“Are they a good sleeper?” is a question most parents dread hearing… especially if the answer is “No”. Yet everyone seems to get a little bit obsessed with sleep as soon as a new baby arrives!
As a reflexologist I often find myself discussing sleep patterns with my clients and how we can improve sleep quality. In my Tiny Toes reflexology & baby massage classes sleep is a subject we visit constantly, because it is something at the forefront of new parents’ minds.
So let’s explore sleep to see why we all need it and more importantly how we can help your baby sleep!
Why do we need sleep?
A good night’s sleep can:
- Improve immunity
- Boost energy levels
- Help coordination
- Balance blood pressure
- Increase concentration & productivity
- Help the body repair, regenerate & recover
So it’s no wonder we feel like zombies when we have a disrupted night!
The Baby Book says…
Who is guilty of reading a baby book or following an app, then expecting their baby to be ticking those milestones? Yep, my hand is up too!
All babies are different and there are no set rules for their sleep, just as there aren’t for adults. How many adults do you know who fall asleep at the same time, sleep for the same duration and wake at the same time?! Yet we expect our little bundles of joy to follow set routines and patterns, and even compare them with our friends’ babies with an expectation they’ll all be the same. It’s slightly bonkers really, but sleep deprived parents are desperate for answers. They live with the hope that their baby will eventually allow them to sleep for a decent amount of time… and fingers crossed that day will come tomorrow!
When babies are born they lack the ability to produce a hormone called melatonin. This is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in our brains to encourage sleep. In adults the production of melatonin is affected by light – the darker it gets, the more melatonin is produced (this is why looking at bright screens close to bedtime affects our sleep). Typically babies do not start producing melatonin until 3-4 months of age or even later, especially if they were born prematurely. As a result they can be blissfully unaware of night and day and feel it’s perfectly acceptable to stay up from dusk ‘til dawn!
Encouraging your baby to sleep
It’s fair to say I’m guilty of using baby books for my research… however the tip with this section is something I apply to books and apps – Cherry Pick. Take the elements that sit well with you and work for your family. Choose what best suits your baby’s personality and discard anything that’s left over. Also discard the tips you’ve tried and found unhelpful – even if all your friends found it worked!
For me personally, routines always worked the best for sleep. These aren’t to be confused with schedules, where things are done at specific times – I don’t run a tight ship in that sense! However a routine means doing things in the same order. I do this from birth and it can simply be ‘nappy change, then milk’ when baby wakes or vice-versa if they wake up ravenous! It allows baby to know what’s coming up next and gives them a sense of security. Think of your day – you probably have routines that suit you. Imagine how you’d feel if you suddenly reorganised your daily routines today, and then reorganised them again tomorrow, and further muddled them the day after that… life would feel rather confusing! So how can we expect our babies to feel secure when nothing is predictable?
A simple routine for baby at naptime and bedtime could just be:
- Nappy change
Bath-time can be a great addition to the routine too. Also place them in the same place for naps & bedtime (when possible), with same comforter, in a sleeping bag / under a blanket can all help too. If you use a comforter I suggest you have two, and rotate them so they feel and smell the same. If baby starts to rely on one and that gets left in the trolley at Tesco, it could be a disaster!
Baby massage & reflexology can also help your baby to unwind and sleep better. Massage can be done anytime, but lends itself to bath-times and changing because little ones are already undressed. Reflexology can be done anywhere as all you need to do is pop their feet out of their socks or sleepsuit. More information about reflexology & massage classes is at the foot of the page.*
Set the scene. Help your baby to unwind and prepare for sleep by keeping the lighting low and the atmosphere calm. As I mentioned earlier, their melatonin production won’t kick in until they are at least 3 months old. However low lighting before sleep could be an extension to your routine. If they’re not producing melatonin yet, it will still help them to feel calm.
Other ways to calm your baby can be cuddling them, singing or talking in soothing tones, stroking their heads or rocking them. Combinations of these may be called for if they’re feeling very resistant to sleep!
Always ask for help
Sleep deprivation is a horrible thing to contend with and can leave you feeling physically drained and an emotional wreck. Do not feel you have to put a brave face on and play the ‘super-parent’ role for family and friends. Ask them for help instead. There is nothing wrong with asking someone to entertain the baby for an hour or two while you pop upstairs for a nap. Better still, see if they’ll take them for a stroll in the buggy – if you can hear every murmur and cry you’re unlikely to get any rest. Baby will most likely fall asleep (typical, isn’t it?!) and won’t even notice you are not there. Just that small recharging time can make a huge difference to you both and nobody ever minds looking after a baby.
Remember nothing is permanent
I often use this saying… nothing remains exactly how it is forever. I know how exhausting it is to have a baby waking you constantly and the days feel like years.
However the time will come when your baby sleeps better and you get to rest more too. Be kind to yourself and grab those extra hours or minutes of sleep when the opportunities arise, but don’t panic when they don’t. Just do your best and take each day as it comes.
Before you know it you’ll have a teenager on your hands and I haven’t met anyone yet who needs to get up to them all through the night! In-fact they’re notoriously hard to get out of bed…
Reflexology & Baby Massage: There are a wide range of classes out there teaching massage or reflexology, however Tiny Toes classes combine the two in a unique way (not that I’m biased, of course!). We like to call this combination of reflexology and massage Reflexage. The techniques can support your baby with sleep, colic, reflux, coughs & colds and teething.
If you find a Tiny Toes instructor nearby, you can enjoy 4 or 5 week courses with small classes, instructions to support the techniques at home as well as time for refreshments and a catch up with other parents. You’ll get to enjoy a hot cuppa because your Tiny Toes instructor will be keeping baby busy with their very own reflexology treatment, tailored to suit their needs. As an extra bonus, the majority of babies have a long afternoon nap and/or better night’s sleep following their Tiny Toes time.
Claire Plain is a reflexologist & Tiny Toes instructor. She lives near Hitchin, Hertfordshire and has two small children – the littlest one dislikes naps & has a nocturnal nature!