Part 2 of our Sleepy Heads series!
Sleep is complicated.
LOVE the stats on this page about sleep.... if you have a child who doesn't sleep well, realize you aren't alone! And it can get better!
Birth - age 5: sleep is important!
This link is AMAZING... great stats and info for each week, month, etc. from in utero, birth through 3-5 years old. Wow. Tons of info there!
So I already stated in the last part that I think sleepy babies like routine. Structure. Expectation. Same thing every day as much as possible. This is what has worked for me. I know many people who don't have a routine and their babies sleep, too. I just find that's not the norm.
It's never too late to start a sleep routine. If your child is a year old you can still start one now. It's not too late. If your child is not sleeping well, this is the first thing to try... setting up a set thing you do before sleep.
These are some tips for setting up a routine:
1. Make an environment that encourages sleep - Start with checking the vitals - warm enough? dark enough? drown outside noise away? noisemaker? soothing enough - music, nice blanket or sleep sack? not too busy with toys in the room to distract them? dry diaper? full belly? all systems go? You need the scene set nicely first before you can expect them to sleep.
If your child is older, you may need to be looking for possible "monsters" - shadows on the walls, weird stuffed animal shapes in the corner, etc. that may wake them and be scary to them in the night. For us, we lay down in our son's toddler bed and shut the lights and door, so we saw things from his perspective. We realized he needed more night lights.
2. Set up a routine you can easily follow anywhere. Make your routine short, simple, but comforting, not elaborate or lengthy. You want to be able to use this same routine in a hotel room visiting family or when you're in the hospital in labor with another child and grandma is home, or just out on a regular date night, or perhaps dad is on duty. It needs to be something easy so anyone can follow it.
For us, the routine has always been quiet play or read stories 30 minutes before bed. This is not the time to get out the monster trucks or dinosaurs. It's time to show them bed is coming. We would go upstairs, get into pajamas, read a couple of books, turn out the lights, put their noisemaker and music player on (soothing music without words), sing a song at the crib or rock in the chair for one minute, into bed, kisses and goodnight. Each baby had blankets or a sleep sack to stay warm, very few toys in the room, one lovey toy in the bed like the Seahorse music toy.
3. Consistency is key. Try doing the same thing at naps that you do at night. Of course it's shorter, perhaps there are no stories at nap or rocking, but you do go up, change diaper, turn lights off, talk quietly, put on music player and noisemaker, and sing a song and lay down. They know these are the signs to tell their brain to settle down.
Speaking of doing the same thing every day... if your child is being taken care of by a sitter, daycare, etc. during the week and then home with you on weekends, whatever they are doing during the week, you keep trying to do the same thing on the weekends. Of course life happens and there are parties to attend and doctor's appointments, etc. but TRY to keep it routine. It's better for your child if things remain consistent instead of up and down. How would you feel if today you do this and then tomorrow you do something totally different, and then 3 days doing something routine, then back home doing it different again? Scattered, frustrated, short-tempered, impatient... just to name a few adjectives of how I think you'd react.
Putting to bed later at night does not equal sleeping later the following morning. Keep to a regular bed time.
4. Lay down drowsy, not wide awake and not totally asleep. Try doing this at least during the day for naps. Don't nurse to sleep every single time during the day. Don't spend half an hour rocking them to sleep during the day. Try to show them they can fall asleep in their beds. This is for older babies of course, since younger ones naturally fall asleep while eating. It's different for all babies though, you just see what works.
Note: I nursed my daughter to sleep every single night the last feeding at night at 6:30 p.m. and she slept through the night very well. I believe this whole "don't feed them to sleep" is meant for daytime sleep, because it's only natural that a baby falls asleep while eating.
It's extremely common for babies to wake several times in the night. It's normal for them. So if you don't allow them to figure out how to put themselves to sleep during naps, they won't know how to do it at night when they wake randomly.
5. When baby fusses, let him work it out for a second... don't rush to pick him up. That's teaching him to soothe himself, which helps for when he wakes in the night and you aren't there. Of course, don't let him scream or be bothered... but leave him 30 seconds or so. I know so many times where I'll hear my children on the video monitor, think they are awake, rush upstairs, stand outside their door and hear nothing... open the door, peek in and they are sound asleep.
This same thing happens with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, whatever age. Let it go on for a minute. You'll hear the difference between light waking, stirring, little baby noises, and large, wailing, come help me noises. Teach yourself to wait a minute, be patient. They are OK.
6. Make the sleep routine start in the room where they will sleep. Put pajamas on up there, read stories up there if you want. It sinks it in even more that this is where we rest and slow down. Use soft voices, whisper even to encourage settling down.
7. Baths are calming. We don't do baths every night, but on nights we do it's definitely a nice calming effect on our kids. If you had a particularly tough day/night with your baby especially, try a bath at night before bed. It helps them settle in.
I just would not rely on baths being a strong part of your bed time routine, because it's just not realistic in my opinion to do a bath every single night, especially with multiple children or on date nights out, etc.
