Managing the clocks going back on Sunday 25th October:
We gain an hour's sleep on Sunday 25th October, which is great for us, but not so great when our little ones wake at 5am or earlier! This can be a challenge at both ends of the night as you try to keep your tired child up an hour later at bedtime and then struggle to keep them in bed in the morning. So here's a way to begin adjusting their body clock in advance, based on a 7pm-7am sleep to wake cycle:
- On Wednesday, you want to aim for your whole bedtime routine to be 15 mins later (it helps for the bedtime routine to remain the same length so shifting from bath time, rather than keeping with your normal timings and then delaying going down), so that bedtime is 7.15pm.
To make this easier for your baby or toddler (the younger the baby, the less flexibility with awake windows before getting overtired) you can try to elongate one of their naps by 15 mins or, if you have an older child, they should just be able to manage to stay up slightly later.
- On Thursday, if you're waking your baby or toddler, you can leave them until 7.15/20am. If they wake earlier (which is very normal still at this stage), try to delay getting them up and the exposure to light for as long as you can, and then begin your day aiming for all timings to shift by 15 mins. Alternatively, stretch them a little between naps if possible to help make up the difference.
If you don't have one already and your child is 2 or older, introduce something like a Gro Clock or timed lamp, so that they know when it's time to get up, and then you can adjust the time it comes on in the morning by 15 mins to encourage them to stay in bed.
N.B. Make sure you turn the display setting on a Gro Clock to '0' to remove the blue glow across the night as this inhibits melatonin.
Feeds and mealtimes help to set our body clocks too, so if you normally do breakfast at 8am, do it at 8.15am instead. Again, if your child naps, try to adjust these timings so that bedtime can shift by another 15 mins to 7.30pm. If your child is in full time day care, it's probably best to start this process on Friday evening instead, so that you've got control over the daily routine, and then it will just take a bit longer to adjust after the clocks go back.
- On Friday, use the same approach so that bedtime is around 7.45pm.
- On Saturday, use the same approach so that bedtime is around 8pm.
- When the clocks go back at 2am on Sunday, you should find that your child wakes closer to their normal time. Then continue the day in the new time zone. It might then take a few days after this to fully adjust.
- Do make sure the room where your child sleeps is fully blacked out so that early light doesn't affect their wake-up time, and give your child some outdoor play in the late afternoon as this helps to regulate their body clock.
- Once the clocks have changed, if your child is still waking earlier than normal, try to avoid shifting their morning milk/drink and breakfast forwards, as this is likely to create an early-morning learned hunger issue.
- With younger babies, you may find it more manageable to shift their timings more gradually over a longer period before the clocks change, shifting bedtime by 15 mins every 2 or 3 days, or doing 10 min increments across the week instead.
Supporting you and your family during coronavirus
Click here for a link to Haringey's Educational Psychology Service resources, which has some helpful tips for child-friendly ways to explain what coronavirus is and why your child may be experiencing big changes in their daily lives, as well as how to manage anxieties and your family's emotional wellbeing at home during social distancing, to help support healthy sleep.
Is worrying about coronavirus keeping you awake?
If anxiety is affecting your sleep, click here to read some of my tips in the Guardian:
Regulate your breathing – and four other ways to sleep when you're anxious
I recently contributed to an article published in the Guardian:
Shuteye and sleep hygiene: the truth about why you keep waking up at 3am
Click here to find out more about some of the reasons for night waking, what 'normal' sleep looks like and why it might be good to ditch your sleep tracker!
10 top tips for working parents before embarking on a sleep plan ...
1) Keep a detailed diary for 48-72 hours tracking your sleep, feeding/eating and activity to give a realistic overview of the issues and patterns of your child's sleep and behaviour - when you're exhausted, frequent night wakings are hard to keep track of.
2) Rule out any underlying digestive or health issues affecting your child's comfort levels
3) Tackle the quick wins first: optimise naps, adjust sleep environment, review sleep hygiene and the bedtime routine etc.
4) For a more intensive plan, try to clear 2-3 weeks in your diary so that you can keep consistency in your child's familiar home environment
5) Implement change at bedtime on a Friday night or when you have the longest period available with support or off work
6) Review the consistency of your child’s routine if they have different childcarers so that you can keep their body clock well regulated
7) Divide the night or share settling with a partner if you can
8) Think about whether any chores can be outsourced or friends/family can help
9) Changing habits and the way brain processes sleep and associations takes time, so be patient with progress when you’re working gently with your child
10) Get yourself ready for bed and eat dinner early ahead if your child's bedtime if you can so that you can devote the evening to helping them settle and resettle in a new way without getting frustrated
My favourite bedtime stories
Story-time is a really special way to connect with your child before they fall asleep, as well as a calming sleep cue. My children always look forward to cuddling up and sharing a book at the end of their day.
Some babies may be ready for a story as part of their bedtime routine from around 6 months old, but others may get more benefit from around 8 months when they can stay awake a little more easily at the end of the day and are less tempted to chew the book!
Children LOVE repetition and this is also a great learning tool, but if you’re looking for some inspiration, here are 10 lovely books:
- Guess how much I love you – Sam McBratney
- If your dreams take off and fly – John Butler
- The Very hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
- Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown
- The Very Busy Spider – Eric Carle
- On the Night You Were Born – Nancy Tillman
- Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book – Dr Seuss
- Goodnight Digger – Michelle Robinson
- Love You Forever – Robert Munsch
- Make a special, personalised book for your child telling the story of how they fall asleep. Take photos at each stage of the bedtime routine from calming play, through to bath time, story time, tucking in, peacefully sleeping in their cot or bed during the night, waking happy in the sunlight for morning cuddles etc and bind together to make a simple book.
- If your dreams take off and fly – John Butler
Is it possible to only get 4 hours of sleep a night and still work productively?
Novelist Danielle Steel seems to think so.
As a sleep expert, having supported hundreds of sleep deprived clients, the idea that someone can sustain that pattern effectively - work, write, commit things to memory, use their full brain capacity - is very hard to conceive.
Click here to read more in this Guardian article about why it's important to prioritise sleep health and how severe sleep deprivation is 'akin to being drunk'.