Guest Post by Amy Lage,
My first daughter was a terrible sleeper. That is what got me into this business. Before she came, we expected that this little being could simply be toted around with us and would just sleep when she needed to…easy breezy. No, not so much. When we realized our error we quickly digested every sleep book we could get our hands on. Still, we were at a loss with so much conflicting advice and information. At around 9 months we hired a sleep consultant and within 2 days our “terrible sleeper” was suddenly an incredible sleeper. It turns out that all along she (like all babies) had this ability, we just had not taught her. So what’s the secret? Introducing the Well Rested Baby Cheat Sheet, 5 Simple Rules to get your baby’s sleep on track:
Rule #1 – Your Baby Needs to Sleep in His Crib. Period.
Unfortunately, as I learned babies are not fashion accessories that we should just expect to fit into our social calendar. The sooner you can come to terms with this the better. Life would be much easier if we could tote our kids anywhere, at anytime and expect that they will get the sleep they need, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Babies and toddlers will achieve their very best sleep in their bassinet, crib, or bed, and it should be your goal for them to do the majority of their sleeping in this consistent location. Yes, very little babies have the amazing ability to sleep through anything, but once they reach about 2 months old they start to become social beings and have a much harder time blocking out what’s going on around them. Sleeping at home in their own darkened room will make sure there are no distractions. Also, babies and toddlers have better quality, more restorative sleep when they are sleeping in a stationary location like their own bed. Vibrations or motion during sleep (think strollers and car seats) force the brain into a lighter sleep state and reduce the restorative power of the nap. It’s similar in comparison to the sleep that you get on an airplane: ok, but not really restful. A nap on-the-go here and there is fine, but most naps should be taken in your child’s bed. This does make you a bit of a slave to your house but ask anyone who has kids – that first year flies by. Before you know it you will be out and about and personally, I would rather stay in and have a well-rested child than be out with a cranky, overtired baby.
Rule #2 – Your Baby Needs to Nap at the Correct Times
Naptime should follow your baby’s biological clock. We all have internal clocks called circadian rhythms that make us feel drowsy at certain times. It is easiest at these times to fall asleep and get our most restorative sleep. These times change as your child grows older. If you can base your child’s nap schedule so that they sleep in sync with these rhythms they will be able to achieve their best sleep. While it is sometimes daunting to follow a schedule, it will provide you the confidence to know exactly when your child will need to sleep and that he is getting the sleep that he needs.
Rule #3 – Insist on An Early Bedtime
Bedtime should be early enough to ensure that your child goes to bed before they become overtired. A child who is overtired has a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. This is because when we get overtired we release the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. This is a primitive fight or flight response, which is intended to keep us going. While this was probably helpful to cavemen, it is not when it kicks in for your baby and he gets a “second wind”. When this response occurs on a regular basis these hormones actually build up in your baby’s system and then cause him to wake-up in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Although it sounds counterintuitive, an early bedtime WILL NOT cause your child to wake earlier in the morning. In fact, early bedtimes help children to sleep later as they are better able to self soothe and consolidate sleep without the presence of these hormones. In short, an early bedtime allows babies to achieve longer stretches of better quality sleep. As an added bonus, it provides more time for you to unwind and have “you” time in the evening. What parent doesn’t need that?
Rule #4 – A Consistent Routine:
This one is so simple to achieve, yet so important! Babies and toddlers crave routine in their daily schedules as it helps them know what to expect. They follow patterns and your cues, so if you create a consistent soothing routine before sleep times then they will know to expect sleep to come next. Your soothing routine does not need to be anything complicated – maybe a book and a nice soothing song – but it needs to be consistent and should always end with your child going into bed sleepy, but awake.
Rule #5 – Teach Your Child to Fall Asleep
If your child relies on you to be with them until they are fast asleep, how will they know how to put themselves back to sleep when a sleep cycle ends during nap time or when they wake at night? Self-soothing is a skill that every child must learn to be an independent sleeper. Once your child is on the correct schedule and is falling asleep before he becomes overtired, self-soothing will come much more easily. There are lots of methods for teaching your child to self-soothe. Some methods involve more tears but work very quickly and some have little or no tears but take a bit longer. They all accomplish the same end goal – teaching your child to fall asleep on their own. This is one of the best skills you can teach a child as it enables them to become well rested, independent and better able to handle the opportunities and challenges each day presents.
Amy Lage is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is founder of Well Rested Baby (www.wellrestedbaby.com). She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Amy, her husband Jeff, their 5 year old Stella, their 2 year old Harley, and their two dogs Jackson and Cody live in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook too more great sleep tips!