There are countless books and websites dedicated to helping your baby get a better night’s sleep. To parents, that often means a longer night’s sleep! While nighttime feeding remains an important part of your baby’s nutritional input, there are steps you can take to set your baby up for good sleep habits; ones that will transition him from frequent feedings to longer stretches of sleep to sleeping through the night.
There are basic sleep elements that nearly all sleep experts agree are integral to a good night’s sleep. Creating a positive sleep association doesn’t just apply to babies, but can benefit your whole family.
Create a sleep friendly environment The environment won’t be the same for every baby. Your baby’s preferences and temperament will influence the tools that will work for him:
White noise, calming music, or quiet
For some babies, white noise can help replicate the sounds heard in utero. It may need to be at a fairly loud volume to take effect. It acts as a sound barrier, buffering outside sounds from the baby’s room. Other babies sleep better with calming music and still others will need complete quiet. I am writing an article on the pros and cons of white noise
Complete darkness or a nightlight
Your baby may sleep best in complete darkness. In this case a blackout curtain would be an excellent investment to block out all daytime light for bedtime and naps. Others need the comfort of a dim light, so the addition of a nightlight would be beneficial.
Relaxing and non-stimulating
In the early months babies have the ability to shut out outside stimulation and will fall asleep easily in crowded, busy areas. As your baby gets older, he loses this ability and will sleep better in an area that is quiet. If you have your baby in your room, be mindful of how the TV, laptops, iPads and radios may be affecting his sleep. Keep the room relaxing and quiet.
Your baby’s bedtime is an important component of sleep and may be earlier than you realize. If you’re putting the baby down when you go to bed, an earlier bedtime may be in order.
Learn to recognize your baby’s tired signs
This can be helpful in determining when he is ready to go bed for the night. Some signs include: fussing (increasing to whining, crying and screaming), glazed stare, looking away or turning head away, arching back, facial grimaces, clenched fists, flailing arm and leg movements, need to suck, rubbing eyes, pulling ears, nose or hair and yawning. Not all babies will display all these signs so learning your baby’s individual cues is important.
Early evening bedtime
Most babies are ready for bed between 6:00-7:00 p.m. At 6-8 weeks you may notice that your baby is very fussy during this time. Treat these hours as the beginning of night time sleep for your baby, even if you know he’s going to wake in a few hours for a feed. Follow the nighttime feeding routines you have established – quiet, dark room with limited interaction and stimulation.
Avoid overtiredness – we may want to have a small piece about this for each age with the average wakeful window times from the chart.
Your baby is much harder to settle when he is overtired and often will resist sleep. As he becomes increasingly tired his behaviour will deteriorate to the point where he may seem inconsolable. Recognizing your baby’s tired signs will help prevent getting to this point. For more information link to:
. Keep you baby from getting overtired
This is a key principle in helping her get better sleep. Most children have a maximum length of time they are able to be awake for before they get over tired. Becoming over-tired causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that may give your baby a second wind.
Being overtired during the day can also fragment sleep cycles at night and cause your baby to wake too early. To avoid her becoming overtired, it is important to watch for tired signs and put her down to sleep around the time you see yawning, eye rubbing, or general crabbiness. You may find that doing so is even too late, in which case you need to watch for earlier sleepy signs (or watch the clock).
Developing a relaxing bedtime routine will help your baby recognize when it’s time to calm down in preparation for sleep and help set the stage for day coming to an end. You can begin to implement this around 2-3 months. Pick a few simple steps and try to not make your routine too long. All babies will have a feeding before bed so just pick an additional two steps. The key to an effective bedtime routine is to do the same routine with 3-5 activities in the same order every night prior to bedtime; be prepared to be flexible as he grows. A bath may be relaxing in the early months, but provide too much stimulation as he gets older. Your bedtime routine may include:
- Washing his face and hands, wiping his gums or brushing teeth (important to start this habit early so he gets used to it) diaper change and getting into his pajamas.
- Massage Link to baby massage on crying page
- Bath (only if it doesn’t excite your baby and he enjoys them!)
- Reading a book
- Swaddling if you choose to. See Safe Swaddling for more information.
- Song, prayers or soothing dance (without getting him over-excited)
- Having a chat, talking about your day or what you’re going to do tomorrow
Encourage Restful Sleep at Night
Once your baby has been put down to sleep for the night treat all his awakenings in the same manner. Respect nighttime sleep and eventually he will too!
- Keep lights, stimulation and interaction to a minimum. When he wakes and needs to feed, do so quietly in a relaxing, dimly lit environment and gently put him back to sleep.
- Diaper changes don’t need to happen after every feed. If he can tolerate a lightly wet diaper (and no rash) consider changing him less frequently at night.
- Try a sleepy feed before you turn in for the night. Before you go to bed offer him a feed without completely waking him up. Hopefully this will stretch out the time before his next feed.