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If you’re looking for information about baby sleep guidelines, toddler nap routines, or sleep training strategies, then you’ve come to the right place! This guest post by the founder of The Sleep Nest, will give you what you need to get your child the right amount of sleep from baby through 5 years of age!
When we first become parents, it seems like we experience the “honeymoon phase.” We are so in love with the bundle of joy we get to call our own, that we are ready to take on this new venture of parenthood.
Then reality kicks in.
Your baby needs bonding time, skin-to-skin, and feeding about every couple of hours. This goes on throughout the day and night. Slowly, the lack of sleep kicks in. Even though we feel so encouraged to keep going and “fight the good fight” of parenthood, we can’t help but feel tired. Some embrace it, but for some it feels like quicksand; sucking the life and energy out of your body and mind.
In the blink of an eye, your baby is no longer a couple of weeks old. He is 6 months old and more mobile than ever; happy and rambunctious. Now the baby’s needs have changed, yet the parent’s approach has not. This is the moment that most parents realize that they don’t really understand their child’s needs anymore.
What do you do? Do you try to continue to rock your baby to sleep?
Do you keep feeding him? Surely he’s hungry – that’s why he is awake.
Or, maybe just let him hold your finger a little longer until he falls asleep.
Then, somehow with the grace of God you can hold your breath and quietly make it out of the room like thin air. “You’ve got this! You can do it!” You keep telling yourself this until you make it out of the room and break out into your happy dance. But of course all this comes to an end about an hour later, while you are deep in getting the laundry halfway done, cooking dinner in preparation for the next day, and trying to catch a glimpse of that Netflix show you’ve been waiting all day to watch.
This, my friends, is what I call the “real lives of parents.”
It looks like we all share this phenomenon – whether you are a working mom or dad, a stay at home or a work at home mom or dad. No matter your household situation, once you have a child your plan goes out the window. Now, your schedule revolves around when your little one wakes up, how long it takes to get him or her back to sleep, and repeat all the way until morning.
If you are a working parent, you will also need to get ready to go to work, be “presentable”, and be “functional” while running on 2 (maybe 3) hours of sleep.
Try this every day and you are in for what we call in the sleep world, “sleep debt”. The lack of sleep will feel like a ton of bricks carried on your back, day in day out. Now, if you are feeling chronically tired with no solid length of sleep, imagine how your baby feels!
The reality is, a baby feels the struggle of little sleep exponentially more than an adult. This is because babies need far more sleep to aid in their growth, memory building, and development.
To help you determine if your baby is getting enough sleep, here’s a breakdown of how much a child needs to sleep
As parents, we try so many methods to get our babies to fall asleep. As a mother of 2 girls, I understand and empathize with the countless parents I have worked with in hearing their stories of what their “bedtime routine” consists of.
Some are tried and true, and others are a hit and miss. Whatever method you are trying, the key thing to remember is that with each new stage or milestone, your baby’s needs will change and the same methods may not necessarily stand true anymore.
In other words, if feeding your baby worked for a few months, it does not mean that it will always work. As your baby’s needs change, your methods will needs to change too. You will need to strategize a new form of putting your baby down.
Building healthy sleep habits can and should be implemented as early on as possible. Does this mean you won’t get to rock your baby to sleep ever? Not necessarily. But if you can give your child the opportunity to learn his or her own potential for self-soothing you will notice your baby getting longer stretches of sleep. As a Sleep Coach, I use the analogy of taking pain medicine; the pill helps relieve the pain 4-6 hours, then the pain comes back and now you need to take another pill to feel better. If a baby is depending on, let’s say, feeding to sleep then when your baby wakes in the middle of the night, he or she will need a bottle again in order to fall back asleep.
What Can You Do?
Habits are easily created, and can easily be replaced.
The good news is that there are some quick and easy things you can do – starting tonight – to help your little one sleep all through the night, and take long, restful naps during the day! In order to instill healthy sleep habits, these tips will help to ensure sleep is structured and consistent.
So, here are the steps to getting your baby to sleep through the night!
Choose an early bedtime.
The best time to put your baby or toddler to bed is sometime between 6 and 8 PM. This ensures that your child will be able to get a solid stretch (in hours) of sleep during the night*. Children should be in bed no later than 8pm up to the age of 10 to ensure a school-aged child is getting proper amount of sleep, to keep up with studies.
*Refer to the table above for age specific hours.
Put your child to sleep in the same place every night.
Children thrive on knowing what comes next. Predicting their sleep times help them be more prepared for bed, and simply accept it. If a child falls asleep in your arms, or in a swing, rocker, car seat, and such, they will expect to sleep there only. The moment you transfer them into their bed is when you are back to square one-awake and crying to go back to sleep.
