Dreamy Solutions to Sleep Issues
by Dr. Maureen O’Brien
Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2020
There’s not a parent alive who hasn’t dreamt of more sleep – either for themselves or for their baby. Yet there is more conflicting advice about the management of sleep than any other childrearing area. (And much of that advice is unsolicited!) Here’s what we do know:
- Creating and maintaining a regular, predictable sleep cycle is actually a sign that your little one can regulate her ‘state’. That is quite an achievement and it takes time. The first 3 months are often tough for both parents and babies, as frequent feedings disrupt sleeping a great deal.
- Perhaps the biggest shock to parents are the periods of sleep regression that can regularly happen as babies and toddlers grow. These regressions can take many forms: difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or naptime chaos, for example. If you are co-sleeping or bed sharing, sleep regressions can feel even harder to handle. However, nighttime feedings drop off at 6 months as baby sleeps for longer periods of time (called sleep consolidation).
While sleep disruptions are usually related to positive developments like brain growth and physical advances, that doesn’t make middle of the night awakenings any more fun for parents. Take heart, though, and try a few of these strategies between the ages of 3 and 12 months:
- Put infants down when drowsy vs. fully asleep so they learn to not rely on your physical presence as they settle down to sleep. Waiting too long to do this can make bedtime harder: once baby develops object permanence and separation anxiety after 6 months.
- Institute bedtime routines that are predictable and quiet (15-30 minutes at most). Include reading books in a relaxing voice or singing softly. Eventually, your baby will anticipate that sleep time is coming.
- Introduce calming rituals like lavender-scented baths for baby and keep lights and stimulation down to signal time for bed. Ahead of the bath, remove toys that they might play with in the daytime so you can focus on the time you have together. Massaging baby’s body when drying her off and dressing her for bed is also very soothing.
- Don’t rush in when baby fusses at night, as it’s normal to come up to consciousness during the active sleep cycle. If baby expects you to come to the rescue every time, you’ll be setting up a pattern that will be hard to undo in toddlerhood.
- Have realistic expectations. Sleeping “through the night” is usually only a 5-6 hour stretch, and 25% of babies are still not sleeping 8 hours on their first birthday.
While it’s tempting to compare your baby with others when it comes to sleep habits, try to avoid doing so. Your baby’s sleep regulation involves internal factors beyond your control (their brain and physical growth), as well as the caregiving environment. So, focus on what you can control, such as dim lighting, soothing routines, reading your baby’s cues, and reducing levels of stimulation prior to and during daytime naps and bedtime. Also, remember to get sleep (or just close your eyes to breathe and relax) whenever you can! A rested parent is a happier parent.