Baby & Child Sleep During Lockdown – Q&A

I thought I would run a little Q&A answering some of the most common sleep questions that have been posed to me over the last couple of weeks while the world is in lockdown, due to Covid-19.


Q: My baby will only nap if we are out walking
A: I think the answer to this depends on how old your baby is and how many times per day they need to nap. If you have an older baby who only naps once a day, then I would combine naptime with your one daily exercise (providing you live in a country that allows this). Getting out once a day is so important if you can, the exercise and break from your home can really help you and if it helps your baby to nap then it’s really not something I would be aiming to stop! If you have a younger baby and they need to nap more than once per day, then obviously you are not going to be able to go outside 2 or 3 times per day. Here, I would focus on moving as much as possible in your home. If you usually use a sling/carrier, put it on and walk, or preferably dance around your home to your baby’s favourite music (I always found something with a strong beat – particularly rock music – helped my babies the most!). If you usually use a buggy/stroller/pram for naps, then I would put your baby in it as usual and walk around your home as much as possible. Try to find an area that is a little bumpy to wheel over (as it’s usually the jiggling motion that helps). If you don’t have anything (ie door thresholds) you could make a little series of bumps to go over with rolled up towels, broom or mop handles laid out horizontally. I am usually not one for recommending baby gadgets and I wouldn’t usually recommend this, but THIS gadget that fits on to any pram/buggy and simulates a rocking motion can really help in the current situation. Whatever you end up doing, do make sure you’re not trying to get your baby to take too many naps, or nap before they are ready. It will be much easier to get them to nap if they are tired and ready to sleep. I really do not recommend the current trend of aiming for maximum awake times between sleeps, there is no evidence to support this and I find it makes parents unnecessarily worried about their baby’s sleep and a tendency to try to get them to take more naps than they really need..

Q: My baby will only go to sleep for me again, we had worked hard for dad to do bedtime and this feels like such a step back – help?
A: Don’t see this as a step back, but rather a little fork in your journey. These are uncertain times and our children will pick up on this. At times of high anxiety and uncertainty it’s only natural that our children will be a little clingier and need their primary attachment figure in order to help them to feel safe and relaxed enough to sleep. I know a lot of mums who tell me they have worked hard to get their partners involved in bedtime, so they are not so mum centric, and they are scared to take over again, but please don’t be scared. Focus on getting through each day, in the moment, as easily as possible for you all. That most likely means mum centric bedtimes again for a while. Get through the lockdown and then work on getting your partner involved in bedtime again, this really isn’t the time to be trying to promote more separation at the moment.

Q: My toddler will only go to sleep at night if we are driving in the car, obviously now we can’t do this, what should we do instead?
A: Sadly this is not considered essential travel. I know for many of you it feels essential, because bedtime is such a nightmare otherwise, but the advice is clear that we should stay home unless it is essential to get groceries (as infrequently as possible), one daily exercise, medical and essential work reasons. Roads need to be kept as clear as possible in order to try to prevent any accidents that could place more stress on our emergency and medical services. So – what do you do? Here, it’s SO important to make sure that bedtime is at the ‘right’ time. What do I mean by this? I would say that 90% of people with this issue are trying to get their toddler to sleep too early. I would not try to get them to sleep before 8pm. Next, a good bedtime routine is vital. If we’re aiming for sleep onset at 8pm, we need to work back two hours to create a really sleep inducing bedtime routine. I recommend the following:

6pm – All screens off! (even if the toddler is not looking at them!), no artificial lights on in the same room as the child unless they are red (see HERE for more). One hour of active play (remember no screens!) – imagine you’re exercising a puppy before being crated at night – see more HERE.
7pm – offer a bedtime snack (I favour toast with nut butter, or porridge/oatmeal with diced banana)
7:20pm – warm bath – NO bath toys! (keep it boring, this is bedtime, you don’t want to stimulate!) and don’t use the bathroom light – it’s terrible for sleep!
7:30pm – Straight through to the bedroom they sleep in (don’t go anywhere else!), into PJs, no toys and remember no lights aside from red. Make sure the curtains/blinds are closed when you enter, consider using an aromatherapy diffuser and some alpha music (see tips HERE)
7:40pm – Read one book (the same each night and no lift the flap/noisy books, they’re too stimulating!). Milk and cuddles until they are asleep around 8pm (or at least that’s the goal).

At this point if they aren’t sleepy (it’s OK for them to cry a little  – or a lot – by the way, don’t be scared of tears, so long as you are providing comfort see HERE for more), then I would consider walking around your home with a buggy/stroller/pram or carrier and you could even utilise videos of road noise for an authentic sound! See HERE for just one example!

Q: I really need my toddler to nap now we’re all at home together, but it’s so hard!
A:  I hear you! Sadly, if your toddler doesn’t need to nap then this is going to be a nightmare. I understand completely the need to have a break when you’re all stuck inside together 24/7, however trying to force a nap that a toddler doesn’t need is a recipe for disaster. I also understand that when toddlers are in the process of dropping a nap that things get much harder initially. They don’t want to nap, yet their behaviour indicates they NEED to nap. It’s common for them to misbehave, tantrum and generally be hideously overtired. This doesn’t mean that dropping the nap is the wrong thing to do, it just means it takes time for their body clock to reset. A nap drop takes at least a month for them to get used to – in that month it’s common for behaviour and sleep to get worse. Don’t be duped into thinking it means the nap needs to stay. Instead of trying to force a nap, I’d recommend trying to have some calm time each day instead. Maybe watching a movie together snuggled with a blanket on the sofa, listening to a children’s meditation together or similar. More HERE on nap drops.

Q: My preschooler’s sleep is a nightmare since the lockdown started – help!
A: Can you remember a time when you were feeling anxious and unsettled and your sleep really suffered? Perhaps you found it hard to get to sleep, or you kept waking in the night? It is common and normal for sleep (and any other behaviour) to regress during times of stress. Your child may not fully understand what is happening, but they understand something is happening! I know most parents are tempted to try to work out what is wrong and ‘fix’ their child’s wakings, or need to bedshare again, however – really the best answer is to roll with it and provide the comfort they need during these uncertain times. Their sleep won’t be like this forever, it will get better when the current craziness is all over, please don’t be worried about creating bad habits during these uncertain times.

Q: Should I keep the same bedtime for my child now they are not at school?
A: Oh, this is a tricky one! Children thrive on routines and one of the keys for good sleep is regular wake and bedtimes. So, as a ‘sleep consultant’ (I hate that terminology!) I would say “yes – keep the same bedtime, waketime and bedtime routine”. As a mum however, I’d be tempted to say “just do whatever you need to do to all survive and get through this!”. You can get back on track with timings once schools start again (I personally don’t think that will happen until September), I’d recommend getting back to normal around a month before school starts, so August time. Until then, just roll with it. If you wanted to keep something familiar, I’d recommend sticking with your regular bedtime routine, but being flexible with timings. Remember routines are what you do, not when you do them! See HERE for more.


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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