Healthy Sleep for Babies & Children

Sleep is a simple pleasure! It is also responsible for lots of very important functions that help to keep little ones healthy and happy.

Because babies experience rapid growth and brain development, they need far more sleep than adults do.

Not so very long ago, sleep was rather a mysterious thing but now with modern science, we know far more about the functions and benefits of sleep – especially babies’ sleep.

Resistance to infection

During nighttime sleep, there is an increase in the production of CYTOKINES.

These are proteins which act as messengers for the immune system.

When your baby sleeps, their immune system “remembers” how to recognise and react to dangerous antigens.

This helps them to resist and to fight infections.

Good sleep is especially valuable when they start going to classes, playgroups and daycare, as this is when they come into contact with lots of bugs!

Babies commonly have 6-12 bugs a year and although it’s tough for them to be constantly fighting off infections, it does ultimately strengthen their immune system.

A child’s 24 hour sleep pattern [circadian rhythm]

When babies are newborn, they don’t distinguish night from day. By staying very close beside you, they “share” your circadian rhythm.

After the first few weeks, they develop their own natural 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. They have a little internal biological “clock” which tells them the difference between night and day. 

This circadian clock [or biological clock] is situated in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus.  To work well, it needs external clues such as differing levels of light and darkness. It also responds to conditions within your baby’s own body, such as temperature, hunger and hormone levels.

Getting into the rhythm!

You can help a child or adult to have a healthy, functioning circadian rhythm by helping them to have regular bedtimes and wake-up times. 

Generous exposure to daylight, especially in the morning, will help to set their biological clock to sleep well at night, so it’s good to get outside!

Even having breakfast in the brightest room in the house will help.

At night, having the room as dark as possible will help them sleep better. 

The different stages and types of sleep

When your baby goes to sleep at bedtime, they don’t just pass out and go into one level of unconsciousness. They wake naturally from time to time as they go through the different stages of sleep, and this is healthy and normal.

Your baby experiences periods of light sleep and deep sleep at different times of the night. They might shout or cry out or rock around the cot. Sometimes they have different facial expressions and seem to be very busy in their sleep. Much of their behaviour, as they sleep, is determined by which kind of sleep they are in.  

There are two main types, and these are rapid eye movement [REM ] sleep and non-rapid eye movement [NREM] sleep.

REM Sleep [Active/Light Sleep]

REM sleep happens when your baby is coming out of deep sleep, about an hour after they have first fallen asleep. It lasts for about 5 minutes.

This is when the brain becomes very active and dreaming tends to happen.

You will see their eyes moving rapidly under their eyelids and although their muscle tone is low at this time, you might see them make little twitching or jerking movements.

Their breathing speeds up and their mouths might move.

During REM sleep, the experiences that your baby has had during the day are stored in their “memory bank.” This memory consolidation is very important for learning. 

REM sleep is strongly connected to a child’s brain development. For an adult, about a quarter of a typical night is spent in REM. Babies spend about half the night in REM. As they mature, that time gradually decreases until they get to about five years old. Then their REM/NREM proportions are the same as an adult’s.

Gentle Baby Sleep Course led by experienced baby sleep therapist

NREM Sleep – [Deep Sleep]

This is the conventional sleep that we mean when we say that someone is “fast asleep.”  NREM sleep is broken down into three stages:

Stage 1: Becoming drowsy and nodding off but can still be woken up.

Stage one lasts from a few seconds to about five minutes. During it, your child might jerk or startle, but don’t panic – these “hypnic or hypnagogic jerks” are normal.

Stage 2: The beginning of falling into a deeper sleep

This stage lasts for about five to twenty-five minutes. Your baby is less likely to be disturbed by external noises but it is still possible.

Stage 3: The deepest sleep stage

Stage 3 sleep lasts for about thirty to forty-five minutes. It is also known as “delta sleep“ or “slow wave sleep” due to the brain wave patterns observed during sleep recordings.

During NREM sleep, your baby’s eyes will move slowly under their eyelids. They are more likely to lay still; their breathing is slow and regular and they look peaceful.

During NREM sleep, growth hormone is released and muscle growth and repair happen. Your child’s immune system becomes busy, producing cytokines. These are chemicals that help to protect them against and fight infections.  

When your baby was a newborn, up until the age of about six months, their sleep cycles were not fully developed. From about 6 months old, they sleep in cycles of about 50 – 60 minutes.

This sleep cycle is shorter than the adult one of 90 minutes. When they are about three or four years old, they will sleep in these longer, mature cycles.

Because babies and toddlers experience more REM [active] sleep than adults do, this means that they have a tendency to be more restless.

You will know this if you sleep in the same bed as them [or try to!]

Sleep hormones

As a parent, indeed as an adult, you will know just how much our hormone levels affect our functioning and well-being!

Hormones are our bodies’ chemical messengers that keep everything in balance, and when it comes to sleeping there are two main ones that it’s good to know about.

These are Melatonin and Cortisol.

Under the influence of the circadian clock, these two hormones should work in harmony to regulate your baby’s sleep and wake patterns. If they go to sleep at night with high levels of cortisol, it can lead to very broken sleep and/or early waking. Putting your baby to bed later because they wake very early in the morning may be counterproductive!

Melatonin

Melatonin is sometimes called “the hormone of darkness.” It helps your baby to fall asleep and to stay asleep.

After the age of about three months old, babies naturally make this miracle sleep aid all by themselves.

It is stimulated by daylight and produced in the pineal gland.

As the evening approaches, melatonin levels naturally increase, getting them ready to fall asleep.

Cortisol

Cortisol is produced in the cortex of the adrenal gland. It is the hormone associated with wakefulness.

Later in the night, as morning approaches, levels of this “awake hormone” begin to rise, and this helps your baby to wake up for the day.

Cortisol is also a stress hormone and sometimes a baby will produce too much of it, causing them to be wakeful (even when they are still tired.)

High cortisol levels can prevent a baby from falling asleep at bedtime or getting back to sleep when they wake too early in the morning.

Sleep pressure

Sleep is influenced by the circadian rhythm and hormone levels; but there is also another really important factor that affects the way that your baby sleeps. This is called homeostasis, and it is the way the body regulates and maintains its health and balance. Things like body temperature and hunger levels are controlled by the body’s homeostasis  – and so is sleep.  To feel sleepy, we all need to experience a rise in sleep pressure. Sleep pressure builds up when we are awake and we call these periods of wakefulness, wake windows.

Wake windows

When we refer to a baby or child’s wake window, we mean the periods of time when they are not sleeping. 

Wake windows change as a baby matures and also in other situations such as when they are unwell or if they have been sleep deprived and are making up a “sleep debt.”

