Sleep Information for Child Minders and Nannies

Despite our understanding the value of sleep and the importance of routines, more young children and babies than ever before are experiencing sleep difficulties. The reasons for this are endless, but one thing is clear; having a sleepless child can have a debilitating effect on not just the child but the whole family.

All healthy babies, toddlers and young children can be good sleepers.

Sleep is hugely important for the very young, in order that they grow strong, be happy and be well equipped to play and learn. Sleep is also vital for parents, as pressures of combining work and caring for a child can be so demanding. They need to be on top form to cope with and make the most of these precious but challenging early years.

Child minders and Nannies are in a very special position to help children and their parents get the sleep they need. The reason that you are so important is that you provide a trusted link between child and parent. Not only this, but you are often responsible for the provision of those all important daytime naps.

In many cases you will have had more experience of looking after children than their parents have. This and the confidence that this brings with it enables you to settle children successfully for naps or night time sleep. It also means that you have the knowledge and skills to share with parents on the issue of their child’s sleep at home.

Very often a child who naps beautifully in the child minder’s home or with their nanny will struggle to sleep at home in their own bed. If this scenario sounds familiar to you it is important to be clear about how you can best help.

How to Help a Problem Sleeper

If a parent tells you that their child is not sleeping well at night you need to take the time to really listen. Ask some key questions to help you both determine where the problem might lie. It may be that the difficulty is getting off to sleep? Perhaps the baby is waking during the night? Getting up very early in the morning? Once you know the exact nature of the problem you can begin to work together to find a solution.

Of course you need to be very sensitive when dealing with a sleep deprived parent whose confidence is low and is just about to face a day at work. A response like, “He always sleeps beautifully for me” can be reassuring in a way but is not necessarily going to help him sleep well at home and may make an already discouraged parent feel even less confident.

Begin by keeping a written record of the daytime naps and ask the parents to do the same for night time sleep. The record should include:

  1. How the child falls asleep – Over his bottle/dummy? Happy/ fretful?
  2. Where they fall asleep – In the cot, sofa, parent’s arms?
  3. Amount of adult help he needs – Rocked to sleep, settles alone, nursed to sleep?
  4. Number of wakings and the parent’s response.
  5. Mood on waking – Happy, grumpy, still seems tired etc.

Once you have a clear picture of the child’s sleep patterns, encourage parents to follow the guidelines below. These 5 tips are designed for a child or baby over the age of six months

  1. Leave at least three hours before they have woken up from the last daytime nap before getting them ready for bed. Simply over napping or sleeping very late in the afternoon can be the cause of many infant sleep problems.
  2. Introduce a highly consistent bedtime routine. A familiar series of steps leading up to bed time will help babies to feel both sleepy and safe. This should include a “wind down time”, a nice warm bath and lots of loving contact. Even though parents will be at their most tired, it is a great investment of time and energy to let a baby know how much they are loved before they settle for the night.
  3. Do not allow any baby or child to fall asleep over a bedtime milk feed. Introduce a little picture book to look at together after the last feed and before putting them into the cot. This will break the milk/sleep association, so common in sleepless babies. Remember too, that any night feeds can safely be dropped for healthy babies over the age of 6 months. The gentlest way to do this is by gradually diluting the feed or cutting the duration of a breast feed over the period of a week or so. If parents are not sure about this, you or their Health Visitor will be able to advise.
  4. Always place a baby/child into her cot/bed whilst they are awake. It is alarming to wake in the night to find yourself no longer in your parents’ arms! Reassure parents that it is not always necessary for them to leave their baby or child alone to cry. It is enough for them to be kept in the cot, even if one of them is sitting reassuringly beside them.
  5. Remember the sleep cycles. It is normal for babies to wake several times during the night. Babies who are able to re settle themselves are generally those who go to sleep independently at the beginning of the night; do not expect a night feed and are not in the habit of getting in bed to sleep with mum or dad.

How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?

It goes without saying that all children are different and their sleep needs vary but the guide below will help you to inform or reassure parents if necessary.

0 – 6 Weeks: 14 – 18 hours, 4 -6 naps
6 – 16 Weeks: 14 – 15 hours, 3 -4 naps
4 -6 Months: 13 – 14 hours, 2 -3 naps
6 -12 Months: 12 – 14 hours, 2 naps
1 -3 Years: 12 -13 hours, 1 nap

Day time naps

Length of naps varies between individual children and age groups from any where between 20 min to 3 hours.

Many of us are familiar with the adage, “Sleep begets sleep.” i.e. the more a child sleeps during the day, the better they will sleep at night. For some children this may be true but for many others, sleeping excessively during the day can have a negative effect on night time sleep, as can sleeping too late in the afternoon.

If a child in your care appears to be napping excessively, and is sleeping badly at night, you need to address this. In order to get the balance right, the best way to restrict daytime napping is by knocking 10 minutes off the normal duration every few days. Do this until you have reached a more reasonable nap length.

Caring for a Child Overnight

If you are caring for a child in your home or in the child’s own home overnight, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure that you are clear about the normal bedtime and the routine leading up to it.
  • Although they may be in a different sleeping environment, try to include some familiar elements. These might include their usual bedding, a familiar toy or bedtime story book.
  • Demonstrate a confident, calm and warm manner when putting a child or baby to bed or attending to any night waking. This will help them to feel safe.
  • With an older child, show them that your room is close by and that you will be able to hear you if they call.

With your help and understanding, you can ensure that the children in your care are well rested and able to enjoy all the lovely activities you have planned for the day.