Whether your child has a room of their own or shares a room with siblings, it’s important that you put your child to sleep in the same place every night (and for naps during the day as well.) Putting your child to bed in a familiar place lets them know they are safe and that they are in a place where sleep is expected of them.
Create a predictable bedtime routine.
Consistency and predictability (once again) are really important factors for babies and toddlers. When they know what to expect at bedtime, it makes it easier for them to make the transition from being awake to falling asleep. This is precisely why creating a bedtime routine is essential for a successful night of sleep!
A good example of a bedtime routine might look something like this:
6:40 p.m. Bath time
6:50 p.m. Put on pajamas
6:55 p.m. Lots of cuddles & kisses (a story or two for toddlers and older children)
7:00 p.m. Into crib awake*
*If over 3 years old, place in a toddler bed with bed rail for safety.
For a toddler 2 years and up, a 7-7:30pm bedtime is ideal. I would not recommend anything past 7:30pm for a good few years. Once your child stops taking naps altogether, I suggest pulling bedtime back up to 7pm. This will help a school-aged child who will need the amount of sleep!
Your bedtime routine shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, and it’s very important that the routine is the same every single night. The repetition and predictability are what let your child know that he or she will soon be expected to fall asleep.
My staple rule of thumb with every family I work with is to ensure bedtime is sooner, rather than later. Meaning, if your child did not take enough naps, woke up too early that morning, feeling sick, etc. it is always wise to bump bedtime up by about 30 minutes or so. Bumping bedtime ensures the child does not get over-tired, which makes falling asleep an even bigger challenge.
Put your baby to bed AWAKE!
Now, you may have already heard that you should put your baby to beck awake and are wondering, how in the world do I do that when he keeps crying the moment his body touches the bed?
If you’ve been rocking, nursing, or otherwise soothing your baby to sleep, this is going to seem like a tough one… but it’s actually the most important step! It’s only by letting your baby fall asleep without your help at bedtime that he can learn the skills necessary to stay asleep through the night. Should he wake up in the night, he will resettle on his own if he knows how to self-soothe. So if he wakes up, this leads me to the next step…
If your baby wakes up during the night, WAIT a few minutes before intervening.
If you are a parent that goes into deep sleep and does not hear the baby cry, then this section is not for you. But, for the rest of us who wake up and have most likely been at the baby’s bedside in 2.5 seconds out of hearing a slight noise, you can relate!
Everyone – babies and adults alike – will actually wake up several times every night. For most adults, these wake ups are so brief that we don’t even remember them the next morning. However, many babies will immediately start to fuss or cry when they wake up. This is simply because they haven’t learned how to fall asleep on their own. If a baby has been nursed or rocked to sleep at bedtime since birth, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t know how to fall asleep independently. The good news is that many babies can figure out how to get back to sleep within just a few minutes of waking up in the night!
If your child continues to fuss or cry for more than a few minutes, you’ll want to go in and offer some comfort, but it is very important to let your child do the work of falling back to sleep. You can speak softly to your child and do some gentle rubbing, but you should AVOID picking your child up to rock or nurse back to sleep. Allow the sleep habits to remain strictly to self-soothe, and not do the work for the baby. Same rules apply to your toddler or older child. If he gets up from bed and walks into your room and jolts you out of your sleep by standing inches away from your face, it is important to simply walk your baby over and tuck him back in. It may seem repetitive, but that is the point; remaining consistent. Once you see your baby resettling, this is when I tell my clients that they have “seen the light” so-to-speak. Yes, there is a light at the end of that dark and dreary, sleep-deprived tunnel!
So, there you have it folks. Remember that no matter where you are at with your baby’s sleep habits while reading this, you are an AMAZING parent who loves unconditionally. After all, don’t we truly feel that way towards our children…?
I would like to mention that as a Sleep Coach, sleep issues are on the rise and I hear from parents on a daily basis. It is a more common issue than most realize. It almost feels as if the issue has been normalized either by relating parents who suffer through sleep troubles, or family members such as the grandparents who suggest to stick with the “traditional” way to getting the baby to sleep. After all, look at how well you turned out right?
If you are suffering through sleep deprivation because you just cannot seem to get your baby to sleep on his or her own, and even more importantly your baby is not getting the suggested amount of sleep, then this is your opportunity to ask yourself how you can turn that around and fix it.
There is help available and all you have to do is ask for it!
Do you have a toddler and want to read more on this topic? Read this post about Toddler Sleep Regression!