Mylee Zschech is a Certified Sleep Consultant and owner of Little Big Dreamers (www.littlebigdreamers.net) and she helps tired and stressed parents improve their children or baby’s sleep through extensive education, individualized sleep plans and ongoing support.
Sleep is such an important part of our lives. As parents we need sleep to function at work and be the best parents we can be and babies need sleep to learn, grow and thrive. As newborns our babies sleep a lot and easily, but as they get past the newborn phase sleep doesn’t come so easily for them. We often think sleep is an innate skill, but in fact we need to teach our babies how to put themselves to sleep and return to sleep when they wake overnight.
What is sleeping through the night?
During the newborn phase babies can wake up a lot overnight, and that is completely normal. By 4 months of age babies will often sleep for 5 hours straight at night and by 6 months of age a baby will likely sleep for 8 hours uninterrupted. Many babies have the capacity to sleep a full 12 hours without waking up for a feed by 6 months, but it is not until 9 months old that we can reasonable expect all babies to go 12 hours overnight. If your baby is waking up every couple of hours overnight to nurse, be rocked or otherwise assisted to return to sleep this is not normal and there are things you can do to help teach them to sleep through the night.
Establish bedtime and naptime routines.
Establishing a consistent bedtime and naptime routine can really help. Studies have shown that bedtime routines can help reduce night wakings. Start a routine that you do in the same way each and every night. Your routine could include elements like a bath, a book, and a key phrase (e.g. “time to sleep”) before placing your baby in the crib. Bedtime and naptime routines provide cues to your baby that it is time to sleep and helps your baby’s brain prepare for sleep. You don’t need to make the bedtime routine elaborate – half an hour is long enough. The nap routine should be a 15 minute modified version of the bedtime routine.
Help your baby learn to self soothe.
When putting your baby in the crib, it is important to provide opportunities for them to self soothe to sleep. When your baby is under 16 weeks old put them down drowsy but awake but as they get older put them down awake and aware at nap and bed times and let them do the full work to fall asleep. Along with this it is also important to feed your baby during the night only when they are truly hungry. If they wake and cry for other reasons you can delay attending to them to see if they can return back to sleep on their own. We all wake up at different times during the night. As adults we might adjust our sleep position and then fall back to sleep. We want our babies to learn to be able to do the same.
Ensure appropriate amounts of sleep.
If we don’t ensure our babies get the sleep they need during the day or make them stay awake longer than their bodies need at night then they will likely get overtired and find it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. It is important to make sure that your baby goes to bed at an appropriate time at night that is reasonable for them. This time is based on the amount and quality of sleep that they experienced throughout the day and the night before. Bedtime should be between 6 to 8 pm after a baby has matured out of the newborn phase. It is also important that your baby is getting an appropriate amount of naps for their age and that they go down for each nap when their little bodies are primed and ready for sleep. This helps them sleep better and for longer. If they sleep well throughout the day, this will help them sleep better throughout the night.
Have a bedroom environment conducive to sleep.
The bedroom environment can also help your baby sleep through the night. When a baby’s room isn’t conducive to sleep they are more likely to wake during the night. Blackout blinds are especially important as they make the room very dark and block out sunlight. Babies are very sensitive to light, so can have difficulty sleeping through the night or sleeping well at naptime if light is seeping through the windows. White noise can also be very helpful to block out intermittent noise from the street or a noisy older sibling. This can also be very helpful when siblings are room sharing.
Now that you are armed with the best ways to help your baby sleep through the night it is time to put all these suggestions in to action. You and your baby will feel so much better when you do and you can both sleep through the night.