In the age of Google and social media, we have access to more information than we could ever read. This is wonderful BUT can be overwhelming when looking for recommendations. Our children are unique and special and unfortunately sleep is not one size fits all. What works for one family does not necessarily work for another. Don’t worry! I am here to sort through the contradicting sleep advice for you. Check out these tips to get started down the path to your sleep goals.
*Tips are for those with independent sleep goals and children 4 months and older
Use the environment to communicate sleep – It is helpful to use the environment to communicate our sleep expectations. Entering a bright room with your little one and making it darker and calmer by closing your black out shades and turning on a dim lamp clearly communicates the transition from wake to sleep time. When that sleep session is complete, opening your blinds or turning on a light communicates that the sleep session is complete. Consistently doing this for naps at home and night sleep is helpful. If their room has a white noise maker, we can use this to communicate sleep as well. Turning it on as part of your bedtime routine, leaving it on through the sleep session and turning it off when the sleep session is complete helps to pair this auditory cue to your expectation of sleep. I recommend avoiding use of a timer mode on sound machines. Our goal is to have the environment remain the same throughout the entire sleep session. This way if they wake up between sleep sessions, which we all do something, the environment is clearly communicating that it is still sleep time.
Focus on timing – Timing of sleep is one of the biggest pieces of your sleep puzzle. We want to make sure that you child is sleeping at the right times for their current age and development based on how much time they can be awake without reaching a level of overtired. Often we wait for sleep cues to show us they are tired but for many children, sleep cues (rubbing their eyes, fussy, etc) is a sign that they have already reached a level of being overtired. Beginning a sleep session in an overtired state can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is often when we see them looking for additional assistance in falling asleep, short naps and multiple night wakings.
Guiding them on a routine of approximately x hours away between sleep sessions (dependent on their current age) helps set their sleep rhythms and allows them to reach a deeper level of restorative sleep. We want to avoid there being shorter awake time between two sleep sessions and then a long period of awake time at another part of the day. Also, instead of having a specific bedtime each night, I would guide you in being fairly flexible with bedtime (within reason) based on the time they have been awake since the last sleep session.
Great awake time examples for a 6 month old – *Notice each day is slightly different but is guided by how much time baby has been awake from the end of the last sleep session to the start of the next.
Wake up – 6:30 am
Nap 1 – 8:30 am to 9:30 am
Nap 2 – 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Nap 3 – 4:00 pm to 4:45 pm
Bedtime – 7:15 pm
Wake up – 6:00 am
Nap 1 – 8:15 am to 9:00 am
Nap 2 – 11:30 am to 1:00 pm
Nap 3 – 3:45 pm to 5:00 pm
Bedtime – 7:30 pm
Wake up – 7:00 am
Nap 1 – 9:00 am to 11:00 am
Nap 2 – 1:30 pm to 2:15 pm
Nap 3 – 4:45 pm to 5:15 pm
Bedtime – 7:45 pm
Be cautious of cat naps – After 4 months of age, we want to aim for well timed naps that are at least one sleep cycle in length. Solid naps like this are restorative naps and restorative naps assist with solid sleep at night time. Cat naps throughout the day can put a wrench in the natural sleep rhythms of our body. They also make it much harder to reach a deep, restorative level of sleep that would be possible if naps were timed properly for their current age. Sometimes cat naps, especially in the car, are unavoidable but doing our best to aim for solid and well timed naps will assist their bodies and overall sleep progress. A 15 minute cat nap in the car on the way to the store is often enough to make them feel like they got sleep but not enough to assist them in the next sleep session. This nap can make them feel like they have a second wind but their body still reaches a level of overtired.
Learn the skill of falling asleep independently – We all sleep in sleep cycles and it is natural for us to wake when coming out of one sleep cycle and entering the next one. When our children do this they often want whatever put them to sleep to assist them in returning to sleep. So, if they are typically fed to sleep or rocked to sleep at the start of the night and they wake between sleep cycles at 11:00 pm, they will most likely call out for you to repeat your assistance. Once the skill of falling asleep independently is learned, they may wake between cycles but now have the skills to return to sleep. Although they may need some assistance at first, with a consistent response to their wake up, you should be able to guide them to return to sleep and eventually reach the point where they are able to sleep solidly through the night and solid naps.
Consistently assisting them during this learning process – For most babies, sleep is a learned behavior. In addition, sleep needs continue to change as they get older. We can think of it as pouring a foundation and then learning more and more as they get older. Using math as an example, first we learn to identify numbers and when those skills are solid we continue to build our knowledge with one to one correspondence, addition, subtraction, multiplication, algebra, etc. For some, math comes easily and they flow from one skill to the next but for others, extra tutoring sessions may be necessary to reach the next level. Sleep is similar. To reach and maintain a full night of sleep and solid naps, first we must learn to fall asleep independently, then how to return to sleep if we wake between cycles. Other things such as timing of sleep, number of age appropriate naps they are taking and how long they are stay awake without reaching a level of overtired are important to continue on the path to solid sleep. There are also outside factors such as learning to sleep at in a daycare setting, sleeping while traveling and sickness that can play a part. If any of things cause a bump in the road to their normal night of sleep, some children return back to their normal very quickly while others need consistent guidance to find that solid sleep again. The most important word I can give to you throughout this time is CoNsIsTeNcY. This is true in both the initial sleep teaching process and when a transition caused a bump in the road and you are guiding them back to solid sleep.
There are many different sleep recommendations, books and methods out there for teaching sleep and most of them work when implemented with consistency. Some methods reach results faster while others are gentle sleep teaching techniques that can take time to reach your goals. I would love for you to choose a method that you feel fits your family and the personality of your child and hold on to that consistently. Avoiding trial and error and clearly communicating with one method will help your child understand what you are teaching them in the shortest amount of time possible. If sometimes we rock, sometimes they join you in your bed, sometimes we try CIO and other times we feed at a wake up, a level of confusion could cause a higher level of crying during the learning process. Consistency is key! They may respond to your new response with tears as it is not what they are use to but with time and your consistency, they should find comfort knowing what is going to happen and reach there goals soon after.
Ready to teach sleep? If you are ready to reach your sleep goals, I can help! There is no need to spend more time researching and coming up with a method of plan. Check out the Teaching Sleep and Reaching Your Goals Video Series for immediate sleep guidance. Everything is right there for you and you decide which of the 3 sleep teaching methods fit you the best.
***Disclaimer – This blog contains affiliate links. I do make a profit off of purchased products without raising the price to you at all! I carefully chose items before promoting them and only promote items I would use myself.