BY TERRY CRALLE, RN, MS
Sleep is critical for every family member—young and old alike. Sufficient sleep is foundational for good health and optimum functioning, and it’s mandatory for proper brain development and learning in babies and young children, who are learning at a rate never again achieved at any time during the life cycle. So it’s imperative to make sufficient sleep a priority for all family members.
Bedtime Routine: One study of over 400 babies demonstrated that babies who follow a nightly bedtime routine went to sleep easier, slept better, and cried out less often in the night. Children should have a consistent, predictable and relaxing routine leading up to bedtime. Something we grandparents are well aware of.
Sleep Safely: “Safe to Sleep” is a public education campaign that focuses on reducing the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, such as accidental suffocation, that might occur as a result of an unsafe sleep environment. Babies sleep safest on their backs. The SIDS rate in the United States has dropped by 50 percent since awareness campaigns that stressed back sleeping for babies started in 1994. An informative publication, “Safe Sleep for Your Grandbaby,” is available on the Safe to Sleep web site.
Self-Soothing: Let babies learn to self soothe by putting them to bed while they are on the verge of sleep, not after they have fallen asleep. When babies and young children are self-soothers, bedtime and nighttime awakenings tend to be less difficult.
Swaddling: This involves snugly wrapping an infant to calm and foster sleep. However, it is important not to make the blanket too loose (to avoid suffocation) or too tight (which may cause overheating). The website Sleep.Org provides a step-by-step guide of the swaddling process.
Sleep Deprivation in New Parents: Some new parents can lose as much as six months of sleep in the first two years of a child’s life. These exhausted parents may be reluctant to ask for help when it comes to their own sleep needs. One of the most helpful things you can do for a new parent is help them get the sleep they need. Offer assistance with chores or meal preparation, run errands or help with childcare. Sufficient sleep is essential for physical and psychological health, safety, and overall well being. And don’t let anyone drive drowsy—it’s just as dangerous as driving drunk. Help ensure that all family members get the rest they need to be happy, healthy, and safe.
Positivity: Never make going to bed early a punishment or staying up late a reward for children. Approach bedtime in a positive manner and encourage healthy sleep habits. Discuss the importance and benefits of sleep early and often.
Sleep Hygiene: Good sleep habits instilled early in childhood will provide a lifetime of benefits. Avoid caffeine for young children. Make bedtime a positive and relaxing experience. Keep bedtimes and wake-up times consistent. Make sure the time before sleep is not stimulating, with no bright lights. Avoid letting children of any age fall asleep to TV or videos, and keep TVs and electronics out of the bedroom.
Sabotaging Sleep: When we work with parents to establish a good bedtime routine and have the child sleep in his or her own bed, progress is often thrown off after a weekend with grandparents. Letting children stay up later or co-sleeping might seem like a special treat, but it can set back the new training, and parents will need to start all over. The best way to show your love for your grandchildren is to know and abide by their sleep schedules.
Sleep is a biologic necessity—not a luxury—so make it a priority. And let go of the guilt. Be unapologetic about getting the sleep you need to be your very best, and ensure that all family members of every age are getting the sleep they need too. Be a sleep role model to your children and grandchildren. There are many ways for a grandparent to say “I love you”—and one of them is “Get your sleep.”
Terry Cralle, a Registered Nurse, Certified Clinical Sleep Educator, and Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality, co-authored Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle with W. David Brown PhD. She’s also a national spokesperson for the Better sleep Council.
Terry Cralle, RN, MS
Certified Clinical Sleep Educator