Your baby won’t sleep and each night you dread,
As little time do you spend asleep in your bed!
But there’s help a-plenty behind this door,
For new-borns, babies, toddlers and more
Sleep is an essential building block for a child’s mental and physical health, and it plays a crucial role in the development of young minds. In addition to having a direct effect on happiness, research also shows that sleep impacts alertness and attention, cognitive performance, mood, resilience, vocabulary acquisition, learning and memory. Sleep also has an important effect on growth, especially in early infancy. For toddlers, daytime napping is also reported to be necessary for memory consolidation, focus, attention and motor-skill development.
One thing for sure is that “sleep breeds sleep” and if babies or children aren’t sleeping as they should, sleep deprivation builds, which causes sleep to become even more more broken as cortisol levels rise.
If you’re finding it impossible to help your baby or toddler sleep, you’re certainly not alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that sleep problems affect 25–50 per cent of children and 40 per cent of adolescents. Understanding your child’s sleep-needs is the first step towards providing better sleep for them. Through a combination of good sleep hygiene, age-appropriate routines, close attention to any sleep disorders or underlying digestive issues, and by following my books, you can help your baby or child get the rest and sleep they need to grow up strong and healthy.
Sleep deprivation in the early months and years takes a toll on all aspects of a child’s health and, if not resolved, can have a hugely detrimental effect on their development. Sleep is such an important part of your child’s mental and physical health because, while sleeping, a child’s mind and body are able to rest and rejuvenate. The brain needs to sleep so that it can restore resources that were used up during the day, and a well-rested brain can solve problems, learn new information and enjoy life much more than a brain that is overtired .
Over the past few years it’s been widely reported that sleep problems in toddlers and children are on the increase. One report claimed that sleep deprivation is a ‘hidden health crisis’ – and that’s based only on recorded cases! This particular study was reported in the Guardian using data analysed from NHS Digital, the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system in England.
I know that childhood sleep problems are increasing dramatically, having witnessed first-hand the ever-growing number of parents who are struggling to get their babies, toddlers and young children to sleep. Over the past few generations the new and accepted attitude to infant sleep is simply that babies won’t, don’t and can’t learn to do it, and certainly not before six or even twelve months of age. So a lack of sleep has become the norm and, although we are all aware how detrimental this is to a child’s health and development, there never seems to be an answer for how to change things.
My first ‘Baby’ book, addresses the sleep issues that many parents face in those first few months and sets out a plan that, if followed, will result in your baby naturally sleeping 12 hours through the night by around eight to twelve weeks old. The book also details my incredibly popular reassurance sleep-training technique. It was originally aimed at babies aged three to four months and designed for those still sleeping in a cot. However, from twelve months on, as babies develop and head towards toddlerhood, sleeping – even in a cot – can present many different challenges. They’ve learned to sit up, stand up, use words, throw their comforter, refuse bedtime milk, demand one more story, beg and plead you to sit with them, insist on having the door open and a light on, undo their sleeping bag, take off their pyjamas and – horror –even remove their nappy! Thankfully, the technique and advice detailed in my second ‘Toddler’ book will ensure solid sleep for your older babies and children too.
How much sleep? Schedules and routines
The amount of sleep we each require varies, particularly when we become adults, but, according to America’s , research makes it clear that enough sleep is essential at all ages. Sleep powers the mind and restores the body, fortifying virtually every system within it. But how much sleep do we really need in order to get these benefits? The Sleep Foundation says that healthy adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night (7–8 hours for those over 65), but babies, young children and teens need considerably more, to enable their growth and development.
The following table sets out the total expected daily sleep requirements for older babies, toddlers and young children. Based on the average amount for each age group, it also shows how many daytime naps are needed to promote good night-time sleep.
|AGE||TOTAL HOURS||NIGHT SLEEP||NAPS|
|6 –12 months||15–17||12||2 naps|
|12–18 months||14–15||12||1–2 naps|
|18–24 months||13–15||12–13||1 nap|
|2–3.5 years||12–14||12 –13||1 nap|
|3.5–5 years||11–13||11 –13||0 naps|
Of course, there will be individual variation in how your toddler’s sleep patterns develop – for example, whether at twelve months they have decided to have just one, longer nap during the day or to continue to enjoy two naps; either is more than acceptable. The key to daytime sleep, and whether they are getting right amount and at the right time, needs to be guided by what’s happening at night.
For example, if your twelve-month-old is waking at 5am after barely sleeping 10 hours at night, but is then needing two 3-hour naps during the day, logic tells us his patterns are slightly off-kilter. In some ways this scenario isn’t disastrous but it will start to interfere with the natural activities of the day. Starting your day so early is tiring, and trying to incorporate these two long naps for your toddler along with managing nursery runs for an older child or attending social toddler classes, for example, will likely prove quite challenging.
