Nowadays there is so much information out there on baby sleep which is amazing. Historically it wasn’t a subject covered in much depth as parents just assumed that sleep deprivation was par for the course of having a child. It’s refreshing that this mindset is changing but how do you distil the mountains and mountains of information out there, into something useful that works for you? I stick to two principles: keep it gentle and keep it simple.
Here is how…
A full baby is a content baby.
One basic thing to remember is if a baby is hungry in the night, they’re not going back to sleep! I absolutely believe you should feed a hungry baby whenever they need it. However, there is a big difference between a baby or toddler waking in the night asking for milk, rather than being hungry for milk.
Feeding for comfort in the night is a huge cause of frequent night wakings. If your baby is comfort feeding in the night, I recommend breaking the link between feeding and sleep. After your baby is a certain age – let’s say 6 months – there are a few signs that your baby is feeding for comfort, not hunger:
- They are feeding more regularly at night than in the day. If your little one can go 4 hours in the day between feeds, this is the minimum they should be waking at night for milk
- If they take short, frequent feeds all night
- If they are consistently falling asleep on night feeds
Tip: One thing I always recommend to my clients is to try and make the last feed of the day the biggest. This can sometimes be challenging as your baby becomes more tired, but one little trick is to feed your baby before and after their bedtime bath (if they don’t have a bath, that’s OK – just do it before you start your normal bedtime routine and then again during the routine).
It just means babies have a bit more energy to enjoy their bath and it takes the pressure off the feed right before bed when they are super tired and they may fall asleep before taking much milk.
Put your baby down content, but awake.
This is an oldie but a goodie. At around 4 months your baby’s sleep physiology would have changed forever. It’s often referred to as the ‘4 month sleep regression’ but it’s actually a huge progression in little ones’ development in sleep. They go from sleeping like a newborn to a regulated sleep pattern that they will take into adulthood.
Babies, like adults, will transition through sleep cycles all night and ‘wake’ between each one. It’s totally normal but if your bubs doesn’t know how to resettle themselves, it can lead to them waking frequently all night looking for external help (normally a parent) to settle them back to sleep.
Putting your baby into their cot content, but awake, gives them the opportunity to settle themselves to sleep. By all means stay with them and give them support if they need it, but comfort doesn’t have to be in your arms. Stroke them, hold their hand, rub their tummy. By doing all of this in their cot it can help them learn to sleep independently, a skill they can draw on when they wake in the night.
Routine, routine, routine
Routine is so important for your child in more ways than just sleep. A regular and predictable day and night routine makes your little ones feel safe, secure and can help them thrive. It also allows them to feed off these routine triggers.
Take a structured bedtime routine as an example. If they know a bath and a story comes before sleep time, they start to recognise the cues and their body naturally starts winding down as soon as you start running that bath. Little ones are so clever.
Lots of parents ask me when should a bedtime routine start and my answer is always: as soon as possible. It can be a really gentle routine and the timing of it doesn’t need to be the same each night in those early weeks, but it will help your baby learn that night time is coming and that’s when they should be sleeping their longer stretches.
The sleep environment is critical
And it doesn’t have to be complicated. A dark room is one of the biggest causes of early wakings or broken day sleep. If a little one’s room is too light, as the sun comes up it fuels the production of cortisol (the ‘awake hormone’) in their body signifying it’s time to start the day.
Getting blackout blinds or curtains is step one when I work with clients one on one. Helping children differentiate between sleep time and awake time is one of the first steps to a sleeping child.
The temperature of a child’s room should be comfortable, and ideally between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius (60-68 degrees Fahrenheit). Exactly the same as us adults, if they get too hot or cold in the night they become restless and wake.
Focus on day naps
Don’t think that a baby that hasn’t slept during the day will sleep longer at night. The age-old phrase ‘sleep breeds sleep’ is so true. Babies who have had the right amount of sleep and stimulation in the day will sleep better at night.
Sleep-deprived babies often fight sleep because they are overtired leading to them being more upset and clingy at bedtime. And try not to worry about a baby sleeping too close to bedtime – something many parents do. A baby up to about 7 or 8 months only needs to be awake from a nap around 1.5 hours before bedtime, with this increasing to about 2-3 hours over the following few months.
If you wish to discuss sleep improvement for you little one further, please do book a free initial 15mins video or phone call with me here.