Every parent wants the best for their children, and adequate rest is no exception. Clocking the age-appropriate total number of hours of sleep during a 24-hour period is vital for your little one’s proper development and growth. Sleep has many benefits, including, Immunity, hormone regulation, greater emotional stability, and overall health. However, what if you are unknowingly holding your baby back from a restful sleep? It can be difficult when all your best efforts are making it harder for your little one to get enough zzzz’s. Let’s explore three main ways that many well-meaning parents faulter when it comes to their child’s sleep.
It is so tempting (especially as a new parent) to rush to your babies side the instant they make a whimper or move around a bit. A moment can feel like an eternity but pausing for a few minutes gives your little one the opportunity and space to sort out their situation using their own strategies. If you immediately rush to your babe’s side to soothe back to sleep, you may be unintentionally encouraging your baby to wake up for their chosen sleep prop (ex: a feed, pacifier replacement or rocking chair snuggle).
The exception is newborns (0-3 months), who have NO internal strategies around sleep and DO need support to find their way back into sleep. Newborn sleep is different than the sleep of babies 4 months and older. A newborn only has 2 stages of sleep: active and quiet. Often noises and movements in active sleep can be mistaken for wakefulness. A parent who is quick to address their newborn at the first sign of noise or movement might unintentionally wake their little one.
Try and wait 3-5 minutes initially to see what happens with your little one. For older babies and toddlers, you can increase the length of time before doing a check, if you are comfortable doing so. This gives your kiddo space to utilize their own soothing strategies rather than requiring your intervention at each wake.
Over-stimulation or concerns around sleep pressure are often overlooked as common roadblocks to good sleep.
An over-stimulated baby usually catches a ‘second wind’ after being over-tired. The environment might also be filled with auditory or visual stimulus that makes it challenging to get into a state of rest.
To prevent over-stimulation, try and limit noise, big gatherings and excessive visual stimulation before nap(s) and bedtime. The blue light emitted from television and electronic devices can cause the brain and body to be more alert. Limiting TV and screen time at least an hour before sleep can help your child to fall asleep and stay asleep more easily.
The signs associated with being over-tired or under-tired can sometimes look the same, which makes it challenging to know what is causing a sleep disruption. The center of both problems is a miscalculation of wake windows (either spending too much time awake or not enough time awake to build adequate sleep pressure). During the first year of life your baby is growing and changing rapidly, which makes for many adjustments to their wake windows. It can feel like just when you’ve got it, the timings need to be adjusted!
Wake windows are measured differently in the newborn days compared with babies four months and older. In newborns the wake window clock starts as soon as their eyes are open after a sleep session and ends with you laying them back down for their next sleep session. Newborn wake windows are short- typically 45-60 minutes maximum.
To measure wake windows of babies 4 months and older, you’ll start the wake window when you get them out of their crib after a sleep session. This is different from newborns because the wake window lengths of babies are longer (90-120 minutes for a 4-month-old up to 5.5 hours for a toddler).
When faced with short naps for babies over 4 months old, try and avoid getting your little one up out of their crib immediately so you don’t unintentionally reward the short nap. Giving them up to 20 minutes to see if they can fall back asleep is beneficial and prevents you from cutting their next wake window short, thinking they will be tired sooner due to the short nap. Do your best to stretch them to their next awake window and avoid bringing the next nap forward to account for the previous short nap.
Natural sugars, getting outside, physical activity and interaction can all be great ways to make it through a full awake window and prevent moving the next sleep session forward.
This same principle also applies to early morning wakings. Just because your babe woke at 5:45 am doesn’t mean you start your awake window clock at that time. If your minimum morning time is 6:30 am then try to keep with that time before going in and starting the day. Often there are multiple short periods of dozing off after an early morning wake up, so don’t overestimate how long your little one has truly been awake for.
It might seem logical that an exhausted baby will sleep better or longer than a well-rested one, but this is not true. An over-tired adult can often sleep in when given the chance, but children don’t typically follow the same pattern.
Over-tiredness is caused when your little one has gone past their wake window and the next sleep session has been pushed further back than it should be. Over-tired signs include touching of the face, yawning, avoiding eye contact, emotional mood swings, becoming clingy, wanting to breastfeed for comfort, falling asleep during short car rides, irritation, increased crying, short naps, multiple night wakings, falling asleep in under 5 minutes when put to sleep, general fussiness, etc.
If you notice these signs of over-tiredness in your little one, here are a few suggestions to bring you back to adequate sleep.
Under-tiredness happens when not enough sleep pressure has built up and there needs to be more time awake before the next sleep session. This often shows up as: excessive crying around nap(s) and night, resistance to sleep, taking a long time to fall asleep, early morning wakings and short naps.
Some helpful ways to combat under-tiredness include:
It can be common for parents to change things too soon, not giving them enough time to assess if they are working. When you make a schedule change it’s best to do one change at a time and keep consistent with it for 3-5 days to accurately gauge if it’s working or not. This could include lengthening or shortening wake windows, altering the timing of a nap schedule, or changing how you respond to your child during a night waking or short nap. Many parents make the mistake of changing too many things too soon, believing that it’s not working, when in fact it may work if you saw it through more than a day or two.
Children crave predictability and routine because it gives them a feeling of security and comfort. It may not seem like a big deal but if you alter the order of nighttime routine each day or allow more leniency some nights compared to others in how much intervention you offer at a wake up, there is confusion on what to expect the next time a situation arises.
Aim to keep responses to night wakings boring: dim lights, quiet, not a lot of talking and free from sleep props. This will help your baby know that middle of the night wake ups are not a time for play or entertainment.
Try and keep nap(s) and nighttime at the same time each night. Occasionally there will be some exceptions because life doesn’t always keep to a schedule. If you do find that you’re running behind still aim for a 30-minute leniency from the previous night. 30-minutes won’t throw the internal body clock of your baby, but greater spans of time will feel like travel into a different time zone for your babe’s body, which can throw off their body clock.
Keep consistency to help your child understand the boundaries you set around sleep. Committing to a method and sticking with it for 3-5 days will help you see if the change is beneficial. If further adjustments are required then change one more element and stick with that for the same length of time, doing so until you reach your desired goal. Establishing clear expectations goes a long way in helping your little one to sleep well.
These are three of the subtle mistakes well- meaning parents make as they try to get their baby sleeping better. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been caught up in one or more of these bloopers in the past. As parents we do the best we can, with the information we have at the time. Don’t forget that it takes time to develop healthy sleep habits. Be patient and consistent with your baby’s sleep and you will soon see results.
If you’re still having difficulty getting your baby sleeping well, you may want to consider booking a free discovery call with me Click Here. I hold space for these calls to see if working together on your child’s sleep would be a good fit. There is no obligation, I’m simply available to hear you out, understand your situation better and share with you how I help families like yours. If we choose to work together, I’ll create a custom sleep plan for your little one, based off a questionnaire you’ll fill out. You don’t have to walk this road alone, I’ll be there (virtually) to support you as you implement the plan.
All the best to better rest!
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