Sleep. No, that’s not a command (if only it was that simple). However, it is THE most talked-about topic among new and not-so-new mums. That’s why we got Mush’s sleep expert in residence, Caroline Zwierzchowska, to treat sleep-deprived Supermushers to a live chat all about sleep routines.
Supermushers are mums who subscribe to the app to get expert advice, personalised content and access to exclusive live chats. You can request access here.
Every Monday night we do a live chat for Supermushers with an expert (and a few special guests you might have heard of) on the topics that are keeping you awake at night (sometimes literally…).
Here are a few highlights from this week’s chat.
Q: What is a sleep routine and why is it important?
Caroline: Things that are often included in a sleep routine are calm-down, screen-free time before bed, a change of clothes if wanted, a nappy change or potty visit. Feeding is often part of the bedtime routine, especially with babies, and breastmilk contains a hormone that helps both mum and baby sleep, particularly the milk produced in the nighttime. You can start the routine off even when you are pregnant by choosing a song to sing to your bump, as they will get used to it and calm to it after birth too.
Q: What age should I start a sleep routine?
Caroline: Doing the same thing in the same way can be started from birth. By 3 months old, we think babies can understand around 150 words, so by using the same words, singing the same song and doing things in the same order we can help the baby to cue in to what will happen next. From around 3 months it’s a good idea to have a short routine of around 20 minutes. Before this though, have 15-20 minutes of calm down time. From 5-6 months you can expect to get a little more regularity into the timings of what is happening and with older babies and children, having a ‘bedtime’ is a great idea.
As children get older, having a half hour routine is great, with the couple of hours before bed being screen free and a 20-30 minute calm-down time before the bedtime routine. Screen-free time is important as the blue lights from screens interrupt the production of melatonin – the sleep hormone. Baths are often lots of fun for children, so may not be calming, so bathe your child when they need it, but it might not be part of your actual bedtime routine. We want the body to cool a little as a trigger for sleep, so in hot weather, a warmer bath can help to trigger this cool down.
Q: My newborn only wants to sleep on me. As soon as I put him down, he is wide awake again. Is there anything you would recommend?
Caroline: Your baby totally just wants to sleep on you – that’s super normal. Try using a sling for daytime naps and if you want to co-sleep at night then the Lullaby Trust has the safer sleep guidelines to follow. It’s important to remember that the biological norm for babies is to sleep on their mum’s chest. Everything else we do is in some ways fighting nature!
Q: Should babies be in strict daily routines?
All babies are different and some (like adults) fall into routines and patterns more naturally than others. However, none of the ‘experts’ who write baby books have ever met your baby, so as you and your child are individuals it is unlikely that a routine from a book or standard sleep plan will suit you both. There is lots of evidence that responsive parenting meets children’s needs more than parenting to a schedule, so although it is good to start to look for patterns in your child’s sleep when they start to develop and to support these, imposing routines on a baby does not suit most families. The things that help us to develop our circadian rhythm (day and night cycles) are exposure to sunlight and when we eat, so having a rhythm to the day where bedtime is within about half an hour of the same time each day can help older babies and children to develop sleep patterns. I’m not going to mention ‘that’ book by name, but you are not a failure because you didn’t manage to get up and dressed by 7.30am – it’s the book that’s at fault not you!
Q: How much sleep should a 4 month old baby have at night?
Caroline: All babies are different but at 4 months we might expect to see 13-15 hours in each 24 period, with daytime wake periods of about 1.5 to 2.5 hours, and night time wakes of anything from every 2 to every 4 hours (with some babies waking more and some less).
Q: My 12 week old sleeps well at night (9 or 10pm until around 5am) but cat naps during the day, only 15-20 minutes at a time. Does it matter that he isn’t doing longer stretches?
Caroline: Wow, 10pm to 5am at 12 weeks is amazing! You are rocking this! The research shows that some babies cat nap for day sleeps so if this is working for you both then great. Longer term, you might want to use the sling or a lunchtime walk to get a longer stretch in the day
Q: My 8 month old cries at the end of our bedtime routine, sometimes for 20 minutes. Will she settle with age or is she trying to say she needs a longer routine?
Caroline: It sounds like she has a little separation anxiety developing about you leaving. You could try sitting quietly next to her with your hand on her as she dozes off, then when she is in the habit of doing this without crying then start to gently cut back the time you are there.
Q: Can you recommend any good books about going to sleep that I can read my daughter every night before bed?
Caroline: The best one is one you make yourself with photos and a printer so she is the star! Apart from that I love Can’t You Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell.
Every Monday night we do a live chat for Supermushers with an expert. You can find out more about subscribing to become a Supermusher here.