Having your little ones fall asleep on a hot summer night can be hard. Here are some tips to help make it easier, as well as to keep their room cooler, so that they can get a good night’s sleep.
While in the summer we are often outside a lot, it is helpful for little ones to stick to a familiar routine, such as still having their naps during the day or at least a rest. This will also help them to have a break from the heat and the sunlight. Ensure healthy sleep habits are already in place, and if your little one is dependent on a caregiver for falling asleep, this might be more challenging when they are uncomfortable due to the warm weather.
Ensure little ones are taking in enough fluids during the day. Infants and toddlers are not always able to let you know when they are thirsty, so ensure you offer lots of opportunities to hydrate during the day. Water, breastmilk and water-dense foods (i.e. watermelon, oranges, cucumbers, etc.) should be provided frequently throughout the day. Preschoolers and children should also be reminded to drink as they may become too busy with their play to remember to drink water when they feel thirsty.
Keep your child’s room out of the direct sunlight during the day by keeping curtains or blinds drawn, but with the windows open to allow for air circulation.
Use a fan or a portable air conditioning unit. Both will allow for white noise as well, and that will help to limit any noises that may awaken your infant or child up early from a nap. Ensure cords are positioned well away from the sleep space or crib. Ensure the fan or AC unit is not pointing directly at your little one, as that will make it hard for them to settle to sleep. For a do-it-yourself AC unit, you can position a shallow pan or bowl (a roasting pan works nicely) full of ice in front of a fan. The breeze will pick up cold water from the ice surface as it melts, creating a cooling mist.
Give little ones a cool bath before bed as this will help to cool down their body temperature. You can also try putting their stuffed animal (or bed sheets/coverings) in the freezer for a few minutes before bed to cool down the sleep space. For preschoolers and children, you can try filling a hot water bottle with cold water to create a bed-friendly ice pack. Also, rice and buckwheat can keep you cool on hot nights and for a cold compress on really hot nights, fill a sock with rice, tie it off, and stick it in the freezer for an hour or so. The compress will stay chilly for up to 30 minutes, definitely enough time for your preschooler or child to nod off comfortably.
Use a thermometer in the bedroom so that you are able to check the temperature of the room. Your little one will sleep most comfortably between 16-20 degrees Celsius; however, up to 23 degrees Celsius is still a comfortable temperature for sleep.
Reduce the amount of clothing your little one is wearing while sleeping. A diaper and a sleep sack (0.5 tog rating) are fine to use when it is a really hot night. Ensure they are dressed in breathable cotton pyjamas or a onesie, as well as ensure the fitted sheet in the crib is also cotton. For your toddler or preschooler, try to limit the number of stuffed animals in their sleep space as this will allow for more airflow close to your little one while they are sleeping.
Watch out for dehydration. As mentioned above, make sure your little ones are drinking plenty of fluids during the day, and they may even need some water during the night. If your little one is irritable at night, it might not just be because of the heat, it might also be related to dehydration.
Your child’s sensory profile is a unique description of how your child processes the sensory information from his/her environment. Five sensory areas that OTs often evaluates include the following:
- Vestibular/balance& movement
- Oral/sensations of taste, texture and temperature in the mouth
How is this information used?
Occupational Therapists often use this information to understand how the child is interpreting the world around them. Sometimes, if the child is under- or over-responding to information from these areas, it can impact their ability to engage in daily occupations, such as sleeping.
By understanding both the patterns of response (either over-responding or under-responding) and the sensory areas that are affected, we can help parents design activities and modify environments to help their child cope better with the world around them and more successfully engage in their daily tasks.
A story to illustrate one part of a sensory profile:
(Name and context are fictitious and only used to illustrate these points – they are not related to an actual client/child.)
Dylan is a bright and alert 8 month old boy. He loves being out and about, and looking at the world around him during his daily stroller walks. He rarely falls asleep in the stroller. He loves looking at faces and his big brother dancing around him. If the TV is on in the house, he is drawn to the fast-paced images on the screen. He sometimes gets fussy in a busy environment where there is a lot going on. His OT assessment indicated that he over-responds in the area of visual processing. Dylan’s OT talked to his parents about how his busy visual environment can alert his nervous system and make him feel irritable. It was recommended that his environments be dampened later in the day to help him wind down and that stroller walks be taken after he has woken up rather than used as a strategy to calm him prior to sleep time. The OT was also able to recommend specific calming strategies and some environmental modifications to his sleep zone to help him calm down rather than ramp up due to visual stimulation.
What does this mean?
We know that parents know their children best. That’s for certain. Applying this knowledge to their daily routines and adapting activities and modifying environments can help your child to cope better during the day and be more able to successfully engage in their daily play and self care (sleeping/eating) tasks.
Do you need more ideas or recommendations to help your child?
An Occupational Therapist can help. Contact us to discuss your child’s sensory profile and how it may be affecting their ability to cope with the day to day activities in their life including playing, eating, and sleeping.