In my first book, The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, I talk about following a natural, 12-hour day/night split and using the timings of 7am–7pm. Many parents opt to do either a 6am–6pm or an 8am–8pm schedule, which is absolutely fine, but do look at what your day will look like once you return to work or your older child starts nursery or school. Starting your day at 8am may well be too late to get everyone fully organized and ready to leave the house by 8.45am, for example, and although you can adapt your little one’s body clock further down the line, it’s better to start off with the timings that, for the most part, your household needs to follow for the longer term.
Of course, while having a daily routine is important, it need only be a guide to follow, as opposed to a strictly timed and regimented plan. After all, each day is never exactly the same as the one before, and indeed, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Implementing daytime naps can be a challenge and as a rule of thumb a full nights sleep i.e. 12 hours straight through, needs to be established first after which daytime naps fall into place more easily. It’s imperative to establish positive sleep associations and encourage your baby to self settle without using sleep crutches such as rocking/dummies etc to promote independent sleep. If you find it absolutely impossible to put your baby down at nap time then I would research reflux issues and digestive discomfort as a possible cause.
So many parents feel a lot of stress about implementing and achieving daytime naps with their little ones. In the early months, naps will rarely fall into a routine until a full night’s sleep is properly established. Many will follow advice to wake their baby after a 45-minute morning nap, enforce a 2-hour sleep after lunch and/or not let their baby nap again after 4pm, but often with little success .
My advice is somewhat different from most, because I suggest you implement a more flexible nap structure that better follows your baby’s natural sleep patterns. During the first 8–10 months, the easiest daytime nap to establish is the first one of the day. It’s also the most rejuvenating and the best-quality daytime sleep your little one will have, even after a full, 12-hour sleep at night. This often means that the after-lunch daytime nap that most parents try to achieve may not be quite so successful and may be frustratingly variable in its length. However, as your baby heads to twelve months old the need for two daytime naps will lessen and by eighteen months you can expect your little one to be having only the one nap, after lunch, which stays in place for another year or so.
Lets look at the expected nap structure in more detail.
At 6 months Around this time, if you’ve followed The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, I would expect your baby to be dropping the late-afternoon nap and just having a nap in the morning and one after lunch. To cope with the longer afternoon from wake-up after the second nap through to bedtime, you can push back the timings of the naps so that the first is at around 9/9.30am instead of 8.30am, and then the second nap starts at around 1/1.30pm instead of 12.30.
Approaching 12 months Some babies seem to need to drop the morning nap around this time, though some do it sooner, or later, than others – the earliest I have seen was at ten months and there are some who keep two naps until they’re almost two!
2–3.5 years Once your little one is down to just the one, after-lunch nap as they head towards three years old, they may then drop the nap completely. The earliest I would expect a toddler to be able to do without the nap is around two and a half years, whereas some will keep their beloved nap until around three and a half.
What you can do ?
Having researched and read all the information about sleep that I give in booth my books, through podcasts I’ve recorded and scrolling though my Instagram page I would hope you now might have some idea of what might be causing your little one’s sleep aversion.
Often, all that is needed is to work out why there is a sleep issue, which then makes it easier to address the underlying problem and bring resolution.
It might be simply ‘bad habits’ have been learned and they need to be ‘un-learned’.
It could be you need to remove and stop giving night feeds and or a dream feed.
It might be your little one simply hasn’t learned the art of independent sleep and has become reliant on feeding or being rocked to sleep.
It may be that a dummy is causing your baby to constantly wake, looking for the ‘lost’ dummy to be replaced.
It’s possible that you’re little one is simply unable to sleep due to an underlying digestive discomfort, acid reflux and or milk/food intolerance or allergy issue.
Whatever the problem, it can be changed, fixed, rectified and sleep can become the norm in your household!
- You can read both my books.
- You can listen to the podcasts I have recorded on sleep and reflux.
- You can scrutinise my Instagram page and replay many of my ‘live’ posts and Q and A sessions.
- You can seek direct help from me through an online consultation.
There is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel and you, like thousands of parents before you, can and will promote and establish positive sleep habits for your baby, toddler or child. Good Luck!
It’s never too late in my opinion and I resolve sleep problems and other issues with children up to the age of 10.
Obviously the older they get the more complex things are as they have had longer to build up behaviours and are more set in a pattern which as oppose to a baby at say 16 weeks, a 16 month old will be more resistant to change.
It’s always about finding out why your little one doesn’t go to bed or sleep well and then implementing a plan based on that to bring a resolution.