8. Bedroom is not time out or toy box. Bed equals sleep. I have always tried to have few toys in our kids' rooms. That became more difficult when we had our second child of the opposite gender, so our house is overflowing with toys.... but try not to have too many fun things up there to do, otherwise it is more difficult for some kids to settle down and sleep. I find this also works in the mornings... if there are tons of toys in there to play with, of course your child will wake earlier and play with them!
We've used our son's bedroom as his time out space as more of a "cool down, take a breather," space. Our regular time out space is downstairs on the stairs. We use upstairs as a last resort when he really needs time to settle himself, with his blanket.
9. Their own room helps. If you are ready to transition your child from the bassinet in your room into their own cribs in their rooms, typically babies sleep longer. Babies hear you when you move, snore, roll over, etc. so they sleep better when out of your room. You also sleep better also by not hearing their every little movement. It's more natural for you to jump up and offer to feed them when they are an arm's length away from you in your bedroom, even if they truly were just stirring, they weren't asking to be fed. When you are half asleep like that you just naturally doing things, instead of being focussed thinking about it. When they are upstairs in their own room or down the hall, you're more likely to wait just a minute to see if they really need something.
My children's rooms were not ready until they were 5 months old or so, so we transitioned them later than I'd have liked to and they still slept in the night OK. Yet I still noticed them sleeping better after we moved rooms.
10. Good day time sleep = good night time sleep. Consistent day time sleep helps with night time sleep... same with feedings. IF you can get it all on a routine, that will help structure the night sleep, it will become natural. Typically infants fall asleep after eating when they are very young. So if you can get their feedings on a *typical* routine (loose routine in the beginning of course) then that will aid in sleep getting on some type of routine. For example, we fed our babies when hungry, of course, but that was typically every 1-2 hours in the beginning, then every 2-3 hours as they grew through that first year. We kept it religious, offering the food any time they asked, but also realizing the time, if it had been two hours, we offered the food, we never let them get to the point of starving, where they are screaming and have a difficult time settling down enough to eat.
11. Watch the "window..." No idea if this relates to other kids, but my kids have a window of sleep. If we miss it, they won't sleep, they get a second wind. For example, they nap at 12 every day. If we are out running errands and arrive home at 12:30, they do not lay down as easily. It's too rushed and they seem to get a second wind, wide awake now. Naps are sacred... if you want kids who are well rested, acting nicely and a good sleep habit, you have to treat nap time like it's sacred and don't let anything interfere with it. Of course this is within reason. I know life happens. But for the MOST part, you try really hard to keep it similar every day. Same thing every day. Boring and slightly OCD, sure, but take advantage of that nap time for you to nap or clean yourself. It's a win-win for everyone, in my opinion.
12. If you give a tired baby a snuggly car seat.... then let them sleep! If you have an infant who fell asleep in her car seat in the car, then quietly tip toe inside the house, put her in a room and shut the door. Let her sleep! If your child is older and needs to come out of the car seat because it's warm out, you quietly, without speaking, take her out, put her on your shoulder, make a mad dash inside, tip toe up to her room, and lay her down. If she's awaken in the process, change her diaper, rock her, put music on, and do a shortened routine to put her to bed. If you are consistent about this, they'll lay down at least for a short time. Of course this depends on how long they were asleep in the car beforehand...
13. Try to avoid iPads, technology or TV 30 minutes before bed... bright lights, loud noises, etc. teach your child's brain to stay awake. As they get older, I think a TV show before bed is fine, but as they are little it really does teach them to be awake.
14. To swaddle or not to swaddle, that is the question?! I never swaddled my kids to sleep. We tightly wrapped them in swaddle blankets, but we did not tie in their arms. Mostly because I thought I would not want my arms tied down like that and my kids sucked their thumbs from birth so that was not an option. I also had heard horror stories of older infants screaming in the night, too big for their swaddle yet wanting it... I wanted to avoid that.
But many moms use the swaddle thing for months with success, so I've heard it's important to just not keep up with the swaddle once baby starts moving hands and feet around a lot, wanting to get out. I've read so many moms stressed because their baby won't sleep without the swaddle. Swaddle is for less than 3 months old, newborns... after that point, it becomes a habit you have to do... You don't want to have "have tos" with sleep, or else the baby's developmental changes are going to throw you for a loop in a negative way! Use the swaddle technique for as long as it's working for you and baby. Then if it starts to naturally not work, start decreasing its use.
15. Try various options for feeding at night. This could mean pumped breastmilk bottles instead of nursing those early hours in the night/morning. It could mean dad gives a bottle in the night. It could mean you nurse the first few, then not the last or vice versa. Try various options to find what works best. I find that babies drinking from bottles don't fall asleep as easily as those being nursed do... so those with bottles take in more milk than those nursed, in my experience. We always did a bottle in the night of pumped milk, and then as we reached 4, 5, 6 a.m. it was nursing. I especially like dad stepping in when you see the pattern is that your baby is nursing out of habit not out of need nutritionally. Have dad give a pumped bottle. Whatever will work, try it out!