Solving your Sleep Problems
If you are like me, then you envisioned having a baby as a
wonderful time of your life filled with happy, soapy baths,
chubby little hands and feet, and peacefully sleeping angelic
infants! For many though, the reality is not
what is pictured on television or in books.
Sleeping like a baby takes on a whole new meaning when you
realize that babies are perhaps the lightest, most finicky
sleepers on the planet. There are many reasons
for this and they are, of course, good in an evolutionary
Light sleeping babies have lower rates of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Light sleeping babies feed more, meaning they gain more weight, and if breastfeeding, get more of those amazing nutrients needed for optimal brain growth. Light sleeping babies spend more time near their parents which is perfect for developing a strong bond and attachment and being protected against predators. Yes, that’s right; babies have not evolved in a million years. They are exactly the way they were when monkeys decided to climb out of trees and go upright. The result of this is a tiny helpless creature that is biologically designed to sleep lightly and spend all of it’s time, waking and otherwise, with its parents—wonderful if said parents have nothing else to do beside holding their beautiful baby!
However, for many parents it does not feel wonderful. Having to get up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning for work means that frequent night wakings, or trouble getting your baby to sleep at bedtime, can wreak havoc on your sanity. Sleep problems affect at least 50% of babies, infants, and toddlers under the age of 5 and can impact the entire family’s functioning. They rank among the top 5 reasons children are seen by their pediatrician and countless hours and dollars are spent researching ways to ‘improve your child’s sleep’!
The good news is there are many easy, common sense ways to help your child develop positive sleep habits right from the beginning, without resorting to traumatizing cry-it-out techniques. So if you want to solve your baby or child’s sleep problems, start the moment he/she wakes up in the morning, because healthy sleep habits start the minute you wake up!
1) If you want your child to go to bed at the same time each night, make sure he/she wakes up at the same time each morning, even on weekends. This is crucial for regulating the hormones, body temperature, and circadian rhythm that our sleep depends on.
2) If your baby, infant, or toddler has frequent night wakings, make sure he/she naps well during the day. Tired babies and children wake up more during the night. Keeping a baby awake during the day to help them sleep better at night is an old wives tale and may backfire on you.
3) Know how many hours of sleep your baby should be getting in a 24 hour period and do your best to help them achieve that number. Never underestimate the importance of naps. Whether they are scheduled or just whenever your baby falls asleep, do your best to respect the need for sleep and help your baby get the recommended number of naps each day. Infants 1 year and under need between 14 and 15 hours of sleep each day, depending on their exact age.
4) Develop positive sleep routines for naps and bedtime. Be consistent to the greatest extent possible. Nap routines do not need to be exact replicas of bedtime routines, but should be similar to each other from day to day. Keep routines between 20-45 minutes and make sure they actually have a calming effect on your baby. Not all children are calmed by a bath for example.
5) Consider co-sleeping as many babies and toddlers sleep much better when in your bed. Co-sleeping is very safe if done properly and many resources are available on this topic. Dr. Jay Gordon’s book, “Good Nights” is a great read on the family bed.
6) Make sure your child is exposed to at least 17 minutes of daylight every day (or roughly 2 hours per week). This improves vitamin D production/absorption as well as melatonin production which is vital to their circadian rhythm. Rooms where baby naps can be slightly darkened, but should not be ‘dark’. This will cause their bodies to confuse day sleep with night sleep and will increase night wakings.
7) Feed your baby ‘on demand’. Known as cue feeding this will help your baby get all the nutrition and comfort he/she needs while teaching them that they are in control of their bodies and minds. Rigid schedules often interfere with bonding and trust and can lead to ‘learned helplessness’ whereby children wait for others to do things for them instead of having the confidence to do things for themselves. Respect the fact that your baby knows his/her body best.
8) If you are having sleep problems such as frequent night wakings, or trouble getting your infant or toddler to sleep at night, consider hiring a no-cry sleep consultant. Cry-it-out techniques have been found to contribute to anxiety, co-dependence and even ADHD and can have many harmful effects on the trust and bond that your baby has developed with you.
Hopefully these tips can help you and your family achieve a good night’s sleep. For more information on sleep problems and sleep consultants, check out www.babymuse.org