18th May 2024 All Posts

Creating a Safe Sleep Environment in Early Years Settings

Sleep is a fundamental necessity that promotes children’s growth and brain development alongside nutrition, physical activity, and secure attachments. As early years educators, we have a crucial role in teaching children and parents about healthy sleep routines. Quality sleep is essential as it not only enables children to learn, concentrate, grow, and develop, but also be healthier and happier.

Children who lack sufficient sleep may suffer from behavioural issues, attention difficulties, and problems with learning, memory, and/or problem-solving. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased health problems, such as lower immunity to illness and a higher risk of obesity. It negatively impacts growth and development, affecting the child’s ability to grow and reach learning and development milestones.

Being knowledgeable about safe sleep practices is vital in helping busy families lay the foundation for lifelong healthy sleep habits. The recent tragedy at a Stockport nursery highlighted the importance of understanding and implementing safe sleep methods to ensure children’s safety. By prioritising safe sleep environments, we can protect and nurture the wellbeing of the children in our care. Every child’s needs are different so it’s important to provide flexibility and opportunities for children to take naps and rest as they need.

EYFS guidance on safe sleeping

Paragraph 3.69 in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) states that “Sleeping children must be frequently checked to ensure that they are safe. Being safe includes ensuring that cots and bedding are in good condition and suited to the age of the child, and that babies are placed down to sleep safely in line with the latest government safety guidance: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – NHS (www.nhs.uk).

Government safety guidance on safe sleeping

The EYFS recommends that all early years professionals stay informed about the latest government sleep safety guidelines. The article advises, that to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), always place babies on their backs to sleep. Position babies in the “feet to foot” arrangement— with their feet touching the end of the cot, moses basket, or pram. Use a mattress that is firm, flat, waterproof, and in good condition. It is also important to keep babies’ heads uncovered and to tuck their blankets in no higher than their shoulders.

Frequent checks throughout sleep/nap time

Ensuring the safety of sleeping children requires careful planning of how sleep checks will be conducted. Consider whether children sleep in the same room as those who are awake or in a separate sleep area. If they are in a separate area, determine how you will check on them. Will you perform checks in person, and if so, will these be quick visual checks or more thorough observations, such as observing the rise and fall of their chest? 

Naps are an essential part of a baby or child’s sleep needs, and it is important to document them while they are in your care. This documentation helps staff and families identify any changes in sleep patterns. For instance, if a child is sleeping more than usual, it could be an early sign of illness and should be communicated to the family.

Using nursery management software can effectively track and record all sleep-related activities. Written records should be kept of all sleep support provided. It is suggested that sleeping children should be monitored by staff every 10 minutes. Staff should record the time a child is put down to sleep, when they wake, and the 10-minute monitoring checks. This information should be accessible to parents or carers at all times and periodically reviewed by Nursery Managers or Deputy Managers. Having this information accessible through an online system enables practitioners to easily input data, allows parents to access and review the information, and facilitates reviews by senior leaders as necessary.

Tips on providing a safe sleeping environment

Monitor room temperatures: display thermometers in each classroom to monitor room temperatures and ensure they are conducive to safe sleep.

Use clean bedding: use clean, lightweight bedding and blankets for babies, ensuring they are appropriately dressed for sleep to prevent overheating.

Safety-approved sleeping equipment: only use safety-approved cots or other suitable sleeping equipment, such as pods or mats, that comply with British Standard regulations. Use mattress covers along with clean fitted sheets for added hygiene.

Avoid cot bumpers and clutter: refrain from using cot bumpers or cluttering cots with soft toys, as these can pose suffocation hazards. However, comforters may be provided as needed for comfort.

Keep surroundings clear: ensure all spaces around cots and beds are free from hanging objects, such as hanging cords or blind cords, to prevent entanglement hazards.

With consideration and planning, all of these measures are easily achievable, providing you with the peace of mind that you are keeping all the children in your care safe, even while they are sleeping.

For further information and guidance on safe sleeping, the NHS website is an invaluable resource. Additionally, the Lullaby Trust website offers valuable advice and resources for both practitioners and parents. With a wide range of downloadable materials available in 25 different languages, the Lullaby Trust website is particularly beneficial for fostering and strengthening essential parent partnerships.

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About the Author

Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare