So your baby isn’t sleeping. She can’t fall asleep on her own, she wakes up 5 times a night, she naps for 20 minutes at a time, and she has NO structure or routine to her day. You’re exhausted and sleep deprived….AND SO IS YOUR BABY!
Last night you were so tired that you accidentally put hand soap on your toothbrush and started brushing. You weren’t so happy.
You finally recognize that your baby’s sleep challenges are not going to magically disappear without some intervention. You need a SLEEP PLAN.
Here are some steps to follow when coming up with a plan that will get you and your family the sleep you all need and love. Of course, there is a whole slew of additional factors that can contribute to poor sleep, but this will get you off to a good start:
1. Get ready to make some permanent changes and work hard.
Are YOU ready for change? This is one of the most important steps to creating healthy sleep habits for your child. If you are not ready to make significant changes to your life and your baby’s life, you won’t be successful.
For example, some parents are used to going about their daily lives and making their baby’s sleep needs fit into their schedule. This will need to change. If you want your baby sleeping through the night, it is essential to ensure he takes properly timed naps in his crib and has a consistent early bedtime. Otherwise, you will have an overtired baby on your hands…and those babies will never let you sleep at night!
Change is hard for everyone involved, even if it’s good change. Your baby will probably protest this change at some point, so you need to be prepared to put in the work!
2. Educate yourself on the science of baby sleep and set realistic goals
How many hours of sleep does your baby need over a 24-hour period of time? How many naps does she need, and how many hours should her naps equal? How long can your baby likely be awake before needing a nap? How many night feeds (if any) does your baby need?
It’s extremely important that your goals for your baby are age-appropriate. For example, your 3 month-old will not be able to sleep 11-12 hours uninterrupted (unless you have one of those Olympic sleeping unicorn babies that I’ve heard about). On the other hand, your healthy 10 month-old baby weighing in at 23 pounds whose dinner consists of a bowl of macaroni, a chicken thigh, a handful of green beans and a container of applesauce can surely learn to sleep until the morning without needing a midnight snack!
Whatever you do, be realistic and don’t set yourself up for failure!
3. Ensure your baby’s sleep space is optimal
Here are a few tips on making your baby’s sleep space as sleep-friendly as possible:
- Use a white noise machine to drown out background noise and for soothing
- Make sure the room is cool, ideally between 19 and 22 degrees Celsius because a room that is too hot can disrupt your baby’s sleep
- Make sure the room is dark! On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is a bright sunny day and10 is pitch black, the room should be an 8. Too much light can impede your child’s sleep.
- Make sure that there is nothing overly stimulating in the baby’s room. Ensure that the room is decorated using pale tones. Remove any toys from the crib that have buttons, play music, or have flashing lights (e.g. the Baby Einstein sea aquarium).
4. Implement an age-appropriate daily routine
Many of you are reading this with a deer-caught-in-headlights look on your face. “Routine? What’s a routine?” A routine is a set of regular activities that are constantly performed in the same order. Implementing a daily routine for your baby is important so that her day has structure and predictability and so that she gets the daytime sleep her body needs. This is essential!
Your baby’s routine should follow an eat-play-sleep structure. As your baby gets older, the “play” portion of the routine will get longer and he may need to eat again before the “sleep” part of his day occurs. Make sure you educate yourself on your baby’s sleep needs (discussed in step 2) so that his routine involves properly timed naps for his age and an early bedtime. Otherwise you’ll have an overtired baby on your hands, which will make sleep training almost impossible.
Make sure that your baby’s nutritional intake is optimal throughout the day as well. Nutrition and sleep are directly connected, so poor eating habits can directly cause sleep issues.
5. Pick a sleep training methodology
Now comes the fun part- SLEEP TRAINING! If your baby’s self-soothing skills are weak (or non-existent!), you need to sleep train. There are a variety of methods to choose from that can teach your baby how to fall asleep on his own so that he can put himself back to sleep when he wakes up in the middle of the night.
For those parents who want a gentler approach, there’s Kim West’s “Sleep Lady Shuffle”, Tracy Hogg’s “Pick Up/Put Down”, and Elizabeth Pantley’s “Plantley Pull-Off”.
For the parents who are comfortable with a more direct approach, Dr. Ferber’s “Progressive Waiting” approach and Dr. Weissbluth’s “Extinction” are the two most popular.
There is no right or wrong choice of sleep training methodology. All that matters is that you are 100% consistent!
6. Keep a sleep log
Keeping a log will help you track your baby’s progress so that you can make tweaks to his routine when necessary.
7. Be patient!
Give yourself AT LEAST one weak to implement your plan before making any major changes. Tossing old sleep habits and creating new ones can take time! Be patient and consistent. Just remember that by teaching your baby to sleep, you are investing in your child’s health and well-being!