Do you feel like you can barely make it through your day because you’ve been awake much of the night before with your baby? You’re not alone … we’ve all been there. When our babies don’t sleep well at night, we don’t sleep well at night. And, when we don’t sleep well, we aren’t able to be the best parents and partners that we can be.
Is it really possible to teach our children to be independent sleepers? Absolutely! Here are five ways to help your baby achieve healthy sleep habits.
Put your baby in the crib awake
Is your baby drowsy or almost asleep when you put him to bed? While it may seem that you are giving your baby a head start on his sleep for the night, you are actually making it more difficult for him to stay asleep. Children (and adults) move between sleep cycles throughout the night. If we are skilled at transitioning between sleep cycles, we don’t fully wake up and seamlessly go right back to sleep. We want our babies to be able to do the same. In order to be successful, a little one needs to do the hard work of falling asleep on his own at the start of the night/nap so when he wakes between sleep cycles, he will not be surprised as to where he is, making it easier to go right back to sleep. Putting him in the crib awake (and not drowsy) will give him the needed opportunity to practice and, ultimately, become proficient at falling asleep independently and staying asleep throughout the night, two very important lifelong skills.
Have a consistent nap and bedtime routine
As early as just eight weeks old, a sleep routine can begin to help your baby understand that it’s time to get ready for sleep. A consistent sleep routine creates positive sleep associations that our babies’ brains recognize as specific cues for sleep. When the sleep sack zips up and the sound machine turns on, our babies know that sleep time is approaching! Being familiar with the routine sets expectations and boundaries. Children need this type of structure to feel safe and secure and to know what to expect next.
Keep the room cool and dark
Keep the room cool and as dark as possible. Darkness cues the brain to produce melatonin, a hormone responsible for helping to induce and sustain sleep, so there is no need to keep the closet light on or a light that shines onto the ceiling. If you think a nightlight is necessary, use a very low wattage red bulb and have it plugged in low to the ground and behind a piece of furniture. Consider using blackout shades to keep the sunlight out of the room. If you don’t have blackout shades, tape black trash bags to the windows – a very cost-effective way of making any room dark!
The ideal sleeping temperature for your baby’s room is 68-70 degrees. Dress your little one appropriately so that he is not too cold or too hot, which will make it harder to fall asleep, as well as stay asleep.
Keep your child well rested
It is easy to let bedtime slip later and later because of the many directions we are being pulled in during the late afternoon and early evening. Even so, it is essential to get him to bed for the night before he becomes overtired and to leave enough time for the routine so that you can put him in the crib 10-15 minutes before you want him to be asleep. Don’t forget that an overtired child has more difficulty falling asleep, wakes more often during the night, and wakes earlier in the morning.
Some common sleepy signs are:
- Tugging at ears
- Quiet and calmer
- Arching of back
- Staring off/ disinterested
- Beginning to get fussy
- Sucking becomes slower
- Rubbing of nose
Common signs of overtiredness:
- Rubbing eyes
- Fussy and irritable
- Getting a second wind
Separate feeding and sleeping
It is important to “fill up” newborns before getting them to bed for the night so that they will not wake earlier than necessary from hunger. However, by the time a baby is four months old, it is key to make a time separation between the last feeding of the day and going to sleep for the night. While eating and sleeping are both critical in the life of a baby, by four months old, one should not depend on the other.
Give these five ways to help you achieve healthy sleep habits a try. Better sleep is right around the corner for your family!
Renee Wasserman, PT, MPH, founder of SleepyHead Solutions, is a Family Sleep Institute certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant. She offers many services including phone, email, Skype/FaceTime, and in-person consultations to solve your child’s sleep challenges. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. You can find out more information at www.sleepyheadsolutions.com and www.facebook.com/sleepyheadsolutions.