Very young babies struggle to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time and therefore, their wake windows are very short. As they get older and build up stamina, their wake windows widen. This means, that from about 3 years old, a child can manage a wake window of about 12 hours.

During the wake windows, babies & children experience a chemically driven* gradual rise in sleep pressure [sleep drive.] It is this that makes them feel sleepy, and helps them to fall asleep. 

If the wake window is too short, they might struggle to settle to sleep. If it is too long, they can become overtired and then find it difficult to relax and drift off.

So it’s good to know what the average wake windows are like for babies and children of various ages. You also need to recognise your own child’s sleepy signs. Each child has slightly different sleep needs and wake windows. 

* The neurotransmitter Adenosine influences the need for sleep and levels of it build up as energy is expended. 

How much sleep do they need?

This is the question parents ask the most!

Babies vary in how much sleep they need, but here is a guide to the averages – up to school age.

If you think that your baby isn’t getting this much sleep, why not keep a simple sleep diary or log their sleep on an app?

Having a record will give you a realistic picture of how much sleep they are actually getting.

Don’t forget to factor in their naps and time spent snoozing during a feed or a cuddle!

Babies are amazingly resilient and even if they have been a bit sleep-deprived, they can soon make up any sleep debt.

+ How Much Sleep They Need

a happy toddler ready to sleep

Toddler Sleep Training Clocks

a happy toddler ready to sleep

What are they?

Toddler Sleep Clocks, also known as Sleep training clocks and lamps are simple devices that offer children daytime and nighttime signifiers.

They can help a child who is too young to tell the time know when it is time for sleep and when it is time to wake.

The idea behind them is to indicate that they must wait in bed until the star on the clock turns to a sun, or the sheep/owl/bunny etc. is awake. On most devices, the colour of the lamp/clock also changes to show when it’s sleep time and when it’s wake time.

How do I use one?

There are some golden rules to follow when you’re using a sleep-training clock:

Choose one that has a red or orange glow. Some sleep training clocks have a blue backlight, which interferes with melatonin production. 

I’ve done a bit of research and the ZAZU range of sleep training clocks have a red nightlight.

Set the clock to “wake up” at a time just a few minutes after your child’s natural wake-up time, even if this is very early. Then gradually move the time forward as your child understands the principle of waiting in their bed. If they learn to wait in their bed, they have the opportunity to fall back to sleep.

With a very young child, there is no need to explain the principle of how the clock works. They will learn it by experience.

You mustobey the clock if you expect your child to! It’s no good setting it for 7 am and then getting your child up before, while the clock is in sleep mode. If you do this, they will learn that waiting for the clock to wake up is optional.

Don’t let your child play with the clock! In so many cases, children run into their parents’ room at “ridiculous o’clock,” holding the device which is now on day mode, because they have altered the wake-up time.

an Alarm Clock

A practical demonstration

The best way to demonstrate how to use a sleep training clock is to give you an example of a sleep success story from one of my families.

young parents with their toddler

Case Study

Two-and-a-half-year-old boy waking at 4.30 – 5 am every morning

The Problem:

William was a healthy boy who usually slept well – from 7 pm to 7 am. Recently, he had started waking very early in the morning. As a result, he was taking a very long morning nap of around three hours, instead of his usual midday nap of an hour and a half. 

The family was due to have a new baby in a few weeks’ time and William’s parents were concerned about how he and they would cope. 

The Solution:

William needed to understand when it was time to get up and when it was time to stay in bed. I recommended a sleep training clock. In addition, I suggested they give him rewards for waiting in his bed until it was time to get up.

He needed to change his nap times too, as the lengthy morning nap was “enabling” the early waking.

It also meant that after his morning nap, he had too long a stretch until his usual 7 pm bedtime. By the time he went to bed, he was over-tired. 

Over tiredness can cause early waking and he was in a vicious circle.

William’s Sleep Plan:

Get a sleep training clock with a red night light, and set it initially for 4.45 am. 

Set up a reward system – an empty jam jar and pieces of dried pasta.

If he stays in bed until the clock wakes up, he can put a piece of pasta into his jar. When the jar is full, he gets a special treat.

If William wants to nap in the morning, limit it to about twenty minutes. Then let him have his main nap of one and a half to two hours, just after his lunch.

Keep going with your usual bedtime. Putting him to bed later will not mean that he wakes later in the morning and he may end up over tired. If anything, put him to bed a little earlier than usual, so that he has a real sense of falling asleep rather than “crashing out.” 

Say goodnight to his clock and then kiss him goodnight.

Make sure that he knows you have left the room.

When he wakes any time before 4.45 am, keep him in his bed. Stay beside him if you need to, and then when it gets to 4.45, remark that the clock has woken up. Now it’s time for William to get up! 

Warmly welcome him to the day and immediately reward him with specific praise, “you waited in bed until your clock woke up!” 

Do this even if you’ve had to make him stay in bed! 

Reinforce the praise with a piece of pasta for his jar.

After two days, if he has been able to wait for the clock to wake, move the getting up time to 5 am. Then keep moving it forward by fifteen minutes until you get to 7 am. 

It will take time, but it is better to do this gradually. 

At first, you will teach him merely to wait in his bed, but then he will eventually learn how to settle back to sleep. 

The Outcome:

William very quickly figured out what the sleep clock was for, and he enjoyed getting praised for waiting in his bed. 

His parents were keen to set the clock for 7 am on the first day but I explained how doing it gradually would be better for William. He would be less likely to lose heart through being given an overly difficult challenge. 

William in fact, began sleeping through to 7 am when the clock was still set for 6 am. It was lovely for him to wake up to a feeling of success! 

The morning nap was soon stopped as it was no longer needed, and he could re-establish the one single nap in the middle of the day.

All this was achieved before the arrival of his baby sister, Amelia.

Conclusion:

Early waking can be challenging, as babies and young children have a natural tendency to be up before the sun. Biology, wake hormones and [in the summer] light levels are all working to wake them up. However, with behavioural techniques such as the use of a sleep training clock, it is usually possible to help your child wake up later in the morning.

For more advice about early waking, check out my £15 Early Waking Course.

Early waking course by Andrea
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Sleep and Your Autistic Child

About two-thirds of autistic children have problems with sleeping. If your toddler or child is autistic, you might experience difficulty in establishing a regular bedtime. This can be due to their naturally irregular or random sleep/wake patterns. They might want to sleep all day and then be ready to party at night when everyone else wants to go to bed. Sleep and your autistic children can be a challenging issue, but finding strategies that work for your family can make a significant difference.

