Becoming a parent can completely turn your life upside down. Many of these changes are beautiful moments that you will cherish forever but one that is not so enjoyable is sleep deprivation. Whether it is a baby that takes a long time to fall asleep at night and wakes up frequently or a baby who only takes short naps on you, the results are the same: an exhausted parent desperate for relief.
As a baby sleep consultant, I work with parents to teach their little ones healthy independent sleep habits so that they can fall asleep independently and stay asleep longer. This means sleeping through the night (if the baby is old enough) and taking long, restful naps in their crib.
I know how exhausting it can be to run on low amounts of sleep for months, and in some cases years! That is why I would like to share my top five tips for calmer and more restful days and nights.
1) Setup the Ideal Sleep Environment
We want the nursery to be like a cave – cool, dark, and free of distractions. A dark room will help your baby fall asleep for naps and prevent early morning wakeups. An effective way to keep the room dark is to use blackout window covers. White noise is a great tool for drowning out environmental noises and also helps to get into a deeper level of sleep. Avoid toys or mobiles by the crib because these will only stimulate your baby and make it harder for them to sleep.
2) Avoid Overtiredness
Follow an appropriate awake window for your baby’s age. This will make sure your baby’s body is ready for sleep and avoid becoming overtired. Overtiredness is a baby’s worst enemy when it comes to sleep. An overtired baby has a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. This means more nighttime wakings and shorter naps. By putting your baby down to sleep before they become overtired, we are giving them the best window of opportunity to fall asleep. Do not listen to anyone who advises you to skip a nap or have a late bedtime. The better a baby sleeps during the day, the better they will sleep at night.
3) Establish a Bedtime and Nap-Time Routine
Babies really thrive on routine because their minds are exposed to so much new information every day. It is reassuring for a baby to know that they can depend on certain events to have a predictable structure. By setting up a fun and enjoyable bedtime and nap-time routine, you will help to cue your baby’s body and mind that it is time to settle down and get ready for sleep. Since your baby will learn that sleep is the conclusion of the routine, they will do much less protesting when they are put to bed than if they had no routine at all.
4) Put Your Baby Down Awake for All Sleep Situations
Once your baby is 4 months or older, it is important for your baby to fall asleep on their own without any assistance from you. This means no rocking, bouncing, or feeding to sleep. This is incredibly important because it will help your baby to connect their sleep cycles and sleep longer. We all go through multiple sleep cycles when we sleep. As we transition from one sleep cycle and into the next, we go from a deep stage of sleep into a light stage of sleep. If a baby is assisted to sleep in any way, they often wake up as they transition into this lighter stage of sleep. They will cry out for you because they need your assistance to fall back asleep and do not know how to do it on their own. You can imagine how alarming it would be for your baby to fall asleep in your arms and then to wake up in their crib with you nowhere nearby. That is why it is so important for them to be put in their crib awake so that they are aware of their surroundings as they fall asleep.
5) Stay Consistent
Consistency is a gift of love that you give your child, while inconsistency is confusing and misleading. Your baby should be sleeping in the same place for all naps and bedtime so that every sleep situation is the same. This sends a clear message to your baby of what is expected. Children thrive on routine and structure and love to know what is coming next. Make sure to do your routines in the same order each time so that your baby can learn to predict what is coming next. By staying consistent with not assisting your baby to sleep in any way, your baby will learn to put themselves to sleep all on their own.
Change Is Hard
I hope that these five tips can help you and your baby start to enjoy some restful nights soon. Making a change in your life and your baby’s life can be hard and may take time, but will be worth the effort when you are both sleeping better.
Not every night will be perfect since babies go through an occasional sleep regression, teething, travel disruption, etc. But the better your baby’s sleep habits are, the easier and quicker they will pass through these temporary disruptions. Then you and your baby can go back to enjoying a good night’s sleep.
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Live Love Sleep
*Link for sleep regression article: https://www.livelovesleep.com/baby-sleep-regression-ages-5-survival-tips/