When it comes to sleep (and I mean for people in general here, adults too!) having a sleep routine helps with our quality and length of sleep. Falling asleep at similar times each day helps our bodies to learn when it’s time to sleep, meaning that our hormones are set for sleep at those times and falling asleep and staying asleep becomes easier. It’s difficult for us to get to sleep if we’re always going to bed at different times with no set pattern, our body doesn’t know when sleep is coming or how long we will sleep for. You may have noticed that if you have a late night, even though you may sleep later in the morning and get a similar amount of sleep to what you might normally have, you still feel tired and out of sorts the next day. This is because your quality of sleep wasn’t as good, you didn’t get as much deep sleep as you needed. And this is true for our kids too, if they are always having random naps, different times and lengths, maybe different evening bedtimes too, their bodies never get into a good pattern of sleep, and the sleep they do get isn’t as restorative. Our sleep is regulated by two systems, the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic sleep drive. These systems are what tells our bodies that it’s time to sleep, and when it’s time to wake up, and they work best on regular, predictable routines.
A routine doesn’t have to be as boring and all-consuming as it sounds, however. A great routine should be portable, and our kids are as flexible as we teach them to be. If we help our babies learn to sleep in different places, they will be able to do that. If you are a parent who likes to be out and about with your baby then you can still do that and your child can still get the sleep they need, it just takes a little forethought. There is nothing wrong with taking baby for a walk for their first nap of the day, they can sleep in the pushchair or front pack and you can get some fresh air and exercise, or catch up with a friend. Teach baby to sleep in a portacot by setting it up at home and having some naps in there, make it familiar and then you don’t have to worry when you decide to go away somewhere, you know baby can sleep well while you’re away. Naps in the car, pushchair, front pack etc, they are all fine sometimes. As long as baby gets to take their main nap of the day in their bed (or portacot if you’re away or visiting a friend) most of the time, their sleep won’t suffer. Getting baby used to all these things early on will mean they grow to be adaptable sleepers, staying over at friends’ and relatives’ houses and going away on holidays will be less stressful because you know your child isn’t going to be grumpy through lack of sleep. And best of all, sleepovers at Nana’s place can happen and you can have an occasional night to yourselves!
My advice is to try and have the longest nap of the day, the lunchtime nap, at home in baby’s bed or portacot as often as you can. This is the most important nap, where they get the biggest, most restorative chunk of sleep, and it’s this nap that is mostly responsible for them getting to their evening bedtime without being an overtired, hysterical mess. So, we want to protect this nap as much as we can. But if we happen to be on our way home from somewhere and baby takes this nap in the car occasionally, it’s not the end of the world. And often babies who are in great sleep routines are easy to transfer from the car or pushchair to their bed, so give this a go! Get the room set up before you leave the house if you know you’ll be arriving mid-nap, curtains shut, white noise on etc, then when you get home you can transfer baby without too much fussing and they can just drift off to sleep again.
Download a white noise app onto your phone or buy a Baby Shusher, these will help baby to sleep well when you’re out and about and are easily set up in the pushchair when it’s time for a nap. Shade covers for pushchairs and buggies help to make things darker for baby and help them to sleep better. Take any sleeping bags, comfort items or dummies etc with you, if baby needs it to sleep at home, it comes along for naps away from home too. Plan your day so that you know you can be driving when baby is supposed to nap, even if it means you arrive a little early to where you’re going. Keep to your usual routine as much as you can but accept that things are always going to be a little different when you’re away from home! If it goes badly and naps go to hell don’t stress, you can always try again next time, we can’t force baby to sleep but we can take steps to give them the best opportunity for sleep!