Some reasons why autistic children have sleep difficulties

Differences in melatonin production, which affect a child’s circadian rhythm. 

Heightened senses and/or sensory overload.

Social cueing problems, which make it difficult for them to make the connection between bedtime routine and bedtime.

Anxiety.

Associated neurological problems like epilepsy.

Food allergies/sensitivities/issues which are common in children with ASD – cause digestive problems and discomfort.

Sometimes autistic children have other health issues which can cause them discomfort and/or pain.

How does this affect their sleep?

Autistic children can have difficulty settling off to sleep and delayed sleep onset. This is common in lots of children but especially for those with autism.

Because of the difference in melatonin production, some autistic children sleep in short bursts rather than for a sustained period. This can mean lots of night wakings, and sometimes very early waking as well. 

Melatonin

Melatonin [“the hormone of darkness”] is the hormone that puts us to sleep and keeps us asleep.

Sometimes for people with autism, its production can be low or irregular.

If your child has sleep problems, you may have been prescribed melatonin by your paediatrician. 

It should only be given as a short-term measure, along with support and guidance about helping your child get into a good bedtime routine. It can be helpful for some children, especially if it is used to help kick-start a sleep plan. Then once a new sleep behaviour is established, the Melatonin can be withdrawn.

Prescribed melatonin is usually given about half to one hour before bedtime, and it can help a child to fall asleep. Unlike natural melatonin which continues to be produced during the night, synthetic melatonin wears off quite quickly. This can of course cause them to wake in the night. 

However, you can take advantage of the prescribed melatonin at bedtime to help you teach your child how to fall asleep in their own bed. Help them to do this without having you sitting or lying with them. This alone can help them to resettle more easily, without you if and when they wake up later.

a toddler sleeping

How you can help

There are lots of things you can do to improve your child’s sleep.

I’m going to divide this into 3 categories to make it clear why each intervention is helpful.

Biological

Make sure they have an appropriate wake window so they are tired enough to sleep. 

Avoid being over-tired i.e keep their cortisol levels low.

Encourage daylight exposure – this helps to release sleep hormones at bedtime.

Stop screen time 1 hour before bed.

Have lots of exercise during the day.

Lights low 1 hour before bed.

Low red night light in the bedroom they need it – kept on all night.

Blackout blinds during summer months.

Encourage foods which contain tryptophan [milk – chicken – turkey – nuts – oats – tuna – nuts & seeds.] Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps melatonin production.

Avoid sweets/cola/fizzy drinks & food with artificial colouring and other chemical additives.

a mother with her toddler

Behavioural

Have a familiar recognisable bedtime routine.

Use a social story [TM]* to help prepare for changes to the way that they sleep or let them know what they are meant to do.

Encourage them to fall asleep alone, so that they don’t wake later feeling upset that you’ve gone. It’s fine to do this in gradual steps – altering the social story as you go.

Give them rewards for good sleeping. Make sure that you are specific in your praise. For example, “You got into bed when I asked you to!” “You slept in your bed all night!”

toddlers plying

Environmental

A tidy room – put toys away before bedtime.

A dark room or a dim red night light to encourage melatonin production.

Have the walls and furnishings in soft, muted colours.

Thick carpets to muffle sounds.

White noise/noise cancelling headphones

Try sensory lighting – lava lamp/bubble lamp/fibre optic lamp [red tones.]

Avoid strong food smells etc.

Have your child fall asleep in the same conditions that they then subsequently wake up to.

Some people use a weighted blanket, as they are good for sensory processing issues and can provide a sense of calm. It should be said that many sleep experts and occupational therapists don’t believe in their effectiveness. Weighted blankets should never be used for very young children. 

mother with her toddler in kitchen

Why sleep matters

It is so important to address and try to resolve any sleep issues rather than just accepting them as part of your child’s differences. 

You want them to be as well equipped as possible to enjoy their life, their education and their friendships. 

We know that poor sleep in younger autistic children can lead to an increase in such things as social difficulties, struggles with learning and challenging behaviours.

Sleep is very important for you too! It’s hard work being a parent, particularly if you have a child who is autistic. If you’re going to give them your best, you need a good night’s sleep.

As a mum of an autistic son myself, and speaking from the heart,  I wish you lots of love and luck in helping your child with their sleeping.

Further help

If you are struggling with your autistic child’s sleeping, I’m here to help you. 

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. 

You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. 

As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

www.andreagrace.co.uk

*I make sleep stories a lot in my work with children with special needs and they are very effective as well as being fun for the child.

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Caring for your baby at night when they are unwell

Caring for your baby at night when they are unwell can be particularly challenging for parents.

Babies tend to have, on average, about six to twelve minor illnesses such as viruses, colds and tummy upsets each year.

……and that’s not even including teething!

After the age of 6 months, when they have lost the immunity given by their mother, it is not unusual for babies to catch some kind of virus every few weeks.

This is especially the case if they are in daycare or have an older sibling.

Exposure to antigens in young childhood builds up their immune system. These illnesses can be tough at the time to cope with, but they make your baby’s resistance to infections stronger in the long run.

Some common signs that your baby is unwell

Usually, you can tell when your baby is not feeling well but sometimes it’s not always clear. They can’t tell you how they are feeling, so you need to look for some signs.

The first sign is usually crying. Their cry may sound different to normal or be very prolonged. If they don’t stop crying when you pick them up and cuddle them, you know that they are probably in discomfort.

Another sign of illness is when they are listless and/or over-sleepy. They might not want to have their milk or their food if they are unwell.

If they have diarrhoea and/or vomiting this could be a sign of infection or allergy.

Other signs of illness are that their skin feels hot or clammy or they have a rash.

If your baby has a temperature above 38C, seems very unwell, has a rash or has a different cry, you should seek prompt medical help.

feeding baby medicines

Before bed

Give them a painkiller if needed, about 20 minutes before their bath. Ibuprofen is a good choice, as it needs to be taken with food. Then if another painkiller is needed during the night, you can give Paracetamol or Tylenol. This can be taken without food and is a different “family” of painkillers.

Bathe them if they are well enough and then dress them quickly and take them through to their sleep space. Be aware that if they are unwell they might not want to be over handled. Keep your touch gentle and brief.

After their bath time, offer their usual milk feed. 

Don’t be too stressed if your older baby refuses their usual milk or doesn’t take it all. If they are poorly, they are very unlikely to wake up hungry, even if they haven’t eaten much during the day. Their body needs to rest and repair at nighttime. If they have lost their appetite, they will soon regain it and catch up with any lost calories when they are better. 

With very young babies, it is important that they feed regularly. If your baby is just a few weeks old and refusing feeds, you must seek medical advice.

