Baby Sleep Tips to Make Bedtime Less Stressful and More Successful
When I introduce myself as a Child Sleep Consultant I always get the question, “Do you have any tips to help get my baby to be a better sleeper?” Every child is different, but there are some general baby sleep tips that I would give any new parents to get started with healthy sleep habits.
- Establish a consistent soothing routine that takes place for 15 minutes prior naptime and 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
- When establishing a nap schedule, make sure your child is awake by 7 a.m. from night sleep.
- Never let a nap last longer than 3 hours.
- Keep wake periods and bedtime age appropriate!
While these tips can be very helpful for parents, unfortunately it isn’t always that easy. The more educated parents are, the higher the likelihood their child will learn healthy sleep habits from the start. I have put together some sleep tips that can make naptime and bedtime less stressful and more successful.
Staying a Step Ahead with Sleepy Cues: Most children give us hints when they are starting to get sleepy and entering their natural sleep wave. Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse these hints with signs of being overtired. And once a child gets to the overtired state, we usually have missed their sleep wave. The goal is to begin soothing them at the very beginning of their sleep wave, so that they are on their way to finding sleep as soon as they are in their crib.
We call these hints that our children give us at the beginning of their sleep wave, “sleepy cues”. It is important to be able to differentiate your child’s sleepy cues from signs of being over-tired, so you can be proactive with their naptime and bedtime. The following lists are some potential sleepy cues, as well as signs of being overtired. Each child is different, so it is important to observe your child and let them show you their specific cues.
Potential Sleepy Cues
- Becoming drowsy
- Decreased activity
- Slower motions
- Less vocal
- Sucking is weaker or slower
- Appears disinterested in surrounding
- Eyes are less focused
- Eyelids drooping
- A lull in energy
Potential Overtired Signs
- Rubbing eyes
- Inability to entertain themselves
If your child has night waking’s between bedtime and midnight, that means they reached the “overtired state” before they fell asleep.
Making the Bedtime Routine Special: A consistent bedtime routine is crucial to establishing successful sleep habits. The right routine can turn the dreaded bedtime into a wonderful bonding time that both the child and parent can look forward to.
The bedtime routine is specific to each family. It might include activities such as reading a book, singing a particular song, or taking a bubble bath. The consistent routine can help provide the child a sense of calming, and lets your child know what to expect each night before it’s time to go to sleep.
This routine will also come in handy during vacations or daylight savings when there is a time change. In these situations, don’t focus so much on the clock, but follow your usual routine and those cues will let your child know its time for sleep.
Nap Happy: Naps are many times a source of frustration for parents. As soon as they think they have it figured out, something changes. It is important for parents to be educated on the three main factors that influence a good nap:
- Being put down for their nap at the same time as their biological sleep wave, before they become overtired. Know their sleepy cues.
- Having the child fall asleep independently without props.
- Implementing the “one hour rule” to ensure restorative sleep. A 60-minute nap is fully restorative, so it is important to keep your baby in their crib for the full hour even if they wake beforehand. If they wake up before 60 minutes crying, you can go in quickly and try to soothe them back to sleep.
Naps by Age:
- A newborn can only handle a one-hour wake period. This means that as soon as they wake you will feed them, go straight to tummy time/play time, and then begin your soothing routine 15 minutes prior to the one-hour mark.
- At 4 months a baby’s sleep will start to be scheduled. The length of a wake period will no longer take precedence to determine the next nap. Rather we will aim to lay them down during their biological sleep waves, based on their sleepy cues.
- Once a baby reaches 6 months, they are able to tolerate about 2.5 hours of wake time. At this age it is also time to start evaluating the number of naps per day. Some babies do better with a third nap while others favor an earlier bedtime. If you are having trouble establishing a consistent schedule for your child using a third nap, it might be best to get rid of that third nap and move up bedtime.
- At about 18 months the transition from two naps to one should take place, starting too soon will delay the process. Timing is very important during this transition and you must have a solid plan in place before beginning.
Nap Watch Outs:
- If your child is having early morning wake ups, there might be too much wake time in between their last nap of the day and bedtime.
- If a child wakes up unhappy from a nap, they were most likely put down at the wrong time according to their biological sleep wave. More often than not, this is also a sign of an overtired child.
Creating an Ideal Sleep Environment: Your child’s sleep environment can have a significant influence on your child’s sleeping pattern. Being mindful of the temperature, distractions, and the amount of light in the room can help ensure a peaceful atmosphere conducive to healthy sleep.
- Temperature: Always be aware of the temperature in your baby’s nursery, it should remain between 68-70 degrees.
- Distractions: Keeping your child’s crib/bed free from distractions let’s your child focus on sleep. Having toys or other novelties around can confuse them and make them think it’s playtime.
- Light: Make sure to use blackout curtains to maintain darkness in your child’s bedroom, and don’t use a night light. Blackout EZ Window Covers are a great way to keep your child’s room dark.
Fathering to Sleep: I believe it is very important for a father to be part of the sleep routine, and develop his own strategies for soothing his child to sleep. “Fathering to Sleep” is great at times when a baby needs to be soothed, but not fed. For breastfed babies, this is a great plan to have in place so that both mom and baby don’t resort to nursing in order to fall back asleep. When a father learns to put his child to sleep, it gives him a sense of confidence and reassurance in his abilities as a parent. It is also a wonderful way to create a father/baby bond.
Smooth Transitions to the Big Girl/Boy Bed: One of the big sleep struggles that many families have is the transition from the crib to the toddler bed. While there are many considerations for this transition, my best advice is to make sure your child is ready for it. I recommend to my clients to start the transition at three years old. This is when the child can understand the bedtime rules. It is common for a child to remain in their toddler bed for several weeks or months before they discover they have the freedom to get out of bed, so its important not to make the transition prematurely.
It is also important that you are not starting off the transition with any negative behaviors, or “sleep crutches”, such as:
- Mom or dad lying in bed until child falls asleep
- Child falling asleep while rocking or nursing
- Child falling asleep only while holding Mommy’s hand
Ensuring that you have a solid strategy ironed out beforehand, that every family member is on board with, is the best way to help ensure success.
Remember, consistency is the most important part of any sleep training process.
Always remain positive, confident and consistent!