Back when I was pregnant, I think the number one thing that people used to say to me was, “Sleep while you can, because it will soon be a thing of the past.” I also remember thinking, “What a horrible thing to tell someone,” and “I really hope that’s not true.” Were they just trying to warn me about the inevitable? Or were they trying to set my expectations low so that I would be pleasantly surprised if it wasn’t true? If you really want to give some useful advice to expectant parents, don’t tell them to “sleep now” suggest that they develop a plan on how to handle sleepless nights and a strategy on how to encourage good sleeping habits from day one. Because good sleeping habits are the key to getting them to sleep.
How Much Sleep in Necessary?
I once heard someone say, “People who say they sleep like a baby, don’t have one.” In fact, sleeping like a baby is not such a good thing, after all. Although babies tend to sleep more, they also tend to wake up every 2-3 hours. And for an adult, that is not healthy. Going without sleep, or sleep deprivation, can affect not only your ability to perform tasks and remember things, but also can affect you physically. Getting the amount of sleep that your body requires is vital to your health, not to mention your mental wellbeing. So how much sleep do our bodies need? On average, adults typically need between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per day. Babies generally need around 15 hours of sleep each day, but tend to wake up every 2- 3 hours to eat. Now here is where it gets tricky. Somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months of age babies will develop the capability to sleep in blocks of 4-6 hours without waking up. And that block of sleep where they don’t wake up is what most doctors will consider, “sleeping through the night.”
I remember when my son was around 3 months old during one of his visits to the pediatrician the doctor asked me, “Is he sleeping ok?” To which I replied, “I wish he would sleep through the night just once, mainly so I can remember what that feels like.” And he said, “How long is he sleeping?” And I said, “He usually goes to sleep by 9:00, but he is up at 3:00 in the morning!” And he said, “I hate to say this, but he is sleeping for 6 hours, that IS sleeping through the night.”
Getting Them to Sleep
Now I realize that all babies are different and different things will work for one baby and not for another, but the main thing is, don’t be afraid to try new things to get your baby to sleep. Try one thing, give a night or two and then try something else. It‘s not the end of the world and eventually you will find what works for your baby.
Don’t let them sleep all day and then expect them to sleep all night– When your baby is awake during the day, talk to him, play with him, sing to him, act goofy, do whatever it takes while they are awake to encourage activity.
Establish a Bedtime Routine and Checklist – A bedtime routine is very important and will start to signal to your baby that it is time for bed. The routine can include things such as a bath, a clean diaper, clean pajamas, a book, a lullaby, etc. Just try to follow the same routine every night. Having a checklist is also helpful. In our house we made sure that we were prepped for “the night shift,” as we called it, before we went to bed. The check list included things such as, bottles ready, bibs and towels handy, plenty of diapers and baby wipes on hand, extra pajamas and spare sheets within reach and lots and lots of nightlights. The reason for the checklist? Neither one of us wanted to be digging around in the dark looking for baby wipes at midnight.
Putting them to Bed – Start by making sure that their room is conducive to sleep. Make sure that the room is a comfortable temperature, that it is dark enough without being totally dark (try a nightlight or 2). Try using a cd player on a timer for some soft music or an air purifier or humidifier to provide some background noise. At first you might be placing your baby into the crib after they are already asleep, but gradually you will want to start laying them down right before they fall asleep so that they can learn to fall asleep in the crib, surrounded by this comfortable environment that you have created. Ideally you could just sing to him, kiss him and then pat him on the back and let him fall asleep.
Some fussing is Normal – They may fuss or babble a little before they fall asleep, so just wait a few minutes and see how it goes. You may need to go in a couple of times to soothe them by talking to him, singing them him, or patting his back. But try to avoid picking them up, if possible. It can take some time and can be a little stressful, but he will get used to it and will learn to go to sleep on his own. And THAT is the key to a good night’s sleep.
Feeding Time – When your baby does wake up for their night time feeding and changing, remember this, less is more. This is where all the nightlights come in handy. We had nightlights throughout the areas of our house that we used for feeding and changing our son in the middle of the night. So, no light switches were ever turned on. I could get up, warm his bottle, change him, feed him, get him back to sleep and get myself back in bed in 20 minutes. The main thing I focused on was, I did not want him to think that it was time to get up. So I was very quiet and worked quickly to get us both back into our beds.
When Getting up Becomes a Habit – When my son was a baby he woke up usually 3 times every night for feeding and changing. When he got to be about 3 months old I noticed that he was not drinking his entire bottle every time. By the time he was 4 months old when he woke up for the 3rd feeding he was barely eating anything at all before falling back to sleep in my arms. That’s when I realized that he was waking up out of habit, not because he was hungry. So, for the next 3 nights when he woke up at his normal time for his 3rd feeding, I waited 30 seconds before I got up and he went back to sleep each time on his own. So his 3rd feeding became a morning feeding and the same thing happened eventually with the other two feedings