Almost the first thing out of anyone’s mouth when they start asking questions about someone’s baby is, “Are they sleeping through the night?” or “Is he a good sleeper?” No matter what the actual answer is, I usually just say yes and move on, I don’t really want to give everyone the play-by-play of how things are going with regards to our nighttime routines and how they may or may not be working right now.
There are some people I know who have fabulous sleepers. Their children seem to sleep well from the day of birth and are easy to soothe. Then there are those who have anti-sleep babies who suffer from mind numbing sleep deprivation almost until their kids are grown. I believe that part of it is nature and part of it is nurture; so in a sense you get what you get with regards to sleep, but you can influence it and make the best of it too.
The first thing to do is to read up a little on baby sleep. It is very different than adult sleep and they need it much more often. My favorite resources are, in no particular order: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The No Cry Sleep Solution, and The Happiest Baby on the Block. I certainly don’t agree with everything in those, but the information to be gained on the sleep habits of babies is so helpful.
One of the easiest ways to lead your baby towards good sleep is to put them to sleep when they are tired. It seems pretty obvious but it is harder than it sounds. When babies are very little (under two months) their awake time may only be a little over an hour at a time, and sometimes even less than that. As you start to figure out your baby’s pattern, you try to stick to it. If you know that your baby pretty generally gets tired after being awake for 90 minutes, then you notice the clock when baby wakes up and as you draw close to that 90 minute mark, you help to guide your baby towards sleep – however you choose to do that. As baby gets older that awake time will slowly stretch until you have 2 naps a day, usually around a year old. If you keep your baby as close to their natural nap times and awake times as you can, you will find that (most of the time) they learn that being tired means that it is time to go to sleep.
Waiting until your child falls asleep from exhaustion leads to little ones who are overtired. It is unavoidable sometimes, but it is not something you want on a regular basis. Overtired babies have a hard time going to sleep. As Dr Weisbluth says in Healthy Sleep Habits, “Sleep begets sleep.” Children who get enough sleep and don’t get overtired have an easier time going to sleep and often sleep more than those who are overtired. It sounds a little counterintuitive but I have seen it in action and it works. Think about it, have you ever been so tired that you just couldn’t sleep? Or when you did fall asleep, you didn’t sleep well?
Find your baby’s rhythm and use that as your guide for when to put them to sleep. It is as easy and as hard as that to guide your child into the best sleep habits.
In my next post I will talk about sleep disturbances and other trouble shooting.
What we found good for building a natural sleeping pattern was just being ourselves after our daughter went to sleep. We never worried about being extra quiet, and she always slept soundly through the night.