If your baby usually self-settles, allow them to go to sleep without help, as usual. It’s fine to return frequently to them to check and reassure them, but rocking them to sleep can become a difficult habit to break once they are better.

If they feel hot or have a temperature, keep the room cool and if you need to, use an electric fan. Position it at the foot of the cot, with air wafting up their body. This is safer and more comfortable than having it directly on their face.

During the night

If they wake up in the night, don’t leave them to self-settle if they’re crying. They will not sleep if left in discomfort.

Even if they were fine when they went to bed, if they wake up during the night, go and check on them. If they seem unwell pick them up and offer a cuddle and a drink of water [not milk if you’ve already dropped the night feeds – even if they didn’t have it at bedtime.] 

Picking them up and giving them a drink can help to unblock the nose. It also helps them clear the small [Eustachian] tubes connecting the back of the nose to the ears. This will make your baby feel more comfortable. 

If they continue crying, and/or if they feel hot, you can give a [second] dose of infant painkiller. Make sure it is a different family of medicine than they had at bedtime. If it is the same one as at bedtime, carefully follow the instructions supplied about the timing and spacing of doses.

You can then remain close by and hold them if necessary, until they are calm and settled. 

Tempting as it might be, it is best if you avoid bringing them into bed with you if they are poorly. This is especially true if they have a high temperature. It is safer for them to stay in their own cot, with you close beside them.

daddy trying to sleep baby

When they are better

It usually takes two or three consecutive nights of your baby coming into your bed for this to become a habit. It is the same for feeds or being rocked to sleep.

It will do no harm to relax the usual rules around bedtime when babies are genuinely unwell.

As soon as they are better, however, it’s time to get back to normal. Allow them to self-settle again at the start of the night and save the cuddles for the morning. If you do this, they will soon get back to sleeping as they did before the illness.

Further help

If you’re struggling with any aspect of your baby’s sleep, I am here to help you.

My books

Andrea Grace book Gentle sleep Solutions

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Andrea Grace gentle sleep course

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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How to safely drop your older baby’s night feeds

I know that the issue of night feeding, especially night breastfeeding is a sensitive one for many people. I would always encourage parents to follow their instincts and values. However, how to safely drop your older baby’s night feeds is a common concern for many parents.

Many babies can sleep pretty much through the night by 6 months. One of the main reasons why lots of them don’t is because they develop a milk/sleep association. This usually happens if they are fed to sleep at the start of the night. It can also happen simply when they are used to the ritual of a feed when they wake up during the night. 

Feed and sleep association

Feeding and sleeping are very closely connected for babies – especially in the early weeks. You can feed them to sleep without having them develop feeding as a sleep association until they are around 3 months. After that, they become more conscious and begin to form habits and associations.

When your baby was younger, if they had a full tummy, it meant that they would sleep for longer. So feeding them to sleep when they are little was and is the right and natural thing to do.

When they are older, having a tummy that is very full of milk is less important. They need to be generally well nourished & hydrated during the day. They also need to be well-fed and satisfied when they go to sleep of course – but not stuffed full!

mother feeding her milk to her baby

The main things that determine the quality of their sleep now are:

  • The way that they fall asleep
  • Whether they are expecting any nighttime events to happen.

It’s okay to feed your baby during the night for as long as you want to, especially when you are breastfeeding, and you should never feel under pressure to stop if it is something that both you and your baby enjoy.

When you are ready to drop the night feeds

  • Wait until they are around 7kg. At this weight, it is okay for their bodies to rest for up to 12 hours at night.
  • If you haven’t already done it, introduce a familiar series of steps leading up to bedtime. Start your bedtime routine just before know your baby is tired and ready to sleep. 
  • Keep the bedroom light on for that bedtime feed, and don’t let your baby doze off. You may have to limit the duration if you’re breastfeeding or reduce the feed if they are on the bottle. Don’t worry – your older baby’s quality of sleep no longer depends upon how full their tummy is. 
  • Introduce a picture book or song after the feed and before they into the cot. This will help to discourage a milk/sleep association. When babies develop this association, they may feed when they wake up during the night when they are not hungry. They feed because it is their learned way of falling asleep. 
mother learning How to Safely Drop her Older Baby's Night Feeds
  • Turn the light off now and place your baby into the cot whilst they are clearly awake. 
  • Depending on their temperament and your parenting style, either stay with them, comforting them in the cot or pop in and out frequently but briefly to reassure them. 
  • Be patient and give them time. If your baby has been used to feeding to sleep, they may struggle at first with self-settling. There is no rush – it might take an hour or so but if you let them, they will eventually fall asleep without you feeding them. Try to remain calm and reassuring if your baby is upset. Remember that they are getting used to a change and although it won’t be easy for the first night or two, it will be worth it in the long run.

When they wake up

  • If your baby wakes in the night, go and check them but not give a feed. Comfort them in the cot as you did earlier if they are upset. Provided that they are well hydrated in the daytime and are not unwell, they shouldn’t need a drink. It’s fine, however, to offer some water if you feel they need it.
  • Although you can drop the night feeds all at once in healthy babies over the age of six months; if you’re nervous about doing this, it is OK to do it slowly. You can gradually dilute night formula feeds and/or to cut the duration of night breastfeeds. You need, for the sake of consistency to feed your baby a decreasing amount of milk at each waking. Feeding at some wakings and not at others will only confuse them.
  • Try not to confuse them by withholding or restricting night feeds and then giving a big, sleepy feed at dawn. They can’t tell the time yet, and as far as they are concerned, this is a night feed.

Just to say, that this is a guide. Each baby is different of course, and if you’re unsure, you should discuss your baby’s need for night feeds with your health visitor, doctor or other health care provider.

Dream Feeds

“Dream feeds” are night feeds given to babies when they are asleep. They are helpful in the early weeks when your baby needs regular night feeds. Giving a dream feed at 10 or 11 pm as you are going to bed yourself can help them to sleep a bit longer before waking up for their next feed.

A dream feed might not be needed after the first few months but it can be a helpful step towards dropping all the night feeds. Giving your baby a feed they are unaware of will not add to a feed/sleep association. Therefore it won’t disrupt their learning process. It may help to reassure you that your baby is not going for a whole night without food and allow you to give them a consistent response when they wake up. You may especially need this reassurance if your baby is under about 8 months, is light for their age or is used to having lots of night feeds. Also, if your confidence has been shaken by early feeding difficulties.

Once your baby is happily sleeping through the night without waking for night feeds, you can drop the dream feed.

Golden rules

dropping night feeds

In one of the boxes above, I’ve said that feeding a baby sometimes when they wake and sometimes not can cause confusion. This isn’t the case when they are younger but as they grow up their thinking develops. They can struggle to figure out why sometimes they get the feed response to their waking and other times they don’t. With this in mind, it’s best to drop them all at once if you can. Alternatively, feed them every time they ask for it but give smaller amounts. Or offer a dream feed as described above.

Here’s a guide if you want to feed them at each waking but gradually reduce the amount before stopping: 

guide to feed a baby

If you’re breastfeeding, don’t think that if you do decide to drop the night breastfeeds, you have to stop breastfeeding altogether. By 6 months your milk supply is well enough established for your body to make milk for the daytime, when it is most needed!

Further help

If you’re struggling with your baby’s night waking and night feeds, I am here to help you.

My books

Andrea Grace book Gengle sleep solutions

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Gentle Sleep Course

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

img

Bedwetting – All you need to know

If your school-age child still wets their bed, you are not alone! Bedwetting is a common issue that many families face, and it can be a normal part of a child’s development.

20% of 5-year-olds wet the bed

10% of 7-year-olds wet the bed

1 in 75 teenagers wet the bed.

Girls tend to be dry at night sooner than boys, but this isn’t always the case.

3 important things to remember:

  1. Your child doesn’t wet the bed on purpose. They are not being naughty or lazy.
  2. The fact that your child is late achieving nighttime dryness is not your fault! Some parents think they’ve left it too late/introduced too many changes in their child’s life/ been too relaxed etc. None of these things have caused your child to wet their bed.
  3. Having dry beds is a developmental milestone that like all the others, children reach at different times.

The biology

During sleep, just as during the day, the brain receives a signal that the bladder is full. For many children, it’s not until they are a bit older that their nighttime brain receives this signal.

Our bodies naturally produce a special hormone called vasopressin. This hormone reduces urine production at night. If your child is still producing a lot of wee during the night especially if it is very dilute, then it’s highly likely that their vasopressin production hasn’t yet kicked in.

Some children have “sensitive” bladders and their nighttime bed wetting is often part of a bigger picture of daytime wetness & accidents too.

Constipation causes bladder problems, due to the enlarged bowel pressing on the bladder and reducing its size and ability to expand.

kid watching smartphone

How to help

Give your child all they need for a healthy bladder and bowel!

  1. Encourage them to drink enough during the day [6-8 glasses.] The bladder needs the exercise of filling up and emptying out!
  2. Avoid fizzy or caffeine-rich drinks which can irritate the bladder. If they don’t like water, give them sugar-free squash.
  3. If they are at school, about half of their liquid intake will happen there, so it is really important that they refill their water flask. Ask your child’s teacher or TA to keep an eye on this.
  4. For good bowel health, give them a diet rich in fibre, plenty to drink and plenty of exercise.
  5. Restricting daytime fluids can cause the bladder to be less efficient so don’t go down this route!
  6. If you are still giving a bedtime bottle, you need to drop it.
  7. An hour before bedtime, discourage them from having a drink
  8. Use the toilet just before bedtime.

At bedtime

Explain to your child that you’re going to help them see if they can manage to have a dry bed. Try not to make them feel bad however about the fact that they still wet the bed at night. They might already be feeling embarrassed about wetting their bed and they might also feel like they are letting you down. So keep the conversation positive and encouraging.

Have a calming and familiar bedtime routine.

Use waterproof bed protection and have spare bedding to hand in case of accidents.

Leave a soft light on and if the toilet is not easily accessible or if they are scared at night, have a potty or wee bucket in their room.

Many parents choose to lift their children and put them on the toilet later in the evening when they are asleep. Nowadays this isn’t considered to be a good idea, as the child doesn’t learn about bladder control, and it just teaches them to wee in their sleep. 

From a sleep point of view, it is not good to disrupt that very special and precious deep sleep that happens at the start of the night either. There is also the risk that rousing a child out of deep sleep can cause distress and confusion.

When they wet their bed

If they wet their bed, remain calm and if they wake up, change the sheets, encourage them to go to the toilet to see if they have any more wee left and then re-settle them to sleep. 

Let them know it’s okay, it’s not their fault and you’re not cross. 

 If your child manages a dry night, praise them gently but don’t overdo it, or they might feel they’ve let you down if they wet their bed next time.

Do not use a reward chart, as night-time dryness or wetness for that matter is not something that is entirely within their control. You can, however, praise them for the things that they have done to help themselves achieve dry beds. Waiting until morning to have a drink or going to the toilet when you ask them to, and so on are all things to be praised.

Expect just the occasional dry night at the first few attempts without a nappy.

If they don’t manage a dry bed after 3 – 4 weeks of trying, you should give up and try again a few weeks later or when they start to have dry-ish nappies in the morning.

Bedwetting

When to get professional help

If they are still regularly wetting their bed after the age of 5, talk to your GP or school about getting a referral to a bedwetting clinic. These clinics will only see children over the age of 5.

The bedwetting clinics offer both assessment and treatment, often with a bedwetting alarm or medication. They also offer advice about sleepovers, school trips etc.

The important message here is that even if bedwetting goes on for a long time, children do achieve dry beds in the end and until that happens, neither they nor you should feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Further Help

If you’re struggling with your older child’s sleeping, such as bedtime fears, night waking or falling asleep too late, I am here to help you.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

teething pic

Baby Sleep – Teething

It so often happens that just when a baby starts to sleep through the night, their sleep gets disrupted by teething. If your baby has teething pain during the night, they will need your care and attention. This doesn’t mean that any sleep progress they have made has to go out of the window.

For most babies, this period of extra need is temporary. You should not feel bad about giving them more attention if they are poorly at night. Realistically, you have little choice in the matter! Babies will not sleep if left in discomfort, and leaving them to cry is not only unkind but also unsafe. It could also lead to them developing an unhappy association with the cot.

Teething is a natural process and not an illness but it can often cause pain and general discomfort. Babies typically cut their first tooth at around 6 months old, but for some, this might not happen until much later. Some babies cut their teeth earlier than this, and some are even born with some teeth.

Teething symptoms

If you are not sure whether your baby is teething, the symptoms are:

  • Red and sore-looking gums.
  • Wanting to chew on everything.
  • Dribbling & drooling.
  • Red cheeks
  • Diarrhoea/loose stools
  • Ear pulling
  • Blocked nose
  • Being generally quite irritable or teary.

Please note that some of these symptoms can be indicators of more serious illnesses, so if your baby has a temperature [above 38C or 100F] or seems very unwell or has a different cry, you should always seek medical advice. 

