I was recently reminded of this when doing a follow up visit with a client. The parents of the eight month old baby had done a fabulous job at implementing changes to help improve their son’s sleep. Something was missing and this baby that could self settle occasionally in the day, and never in the evening. We tweaked sleep times and quantity of sleep, still to no avail. So off I go to see what I could pick up by being present in the family’s home.
As I arrived in the evening, I entered a very lively household with the baby’s three older brothers keen to see who was knocking at the door. Darting boys going in all directions, lights on, television drowning out squeals of laughter, it certainly was sensory stimulation feast. In the middle of this was our baby ready for bed. After our greetings and checking to see if the baby wanted any more milk, Mum prepared to settle her baby. I asked Mum to make sure she did a good fifteen to twenty minute wind down period with her baby before settling him to sleep. Mum did a great wind period as requested and her baby self settled without a peep!
After the shock of what just happened, we worked out that the baby only ever got a quick 1-2 minute wind down period. Making this longer helped prepare and de-stimulate him and then he could fall to sleep with ease.
Our little baby was becoming so over stimulated that he just couldn’t relax enough to fall to sleep. An easy step that resulted in a huge step forward.
So what is ‘wind down time’? Wind down time is not to get your baby drowsy, but simply relaxed and confident enough to fall to sleep. This is an essential part of any baby’s pre bed routine.
Take your baby to their sleep space around 10-15 mins before they are expected to sleep. Darken the room and have a low watt lamp on if the room is very dark or it is evening. The main aim is to remove your child from a lively living area, screens, playful interactions. Other siblings can join in if they are able to sit participate and not stimulate the baby. There is no set way of doing wind down time but it should include darkening the room, dressing your baby for bed in a sleeping bag or comfortable/safe clothing and checking their nappy. Then spending the rest of the time reading, cuddling, songs, verbal stories, or low key play ( for older babies/ children). This pre bed time is to destimulate the child’s senses. Visual and auditory in particular. It also helps a very active baby slow down and keep more still so that they can lie still enough in their cot to fall to sleep.
It assists in getting your baby used to being in the room that they sleep in, feeling safe and calm. Wind down time is not to get your baby sleepy, just de-stimulated. It is really important for children to go into their cot or bed wide awake so that they can experience falling asleep in the same place that they wake up in. This then assists the child to orientate themselves when they stir and move through sleep cycles through the night.
Wind down time is also an important step in reducing the presence of early morning wakings ( pre 6am). There are several reasons why babies are early wakers and you can read more about this in an earlier blog on Early Morning Wakings. One of the things that we look for in early morning wakers is the absence of wind down time or not enough wind down time for the individual child. You may feel that you are doing this step, but have child that is highly sensory in vision, that they need longer than the average child to wind down before they are de-stimulated enough to settle themselves to sleep. We encourage you to try longer periods to see if this step helps.
Wind down time can start from very early in a baby’s life. By locating them to the area that they are going to fall asleep in before settling them, helps them not only relax and prepare for sleep but start to predict what is going to happen next, that they know that sleep is expected of them, no matter how you choose to settle your baby to sleep. This is great for families that move around or travel a lot too.
As your child grows into toddlerhood and beyond, it is a really healthy sleep habit to encourage children to put down screens and pick up a book or just relax listening to music or talking books as a way of preparing their bodies and brains for a good restful sleep.
If you feel that you would like further assistance with your child’s sleep or settling. Please contact us at Caroline’s Angels
Caroline and Caroline