From the day my little girl was born, I would cuddle her to sleep.
In the early days, it was the best way to guarantee she would sleep at all and, for a long time, that was all this sleep-deprived mummy cared about.
Now 21 months old, Imogen still gets cuddled to sleep every night. It’s not such a big problem now, she’s always in her cot 20 minutes after we turn out the light and I can’t deny, after being away from her at work all day, I really enjoy our snuggles - singing lullabies to her in the dark, her little warm breath on my cheek, until her limbs go limp with sleep. But I can’t help wondering if I’m screwing up her sleep habits for the rest of time.
I mean, I clearly won’t be still doing this when she’s 16, so, at some point, things will have to change.
The problem is that, as a parent, when something works, there is never a good time to upset the apple cart. I can’t imagine, after a long day, diverting from my 20 minute ‘works everytime’ routine, to one that is likely to mean an evening of crying and upset.
I know I’m not the only parent out there to have gotten into bad habits.
This week, in recognition of Sleep Awareness Week, Dr Robert Oexman - Director of the Sleep to Live Institute in America - issued a list of four tips to help parents everywhere get their children on track to better sleeping. And there’s a few in here I think we adults could learn from too.
1. Eliminate electronics: research has linked electronics use with sleep disturbance, and has also found an association between sleep deficiency, lower attainment and obesity - all good enough reasons to ban smartphones, tablets, laptops and televisions in the hour before bed and read a book or talk instead.
2. Establish routine: It’s okay if your child has one night during the week that they need to be up later due to sports or school activities, as long as the bedtime routine is secure the rest of the time.
3. Unwind: a wind-down routine is crucial for a good night’s sleep, which is a good reason not to skip that warm bath before bedtime.
4. Environment counts: the bedroom should be designed for sleep. A white noise machine, a low blue light (for those that don’t like the dark) and cool temperatures will all help your child sleep soundly.
“Above all, remember that our need for sleep has not changed even if our desire for a less routine schedule has,” said Dr Oexman.
“It is up to us, as parents, to instill good routine and sleep habits that will last our children a lifetime.”
Hmmm...I’ll start next week. Promise.