When your baby is newly learning how to sleep through the night, it can be a bit of a challenge to get a full night’s rest. Helping your child to master the skills they need for success is incredibly important – even the smallest mistake can have a big impact on the way they develop. This could lead to sleepless nights, or worse, mental health issues like anxiety and depression during their high school years.
If you’re looking for some tips on how to get a good night’s rest, there are plenty of options to chose from. It can be hard to know what’s best for you and your unique situation, but we’re here to help. Give this helpful guide a read, and hopefully you’ll find the perfect method for you. We have put together a list of six different strategies that have been scientifically backed to improve your baby’s sleep. Let’s take a look and get your baby off to dreamland!
Strategy #1 Aim to Pinpoint Your Child’s Sleep Cues
Just like adults, children also have a “sleep window” – a specific period of time when they are tired, but not too tired, making it easier for them to fall asleep. If this window closes before you put your child to bed, their body will start releasing chemicals to fight off fatigue, making it more challenging for them to doze off. However, since one-month-old babies can’t communicate their needs, it’s essential to recognize their sleep cues to prevent overtiredness and help them fall asleep more comfortably.
Here are some tips to help you recognize their sleep cues early:
- Babies display various signals when they are sleepy, such as becoming calmer and less active. This is the most evident indication that your baby needs to sleep, so it’s essential to respond accordingly.
- Your baby may appear less attentive to their environment, with their eyes losing focus and eyelids starting to droop as they grow sleepier.
- If your baby is typically chatty during their active hours, you may notice a decrease in their babbling as they become sleepier, resulting in a quieter demeanor.
- As your baby gets sleepier, they may nurse at a slower pace compared to when they are wide awake and eager to eat. In fact, if they are starting to feel drowsy, they may even fall asleep while nursing, slowing down their feeding even more.
- If you notice your baby starting to yawn, it’s a telltale sign that they are feeling drowsy and are in need of some rest.
To ensure your young baby gets the rest they need, it’s best to start their wind-down routine within one to two hours of waking up. If you miss their sleep cues, such as fussiness, irritability, and eye-rubbing, take note of how long they were awake and plan to start the wind-down routine 20 minutes earlier next time. As a new parent, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick up on your baby’s unique sleep cues throughout the day.
Becoming familiar with your baby’s individual sleep cues is the initial step in ensuring that they are well-rested and content.
Another crucial thing to note about babies’ sleep cues is that they may experience an extra-fussy period around the sixth week mark. During this time, babies are likely to cry more frequently throughout the day. It’s essential to remember that you’re not doing anything wrong as a parent, and there is nothing wrong with your baby. This phase is a regular part of a baby’s development and will pass with time.
When a child becomes overtired, they may exhibit one or more behaviors, which can vary depending on their age and personality.
- At the point when you anticipate your child to be completely drained, you may notice they suddenly receive a burst of energy.
- Your child may display “wired” and hyperactive behavior, which can be unfamiliar to their typical behavior during other times of the day.
- In the state of overtiredness, your toddler or preschooler may become uncooperative or argumentative.
- As your child struggles to cope with the lack of sleep, they may become whiny, clingy, or experience emotional breakdowns.
It’s likely that your child may exhibit a distinct response to being overtired, perhaps by developing a pale complexion or a tendency to root around looking for a breast to latch on to. When your child appears to be clean, well-fed, yet still fussing and seeking constant attention, it may be a sign that they are overtired and require assistance in getting some rest.
The initial step towards a more contented and well-rested baby is understanding and decoding your baby’s individual sleep cues.
Strategy #2 Guide Your Baby To Differentiate Between Day And Night
Our bodies operate on a circadian rhythm, which is essentially an internal time clock that runs on a cycle ranging from 24 hours and 10 minutes to 24 hours and 20 minutes. As everyone’s body clock functions on a distinct rhythm, all of our cycles are slightly out of sync with the planet’s 24-hour clock. This means that we must reset our internal clocks regularly to avoid disruptions to our sleep schedule and daytime alertness. Exposure to daylight is one way that we can regulate our biological cycles. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that regulates our internal clock and makes us feel sleepy or alert at the appropriate times.
Exposing your baby to daylight in the morning and keeping their environment well-lit throughout their waking hours can help regulate their internal clock to cue them to feel sleepy when it is time to rest. By associating darkness with sleep and bright light with wake-up time, your baby can start to adopt healthy sleep patterns. Exposure to natural sunlight between noon and 4:00 PM has been shown to increase the odds of your baby getting a good night’s sleep.
Strategy #3 Allow Your Baby To Practice Falling Asleep Independently
Sleep experts have varying opinions on when to start sleep training for your baby. It is suggested by some to introduce self-soothing behaviors as early as the newborn stage, while others suggest giving your baby at least one opportunity to try to fall asleep on their own each day. Others advise waiting until your baby is around three to four months old, when their sleep-wake rhythm starts to mature and sleep learning becomes more viable.
