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The importance of a sleep diary

The importance of a sleep diary

No mum can confidently say her baby is a dream to put down at night. For first-time parents it’s the culture shock of all culture shocks, with many of us left exhausted and wondering: ‘why does my baby sleep during the day but keep us up most of the night?’

“Babies are born with an immature body rhythm and as such they don't know day from night,” says The Gentle Sleep Solution’s Chireal Shallow. “They also need to feed every two to three hours and are designed to wake frequently for this reason. Many parents worry their baby isn't getting enough sleep, however, this is usually due to the fact they may simply not be sleeping well at night. Babies often catch-up on shut-eye in the day, with newborns sleeping anywhere between 16 and 18 hours per day.”

Many parents worry their baby isn't getting enough sleep, however, this is usually due to the fact they may simply not be sleeping well at night

While it’s great news you shouldn’t stress too much over your little one waking at night, it’s still wise to monitor your baby’s napping and bedtime patterns by jotting it down in their very own ‘sleep diary’. Helping you to get them in to a good routine, we asked the very best in the way of sleep experts for their essential advice…

What is a sleep diary?

“A sleep diary involves parents keeping a log or journal of when their baby sleeps and wakes,” explains author and baby sleep specialist Alison Scott-Wright. “It can be as simple or as complicated as you wish, with entries consisting of simple sleep and wake times or including more detailed data, such as how long the baby took to go to sleep and what environment this was in.”

Why do I need one?

“The aim of a diary is to see how well you are all doing and to make changes where needed,” continues Chireal. “This is a great motivational tool as it helps identify patterns when sleep is more easily achieved, giving you an insight in to situations where your little one refuses to go down for their nap!”

What’s the best way to compile one?

“Whatever works for you and makes sense is easiest,” says Alison. “You can use loose paper, write it in a special book or diary or even log all the data down in an app. l use good old pen and paper, writing in a lined book with a double page per day – one side for daytime naps, the other for night time sleep.

How long should I record things for?

“Keep a diary for at least four weeks so you can compare the start, middle and end,” advises Chireal. “Ideally your baby should be looking at a total sleep amount of 18 hours for a newborn, reducing to around 12-14 hours for a baby aged three to nine months.”

Are there any diary dos and don’ts?

“Don’t let your diary rule you – it’s just a useful log that can be stopped at any time,” says Alison. “Some mothers, especially those suffering with degrees of postnatal depression, can find the diary becomes a main focus, meaning it's all too easy to obsess over and become panicked when missing an entry. Stop once your baby is sleeping through the night – or use as a temporary tool through the short-term sleep training for babies aged four months plus.”

When should I be concerned?

“It’s doubtful you’ll encounter any real problems with your baby’s sleeping routine,” says Chireal. “However, if your baby consistently struggles to go to sleep at naps and overnight, takes longer than 30 minutes to settle, wakes frequently – within a 40 minute sleep cycle – or will only sleep when being fed, rocked or held, then book a visit to see your health visitor to address your concerns.”

Five top tips for a good night's sleep

Five top tips for a better night’s sleep

Help your weaning baby achieve the very best overnight slumber with this invaluable advice from sleep coach Niamh O’Reilly…

  1. Always aim to get your child down in their cot when they are still awake, winding them properly to avoid false starts! They don’t have to be wide-awake – just awake enough to know where they are going.
  2. Ensure teatime and any last bottles or feeds are good ones. Tea doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy – just plentiful.
  3. Don’t fret if your baby grizzles in their cot, as these noises are simply the sounds they make before falling asleep. They are actually trying to block out other noises in order to soothe themselves.
  4. Check the temperature of the room at night. If it’s a little cold, it's better than it being a little hot. You can always add layers and extra vests. An ideal room temperature is within a range of 16-20°C.
  5. Have a regular bedtime routine, allowing up to an hour for winding-down. Put away the toys and spend time bathing and reading relaxing stories. Just don’t get too caught up in making this over-complicated. If baths are a pain to do daily, skip them. And bedtime, whether with one child or many, should be manageable by one person.
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