guest post by: Jenni June, Certified Child and Family Sleep Consultant, Lactation Counselor and Mom of 4!
Let’s face it – most babies and toddlers don’t like succumbing to nap time.
We parents cannot understand this to save our lives, especially when we can see all the physical and behavioral “tells” that they are exhausted, and we know they need naps for optimum health and development.
Many parents believe that any ol’ random pre-‐sleep routine will do to help prepare their child for naptime. I have learned after sleep training thousands of kiddos over the years, in addition to knowing a thing or two about sleep science and infant mental health, that there are indeed some things we must consider in order to set babies and toddlers up for naptime success.
Allow me to share with you the recipe to my secret sauce for perfect pre-‐sleep routines:
- A primed sleep environment
Perform your entire pre-‐sleep routine in your child’s nursery, or your room, if room-‐sharing. The room should be cool, dark, and quiet. Essential for kick-‐starting melatonin, those powerful sleep hormones that must be elevated by the end of the routine for your child’s nap to go well. Use a safe, healthy, white noise machine, such as the Marpac Dohm for Baby, to condition those stimulating sounds coming from outside the bedroom window or door.
- 1 cup of predictability
Your routine must be the same thing, in the same exact order of things, every single time. Familiarity breeds contentment and the opportunity to self-‐regulate, providing emotional well-‐being. If you are establishing a new routine to replace an old one, then write it down and stick to it!
- 1 pinch of briefness
The biggest mistake parents make with pre-‐sleep routines for naptime is that they are too long! Keep it sweet, soothing and simple. Never longer than 15 minutes, or your little one runs the risk of catching their second wind and becoming overtired. This makes it much harder for them to fall asleep, or experience deep sleep after they do.
- 3 heaps of main ingredients
Start the routine by placing your child on the changing table and applying diaper cream and a nice dry diaper, so that they are comfortable and skin is protected should they elimination take place during sleep. Frost those buns like a birthday cake!
Next, place a lightweight sleep sack over their day clothes or diaper. Wearing their blanket is comforting and prevents loose blankets in the crib, a huge safety hazard for babies less than 12 months old.
Then, sit upright with your child in the room and read 1 story and sing 1 song. It’s never too early to start reading aloud to your child, and singing a special and familiar song afterward signals the progression of the routine toward sleep in a gentle, loving and joyful way. Keep it to just a minute or two.
- Kisses and Cuddles, to taste
The very last thing you want your child to feel before lying them down for their nap is your reassuring kiss on their sweet little cheek and your warm embrace with a loving hug. Smile as you lay them down, reminding them that you believe in them and their ability to fall asleep the rest of the way on their own. And, that when naptime is over, you will be back to get them.
- Resist the urge to add preservatives!
Keep the breastfeeding or bottle-‐feeding outside of this brief routine in the prepared sleep environment, as you do not want to condition your child to believe they must have a milk feeding to relax to or become drowsy in order to fall asleep, or they will call out for these same things, believing they need them again to connect from one sleep cycle to next throughout the night, beyond the biological need for calories at night. This also applies to rocking or bouncing. The last memory your child should be falling asleep to is, “I did it myself”, they have the ability to connect to the next sleep cycle without believing they need to call you in to do it for them.
- Place in crib to restore, until desired doneness.
Enjoy your well-‐rested baby!