normal routine prevails. If he does nap on the go, he won’t sleep for as long as usual and he will become overtired more quickly and so he needs to go to bed slightly earlier that night. Of course this will lead to a slightly earlier wake up the following morning and so you can start to see how an unwanted cycle can begin.
If its possible for your family, I would aim to reserve at least five days out of seven where naps are at home in the cot so that they can rely on a predictable set of conditions, and also have lengthier and more restorative naps.
This means that your weekends for example can remain relatively flexible without too many repercussions. Of course this might not be practical for every family, in which case if your child’s naps need to be taken on the go, ensure that they are getting enough naps throughout the day and learn to read their sleep cues so that come early evening if they look overtired you should put them to bed slightly earlier.
Circadian rhythms – let them help you!
When we travel, jet lag reaps havoc on any routine that we have and it really highlights to me the strength of our circadian rhythms. They can really work for you, but they can also work against you which is why travel can be so tough for all of us. The circadian rhythm works best with regularity as our bodies gear up for sleep at the same time each day. The more regularity you introduce, the more predictable their naps will be in terms of time and length. This is why I highlight the importance of a routine and how we can use the science behind their sleep to benefit us. All of this however will only work when it is complimented alongside healthy sleep habits and the right environment.
Want to create a regular schedule?
I appreciate that all of this might sound overwhelming and restricting, however I find that in the long run, creating a regular routine for your baby offers a whole lot of freedom. If you would like help creating a regular schedule to work for your baby and family, please get in touch and we can talk about an age appropriate routine.