Um. Sign me up!
So how do you get to this this dreamy, near-imaginary state? You set the stage for
good, independent sleep.
Setting the stage for sleep simply means you do things in a way that support and encourage good sleep habits for your child--you set them up for the best sleep possible. Before you go any further on your mission to help your child sleep better, work on these things first! Not only are most of the suggestions simple, easy to implement and drama free, but if you skip all these suggestions, you probably won't have much success with other sleep training methods anyway. I'm serious here. Don't get lazy and skip over the suggestions in this post. If you crawl back to this post in two months when you're five times as tired as before but with no progress in the sleep department I'll give you a sympathy hug followed by a "I told so". Don't be that person!
If you're consistent and lucky (because your mom was right when she said life isn't fair --some kids really are WAY easier than others to teach to sleep than others) you won't need to do any more than these steps to help your family get that sleep you've been dreaming about (when you actually sleep long enough to dream!). These suggestions really are that powerful. They're practically super man approved.
When should I start setting the stage for sleep?
There's a reason I suggest starting things as you mean to go on. I don't just think the phrase sounds catchy :) Supporting and encouraging healthy sleep habits and associations early on can go a long way for helping you avoid some, if not all sleep struggles. Think about what your future plans are for sleep and try to do things that work toward those plans. Help your child form habits now that you plan on keeping so that you don't have to suddenly change things later on. You likely won't be able to do everything you plan to do in the future, but the idea is to try to do as much as is reasonable and possible to do.
Even if your baby is getting up there in months, the following tips are sure to help out.
How do I set my child up for the best sleep possible?
Now let's learn how to lay the groundwork for the best sleep possible. There are quite a few suggestions here so take things one step at a time. You'll get the hang of things before you know it and it'll feel like you are only doing 2 steps instead of 20. It really will, I promise. Click on the links below for more info about something.
- Create a sleep environment even you'd be jealous of. Makes sure it's safe, an optimal temperature (and that your child is safely dressed for this temperature), the right light level and the right volume. If you don't have a sound machine yet, check out this post on white noise then go run to the store (or over to my best friend amazon) and get one!
- Don't keep your child up for too long. Babies need to be awake for a lot less time than most people think. Most children prefer playing over sleeping so don't expect your little one to go to sleep on their own whenever they start to get tired. You need to keep a close watch on their sleep cues and put them to bed before they get overtired. You should be starting the pre-sleep routine (see below) before your child shows signs of needing to go to sleep. Take a look at this post to find out averages on how long to keep your child awake.
- Start a pre-sleep routine. This is a routine you do before sleep time to let your child know it is time to go to sleep. You'll be surprised how quickly your child associates this with sleep. Even a 1 month old will start to make these associations and know it is sleep time. I'm a big fan of the 4 S Routine and reading before sleep times. Try to make nap time and bedtime positive and something to look forward to.
- Avoid using sleep props when possible. Sometimes you'll use sleep props, even if it isn't in your future plans, and that's OK. There are many things worse than a baby with sleep association issues--like a baby who has zero sleep or a mom who's going half insane caring for herself and family. You do what you need to do in your unique situation.
- Have baby sleep in his own bed (a co-sleeper or bassinet by your bed is fine too). Yes, you can co-sleep, but statistically, you'll get more wakings and night feeds this way.
- Try to put your child to sleep drowsy rather than already asleep. This is kind of a joke, isn't it? Everyone tells you to do it like it simply involves putting your baby down before he falls asleep but we all know it doesn't work that way. Seriously, why are people always saying this like it's so easy to do? Don't expect this to happen flawlessly anytime too soon, but having a good pre-sleep routine and waketime length can help this somewhat obnoxious phrase turn into a reality.
- You won't get too far without consistency. Children like to know what to expect, just like you. And most children will also press you to see where your limits are or if they're still there, especially if you keep changing things up.
- Turn those lights out before it gets too late! Children need an early bedtime, usually between 6-8 pm (maybe a bit later for newborns). This means they'll probably be sleeping 11-12 hours a night. Don't be afraid to put your child to bed early if they need it, like if they've napped badly or have just dropped a nap.
