Here we go, my first post and I chose a big topic because there are a lot of issues around sleep, so I am sure to have several posts relating to the topic. Since we had twins, my wife and I were definitely concerned with making sure we did our best to try to establish good sleeping habits early on. We were lucky enough to be able to sit in on a seminar with a sleep expert named Wendy Hall before our kids were born. She certainly gave us some fantastic information and in this post I’m just going to go over the very general points that were covered, and I’ll tackle more specific concerns regarding sleep in future posts.
Well Rested Parents Make Happy Babies
This sounds fairly obvious, but the importance of this point may escape the mind of the sleep deprived parent. In order to be a we’ll rested parent, baby also needs to be sleeping well. Without enough sleep, the parents will quite quickly start experiencing higher levels of stress, and potentially even depression, which then has an impact on the relationship between them and their children. Our goal is to maintain a good relationship between parents and kids by promoting good sleep habits so that parents can get enough time to maintain the levels of sleep that they need to function in a healthy way.
Sleep Begets Sleep
This is a concept that I think many people may hear, but choose to ignore or discount when times are tough and they are desperate for sleep. The idea is pretty simple, the more sleep your child gets, the more sleep they will want. In some ways it sounds too good to be true, because the more sleep your child gets, the more time you also have to yourself to take care of everything that you don’t have time for when your child is awake.
The problem that I think most people have is that they reason to themselves that the reason their child is not sleeping is because they are not tired enough, and so they reduce the amount of sleep that their child is getting in the hopes that this will help them sleep longer. This, according to Wendy Hall, is the wrong approach, and will actually make it more difficult for them to sleep. Instead, you should work on allowing more opportunities for your child to sleep so that they are properly rested, which will have the effect of promoting even more sleep.
But I Can’t Get My Child To Go To Sleep
So here is the tricky part, how do you get your child to actually fall asleep? I certainly don’t have all of the answers here, but there are a few tricks that I think are quite useful helping your child to learn to sleep.
- Establish a nap Schedule:
Stick to the nap schedule that your child requires and do whatever it takes to help your child nap during those times. Sometimes just putting your child down for a nap just isn’t enough for them to fall asleep because they haven’t yet learned how to actually let themselves fall asleep. I give my wife full credit for helping our kids to “learn” to fall asleep by taking them for walks in the stroller during nap time. It was a very long slog and demanded a lot of time and effort, but the payoff was very substantial. Our kids have developed a very good nap routine and, going back to “sleep begets sleep”, also sleep amazingly well overnight.
- Build a bedtime/nap routine
Another “trick” we used was to make a whole routine out of nap time and bedtime. We started with putting sleepers on, then reading stories, saying goodnight to the pictures on the wall of family members and finally singing a couple of songs before going down into their cribs. This all sets the stage for them to help understand that it is time for sleep. Now even in the middle of the day, singing one of their sleepy time songs is likely to induce a yawn or a rub of the eyes.
- You can’t spoil a baby who is under 6 months old
If your child is less than 6 months old, then don’t expect miracles. If you have a solid sleep routine and schedule, but your child just won’t fall asleep once you put them down, then do what you need to help them fall asleep before leaving the room. Before 6 months of age, our kids rarely fell asleep without either being rocked to sleep, or at least having someone in the room until they dozed off. If they need comforting, then give it to them and try to slip out once they are asleep. Once your child is a little older, you can try implementing other strategies to help them fall asleep, but just letting them “cry it out” when they are less than 6 months won’t teach them how to fall asleep, and will just eat into the time they have available to sleep.
- Avoid putting children to sleep right after food
This applies more to infants more than anything, but in establishing good habits around sleep, you should try to avoid putting your child to bed right after they have had any food/bottle. Giving your infant food right before bed builds an association for them which can lead to them needing food to fall back asleep if they wake up in the night. The advice we were given was to try to provide a 20 to 30 minute break (which would be a perfect time to implement your bedtime routine) between feeding and going to bed. This way they will be less likely to demand food every time they wake up, and start figuring out how to fall back asleep which is the skill set we want to improve!
- Baby monitors do more harm than good
Listening (or watching if you have a video monitor) to your child sleep can be a pretty fun thing to do when you have a young one, but this was definitely another pet peeve for Wendy Hall. Her issue was that using baby monitors almost always leads to over parenting, where you really just end up interrupting your child’s sleep by going in to their room at the first sign of trouble. There are times when your child will wake up crying, but you do not need to go running in every time this happens, and when people have monitors, they can hear everything, and are therefore more likely to go into their child’s room if they hear them.
Having said that, my wife and I slept far enough away from our kids room that we couldn’t really hear anything in the middle of the night, so we opted to use a monitor, but with the knowledge that we shouldn’t go in to “help” our kids whenever they cry in the night, we were able to develop an ear for different types of crying. There was one particular cry our kids would make (very loud and stressed sounding) that we came to understand meant “I’m freaking out in here for some reason, and I’m not going back to sleep any time within the next 2 hours unless someone comes to tell me that everything is okay”. Once we learned that cry, that was the only one we would respond to in the middle of the night, and it happened quite infrequently (maybe once every 3 or 4 nights for example).
These are some of the strategies that my wife and I used and the payoff for us has been pretty remarkable. Keep in mind that the first three months (give or take) are very difficult, and you will be running on very little sleep. I have really only grazed what is a very large and important topic for many parents and families, but hopefully some of these tips may be of some use to you and your family. If you have any ideas or questions to contribute to this post, then please comment below.