12 December 2016

Huge Welcome To...

Welcome to Kerry Secker today from Kerry Cares Parenting (@kerrycaresparenting) Supplying you with sleep advice for your little ones and boy do I need it or what! 

Kerry Cares Parenting - Sleep Advice

Most of the sleep advice and articles out there are mainly aimed at young babies, in particular those who are aged one year or under. It’s pretty much expected that by the time your little one is 3 years old they should have the sleep malarkey well and truly nailed.
 If you have an older child who is battling bedtime or stealing sleep it can feel shameful or embarrassing; you may even feel that they are to blame or doing something wrong. Talking about an older child with a sleep disturbance has pretty much become a taboo that is brushed under the bedroom carpet; we have stopped talking about it for fear of being judged, mocked or given helpful (read really infuriating!) advice that can just makes you feel worse.

Do you have a threen-ager who is doing bedtime battle or stealing sleep?  Air punch here and read on, this article IS written for you!

I hope I can reassure you and set that nursery carpet straight that:

You’re NOT getting everything wrong

You’re NOT doing the wrong things

Your threen-ager doesn’t need fixing

There is always a biological reason or communication behind their bedtime behaviour!

I hope you can believe me when I say you’re definitely not alone and you are certainly not the only one living with a threen-age sleep stealer.  One in five of the families who will get in touch with me have a child aged 3 years or older who is experiencing disturbed sleep at night.

There can be many reasons WHY your child is battling bedtime or waking at night and without knowing their full history it is impossible to give you a definite answer (I know I know!). I believe all children are different and a one size fits all approach doesn’t work;one size sucks!

Fear not, here is my handy threen-ager sleep guide to what is going on with their development and how it can impact their sleep. More importantly there is caring and sensible advice to help you improve their (and your!) sleep.

Let’s start by having a look at what may be going on in a 3 year Old’s life. There are a lot of big changes going on for them:
They suddenly go from a toddler to child almost overnight!  Just like that our expectations of them rise but they are still so young in the bigger picture.

This is also the age where they crave autonomy and independence yet getting it scares the life out of them! This naturally can cause mega conflict and behaviour battles for you both.

There are some big changes that commonly happen at around 3 years old:

They may start nursery for first time

They may move to a new nursery or child care setting

The hours or days they spend at nursery may increase

A new sibling may even arrive!

On top of these there is also the usual flux of everyday life happenings; illness, travel, holidays and our work/life balance.
As you can see there is a lot going on for your child and any small changes to their life may have big impact on their sleep. This is because the changes can make them feel a little unsure and unsettled making switching off and settling down for sleep pretty difficult.
Know we know why their sleep may change let’s take a look at how we can support their sleep:


Your child may have given up their nap many moons ago (sigh) or they may still a nap. Every child is different and they all have different nap needs. Only you know your child best and whether or not they still need a nap.

Here are my biggest nap suggestions:

If they have started to majorly fight going to sleep at bedtime it may be that they aren’t tired and perhaps don’t ‘need their nap or require a shorter day nap. If this happens it may be worth cutting their nap back by 10 or 15 minutes every couple of days to see if that makes bedtime smoother.

Ideally if they need a nap it would be as early as possible in the day and they would be up by 2pm.

Some children at this age have a habit of pushing on through the day then crashing conveniently at 5pm on the way from nursery/in the car. For some just a 5 minute nap at this time can spell disaster for bedtime! Giving them a toy or snack may them help keep them going but for some there is no stopping them. If this happens I would advise getting them home ASAP and waking them!

If they are giving up their nap time either naturally or with a little help from you we may need to bring bedtime a little earlier to prevent them getting over tired. When overtired they get over wired from the cortisol they produce making it harder for them to settle calmly for sleep. Fun fact: It can take up to 6 times longer for a child to switch off when they are overtired!

It is normal even for a healthy and well rested child to get grotty and ratty the closer it gets to bed time. If they can manage not to fall asleep with their face in their food at dinner I would have a think whether they really need that nap.

Despite many not needing a nap they still need some quiet time during the day. Our lives are full and busy and sometimes we can forget how important quiet time and rest is during the day. Having some set quiet time during the day can really help them switch off at bedtime; books, puzzles or listening to music are great quiet time activities.

Food and diet

Food and diet naturally can impact our children’s sleep!
Avoid rich and heavy food too close to bedtime; it makes their digestive system work overtime and may prevent them from falling asleep or wake during the night. A three hour gap before their last meal and bedtime is ideal.

A small, pre bed supper or snack may prevent hunger and promote peaceful night sleep.

Foods contain Tryptophan are known to promote sleep. Seeds, dairy foods and nuts given at dinner or supper may help your little one sleep well.