- Children love routine. They really do. It helps them know what to expect and their bodies get used to doing things at a certain time. And it also helps caregivers out. They know when to start looking for baby's sleep cues and when baby will likely want to eat next (this is especially helpful during the busy late afternoons). A common routine people use with newborns is the eat/wake/sleep or EASY routine. It helps avoid the feeding to sleep association that often leads to sleep issues and helps a baby distinguish the day from night. Starting your morning at the same time each day will also help with your routine.
- As hard as it may be at first, try to encourage full feeds. Not only does it help your child get the fatty hind milk if you are breastfeeding, but it'll help your baby go longer between feeds in the day AND night. This will help extend night sleep (and make the eat/wake/sleep routine easier to do) and also give mom and other caregivers some much needed extra rest.
- Don't rush in! When baby starts to make sounds or even cries, follow the old crossing the street saying: stop, look (if you have a video monitor), and listen. It'll take some time, but you'll get better at determining what your baby is "saying". Is he in pain? Is he just making a sound in the middle of his sleep? Is he settling himself to sleep? Even before you've figured out what baby is trying to tell you, it is almost always a good idea to wait a few moments before going in to baby. If he is hungry, it'll be much eaiser to feed him and get a full feedig if he's wide awake, and if doesn't need something, he may fall asleep if you give him a minute. Much of the time parents rush to the aid of their children they are just going through a sleep transition--but before you know it, it turns into a habitual waking reinforced by the parents.
- Older children get overstimulated too, so try to turn off the tv and stop the roughhousing at least 30 minutes before bed. I highly discourage a TV in a child's bedroom for various reasons, one being that is has been shown to cut down on a child's sleep. Violent or scary shows are also never a good idea, whether we are talking about sleep or wake times. Choose your shows and electronic games wisely.
- Give your child plenty of opportunities for exercise. Not only is this healthy, but it'll help them sleep better.
- Limit naps. For newborns, this will mean making sure your child doesn't have his longest period of sleep in the form of a nap during the day instead of at night (see distinguishing night form day below). With older children, mainly over 4 months of age, you'll want to make sure they don't nap too much during the day or they won't sleep well at night. You can see average day, night and 24 hour sleep on these links.
- Dreamfeed your little one before you go to bed so you both sleep the longest stretch of sleep at the same time. Dreamfeeding doesn't always work and can be a bit tricky at times which is where the dream feed troubleshooting post comes in.
- Make sure to have some 1:1 time each day with your chid. I know this sounds like a funny suggestion in regards to sleep, but it really can help. And it's good to do regardless.
- Give your child something that he use to comfort himself without you there--a lovey.
Newborn Specific Sleep Tips
- Help your child distinguish between day and night. When your baby is born he's used to sleeping on and off around the clock. He'll eventually learn that night is for sleeping and daytime is for play (outside of naps, of course), but you can help him get to this point by not letting him sleep more than 2-2.5 hours per nap during the day, keeping things dark and quiet at night, and feeding frequently during the day (the easy routine can help with this). See the link above for even more tips.
- Swaddle your bundle of joy, even if he resists at first. He'll thank you for it later by falling asleep more easily and sleeping longer :)
- Newborns get overstimulated very easily. The simple act of being awake is already pretty stimulating for a newborn. Imagine what loud noises and energetic faces in their vision do to them. If you (or grandparents) overdue it, you very likely will have a baby that has a hard time settling for sleep.
- Some extra thoughts on sleep prop use with newborns.
- Tank your baby up before bed to help her sleep a longer stretch at night. This can be done by cluster feeding (generally for babies under a couple months) and by doing the dreamfeed.
- Help relieve your baby's gas. Your baby's digestive system is still trying to figure things out, and until that happens (and even maybe after :) you've got a little gas monster on your hands. Be sure to burp 2-3 times during a feed and if needed, try out different bottles if your bottle feeding. If you're breastfeeding, you may want to adjust your diet a bit, although most of the time this doesn't seem to make much of a difference.
If you need a bit more help than this post has to offer, no worries. Not only can you find hundreds of helpful posts in the sleep index, sleep by age index and sleep training index, but this is just the first of several posts on specific sleep training methods.
Next up in this sleep training approaches series we'll talk about No Cry Methods. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up for post updates so you don't miss out!
Do you have any other tips to share? What has worked best for you?