Six sleep mistakes parents make and how to avoid them

Getting young children to sleep, and to stay asleep, is one of the biggest challenges of early parenthood. Fortunately, we can help you side-step the most common sleep mistakes and improve your chances of a good night’s rest.

Mistake 1: putting your child to bed too late

When you’ve been at work all day, it can be tempting to keep your baby or toddler up so you can spend more time with him. Or maybe you hope he’ll become so tired, he’ll eventually flake out.

Whatever the reason, it’s not a good idea to keep your child up. When babies and toddlers get over-tired they find it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. They tend to wake up earlier than if they went to bed at a more reasonable hour, too.

It’s much better to have a bedtime routine in place and stick to it. Don’t wait until your child is yawning and rubbing his eyes to put it in action. Even 15 to 20 minutes of extra sleep can make all the difference.

Mistake 2: relying on motion

Have you ever breathed a sigh of relief as your baby snoozes in his car seat or baby swing? While this can provide you with a well-deserved break, don’t fall into the trap of relying on motion to get your baby to fall asleep. It’s impractical to have to take your baby for a drive every night. He’s also unlikely to get the deep, restful sleep he needs.

It’s fine to use motion to soothe your baby if he’s upset or fussy. Just don’t make part of his regular bedtime routine.

Mistake 3: overstimulation

While you may have put a mobile above your baby’s cot for comfort, the rotating toys, sounds and lights can be a distraction. Watching them will keep him awake rather than teach him that it’s nighttime.

It’s much better to put your baby to sleep in a nearly pitch black room. Don’t worry about him being afraid. He’s too young to have developed nighttime fears. A fan or white noise album may also help, as it will muffle any noise from the rest of the house or outside.

As your child gets older, a soft night light can soothe any fears. Don’t let him watch any television just before bedtime. Even falling asleep in front of his favourite DVD means he will probably lose half an hour of precious sleep. This could affect his mood and behaviour the next day, which no one wants!

Mistake 4: skipping the bedtime routine

With a baby, you might assume that a routine consisting of a bath, a book and a lullaby isn’t yet necessary. As your child gets older, you may start to feel he’s too old for a bedtime routine. Or maybe you feel too tired to continue with it.

But having a series of calming, pleasing activities before bedtime is important, as it prepares your little one for sleep. Even adults benefit from having some kind of wind-down routine each night. You can’t expect your child to go straight from a busy day to bed either. He simply won’t get the sleep he needs.

You can create any routine you like for your child. Just make sure it’s a series of relaxing steps that happen in the same order at about the same time every night.

Mistake 5: inconsistency

A couple of times a week, when he’s clingy, it’s tempting to lie down with your toddler in your bed until he falls asleep. Or maybe you put your preschooler down in his room but allow him to crawl into bed with you in the night. Before you know it, your marital bed is a family bed.

Your child won’t be able to understand why sometimes you move him into his own bed and other times you let him stay. He’ll simply start throwing tantrums until you let him spend the night with you, every night.

If you find yourself in this situation, ease your child out of your bed gently. Sit next to his bed as he falls asleep. Then after a few nights sit in the doorway, before leaving the room completely. Explain that when it’s time to sleep he must sleep in his bed. Remain firm but kind and you’ll get there.

Mistake 6: moving to a big bed too soon

If you move your child from his crib to a bed too soon, you may find him wandering around the house in the early hours. Before the age of three, your child doesn’t have the understanding or self-control to stay within the imaginary boundaries of a bed.

The best thing to do is trial your child in a big bed. If after a week it’s not working out, then there’s nothing wrong with moving him back to the crib. In a couple of months give the bed another go. Just remember that no child at school is still in a crib, and yours won’t be either. Try to stay relaxed about it all.