Do you wish your kids were great sleepers? Do you want to see them sleep in their beds, and most importantly…stay asleep until the morning? If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, then you have come to the right place!
Fair warning – this post is long. But like everything worthwhile in life, it will include lots of details and helpful of advice from my own personal trials and tribulations with teaching my kids to sleep well. To keep things simple, I’ve created a step by step guide so that you can find a long term solution that works for your family.
Why is teaching your child to sleep well so important?
Proper sleep plays a crucial role in children’s physical and cognitive development, helps reduce behavioral outbursts or tantrums, and also gives parents a much needed break. 🙂 Sleep is serious business! Teaching your children to sleep well early in life is probably one of the best gifts you can give them, as it will help them thrive emotionally, physically, and mentally. (Read more about the benefits of sleep here.) Equally important is, of course, the teaching process itself, which should involve lots of care, attention, and love. The goal here is not only to get your children to sleep well, but for them to associate sleep with a pleasant/enjoyable experience. (The words ‘bedtime and nap time’ should not be taboo in your household.)
Bottom line…I want you and your kids to be well rested and refreshed, so you can all seize the day!
For expecting parents:
There are things you can do right from day one to ensure your child will sleep well (more about this later on). I wholeheartedly believe that children have to be taught to sleep well, they are not born great sleepers (with the exception of the first 24 hours of course, when that’s pretty much all they do).
If you already have a baby:
I hope that you will be able to use my experience to help get your kids on the right path to sleeping better.
I’m not going to sugar coat the process. Your kids will cry, you’ll have to have nerves of steel, and your patience will definitely be tested!
But at the end of it all, you’ll get a better night’s rest and so will your kids. The biggest plus of all…is that you’ll take back your bedroom! Who doesn’t want that, right?
So if you’re ready to teach your kids how to be great sleepers, then let’s get started!
Background – because every accomplishment needs a good story
My daughter was about 5 months old, in good health, and eating well (we had just started solid food). When it was time for sleep, I always made sure her room was dark, warm, and quiet. I would start our set bedtime routine, and she would fall asleep in my arms. Then I proceeded to gently place my sleeping angel her in her crib. Good, right? Nope!…she would wake up instantly and I would have to start the process all over again. Some nights the whole bedtime routine would end up taking about 4 hours!!
So after a few weeks of that, I was starting to – aside from pulling my hair out – get really exhausted and desperate for a good night’s sleep. (Hence reading all the books, articles and looking on the internet for all and any help I could find. Never underestimate the will power of a desperate mom!) 🙂
One day, when chatting with some friends, I decided to whine a bit about my 4 hour bedtime routine. That’s when one neighbor was kind enough to share the method that helped her son become a great sleeper.
Since nothing else seemed to work, I thought “why not give this a try?”. It really seemed that teaching her child to sleep well made for a happier mom and happier kid, and that gave me the added drive to make it work for me and my daughter.
Finding the Right Method
There are different methods to help get your kids sleeping well. The trick here is to research each one and then tailor it to your child. I recommend reading Susie Parker’s post titled “Sleep Training Made Easy…” She discusses the different methods of sleep training in detail. Awesome!
While it’s really never too late to start teaching your child to fall asleep on their own and sleep through the night, the earlier you start (but no earlier than 5 months – more on this later on), the more success you’ll have, and the easier it’ll be on your nerves.
Having gone through this with my daughter and son, I can happily say that both of them sleep through the night every night. A quick side story here – when my daughter was about 1 year old, we had to renovate the upstairs bathroom (about 15 feet away form her room). The only time we had to work on it was at night, so we were up till 2 am knocking down walls and using power tools, and guess what…she slept through it all. How awesome is that?!
Setting the Stage after Birth
As mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t start the routine till your baby is at least 5 months. Why? The main reason is feeding. At this point you will want to establish a good eating routine first. To explain how the two relate, let’s take a moment and look at how things progress over the first few weeks.
Right after your return home from the hospital, the usual routine is gone. It’s now been replaced by tending to your baby’s needs at all hours of day and night. During the first few weeks it’s best to let your baby sleep whenever he/she wants to and establish their own sleep cycle. Your baby needs to adjust to the new reality just as much as you do. So at this time focus on nursing, mastering the diaper changes, and being an attentive parent.
Furthermore, feeding your baby on cue builds trust between the two of you, and helps regulate your baby’s feeding habits. It’s not worth playing around with the feeding schedule just to get an extra hour of sleep. So please, feed on cue and answer baby’s cries as promptly as possible.
Dr. Sears best explains my thoughts on relationship building with children, also referred to as ‘attachment parenting’. I highly recommend reading their article titled “Attachment Parenting Explained” for more information on this topic.
Here are some things you can do to establish a good sleep routine with baby after birth:
Around 1 week
Get baby used to the daytime and nighttime cycles, by keeping your home bright during the day (nursing beside a sunny window works well) and dark and quiet during the night (blackout curtains really help!). Also, start looking for the ‘limp-limb’ sign to figure out when your baby is truly asleep and you can sneak away. (Learn more about the ‘limp-limb’ in Dr. Sears’ article here.)
Around 2 weeks
Begin establishing a nap routine by nursing baby in a dark and quiet room twice a day (let’s say 10/11 am and 2/3 pm). It’s really up to you which times work best.
Around 4 weeks
Start a bedtime routine that involves some of the following:
- Bath (read my article ‘The Easiest Way to Bathe Baby’ for some great tips!)
- A dark and quiet room
- Soothing music
- Cuddling with a favorite stuffy or blanket
Keep experimenting until you find the best routine that works for you.
Around 4 Months – A Big Transition
From birth to about 4 months, both my kids slept in a bassinet beside our bed. At 4 months we moved them to their own rooms and they slept in a crib.