Naptime and bedtime can be a challenging time for parents with more than one child. Once you have two or more children, getting through the pre-sleep routine can feel like a marathon. And then when one partner is not able to be there, you can find yourself struggling to figure out what to do with your older child while you are settling your little one.
One strategy that can make managing naptime and bedtime alone run more smoothly is a ‘busy box’. The ‘busy box’ is a box that contains novel quiet activities that only come out before naps and bedtime. This is helpful to occupy an older child when a parent is settling a younger child or infant to sleep. The key is that these activities are special for use only during pre-sleep times/quiet times. They can be much loved activities or new ones.
Busy Box Ideas:
- Puzzles (ensuring that they are the just-right challenge and will not cause frustration)
- A basket of play silks/scarves
- Lacing games/beads
- Open ended activities such as: Duplo, bristle blocks, magna tiles
- Magnet letters, shapes, pictures
- Pom pom activities: sorting colours with tongs and placing into a container
- Special selection of books: lift-the-flap books, simple look and find books, sticker books, Melissa and Doug’s On-The-Go Water Wow books
- Listening to special music or an audio book: the library often has a good selection of loved children’s books with the accompanying audio recording
It is important to keep the activities fresh and interesting as well as limiting them only to before naps and bedtime. Additionally, although the purpose of the ‘busy box’ is to keep an older child entertained, ensure that they are still being supervised, as little hands can quickly get into trouble.
You can find more ‘busy box’ ideas on the Sleepdreams Professional Sleep Consultant pinterest account: Busy Boxes for when you are putting your youngest to sleep
Daytime Awake Periods for Infants and Toddlers
It’s an incredible thing when you think about it... A newborn baby is only able to take in about 45 minutes of the world at a time, and only a short 12 months later, they have developed enough to manage to stay awake and process all that is going on around them for about 3 hours at a time. So much is happening in those first months!
All babies have an age appropriate awake time during the day. This is the time that they are able to cope with the world around them, interact socially, and learn through play and observation. There comes a point, though, where they need to reset, rest, and have a break from the world around them. As a baby reaches the end of their awake time, they will become drowsy and signal that they are ready for sleep.
Babies have different tired cues at different ages:
-Very young babies may start to look away and no longer engage in eye contact, start to suck on fists, or to arch their body away. They may also show some physiological/autonomic signs like sneezing, yawning, and hiccupping.
-Toddlers may show increased clinginess, irritability, refusal to cooperate, biting, or pushing.
At any age, it’s apparent that the child’s ability to cope with the demands of the world around them is decreased and they need a break. Getting your child to sleep before they cross into their over tired zone is important and will help them to get off to sleep easily.
Table of ages and awake times to help guide you in putting your child down for naps before they become overtired and have difficulty settling
Amount of time awake between waking and next sleep
45 – 80 minutes
90 – 150 minutes
2 – 3 hours
3.25 – 4.5 hours
4.5 – 5 hours
5 – 7 hours
We all have sleep associations, those parts of our routine in the evening that signal our body that it’s time for sleep. Whether a bath, a hot drink, or tucking your duvet around you in just the right way, there is typically some sort of ritual that you use to prime you for sleep.
What about our children? For babies, sleep associations are specific sensory experiences that they use to fall asleep and stay asleep. There are two types, those that help prime us for sleep and calm us before sleep such as a warm bath, and those that actually help us fall asleep, like a sleep position. The calming associations for your baby are what you do in their bedtime routine. The association that actually gets your baby to fall asleep is a sleep soother.
A Lovey is a sleep soother. As babies reach the 4 month mark, it’s a good thing for them to have sleep soothers they can use independently so they can fall asleep and re-settle to sleep without your help.
A Lovey is a small stuffed toy that your little one can use for comfort when falling asleep, and for resettling to sleep at night. Your baby’s Lovey is the best sleep soother they can have, and one that most little ones take to quite easily.
Younger babies (newborn to about 3 months of age) don’t need Loveys as you’ll be the one soothing them when they need to get to or return to sleep. You can start to introduce your baby to a Lovey at 4 months of age, but do not put it in the crib with them until they are consistently rolling both ways. Also, try to keep your Lovey baby-safe and smaller than your child’s head.
If your child is heading into the 12-18 month range, it’s not too late to introduce a Lovey. In fact, at this stage it will be quite useful, and they will take to it well.
How to select and introduce a Lovey:
- Choose a Lovey that is small enough to take with you in your diaper bag and that is not a risk for suffocation.
- Keep your eye on a replacement, or buy two and stash one safely away.
- Have mom sleep with the Lovey tucked in her pyjama top for a couple of nights before introducing it to baby.
- Introduce it by giving it to your child every time they fuss whether it be from pain, irritation, or tiredness.
- Give your child a hug, comfort them, and tuck the Lovey into their body, offering a cuddle with the Lovey cuddled in between you and your child