Not all babies suffer during teething, but many do, and the discomfort of teething is usually much worse during the night when they are laying flat and not chewing or swallowing as much as they do during the day. 

How to help

During the day

Give them lots of opportunities to bite and chew. If they are old enough, encourage them with finger foods. Try crusty bread, bagel and toast which has been allowed to cool and go soft but tough.

Because cold has a numbing effect, keep a teething ring as well as whole peeled or scrubbed carrots in the fridge [never the freezer!] for them to chew on. 

Encourage them to put safe toys etc. into their mouths, as any kind of biting is helpful with teething. 

When babies are teething they tend to drool and this often leads to the skin around the chin and neck becoming very chapped and sore. To help with this, change bibs frequently, or use soft dry muslin cloths. 

After meals and drinks use warm water and soft dry cotton cloths to clean them rather than wipes that might sting. 

Don’t forget to clean and dry the soft skin folds under the chin and neck. Often food and moisture can easily become trapped here. Use a gentle barrier cream here to protect them even further.

Pulling at their ears is often a sign of discomfort and inflammation within the ear. This is common during teething, but to be safe, you will need to visit your GP surgery team. They will establish the cause of the pain and recommend a suitable painkiller if needed.

Babies often have loose bowel movements when they are teething, so make sure that you check and change them regularly. If their bottom gets sore, use plain water for cleaning and a barrier cream.

At bedtime

If your baby is unwell at bedtime, try to follow your normal bedtime routine as closely as possible. Be aware that they may be irritated at being handled. Before bath time give a dose of infant Paracetamol or Ibuprofen if they need it for pain. These medicines will also help to lower your baby’s temperature.

Many parents prefer to give Ibuprofen at bedtime, as it is long-acting but needs to be taken when there is something in baby’s tummy. Then if a second dose of painkiller is needed during the night; give Paracetamol, which is gentler on an emptier stomach. 

Neither Ibuprofen or Paracetamol are sedatives.

If you’re not 100% sure and confident about giving medicine to your baby, speak with a pharmacist, doctor or health visitor.

After bath time, offer a bedtime feed but do not be too worried if your baby refuses it or doesn’t take it all. If they are poorly, they are unlikely to wake up hungry – especially if they are over 6 months old. 

If your baby usually self-settles, you should allow them to go to sleep without help, as usual. Rocking them to sleep when they don’t really need it can become a difficult habit to break once they are better. 

However, if they do need extra cuddles, don’t hold back!

During the night

If your baby wakes in the night and is clearly unwell, you should go to them and pick them up and offer a drink of water [not milk if they’ve already dropped their night feeds.]

This helps to unblock the nose and the tiny tubes connecting the back of the nose to the ears and makes them feel more comfortable. 

If they carry on crying, and/or feel hot, offer a dose of an infant painkiller if it’s needed. If the teething pain has been severe enough to wake them up, gels or granules may not always help.

After your intervention, you can then comfort them until they are calm and settled then put them back in their cot. Try to avoid bringing your baby into bed with you if they are poorly. If you need to stay close, it is much safer for you to go and sleep in their bedroom instead. 

It usually takes two or three consecutive nights of your baby coming into your bed for it to become a habit.

It’s fine to relax the usual rules around bedtime and during the night when babies are teething. As soon as they are better, however, you need to allow them to self-settle again at the start of the night.

Draw back on any new nighttime rituals which may have been needed during teething, but aren’t needed now.

Further help

If you’re struggling with teething or any other sleep-related problem, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

1694787602Untitled design

Reflux & Sleep

Managing sleep for babies with reflux can be challenging. Reflux is a condition that is most common in the first six months to one year of life.

What we call ‘reflux’ is actually ‘gastro-oesophageal reflux’ [GORD or GERD in America.]  

The valve between the oesophagus and the stomach* sometimes doesn’t work very well when babies are little. With maturity, however, it becomes more efficient. Usually, reflux gets better after about 6 months. Sometimes, but rarely, it can take a year or a little longer.

*The lower oesophageal sphincter

Reflux is when the contents of a baby’s stomach leak back into their oesophagus (food pipe or gullet) and cause posseting (bringing up small amounts of milk), vomiting and/or burning pain (heartburn) due to the acidity in the stomach. 

Some babies with reflux don’t vomit or posset and this is called “silent reflux.” 

Diagnosis can sometimes be difficult, as reflux is easily confused with colic.

Reflux symptoms

  • Vomiting or posseting [although in “silent” reflux this might not happen.]
  • Crying, especially when they are lying flat.
  • Coughing.
  • Swallowing & gulping.
  • Their vomit and/or breath can smell a little bit sour and acidic because of the acidity in their stomach.
  • Poor weight gain because of not keeping their feeds down.
Managing sleep for babies with reflux

Cows milk protein allergy

Sometimes reflux is caused by a CMPA [cows milk protein allergy.] This isn’t the case for every baby who has reflux, however. Equally, not all babies who have CMPA have reflux!

CMPA has other symptoms such as skin rashes,  blood in their poo and constipation.

If a baby has a milk allergy, you may be advised to cut dairy from your diet if you are breastfeeding, or if you are formula feeding, your baby will probably be prescribed a special non-dairy feed.

They might also be prescribed medicine to limit their stomach acid production or to neutralise their stomach acid.

Some reflux medicines can cause constipation so you will have to make sure to give them plenty of fluids and if they are taking solids, fibre in the form of fruit & vegetables.

Reflux and sleep

Babies who have had reflux [or colic] in the early weeks, whether simple “mechanical” reflux or caused by CMPA often develop sleep problems later.

The reason is that they have usually needed to be held and comforted to sleep, and now they don’t know any other way.

Whether your baby is still suffering from reflux or is better now but has sleep problems, here are some tips to help them.

baby sleeping

Early weeks

  • For the first 3 or 4 months, try not to worry about holding your baby too much or getting into bad habits. You’ll find more information about settling younger babies in my new babies and sleep article.
  • Get a comfortable baby carrier so that you can keep them upright for naps if that helps.
  • After the first few weeks, try to separate feeding from sleeping.
  • Elevate the top of the cot, so that it slopes down at the foot, and place younger babies with their feet at the foot of the cot.
  • Give any prescribed medication in good time for it to work before bedtime.
  • When they are over 3 or 4 months, support them to fall asleep aware that they are in their sleep space. See my guidance on bedtime routines.

Bedtime routine

  • Give their milk about half an hour before bath time and hold them upright. Then by the time they go to bed, the milk should no longer be sitting heavily in their stomach.
  • Follow a familiar and predictable routine, to help them feel safe and secure.
  • Encourage them to settle to sleep aware that they are in the cot, with as little assistance as possible from you. 
  • Follow the principles of good sleeping generally, with a familiar and well-timed routine.