I know that making this change can be tough for some parents, because…well they’re still so darn little! It was definitely not an easy transition for me, so I completely understand your worries.
Let me put your mind at easy by talking about future sleep behaviors. You don’t want your child to get used to sleeping in your room, right? Most importantly, you don’t want your bedtime routine (keeping the light on to read a book…etc.) and noises (yes i’m referring to snoring…etc.) to wake them up, right? So, I think we can agree that the best sleep your baby can get is in a dark, quiet room, free of noises, or movement.
Now, just because your baby is sleeping in a different room, doesn’t mean that you’ll be ignoring them. You will end up being just as attentive and it will require just as much energy during the night.
Transitioning from your room to baby’s room – what I did:
I would always finish our bedtime routine and then place my baby in her crib to sleep. I never co-slept with my kids, that is…until they would wake up during the night. At which point, if I was too tired to go through the entire routine again, I would lie down on the spare mattress in their room, and nurse them until they fell back asleep.
The key was to never sleep with the kids in my bedroom. I thought it was important for the kids to feel as safe and comfortable sleeping in the crib in their room as they did in the bassinet in our room. My children knew I would always be nearby and take care of whatever was waking them up (refer back to attachment parenting article link). And because of this, they got used to falling back asleep on their own if they happened to wake up at night (assuming they weren’t hungry or in need of a diaper change).
5 Months and Beyond – Teaching Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Around this age, your baby is ready to sleep through the night (a 6-9 hour stretch is a realistic expectation), as nighttime feedings are not as necessary. (Read more about this on the National Sleep Foundation website here.)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure your doctor has deemed the baby is in good health and developing well before you embark on teaching your kid how to sleep.
Go through your usual bedtime routine, whether it’s a bath before bed or reading a story. Turn off the lights and nurse, rock, sing…etc. your baby to sleep. I found that a dark room helped my baby associate the dark with calm and sleep time and that still holds true today.
Once your baby is drowsy, but not fully asleep, put him/her in the crib.
Chances are, as soon as you put your baby down in the crib, the drowsiness will disappear (and you are reading this article, because this is exactly what happens). The baby may start getting upset or even crying, but that’s OK. It’s simply their way of asking “mommy…this is different…what’s going on?” Comfort your little one by rubbing his/her head or tummy, but DO NOT PICK THE BABY UP…NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO.
This is a crucial step (and I can’t stress it enough), because you’re trying to teach your baby that once they are in bed and it’s dark, it is time to sleep.
Odds are your baby is now crying. As tough as it may be, it’s time for you to leave the room. But don’t worry, you’re not abandoning your little one. Stay nearby and have the baby monitor with you.
Give it about 5 mins, and then you or your husband can go in and once again comfort the baby by rubbing his/her head, cheek, or belly, but (and once again I hope I’m stressing this enough) DO NOT PICK THE BABY UP. After some brief comfort, I would say no more than a minute or two, leave the room again. It’s important to do this, so that your baby knows that although you’re not in the room, you are still there for them. Keep leaving and returning (each time adding a few minutes) until your little one falls asleep, and yes – they will fall asleep.
You will have to repeat the above steps every day until your baby stays asleep when you put them down for the night. This can range from 3 to 7 days.
So, how much crying can you expect from your little one? It really does depend on the child. Prime example, my daughter cried for over an hour on the first day, less than 45 mins on day two, about 20 mins on day three, 5 mins on day four, and on day five and beyond there was no more crying. My son, on the other hand, only cried for about 20 mins on day one, less than 10 mins on day two, and by day three he stopped crying altogether.
Regression and what to do when baby is sick:
So you taught your baby to fall and stay asleep, and finally the baby sleeps well…Congratulations! *clapping loudly* 😀 Then some time later baby refuses to go to sleep and starts to wake up frequently…what now??
A change in your baby’s routine or any developmental milestone (e.g teething, sitting up, or learning to walk) may cause this to happen.
So what can you do?
Should this happen, simply repeat steps 1 – 4 as a gentle reminder that everything is OK. Good news is that this typically only takes a day or two, and your baby will be right back to sleeping like an angel.
When baby is sick…
When my children were sick, I would perform the usual bedtime routine and lay them down in their cribs when they were asleep. Then I would proceed to wake up and nurse them as many times as needed throughout the night. As tough as it was – and believe me it was tough (*clenching teeth*) – I would always nurse and put them to sleep back in their rooms.
I remember one night my daughter had a cold and I must have been up at least 5 times nursing her and putting her back to sleep in her crib. The next night I told my husband I really wanted to bring her to bed with us, because I was just so darn tired. He told me to be strong and keep putting her to sleep in her crib, for a couple of reasons: she would sleep better by herself (that would help her recover faster), and she wouldn’t get used to sleeping in our bed.
And you know what, he was absolutely right!
By the second night she was sleeping much better. She recovered in no-time and never slept in our bed when she was sick. *two thumbs up hubby*
Other moms told me that they had let their kids sleep with them when they were sick and then their kids never left their bed after that. They were now stuck sharing their bed with a toddler who woke them up every night. *goodbye intimacy* :'(
When I heard their stories, waking up 5 times in a night didn’t sound so tough. Listening to my husband’s advice and having his support during those tough nights saved me from potentially enduring years of sleepless nights.
And that’s it!
Phew that was a long post, but aren’t you glad you read it? I really hope that’s a yes.
Teaching your children to sleep well is not easy and takes a lot of dedication, patience, and love, but you’ll be glad you stuck it out and your kids will thank you too. 🙂
Hang in there and let the good nights begin!
Here are some helpful articles to help you better understand how children sleep (most were included throughout my post):
Dr. Graig Canapari
National Sleep Foundation
About Kids Health
Susie Parker at Sleep Baby Love.com
What to Expect.com