My Family Care asks Jo: Bedtime can be a blessing or a curse... is it possible to achieve peace and tranquillity, or are you destined to maintain battle stations in the years ahead? What advice can you offer parents about how to achieve a more relaxed bedtime?
Catching precious 'down time'
After spending the last twenty five years helping parents with their little ones, one of the interesting things I have found - for a lot of parents - is that bedtime is the one time they make sure their little ones go to sleep.
One of the reasons for this, I think, is because after having a busy day at work or home, many parents just want some 'down time' - to eat a meal, chat, watch their favourite TV show or box set, or catch up on sleep.
Parents are very strict on this from a very young age, and because they stick to it, the little ones respond. Babies and toddlers thrive on a routine; they like to know what happens next. If your day is chaotic, busy with all the classes and taking siblings to nursery and school, the only time your little one can calm down and not be stimulate with noise, lights and general chatter is bedtime.
A good bedtime routine
It is so important that your little one has a good bedtime routine because if they go to bed late, they will be overtired and wake often in the night. It's also beneficial for you, as there is nothing worse than tears before bedtime to upset you all and stress everyone out!
The key to a calm bedtime is simple; you need to start a bedtime routine as soon as you can. You could even start tonight. Your baby responds to day and night from a few weeks old, so having a bedtime routine - however simple - can set up bedtime bliss for years to come.
Having a quiet time around an hour before bedtime can really help - so no TV, loud noises or toys with flashing lights. TV and electronic games including tablets and phones before bedtime has proved to overstimulate and activate your little ones brains, meaning it will be really difficult to get them into a calm place ready for sleep, so a quiet environment before bedtime is a must.
Then, having nappy-off time for babies from six weeks to seven months can really help their muscle development. If you do this in the bathroom, it means you have time to prepare everything for night time.
Preparation is really important
You don't want to be frantically running around and going back downstairs for things you have forgotten. So lower the lights in their room; a lamp on a low wattage bulb is great. Get out their PJs, massage oil, towels and Swaddle or sleeping bag. If they have a bottle, prepare that before you take the baby or toddler upstairs.
Having a lovely bath can really help relax your little one; even though with toddlers, all that splashing and shrieking doesn't seem very relaxing, they are just letting off their last bit of energy! Taking them into their room at this time, even if they are tiny, can help them get used to the place they will be sleeping in. A massage can really help soothe and relax them, or if you have an older baby who can't keep still then a relaxing room aroma with calming essentials oils can also really help.
Milk and a story
If your baby is six months and above you can read a story, then give them their milk. This just helps their brains relax and gets them in the mood for sleep. It's just like us reading a book before we sleep, it gets us in the sleep zone. Also having their milk with just the landing light on can help them become sleepy more quickly, as light is stimulating.
I always suggest that you put your babies sleeping bag on for story and milk, and if your baby is under 4 months (for a boy) or 3 months (for a girl), Swaddle them whilst feeding them. All these things you do before bedtime are triggers to remind your little one it's 'sleepy time'.
Recommendations for better sleep
There are two other things I always recommend to help babies sleep better in the day and night. The first is total blackout, which stops early morning waking with light coming through the sides. This is also really important for daytime naps, too.
The second thing I recommend is soothing sounds, and in particular, wave sounds. These really help calm and relax a baby and toddler, and also really help if siblings or twins, as the brain tunes into the constant sound so anything above this noise will not be heard - therefore, there will be nothing disturbing your baby's sleep.
Having little sleep at night, or struggling for naptimes and bedtimes can be really tough and can affect your whole life. To rescue sleep-deprived parents, I have trained Sleep Angels; they are Maternity Nurses, Nannies or Paediatric Nurses and Midwives who go around the country helping your little ones sleep. Please visit my website for more support and advice, or purchase my book 'Baby Secrets' to get a good night's sleep.
Jo Tantum, Baby Expert specialising in sleep and twins