Night feeds

  • Older babies who are over about 7 kg in weight, don’t need a tummy full of milk to see them through the night, so long as they are generally well-fed and hydrated during the day.
  • Drop night feeds as soon as possible, so that they are not struggling to digest unnecessary feeds when they are lying down during the night.

Most importantly, please ask for and accept help from your family & friends. Having a baby with reflux means that your circumstances are special and you will need more support than most parents.

tips to manage reflux & sleep

Further help

If you’re struggling with reflux or any sleep issues, I am here to help you.

My books

Andrea Grace Gentle Sleep Solutions guide

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Gentle Sleep Course course

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

Andrea Grace talking about Managing sleep for babies with reflux

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

moving from cot to bed

A step-by-step guide to moving your toddler from the cot to a bed

When is the best time to move a toddler from a cot to a bed?

Moving from cot to a bed marks a significant milestone in your toddler’s development.

There is no set time that is right to move a child.

Often the decision is prompted by them climbing out, or you need the cot for a new baby.

If your child is ready to come out of nighttime nappies, they will need to move to a bed, so they can use the potty or toilet. 

Most children move out of the cot and into a bed somewhere between the ages of two and three and a half. If they are happy in the cot, it is big enough for them, and they’re still in nappies, there is no reason to move them.

If you are moving your toddler out of the cot to make room for a new baby, leave a few weeks between moving your older one out and the younger one in. 

babies plying

Making the move

Explain to your child that they are going to sleep in a big bed and let them help you move the cot from the room and put the new bed up.

Or if they are in a cot bed, let them be involved in converting it to a toddler bed. 

Involve them in choosing their bedding and any other bed-related objects such as a cup for their bedside water. Allowing them to take ownership of their new bed will give them positive sleep associations around it.

Make it fun!

During the day, before your child sleeps in the new bed themselves, encourage a game where they put their toys into the new bed. Leave the room and let the toys go to sleep alone. Then praise the toys for lovely sleeping in their bed! Through this little play, they will receive the subtle message that you will be happy if they do the same. 

kid from from a cot to a bed

Other changes you can make

If there are any other changes that you’d like to make, such as getting rid of their dummy or their white noise device, this is your opportunity!

It is also a good time to drop their bedtime bottle if they’re still having one.

A change in environment can help with a behaviour change or a change in routine. If you’ve been used to staying beside them as they fall asleep in their cot, this could be a perfect opportunity to change that!

If they usually wear a sleep bag, you can replace it with a toddler duvet, or sheet and blanket. 

They can also now have a small flat pillow if you like. However, from a physiological point of view they don’t really need one.

Get rid of the cot

Avoid keeping the old cot in their room if you can, as this can cause confusion and night-time bed swapping. If their room is the only space for the cot, fill it with their stuff and use it as a toy box. This is unless the cot is being used for a younger sibling!

Keep everything as simple as possible and don’t give too many choices at night-time. This helps toddlers cut down on bedtime procrastination, tears and delay.

Putting them into their new bed

On the evening of the new bed change, keep up your usual, reassuring bedtime routine before saying goodnight to them just as you normally do. Don’t expect any changes, and if you can demonstrate by your manner that all is as normal, your child is more likely to feel ok about the new bed.

Leave the room on a very positive note, even if they do seem to be a bit unsure, over excited or very wakeful. If they don’t want you to leave, tell them that you will be back very soon to check that they are cosy. Return to them shortly afterwards and praise them for being in bed. [If they are still in it!] Only stay for a few moments before leaving again, “I’m going to wash my hands now [for example] but I’ll be back in a minute.” 

If they get out of bed

If they get out of bed and come to find you, it is very tempting to laugh or hug them, as they will look so cute. But if you do this, they may keep on doing it to get the lovely feedback and entertain you. Quite understandably, they will then be upset and confused when you are no longer finding it funny.

It is better to show them that you are surprised [not angry] that they are up. Quickly and quietly take them back to bed and then, give them the good feedback and praise them warmly. 

Leave again even if they are not happy about it but reassure them that you’ll be back.

If they don’t stay in bed

If they don’t go back to bed, go into their room and close the door behind you. Stand with your back to the door, facing your child. Tell them just once to go to bed and then wait quietly until they move towards the bed. Don’t get sidetracked or involved in any delaying requests. If they ask for more stories/cuddles/food, you can respond with, “We’ll do that/see to that/get that/you can tell me about that…….in the morning.”

It might take them a long time, but they will go back to bed if you wait quietly. Don’t repeat the instruction, but you can say, “I’m waiting, my love.” Then when they show even the slightest signs of going back to bed, praise them warmly. This will encourage them and let them know that you are proud of them. 

 If you’re in a couple, it’s a good idea for both of you if possible to alternate going in and settling/praising them. This is to reinforce the message that even though their bed has changed, the “sleep rules” are the same.

Safety gates

If your child continues to not stay in bed, and you are worried about them wondering about at night, you could fit a safety gate to their bedroom door. Introduce it in a positive manner, “This is your gate, to keep you safe!”

It is better to have a safety gate than closing the door and not letting them get out.

You will also need to have a dim light to keep them safe if they DO wander in the night. Choose one with a red glow which will not limit their sleep hormone [melatonin] production.

If they wake and come to you or call for you during the night, help them back into bed as you did at the beginning of the night. Go to them every few minutes if they are upset.

If they keep getting up or are standing at the gate, take them back to their bed each time. Try not to be in the room as they go to sleep, as this is very likely to become a habit.

Moving from a cot to a bed

It might take them longer to get to sleep

You can expect it to take longer than normal for them to go to sleep, and this is natural because children like things to be predictable and familiar. The changes that you are making may make them unsure and wakeful at first. 

Don’t panic and stay in the room with them to speed things up. If you do this, they will think it needs to happen every night. Unless they are upset, it’s better to let them settle alone, even if it takes a long time.

Once the novelty has worn off, they will be able to fall asleep more quickly.

Praise them in the morning

In the morning, offer them lots of specific praise, for example, “You slept in your big bed!” “You went back to bed when I asked you to!” This will affirm the positive bed/sleep associations for your child.

Further help

If you’re struggling with toddler bedtimes or any other sleep problem, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

Picture5

Early Waking Advice

It is normal for babies and young children to wake from time to time during the night, and their sleep is more fragile and broken from about 4 am onwards.

So when your little one wakes up at the crack of dawn or before, don’t presume that something must be wrong.

