We recently hosted a live video talk with author and baby sleep specialist Niamh O’Reilly of the thenursery.ie on our Facebook page. In case you missed it, below we have collected some of the most helpful (and useful) sleep tips for kids and babies that Niamh shared with us.
Let’s get straight to it!
Expert Sleep Tips for Kids and Babies
How Much Sleep Should Your Kids be Getting?
According to Niamh, preschool and school age children should ideally be getting at least 10-11 hours of sleep a night. So if your child is falling short of that, it’s important to look for ways to encourage longer, better sleep.
Niamh recommends starting by gradually bringing back bedtime to an earlier time to avoid your child getting overtired before it’s time to go to sleep. Do this over a week, and bring back bedtime by 15 minutes every two days. This will not only lead to a longer sleeping time, but also better sleep quality.
What Are the Different Phases of Sleep?
For children, there are roughly three phases of sleep during the night. Within each phase are sleep cycles. Each sleep cycle is roughly about 45 minutes and they go in and out of these during the night.
According to Niamh, for the first four or five hours of sleep, your little one will go into quite a deep sleep.
From around 11pm or midnight onwards, for the next three or four hours it’s a much lighter phase of sleep and that’s where a lot of parents find there’s some difficulty for babies and children going from one sleep cycle into the next, where they might wake up.
For the last part of the night (from around 4am to 6 or 7am) they return to a deep sleep once again. Niamh advises that if you have an early riser, waking up too early at around 5am, it means they are missing out on that important last phase of sleep. In this case, she recommends trying to get them to go back to sleep if they wake up early, even if it’s just for an hour.
How Can I Get Kids Back to Sleep When They Wake Too Early?
Set clear boundaries and do not engage with any playful behaviour before it’s time to get up. Gro clocks are great for giving children a bit of control and gradually bringing wake up time to an acceptable time.
What is Melatonin – and Why is it Important?
Melatonin is the hormone that humans produce that gives us that sleepy feeling to bring on sleep. To encourage its production, Niamh recommends a dark bedroom. Blackout blinds for the summer months will help with this.
For a healthy sleep routine, she advises dimming the lights as it gets closer to bedtime to help wind-down and encourage a sense of calm in children.
If a child is over-tired, they will have difficulty getting into that first deep stage of sleep, as their body is fighting the melatonin with adrenaline.
How to Deal with Fear of the Dark
Aside from the obvious solution of a good nightlight, Niamh recommends keeping an eye on what is scary for your child. Keep in mind that what is scary for one child, might not be scary for another.
Playing games that involve the dark in some way (for example, hide and seek together in a dark place) can help to reassure your child that the dark isn’t something to be afraid of.
What is the Difference Between a Nightmare and a Night Terror?
Nightmares are scary dreams that generally happen in the middle part of the night, in the lighter phase of sleep. Children will wake and be upset and generally will accept comfort from you.
Night terrors are different. They tend to happen in the earlier part of the night, during the deep phase of sleep. They are usually quite dramatic and quite often your little one won’t be comforted by you.
Niamh notes that night terrors are often way more distressing for the parent than for the child and they usually won’t remember the experience the following day. Niamh advises that it’s important to acknowledge this fact the next day, by not going on about the episode to the child, as doing so might encourage fear about bedtime and going to sleep.
How to avoid nightmares:
Niamh recommends restricting the type of TV that older toddlers and children watch to make sure they’re not watching anything that could frighten them and trigger nightmares. She also advises parents to turn off the TV an hour before they go to bed.
With older children, if they wake in the night because of a nightmare, do some sensory play or arts and crafts play with them and ask them what it is that’s frightening them. Through play, they might be able to work it out (if it’s not immediately obvious what they’re afraid of).
How to avoid/deal with night terrors:
Often night terrors are as a result of the child being over-tired in the first instance, so Niamh advises keeping an eye on bedtime and how tired children are before it’s time to sleep.
If you find that your child is waking around the same time every night with night terrors, rouse them maybe half an hour beforehand – lift them up, give them a cuddle. The idea is to break the cycle, so that when they fall back asleep again you have helped to soothe them through the change of sleep cycle.
Check out the full Facebook live video with Niamh to get all her tips and advice. You can also follow Niamh on Facebook and Instagram or check out her website for more sleep tips for babies, toddlers and children.