Maybe your baby is waking up more times overnight than you’d like. Maybe naps are ridiculously short. Maybe your baby wants to start the day at 5 a.m. All you know is that you feel like you’re at the end of your tether, and you need help now
Regardless of the sleep issue you’re experiencing, there are some key Baby Sleep Basics that can help you start to see improvements today:
Routine, routine, routine
It is really never too early to help baby understand what’s expected next (read: sleep!). By 2-3 months old, a good bedtime routine lasts about 20 minutes and includes calming activities done in approximately the same order every night. A good nap routine is a shortened version of the bedtime routine, lasting about 5 minutes. It’s okay to mix up your routine to include/exclude a bath, but try to keep the rest of the routine as consistent as possible from day to day. Here’s a sample bedtime routine, beginning after the last feeding of the day: Wash up, PJs, Bedtime Books, Songs, Snuggles and into bed. But you can create whatever routine works best for your family.
Dark, calm and quiet
A baby’s sleep environment should be dark, calm and quiet. After a baby’s day/night confusion has resolved (typically by around 2 months of age), do everything you can to make their sleep environment as dark as possible by using room-darkening shades or towels/pillows/whatever you have on hand for all naps and nighttime. Keep the room temperature between 19-21 degrees Celsius (babies sleep better when it’s a bit cooler). Remove any toys, mobiles etc. that could be distracting your baby from sleeping. Make sure their sleep space is where they go to sleep only, not to play. Use a white noise machine that stays on all night long. Side note: why do some white noise machines/toys shut off exactly at the end of one sleep-wake cycle, all but ensuring baby will not sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time? Strange!
Sleepy is as sleepy does
Resist falling into the tempting trap of thinking that keeping your baby up for longer periods of time during the day will help them eventually crash and sleep through the night. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Putting an overtired baby to bed is pretty much exactly like asking them to wake up multiple times throughout the night and get up before the crack of dawn. A well-rested baby is more likely to have good, long stretches of overnight sleep. Remember this adage, whatever you do: The road to more sleep is more sleep (within reason).
Happiness is… bedtime
Don’t be afraid of an early bedtime. The more sleep babies can clock in before midnight, the more restorative their sleep will be and the more likely they will sleep longer stretches overnight. A bedtime in the range of 6:30-8:30 p.m. is ideal for babies and toddlers. Particularly in the first year of a baby’s life, bedtime should be flexible and based on age-appropriate wake windows. A wake window is the amount of time that your baby can handle being awake in one stretch. At the newborn stage, wake windows are only about 45 minutes long (barely enough time to feed and change them!). They increase by about 10-15 minutes per month until babies can handle about 3-4 hours of awake time by their 1st birthday.
Don’t rush it
This advice applies to a few different situations. First, if you’re trying something new to see if it will help your sleep issue, give it some time to work. I always recommend giving any new change at least 3 days before thinking about changing the tactic. Second, while you’re working on independent sleep and baby starts to stir, give them an extra minute or two to see if they will settle themselves back to sleep. Sometimes a little delay in the rush to go to them is enough to help them learn independent sleep. It may not work right away, but staying consistent over a reasonable amount of time will eventually spell success.
Whatever the sleep situation, sharpening your baby’s sleep environment, routine and schedule is an excellent place to begin looking for solutions. These basics are often enough to address an ongoing sleep issue. Give it a couple of weeks and stay consistent before deciding that you might need to go beyond the basics