Seven Trauma-Informed Sleep Tips

By Nedra Cox

When my husband and I met our first foster child, we were instantly in love. We would have sacrificed anything, including sleep, for this beautiful three-month-old baby boy.  You know the feeling.

About four months after coming to live with our, this little angel was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. More than two years - and countless procedures and treatments later – we have adopted our son and he is a healthy little boy. However, because of his past traumatic experiences, my husband and I were afraid to do any type of sleep training.  

I am sure you can all relate and understand that our foster care kiddos may not be candidates for traditional sleep training. The dilemma is that they still need sleep for proper development, and they still need to be taught calming methods and ways to self-regulate.  My husband and I tried everything, but it wasn’t until a sleepless night up with my son that I finally found something I felt might work – Sleep Sense.  After a couple of weeks, our son was sleeping through the night AND so were my husband and I. I loved this program so much I got certified as a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and now I help other families find the rest they need.

Safe sleep practices are different for each child, depending on their age and other developmental factors. I have found with our foster babies that I can customize what I know to their specific needs. Try these sleep tips if you’re caring for a young child in foster care.

  1. Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own without external props, such as rocking.
  2. Be consistent. Whatever is happening at one sleep situation needs to be happening at all sleep situations to send a clear message about what is expected.
  3. Early Bedtime
    • An early bedtime is wonderful for everyone in the family. The child goes to bed before becoming overtired and miserable, and parents get to enjoy an evening to themselves.
    • When a child is overtired, it becomes more difficult to settle down and fall asleep. When sleep does come, it is oftentimes more restless sleep.
    • Pick a general bedtime somewhere between 6-8 pm based on the last nap time and the baby’s age.
    • Bedtimes do not have to be set in stone. You can always move bedtimes up if your child seems too tired and cranky. Just try to not make it later.
  4. Routines
    • Start a bedtime routine at an early age. It’s an excellent cue to settle down and get ready for sleep.
    • Routine should be 20-30 minutes long.
    • Part of the routine should be in child’s room to cue bedtime.
    • Both parents should be able to do the bedtime routine and put the child to bed.
  5. Naptime routine. This should be a shortened version of your bedtime routine.
  6. Take naps. Skipping naps and late bedtimes affect the next 24 hour cycle, so don’t let anyone tell you that naps are not important or that skipping will help with nighttime sleep.
  7. If you are feeding your infant in the night, try not to let them fall asleep on the breast or bottle. Keep feedings low-key and quiet.

For more information about safe sleep practices, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

Nedra Cox is a foster and adoptive mom who lives in Arvada, Colorado. Learn more about her family here. Her website,, offers more tips, resources and information about her consulting business. Significant discounts are available for foster parents.

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