Mommy Blog Post
Since becoming a mother, I’ve encountered many helpful tips relating to helping little children’s sleep. I wanted to consolidate them all in one place. This post may be more for myself (as a reminder), but perhaps it will be helpful to others as well. When our second was born it was hard for me to remember those early days. Our boy was also far different than our little girl. He was a much more sleepy baby, whereas she was not – right from the start.
Sleep Begets Sleep
So, the first bit of advice: Sleep begets sleep!
This sounded so strange to me the first time I heard it. How would more sleep lead a baby to sleep more? But, in my experience this is absolutely true. The more we try to have our babies sleep, the more they sleep. This doesn’t mean they have long periods of sleep to begin with, but more naptime sleep, leads to more (and eventually longer) nighttime sleep.
Teaching Babies to Fall Asleep
After an entire night where we couldn’t get our 2-month-old to sleep (it was awful), our doctor gave this wonderful advice. Put your baby in the crib. Leave the room. Set a timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, go back and check on your baby. If they’re sleeping, let them sleep! If s/he’s still crying, make sure their needs are met (not hungry, no dirty diaper, etc), put them back down, set the timer again, and repeat. They will learn to fall asleep. I know some people are not fans of crying it out, but this method really does work (and helps with parental sanity). Within a few days our girl would just settle down and go to sleep (without tears!). Months later I’m still amazed at how easily she will settle down for a nap.
How Long Should My Baby Stay Awake Between Naps?
I have quickly learned that young babies get overtired very easily, which can lead to short naps. If your baby will only nap for 20min, they’re overtired. If they fall asleep while playing, they’re overtired. It is so easy to miss the perfect napping time – especially when yawing can be a sign they’re already too tired! I came across this great guide for maximum length babies can handle staying awake at one time:
- Under 2 months: 45 minutes to 1 hour max
- 3 months: 1.5 hours max
- 4 months: 1.75 to 2 hours max
- 5 months: 2 hours max
- 6 months: 2.5 hours max
- 7 months: 2.75 hours max
- 8/9 months: 3 hours max
- 10/11 months: 3-4 hours max
- 12-14 months: 3-4 hours max on 2 naps, 4.5-6 hours max on 1 nap
The Wonder Weeks and Sleep
If you haven’t heard of the Wonder Weeks, I highly encourage you to check out this book (or glean what you can from the website), and sign up for a leap alarm. This may be a bit more exciting and geeky for me, as one who majored in psychology, with a particular passion for developmental psychology, but I think anyone can benefit from this knowledge.
The Wonder Weeks are based on your baby’s due date (not their birth date), so keep that in mind. Follow this link to a guide from the Baby Sleep Site to see how these weeks impact sleep (note that research is still being done on this, so this may not be perfectly up-to-date). I’ve noticed that Week 15-19 (around 4 months) is a very important one for sleep training. It’s at this point that your child has to learn how to sleep. This sounds very strange, as babies sleep a lot. However, this is when they transition from sleeping like a newborn, to sleeping more like we do (a more adult-like sleep). They have to re-learn how to sleep. Both of my kids struggled around this sleep transition. They would have lots of 30min naps. Since I would only have them up for a max of 1.5 hours at this point (see table above), they sometimes had 5 naps in a day. Here’s how I tried to help them transition:
- I made sure their room was really dark (think cave-dark). This helped them to fall asleep again.
- When they woke from a nap, or during the night, I didn’t get them right away. Particularly at night, I would give them up to 25min to try and fall asleep again. The one exception was if they were smacking their lips – that indicated to me that they were obviously hungry.
I think the last thing that I’ve found helpful is just to try and be consistent. It’s okay to have a funny day where schedules are out-of-whack every once in a while (it will happen), but babies like routine. I don’t blame them! My kids have both really liked having a music box played before falling asleep. Our oldest had a musical pillow, and now has a lamb, that we wind up before naps and bedtime. He will still ask for it if we forget. Our youngest has a mobile. I’ve found simple songs that repeat to be best. We tried something with more variety, and it just didn’t work for us. It played far too long and just kept them awake. I’m sure it works for other kids, but ours like the short repetition better.
Recently we discovered that routine can also include touch! Our daughter was having a terrible time falling asleep if we brought her elsewhere – even when we brought her mobile and sound machine. It took us far too long to figure out that we had the wrong sheet on her bed! Apparently she’d taken to soothing herself to sleep by rubbing her fingers on her soft crib sheet. Once we started using the same type of sheet in her pack ‘n play, she made absolutely no fuss. It’s seriously the weirdest thing!
Do you have any other helpful tips in getting your children to sleep well? What helpful hints have you learned as a parent?