Protein foods for lunch and carbohydrate foods for dinner may help keep them fuller adding a restful night.

Keep an eye on sugar and fat. Foods such as sugary drinks, juice, cakes, biscuits and crisps especially in the afternoon can really impact sleep.

Ensure your little one drinks plenty of fluid during the day.

Daily fresh air and exercise

Too little exercise may mean your child is not ready for sleep come bedtime whilst too much exercise may cause over stimulation or over tiredness which can also cause them to hard it hard to settle.
The recommended amount of infant exercise is 1 hour of moderate activity that is broken into bite sized exercise daily in 15 minutes chunks.

Try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime. If they have a class try to give a good chill out time afterwards!

Bed time

The actual sleep time plays an important part in how your child falls asleep at bedtime and how well they sleep during the night!
Their melatonin levels start to rise at 3pm and ideally we want to get them in to bed and to sleep when their melatonin level is at its peak.

If we put them to bed to early they may not be physically ready for sleep and may find it hard to settle down easily.

If we put them to bed too late they start to produce cortisol (that magic word again!). This cortisol may cause them to battle, fight or resist going to sleep, make them appear manic or awake and cause wake ups in the later part of the night (from midnight) when their melatonin levels start to naturally decrease.

As a very general rule we ideally would like no more than 4.5 hours gap from 3pm when their melatonin levels start to rise.

If your child is very tearful or unsettled during their bedtime routine or battles bedtime it may be a sign that their bedtime could do with being just that little bit earlier.

Bedtime routine

Sleep is a period of separation and a good bedtime routine is preparation for separation for them. Doing their routine in the same order every night helps them anticipate what comes next making them feel settled and secure.

At three years old the ideal bedtime routine takes around 35/45 minutes. If it is too short your little one may not be ready for the separation and fight or resist bedtime. If on the other hand it is too long it may be stimulating them or they become overtired.
There is no best bedtime routine and every family will find their own bedtime groove that works.

Here are my top suggestions for a calm and reassuring bedtime routine so a calm night can follow:

After dinner have some down time until you go up for a bath/bed:

Turn on the lights and draw the curtains

Turn off the TV, loud music and screens

Try to avoid games that whoop them up; tickling, races etc.

Having a bath is a great way to release that melatonin needed for sleep

If having a bath try to keep this to around 15 minutes as any longer and they can easily get over stimulated!

Go in to their sleep space for the most important part of the routine

Ideally this routine would be in the place your child will fall asleep

Once in their sleep space try to avoid bringing them back out as this can over stimulate them and it gives them inconsistent bed boundaries.

Have some wind down time together. This is often overlooked but it really helps when it is time to separate for the night:
20 minutes is about the best length of time for a three year old
Hang out, have stories, have milk, sing, do some yoga and spend some present time with them.

Saying goodnight to 3 or 4 things in the same order every night helps them anticipate that sleep comes next.

Have a big kiss and cuddle for at a couple of minutes before settling them in their beds to sleep and saying goodnight.
If they don’t want you to leave saying you will check in on them in a bit may help them to settle.

Bedtime resistance

Resisting and battling bed is very common!

“I need a drink”

“I can’t find that sock I lost 2 weeks ago”

“My bed is too beddy” (My all-time favourite!)

Having a consistent and calm bedtime as above usually puts an end to the bizarre bedtime requests because they feel they have had time with you and are ready for sleep separation. However, some children can be persistent!

If they continue to resist, argue or complains you can use the something called “avoidance”. Responding to their complaints by nagging, fighting or arguing will give them the perception that they have the power to challenge you!  They see a sense of empowerment when you explain things over and over again encouraging them to resist more. Also by fighting they are getting to spend more time with you even if it is negative time. The more we persist, the more they resist! If there are any struggle you can calmly say “we have talked about this” and “this is what is happening” and then walk away. 

The right bedtime along with a consistent and calm routine can really go a long way to bring your family a peaceful night’s sleep!
If they do continue to wake up we may need to look at what happens at those wake ups:

If coming into your bed isn’t an issue for you than it really is nobody else’s business and they won’t be wandering in at 18!
If you don’t  want them to come into your bed the key to moving forward is being consistent; having them sleep in there one night but not another gives them mixed messages and they don’t know which one is acceptable.

If they need some support overnight:

Don’t ask why they are awake or have come into your room chances are they won’t know!

Give them some reassurance then calmly and swiftly guide them back to their bed

Encourage them to get back into bed

Reassure them they are safe but it is sleepy time
Keep conversation to a minimum

I really do hope you have found this article useful; please do let me know how you get on!

Thank you! If you want to write a post, be interviewed, feature something, do a calibration or advertise please contact me. 

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