Once you have babies at home, sleep becomes a precious commodity. Yes, I know, it’s worse for moms, especially for those moms who breast feed exclusively, but dads lose a lot of sleep, too, especially those of us who work from home. Getting your kids on a good sleep schedule ensures YOU get to be on a good sleep schedule, and there are some techniques you can try that make things easier.
- 1. Get the baby to sleep alone ASAP. Now, for those parents who practice co-sleeping and the family bed, this isn’t for you. Those are great ways to do things—I know we did it for a while, when the babies were tiny, especially with our firstborn and with our twins. However, for those who practice more traditional sleeping habits, getting babies to sleep in their cribs for substantial periods of time is essential to getting some much-needed rest for both parents and babies. We used the Ferber method, and it worked, but lemme tell you: it’s hard. My wife didn’t have the willpower for it; I had to do it. It took several days and a lot of wanting to pull my hair out, but by the end of a week, the baby slept in their own bed. Once there was no longer an infant in the bed, my wife and I both slept better and longer—and so did the baby.
- 2. Establish a routine. We all remember our childhoods, how every night there was a sleepytime ritual, often consisting of bath, snack, story, whining, and kisses. There was a reason for this: kids like and need routines. It makes them feel safe, relaxes them, and gets them in the mood to sleep. Do this and you’ll find it’s easier to get the kids in bed at a reasonable hour, because they know what’s expected of them. Having an established bedtime also gets their Circadian rhythm established, enabling them to sleep better and wake refreshed.
- 3. Cut out the horseplay at a reasonable hour. My kids know I’m a fun and physical dad; we do lots of tickling, wrestling, and such. However, my wife pointed something very important out to me: when I roughhouse with the kids right before bedtime, they’re all wired up, and it’s harder to get them to settle down. Now, we declare a moratorium on active play at least an hour before bedtime. We still play games, but nothing requiring running, jumping, piledriving, or submission holds.
- 4. Cut out the sugar early. My kids are standard-issue when it comes to candy and sugary substances: they love them. We try to keep their treats as nutritious as possible, especially at night. Sugar and caffeine will turbo-charge your kids, especially if they’re not used to them, so eliminate them after dinner, since that would be counter-productive to good sleeping. Our favorite nighttime snacks are a glass of milk and graham crackers, string cheese, or a piece of fruit.
- 5. Cut down on the liquids. Surely you’ve heard the, “Daddy, I want a glass of water!” Followed closely with, “Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom!” Although this can never be eliminated, try to cut down on the drinks after dinner, too. Also, ask the kids (repeatedly) if they need to hit the head before bed. It’s amazing how many kids will say “no” the first couple of times you ask in a five-minute span, and will then say “yes” a minute later. Seriously.
- 6. Turn off the TV. Although sometimes TV makes a great babysitter (come on, admit it), bedtime isn’t always the best time for the boob tube. Occasionally we have movie nights and the kids always fall asleep, but it’s not as good as when they fall asleep naturally, in their own beds. However, many kids get bored. Enter story time! I love reading books to my kids and putting in the characters’ voices. It’s great bonding and teaches them to love reading.
- 7. Baths are your friend. There is something about a nice warm bath that puts babies in the mood to sleep—heck, it puts ME in the mood to sleep! Give the baby a little bath and tuck him or her into snuggly PJs. I suggest the Johnson and Johnson lavender-scented bath products line for babies. I love it when my wife uses the lotion, too! It smells great and relaxes kids instantly. If they’re too big for a bath, let them take a shower. Either way, when they’re done, their eyes will droop, guaranteed.
- 8. Music soothes the savage beast. For babies, investing in a set of lullaby CDs is a godsend. Pop one in at bedtime and you not only help soothe them to sleep, you also help build their brain power!