Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Importance of a Sleep Routine

This week the ladies of the Babywise Friendly Blog Network are all writing on the topic of sleep. Below is the schedule of blog posts for the week. There will be heaps of great content shared across the all the blogs, so be sure to follow along!
Today I'm writing about the importance of a sleep routine. This is something even non-Babywise family's subscribe to, but I learned about it through Babywise. Enjoy!

One thing that has stuck out to me over the past two years with our son's sleep is the importance of having a sleep routine. This is a simple concept that has paid huge dividends for us! Thanks to a sleep routine, we can count on our two-year-old to go down for a nap or bedtime (almost) anywhere as long as most aspects of his routine are present. The consistency of the sleep routine has allowed us much flexibility in travel, late evenings at friends' houses, and my ability to work as a nanny for some of my friends with him in tow. I first learned about the importance of a sleep routine in On Becoming Babywise, which is where I also learned about the importance of sleep for babies and children in general.

{ sleep is critically important }
On Becoming Babywise says the following about the importance of sleep: "sleep, or the lack of this precious commodity, is one of the most significant influences on a healthy life. Sleep is critically important during the first year of life because the human growth hormone is released during deep sleep" (p. 49). Further, "try to imagine what it would feel like to wake up two or more times every night for an entire week. The destructive impact of sleep deprivation on an adult's central nervous system is well documented. Deficits include diminished motor skills, decreased ability to think, irritability, loss of focusing capacity, emotional instability, and cellular and tissue breakdown...Now imagine a young child who does not sleep continuously for 8 hours in any of the 365 nights a year!" (p. 53).

So sleep is important, but now what? How can parents help baby get the valuable sleep they need?

{ the use of sleep cues }
One of the main Babywise principles for aiding with baby sleep is that the baby's primary sleep cue should be sleepiness (pg. 57). Parents can help with this by creating a sleep routine that leads up to and/or triggers baby's sleepiness, thus setting the child up nicely for learning how to fall asleep on their own and eventually being able to put themselves back to sleep without parental intervention. I think the best thing about this concept is that you don't have to teach sleepiness, it's a natural body function. Babywise says "the best and safest way to help your little one fall asleep and stay asleep is the natural way. You do not need costly gadgets, a new car, or risky parenting theories. Instead of a sleep prop, confidently establish a basic routine [emphasis mine] to promote restful sleep" (pg. 60).

{ creating a sleep routine }
A sleep routine is established through a repeated succession of consistent sleep cues. The sleep routine is set by mom and dad, and is most successful when it can be done every time, any place, and by anyone. If the routine is too long, you wont want to do it every time. If the routine has components you can only do at home (like bath time), you can't do it any place. If the routine can only be done by mom (such as nursing directly to sleep), then mom must be present every single time baby needs to sleep. When creating a sleep routine for our son, my husband and I briefly sat down and came up with components that we are willing to do every time, that can be done anywhere, and that either of us can do.

Here is an example of a sleep routine for a baby:
  • final nursing session or bottle for the day (if mom wants a break she can nurse baby and then hand off to dad for the rest of the routine, or dad can give baby a bottle)
  • diaper change and sleep gear - can be jammies and/or sleep sack, swaddle, etc
  • give sleep props (should you choose to use them) - paci and/or lovie
  • lights out, white noise on - we first went with this sleep sheep and then later switched to this fan, but I can also recommend this white noise machine and this one, too 
  • prayers
  • snuggle in rocking chair and sing one song (same song every time) or read one book (same book every time...a small book that you can take on the go is a good idea)
  • turn baby facing outward on lap and just sit together until baby is drowsy (no rocking, no talking)
  • place baby in crib sleepy but awake, close door
For comparison, here is our current bedtime routine for our 2-year-old:
  • diaper change, jammies, give paci and lovie (he only gets those for sleeping, so they are considered parent-approved sleep props)
  • family Bible reading on big bed (we like The Beginners Bible) to wind down
  • brush teeth
  • bedtime book in his bedroom (done in his room to ease with transition into the bedroom, away from the rest of the family/house)
  • lights out, fan on
  • prayers
  • snuggle in rocking chair and sing one bedtime song (same song every time)
  • put him in crib awake, close door
When we go on vacation or need to put him down somewhere not at home, we skip the Bible reading and just take along his bedtime book. If we forget to grab the bedtime book, he still does fine with just a snuggle and his bedtime song. We've never tried to put him down without his paci+lovie combo, so I do believe those are the two things that really cue sleepiness for him. 

Our current sleep routine could probably use some trimming down, but we've chosen to keep it as is for now because nothing about it seems cumbersome to us. Lately the biggest benefit we've seen from having a sleep routine is that we never have bedtime battles. Even if our son is in a foul mood at the end of a long day, he's all smiles when it comes to bedtime (or even nap time - his nap routine is a bit shorter than the bedtime one) because he knows what's coming and the sleep routine triggers sleepiness for him. As any parent of a toddler knows, sometimes a toddler is super tired but doesn't want to admit they are tired (or doesn't recognize how tired they are); the sleep routine works to help our son recognize that he is tired and it's time to sleep.

If you don't have a sleep routine, try one out for a week and see how your baby or toddler reacts. Talk with your husband first and make sure it's a routine you both can do anywhere and are willing to do each time. A routine is always meant to serve you, so come up with something that serves your family well and will continue to work in the future (perhaps as you grow your family and have more children to factor in to the routine).

Any Babywise mommas out there have any sleep routine advice for those mommas just getting started? Do share!

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  1. That's so true about the sleep routine helping to cue the baby to feel sleepy. One thing I do that I don't think you mentioned is I say a phrase when I put my baby/child to bed. Then I'll use that phrase again if they ever wake up or I need to go in and check on them to remind them to go to sleep (if they are hyper and having a hard time settling). Thanks for the great post!

    1. Ohh that's a great idea! I know some moms have little things like that, such as a kiss on the forehead or some other gesture to signify sleep. What's funny to me is that if I even think about my son's sleep routine, I myself get a little sleepy. Just goes to show that sleep training benefits everyone! :)