5 Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights

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Sleep advice for babies and toddlers usually comes in two forms. There is the strict ‘cry it out’ approach where we leave children alone till they learn we won’t respond at night, or the more gentle ‘wait it out’ approach where we simply wait until they naturally start sleeping through the night.

Neither of these approaches tend to be that affective. If we ‘cry it out’, research has found it’s simply a short term fix that results in more sleep disturbances further down the line. If we ‘wait it out’ our babies may also continue to wake regularly into the toddler years and beyond.

Most of the sleep advice out there doesn’t mention the major reason babies, and toddlers (and adults too!) have difficulty sleeping – stress and emotional tension. This unspoken cause is the reason that so many parents struggle with sleep.

Here are the 5 sleep secrets that most sleep advice doesn’t take into account. Follow these tips for peaceful nights.

  1. Children need a close sense of connection in order to sleep well. Children experience sleep as a separation, even if they sleep right next to us. They need a strong sense of connection in order to feel safe to let go into sleep. Try some special time as part of your evening routine. Spend 10-15 minutes 1-1 one with your baby or toddler, doing something of their choice. Whether it’s simply lying on a playmat together gazing at the ceiling or joining them in their explorations, being there while they take the lead helps them internalise a sense of connection to you, that keeps them feeling safe to sleep through the night.
  2. Upset feelings can cause babies and toddlers to wake – The emotional part of our human brain is fully formed even before a baby is born. So babies fully feel a wide spectrum of emotions, and experience stress and tension, during pregnancy, birth, and in the early days of their lives. Babies, and children have a natural healing process for releasing stress and tension through crying and stress hormones are contained in tears. When babies or toddlers  cry or tantrum for what appears to be no apparent reason, (or a very small reason!) they are often releasing stress and upset. Because the healing power of tears isn’t widely understood many parents try to stop their children from crying, through distraction, ignoring, or ‘shhhing.’ Sometimes there are times your baby just needs you to listen to them, and stay close. Doing so can help them release the feelings that cause them to wake at night.
  3. Laughter is the best natural sleeping pill – Laughter has been found to cause the brain to release melatonin – the hormone that induces sleep. It’s also nature’s way of releasing the stress and tension that interfere with sleep. Most sleep advice focuses on ‘winding children down,’ and this is where we make things much hard for ourselves. We actually need to ‘wind children up!’ and get some laughter and fun flowing so that they can naturally regulate their own sleep. If you don’t have giggles in your bedtime routine you should add them now!
  4. Early Waking isn’t inevitable – Early waking is so common for babies and children that many parents feel it’s just an inevitable part of parenting. Ever woken at 4am in the morning with your brain whirring and being unable to get back to sleep? This happens with children too. Listening to their feelings whenever they arise during the day can help them to process them so they don’t interrupt their sleep in the early hours.
  5. You don’t need a strict routine for your children to sleep well – Routine is often presented as the most important factor for getting children to sleep well. However as much as we have a natural rhythm to our days it’s not the ‘be all and end all’ when it comes to sleep. Connection and listening are much more important factors. When we connect with our children, and listen to their feelings on a regular basis both in the day and night, they will naturally sleep well.

Would you like to learn more about the Hand in Hand parenting approach to sleep struggles? Check out the online self-study course Helping Young Children Sleep 

17 thoughts on “5 Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights

  1. I was just talking about this with a friend last night. She works for the labor & delivery dept of a hospital, and she thinks the time that a baby, toddler or even older kid wakes up during the night is the time their mom started having contractions the night they were born. Interesting.

    1. wow Tamara so fascinating. Aletha Solter (author of the Aware Baby) said that babies often cry at the time of their birth. A friend of mine noticed this with her daughter. And my auntie’s daughter used to cry in 3 hour stints which was exactly the amount of time she spent in transition! It’s such an overlooked area, and it can really help sleep when we understand how to listen to babies, so that they can heal, and process their experiences.

  2. Great tips! We do a “loose” routine which works for us and I think that also goes back into your point #1 because we always do thinks together like reading books, playing a little or singing together at bedtime. So, to me, security (connection) and routine go together in that sense. I have found that kids (especially mine) like to always know what is going to happen next which helps them feel more settled as well!

    1. thanks for sharing Rachel, yes good point, bedtime routine is a lovely time of day to slow down and connect. I also find that emphasising connection at any time of day helps bedtime go more smoothly, and also that when the routine gets disrupted — for instance when travelling, this is easier when we’re feeling well-connected.

  3. Great ideas! We do a loose routine at bedtime and that really works for us. We do things together such as reading, singing etc which I think also helps with your point #1 of having a connection- so to me routine and connection/security kind of go together in that sense!

  4. This was a spectacular article and makes complete sense. Thanks for sharing such great advice! It confirms why our second child may still be having sleep issues at 20 months, versus our first who slept thru since 5 weeks old… I naturally haven’t had as much time for the younger but when we have alone time together before bedtime and play, she sleeps so much better. Connecting the dots. Thanks again!

    1. Oh wow connection is powerful! And so good for children at any age. My 4.5 year old still wakes early if something’s on her mind like when she was worried about going to the doctor. So I always try to add in extra connection at times like that.

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