Some advice on how to recognise the sleep signals of babies and toddlers.
Recognising when our children are tired is a huge part of being a responsive parent and facilitating a sleep environment where they feel safe.
It is absolutely safe to say that a large portion of toddler meltdowns are sleep related. Toddlers go through huge developmental leaps and growth spurts. This needs to be aided by lots of rest time. Each toddler is different but itís up to the parents to recognise the amount of sleep their individual child requires. This can often be more than expected and realising this can help with understanding the complex behaviours of a toddler.
It is important to note that toddlers go through different phases and your toddler may not drop their day sleep because a supposed sleep expert says so. My belief has been from the beginning that everything is baby led. Baby eats when baby is hungry and baby sleeps when baby is tired. However, once they become toddlers, some sleep signals may not be as clear as when they are sleepy new borns. A certain amount of routine certainly does help but it is important to be comfortable to work around that routine.
For example, my nearly 3-year-old was in her own routine of napping for 3 hours every day. Just recently she stopped napping and would wake between 5am-7am each morning and be on the go till between 7.30pm-8.30pm each evening. Over the holidays, this routine got a bit muddled up with being away from home and she is now sleeping in a bit later and occasionally going to bed a little later.
I wasn't worried as I knew we would fall back into our normal routine in our own time. Yesterday at 4.30pm, i sat down to eat something and my toddler looked at me and started crying. This to me, was a clear tired signal and although it was not convenient for me, I put her to sleep because I knew she was tired. She slept for 3 hours until 7.30pm and woke for some dinner. I accepted we would have a late night and wasnít expecting her to be ready for sleep for quite some time.
However around 11pm when I asked her to brush her teeth, she started to behave in a way that told me she was tired again. A typical 'toddler tantrum', most would call it. I view this as my baby telling me she is tired and ready for bed again. I calmly laid back down in bed with her and she fell back to sleep shortly after. She is catching up on the sleep she needs.
If I had not recognised both times that she was tired, her behaviour would have continued to get worse. There are times when she will say to me, "Mummy I am tired." And there are times where she will hit and cry. Itís my job to recognise why she is behaving this way.
There are also times where we need to recognise that our babies simply are not tired. Babies do not know how to tell time and sometimes are quite simply not ready for bed. This is not something they should be punished or scolded for. Itís just the way things sometimes are.
If you do find that your child is having a hard time sleeping or staying asleep. There are many avenues you may explore. Such as the diet of your child and what are they eating during the day and before bed? Are they having sugar and processed foods? These can most certainly affect our little ones behaviour and sleep and is worth researching.
Another avenue that is most certainly worth exploring is whether your child feels relaxed and happy with their sleep environment. We are big believers in co sleeping. You can read all about the benefits of this
If you have concerns about co-sleeping with young babies, you can use a special co-sleeping bed. We had one when bub was really little and it was a life saver!
It is biologically normal and natural as mammals for our young to feel most safe sleeping in bed with us and to do what feels most natural to you will certainly help the sleep of your family more than any money making schemes and advice from sleep experts.
I do acknowledge that this simply isnít for everybody and I know a lot of people struggle with getting their kids to sleep alone in their beds. There are many studies that discuss attachment creating independence rather than forcing young children to be independent before they are ready. You can read an absolutely excellent article about this
Itís perfectly fine to breastfeed your child to sleep, lay with them till they fall asleep, have a sleep aid such as a Lulla Doll or night light of some kind. These do not foster bad habits but can assist in creating a sleep environment in which your child feels safe and they will settle on their own when they are developmentally ready, creating a better nightís sleep for all family members.