This help centre article was written for childminders preparing for registration with the Koru Kids' Home Nursery service
The importance of sleep
Children of all ages need to get enough sleep so that they can play, learn and concentrate during their awake hours.
Sleep restores! It enables their busy little bodies to rest and recover and therefore supports their health, physical development and immune system.
Sleep helps children to grow: children’s bodies produce a growth hormone when they’re asleep. Children often need more sleep at times of rapid growth.
It also enables their busy little brains to recharge. A well-rested brain can solve problems, learn new information and enjoy the day a lot more than a tired brain.
What happens if children don’t get enough sleep?
They become irritable, grumpy and display unhappy behaviour! So it’s in everyone’s interest to get them enough sleep.
If children consistently don’t get enough sleep, it can impact upon their ability to learn and develop.
Over time, it can contribute to anxiety and depression, and longer term issues with development.
How much sleep do babies and toddler need?
During sleep, we all go through cycles of deep and light sleep
Light sleep -> Deep sleep -> Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM)
Adults: around 90 minutes
Children: 20 – 50 minutes
It might be possible to identify a child’s usual cycle and work with them during naps.
Babies and toddlers who don’t sleep enough and who stay awake for longer than they can handle end up having a stress response — an increase in adrenaline and cortisol — making it trickier for them to wind down for either their nap or bedtime.
It can also cause little ones to wake in the night or very early in the morning!
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – sometimes known as "cot death" – is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby.
In the UK, more than 200 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly every year.
Most deaths happen during the first 6 months of a baby's life.
Infants born prematurely or with a low birthweight are at greater risk. SIDS also tends to be slightly more common in baby boys.
SIDS usually occurs when a baby is asleep, although it can occasionally happen while they're awake.
What causes SIDS?
The exact cause of SIDS is unknown.
For many babies it is likely that a combination of factors affect them at a vulnerable stage of their development, which leads them to die suddenly and unexpectedly.
In some cases, environmental stresses are thought to be a factor: these include tobacco smoke, getting tangled in bedding, a minor illness or a breathing obstruction.
There's also an association between co-sleeping (sleeping with your baby on a bed, sofa or chair) and SIDS.
Babies who die of SIDS are thought to have problems in the way they respond to these stresses and how they regulate their heart rate, breathing and temperature.
Some sudden and unexpected deaths can be explained by the post-mortem examination, revealing, for example, an unforeseen infection or metabolic disorder.
Safe sleep guidelines
As professionals working with children and families, it is essential that you are clear about safe practices.
You must know the difference between a safe and unsafe sleeping environment
It is also vital that we share our knowledge with parents to ensure that they also have the right information.
Babies should always sleep on their backs
Sleeping a baby on their back (known as the supine position) for every sleep is one of the most protective actions you can take to ensure the baby is sleeping as safely as possible.
There is substantial evidence from all around the world to show that sleeping a baby on their back at the beginning of every sleep period significantly reduces the risk of SIDS.
It is therefore important that babies are put on their backs on a flat, firm mattress consistently as part of their regular sleep routine.
Babies should sleep on a firm, flat mattress
The mattress should have a waterproof layer which can be wiped down and kept clean
Mattress should be in good condition with no tear, holes or sagging
Baby’s sleep space should be kept plain and simple, with no heavy bedding, toys or cot bumpers.
The baby’s head is always kept uncovered by clothing, bedding or headwear.
Baby’s heads should be uncovered whilst indoors to ensure that they are able to keep the right body temperature.
Place the baby’s feet at the end of the cot to sleep to ensure they can’t wriggle down under the bedding
Ensure all bedding is tucked in and no higher than shoulder height, or use a baby sleeping bag. Ensure the bag fits the baby snuggly around the shoulders so that they cannot move down inside it.
Babies should stay in a cot as long as possible - but will need to move out of a cot once they are no longer safe
Once they are trying to climb out / big enough to rock the cot, it’s time to move on.
This should be discussed and agreed with parents, and a plan for their new sleep space made.
Consider using a mattress on the floor (IKEA do a fold up one or this is a good example) or camp beds, or if you’re lucky, you might have a spare room with a toddler bed / single bed!
Same “safer sleep” rules apply to a travel cot.
This should have a rigid frame and base, and a firm, flat mattress, covered in a waterproof material.
Don’t be tempted to make a travel cot mattress firmer or softer by using blankets or a quilt under the baby
Consider the position of a travel cot within the environment to ensure that it isn’t against a radiator or in direct sunlight and out of reach of blind cords and hazards.
Regular use of a dummy has been found in several studies to be associated with a lower risk of SIDS
It isn’t clear how using a dummy confers protection or whether it is a maker for something else such as a change in the infant care routine
Studies have found that if a baby usually uses a dummy, they are more protected during sleep when they are given their dummy as opposed to when not.
If a baby uses a dummy as part of their general routine, it should be given for every sleep period.
You shouldn’t offer a child a dummy without checking with the parents first.
The chance of SIDS is higher when babies are too warm.
A room temperature of 16-20°C – with light bedding or a lightweight, well-fitting baby sleep bag– is comfortable and safe for sleeping babies.
Make sure you keep babies safe during hotter, summer months e.g. babies’ prams and buggies should not be covered with blankets, cloths or any cover that prevents the air circulating.
Covering a pram or buggy with a blanket could lead to overheating, which increases the chance of SIDS. Make sure you keep babies hydrated.
Keep your home and car smoke free. Smoking greatly increases the risk of SIDS.
It is also against Ofsted regulations for anyone to smoke on your childminding premises (this includes your garden).
For more information, guidelines and handouts, visit www.lullabytrust.org.uk/
Dark & quiet
Young children need their naps to be high quality and you will be expected to discuss how you have made that possible in your home.
Sleeping at home in a dark quiet space will ensure they get a high quality nap every day.
Sleeping in buggies should only be on exception (e.g. on the day of a full day outing).
Children should be in a cot as long as possible.
Babies should stay in a cot as long as possible - but will need to move out of a cot once they are no longer safe!
Once they are trying to climb out / big enough to rock the cot, it’s time to move on. This should be discussed and agreed with parents, and a plan for their new sleep space made.
Consider using a mattress on the floor (IKEA do a fold up one or this is a good example) or camp beds.
If you’re lucky, you might have a spare room with a toddler bed / single bed.
Cots or mats should be placed in the darkest, quietest space possible having considered safety (e.g. temperature).
Placing cots in bedrooms is ideal.
If you are able to place children in separate rooms this will preserve each child’s sleep as long as possible but is not always doable.
Children will learn to settle in the same space.
Install black out blinds, heavy curtains or use a gro blind - or all of the above!
Making the space very dark is an excellent sleep cue to children in the middle of the day and will reap rewards in how long they sleep for.
Use a night light or soft sounds or lullabies to add more sleep cues.
Children must be in sight or hearing of the childminder at all times. Therefore if in a bedroom then a monitor needs to be in place and the child frequently checked
Be clear about the child’s routine, comforters and parents preferences.
However, set expectations correctly with parents. Our settings follow a particular rhythm with all children gently encouraged to move towards the routine of one long post lunchtime nap. When they are younger they may need a short snooze at other times as well.
You should try to be flexible and put the needs of the child first
Maintain frequent discussions with the parents about sleep – particularly between newborns and 2 years
In the run up to nap time, do some gentle, calming activities e.g. reading, yoga, calm down jars
Have a short, set routine that gives the child / children cues that it is nap time e.g. finish lunch, sleepy song, snuggly story, milk, bed.
Consider where you put little ones down and where possible, put them to sleep in the same place every time.
Ensure that they can sleep in a dark, cosy environment if possible
Children should take their main sleep back at home, not in the pram. Children may need to nap in the pram when out from time to time (especially, if they are young and you are still nudging them to follow the lunchtime nap routine). You should work towards all your children taking a post-lunch nap where possible.
On the occasional full day adventures when you venture further from home, children will nap in the buggy. But this is the exception not the norm.
Be organised – get the sleep environment/comforters ready in advance