Sleep experts suggest that a baby’s sleep-association clock begins ticking at around six weeks of age. At this point, the baby begins to become acutely aware of their environment while falling asleep. If a baby is accustomed to falling asleep while being held and lulled with songs, it’s likely that they will continue to crave this routine for comfort when they wake up in the middle of the night. Such routine of putting the baby to bed becomes a sleep association. This happens because the baby has associated their sleep routine with their caregiver, who has essentially become a sleep-aid for them. As the baby reaches around 3.5-4 months old, they may start to make connections between specific actions or objects with sleeping. These connections are known as sleep associations. Without these associations, some babies may struggle to fall asleep or link their sleep cycles effectively. Just like adults, babies tend to rely on these associations to help them sleep without even realizing it.
Some parents opt for a moderate approach towards sleep associations during the early weeks and months of their baby’s life. They prioritize getting enough sleep for both themselves and their babies and take advantage of any opportunities to start cultivating healthy sleep routines for their little ones. By striking a balance between nurturing a sleep association with their caregiver while encouraging self-soothing behaviors, parents can help their babies form positive sleep habits that will promote longer and more restful sleep, resulting in a happier and healthier baby.
It is crucial to pay attention to the sleep associations your baby develops, regardless of when you start monitoring them. At some point, it is essential to assess whether specific habits or behaviors that your baby adopts may become closely related to the sleeping process. Some of these habits could be as follows:
- Going to sleep during bottle-feeding.
- Being rocked to sleep.
- Having you rub or pat his back, sing a lullaby, or play an important role in getting him to sleep
- Having you in the area until your infant falls asleep.
- Counting on a pacifier.
It’s important to keep in mind that sleep associations can be tricky to manage since we often fall into an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to sleep. A useful tip to reduce a particular sleep association’s strength is to make sure it’s only present some of the time when your baby is falling asleep. For instance, nursing your baby to sleep some of the time, rocking your baby to sleep some of the time, and attempting to put your baby to bed some of the time when they’re awake can make it difficult for your baby to get hooked on any one sleep association.
It’s important to note that sleep experts have highlighted the potency of the feeding-sleep association in babies. Therefore, encouraging your baby to fall asleep without depending on feeding will significantly ease the process of learning self-soothing when they’re older. Generally, babies can start practicing these essential skills from three to four months of age. By prioritizing the development of independent sleep habits, you’ll support your baby’s restful nights and establish healthy sleep patterns for the future.
Strategy #4 Prioritize Daytime Sleep: Children Who Nap Better Sleep Better
Studies have shown that infants who take daytime naps tend to have better and longer sleep at night. Some parents might assume that skipping daytime naps can make bedtime easier, but this often leads to over-tiredness, making it more difficult for babies to settle down at night and get restful sleep. Skipping daytime sleep can also result in difficulty falling asleep during the next day’s nap time, leading to a vicious cycle.
To ensure your child gets optimal sleep, it’s crucial to prioritize their daytime naps alongside nutritious meals as both are important nutrition for your kid’s growth and well-being. Furthermore, napping has been found to improve mood and attention span in babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. In toddlers, napping is important for developing memory consolidation, executive attention, and motor skills. For instance, babies typically sleep 2-3 daytime naps and longer sleep at night while toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep, including one daytime nap that could last up to three hours. Finally, preschoolers need 10-13 hours of sleep, including a single daytime nap, but some preschoolers don’t require one.
Strategy #5 Determine When Your Infant No Longer Needs Nighttime Feeding
Even when your baby outgrows the need for a middle-of-the-night feeding, they might continue to wake up out of habit. If your baby seems uninterested in nursing during nighttime waking or goes without the feeding sometimes, it is time to shift towards non-food methods of soothing back to sleep. The ultimate goal is to encourage your baby to develop self-soothing habits, but before that, you need to work on breaking the food-sleep association that’s been established.
This process can be fast in some children and slow in others. Once you’ve broken the association, your baby may stop waking up as often in the night and be ready to work on developing self-soothing skills.
Strategy #6 Keep Calm And Relaxed When Dealing With Sleep Issues
Last but definitely not least, your child picks up on your emotions, so it’s crucial to stay calm and accept that some babies take longer to develop healthy sleeping habits. Having realistic expectations and confidence in your parenting abilities can make coping with middle-of-the-night sleep disturbances easier, and scientific studies suggest that managing parenting challenges is easier when these criteria are met.
Improving your baby’s sleep routine is one of the most challenging aspects of parenthood, but it’s also one of the most critical. By following the six expert-approved baby sleep strategies we’ve discussed here, you can build a solid foundation for your baby’s healthy sleep habits.
Remember that improving your baby’s sleep routine requires patience, consistency, and a willingness to make gradual changes. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from your pediatrician or a sleep specialist if you need additional guidance. By establishing a healthy sleep routine, you can help your baby feel more rested and content, and set the stage for better sleep habits throughout their life.