Early waking can be one of the most tricky sleep problems to tackle, as most little ones are naturally early risers. But there are things that you can do to help them sleep for longer

1 – Prevent overtiredness (Expert advice for early waking)

One of the main reasons for babies and children waking up too early is over-tiredness.

Why? Because, when little ones become over-tired, they can produce extra cortisol which is an “awake” hormone.

When dawn approaches, there is a natural drop in melatonin [sleep hormone] levels and a rise in cortisol. Then because of the cortisol already in their system when they fall asleep, the process of melatonin/cortisol crossover can happen too soon.

You can help avoid over-tiredness by extending the day time nap[s] or putting them to bed a bit earlier – which may sound a bit counterintuitive but works for lots of little ones!

2 – Avoid dawn rituals

Does your baby or child come into your bed at dawn?

Do they have a bottle or breastfeed before getting up for the day?

Perhaps you go and lie next to their bed or cot etc. at dawn?

If any of these things are happening, your little one may be waking early expecting this ritual to happen. They may even wake earlier in the night looking for their ritual.

Once they are old enough to go through the night without a feed, give their morning milk in the living room. Make sure you’ve opened their curtains and said good morning first. These are very important daytime signifiers.

If you want to bring them to your bed for their morning milk and cuddle, open your curtains beforehand. When they come to you in the dark and you’re lying there trying to sleep, they will think it’s nighttime.

It is good to keep them in their own bed or cot until morning and give them a reassuring but minimal response when they wake either during the night or at dawn.

3 – Give the right response when they wake up early

When your baby or child wakes very early, leave them alone if they are not upset. They may just be taking time to transition to their next sleep cycle.

As dawn approaches, falling back to sleep can sometimes take an hour or more. As long as they are not upset, and you’re confident that they are safe and well, you can give them as long as they need.

If your little one is crying or calling for you, it’s not good to leave them. It’s possible that they won’t manage to go back to sleep, and this is not a good start to the day. It is far better to go to them before they become upset and tell or indicate that it is still sleep time. 

Then you can either remain beside them or keep popping in and out to them until they either go back to sleep or until you reach an acceptable getting up time. 

Giving them a feed, cuddling them back to sleep or bringing them into your bed etc. might help in the short term, but longer term, it might reinforce the early waking.

When you first start to keep your baby or child in their bed when they wake early, they might not go back to sleep. You will be merely teaching them that when they wake it doesn’t necessarily mean that they get up. Over time, though, when they learn to remain in their bed/cot, they will have a much better chance of going back to sleep.

If they have managed to go back to sleep after an early wake-up, it’s best to gently get them up an hour or so later. This is to keep them on a reasonable daytime schedule.

4 – Manage their naps

Avoid a very early or long morning nap, as getting into a pattern like this can “secure” or enable early waking to continue

Give them an early cat nap of about 15 minutes if they are struggling to stay awake in the early morning. , Keep in mind, however, that when babies are more than a few months old, good napping later in the morning, at midday or in the afternoon encourages better nighttime and early morning sleep.

Younger babies need a late afternoon nap, usually a short one to see them through to bedtime without becoming over-tired.

Check out the chart below and make sure that your child is getting enough [but not too much] daytime sleep.

5 – Give them time clues

Little ones have no sense of how long they’ve been asleep and how close it is to morning. They need you to provide these time clues. You can do this by offering them daytime and nighttime signifiers, such as darkness at bedtime and light in the morning.

Change your voice to a low and soothing tone when you want them to sleep and a brighter tone when it’s wake time.

In the morning, open the curtains, and if it’s still dark outside, put the light on too before you get them out of the cot. This will give them a visual prompt/signifier that it is now getting up time. 

If you do this every morning, they will soon come to realise that when the curtains are closed it means that it is sleep time. If at the beginning of the night, you make closing the curtains before they go into the cot part of the settling routine, you will further reinforce this message.

These visual time clues and routines are very important for babies, who obviously are not yet able to tell the time.

Over twos can be helped to recognise when it’s getting up time by the use of sleep training clocks/lights.

Sleep clock rules

Choose one that has a red or orange glow. Some sleep training clocks have a blue back light, which interferes with melatonin production.

Set the clock to “wake up” at a time just a few minutes after your child’s natural wake-up time, even if this is very early.

Then gradually move the time forward as your child understands the principle of waiting in their bed. If they learn to wait in their bed, they have the opportunity to fall back to sleep.

With a very young child, there is no need to explain the principle of how the clock works. They will learn it by experience.

You must obey the clock if you expect your child to! It’s no good setting it for 7 am and then getting your child up before then, while the clock is in sleep mode. If you do this, they will learn that waiting for the clock to wake up is optional.

Don’t let your child play with the clock! They may alter the wake-up time – which defeats the object!

Always praise your child for waiting for the clock to wake up.

6 – Get their sleep space right

Keep your child’s sleep space as dark as possible, as this helps them to keep producing sleep hormones. If you need a night light, use a red one, as this is more melatonin-friendly.

During sleep, the body temperature drops, slightly and this is a natural part of sleep. If a baby or child is kept too hot at sleep time, they will not sleep as well. It is also important from a safety point of view that their room is kept at a cool 16 – 20 degrees centigrade.

Here’s a guide to help you keep your little one cool and comfortable. 

7 – Build up your child’s general sleep skills

If your child is an early waker and is also struggling with settling at bedtime and waking during the night, you need to work on building better skills overall. You can do this by helping them fall asleep as independently as possible at bedtime. This is the time when they’re full of sleep hormones and they have a lovely build-up of sleep pressure.

Often, the key to solving early waking lies in how a child falls asleep at bedtime.

Sleep cycles get lighter and more broken as morning approaches and unless a baby or child has well-practised and secure sleeping skills, they can struggle to join these lighter sleep cycles.

If they wake up too early and can’t resettle, they miss the final one or two sleep cycles of the night. This isn’t because they’ve had enough sleep but because they don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep.

So if you’re rocking, nursing or sitting with them as they go to sleep at bedtime, you may be preventing them from learning these essential sleep skills.

My Gentle Sleep Course can help you get your baby or toddler to improve their sleeping, whether they have a simple early waking difficulty or difficulties with sleep generally.

Your own sleep matters

Early waking in babies and young children is a phase that most of them go through and it will pass.

Whilst it’s happening, you need to go to bed as early as possible. If you’re in a couple, share the early starts.

You need sleep so that you’ve got the energy to deal with this phase and also to protect your own mental and physical health.

Further Help

If you’re struggling with early waking or any other sleep problem, I am here to help you.

My Books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Expert advice for early waking

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

Expert advice for early waking

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot