Today I want to give you some tips for handling sickness so that you don’t derail all your progress. There’s a few things that you do need to keep in mind.
The first is your baby is going to wake in the night. Anyone who is ill does not sleep as well as they normally do. We tend to have two, five, even more night time wake-ups.
It’s realistic to expect that your sick child is going to have some night wake-ups. How you handle those wake-ups will make a big difference.
One of the big mistakes people make is that they start to intervene in their child’s sleep skills. Meaning they go in, they try to rock or they start to feed again. They try to lull baby to sleep in their arms or go back to all their old sleep props.
I understand why people do that because you want to comfort your baby when she’s sick. I’m not saying don’t comfort her. You can absolutely go in.
Have a short cuddle, wipe her nose, give her a drink of water, whatever you need to do to offer some comfort, but you don’t want to interfere with her sleep skills.
You’re not going to rock her back to sleep. You’re not going to feed her to sleep. You’re not going to do any of the things that you’ve worked so hard to get rid of.
The only time you would ever go back to a night time feed, obviously, is if your doctor or pediatrician suggests it. If she’s had a high fever for several days, she might need some extra fluids through the night.
You want to make sure that those only happen for a few nights. Three is kind of my rule of thumb. If anything happens for more than three nights, then there is the danger that the baby is going to now expect this and start waking up looking for feeds even once the sickness is gone.
Another big mistake people make is that they bring their baby into bed with them. Again, I understand it. I had a son who had chronic ear infections for at least a year of his life.
I understand where that desire comes from. Again, you want to comfort your sick child. If you’re really concerned about your child through the night, it is much better for you to go to him than to bring him to you.
Throw down an air mattress. Spend a night or two in his room to keep an eye on him. Again, remembering my rule of threes, try not to do it for any longer than three nights or you might find yourself six months later still sleeping beside his bed.
If everything falls apart, cut yourself a bit of slack. Sometimes it happens. Know that as soon as your baby is well again, just get right back on track with everything you learned from me!
Just start again. You know that she can do this. It’s just a matter of proving to her that she needs to use her own skills once again.
Have questions for me about your baby? I'd love to hear from you! Post your comments below.
I get asked this question a lot, and I have two answers for you.
First of all, the clinical one. If your child’s six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says you’re okay to end nighttime feeds, then go ahead and give it a shot.
But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? Because that information is readily available on about a thousand different websites. If that was all you needed to know, you’d know it already.
Chances are, what you’re really asking is, “Why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?”
Because if you’d pulled his night feeds and he just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. You’d either be in bed, enjoying eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little guy gave up night feeds, and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze!
(Don’t do that though. Moms hate that.)
So let’s discuss the real question. Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if they’re supposedly ready to give up night time feeds?
The reason is actually probably pretty simple. That’s how they get themselves to sleep.
Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is just about the biggest sleep prop I see as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of it as a “sleep prop” because of how natural and necessary it is. They tend to associate the term with pacifiers, mobiles and crib aquariums. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.
So if you’re still feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime, chances are, that’s where you need to make some changes.
“But I’m not!” I can hear you saying. “I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!”
Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this fairly often. Mom is doing everything right at bedtime, but is still feeding baby to sleep when they wake up in the night.
Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not that they’re hungry, or in need of calories. They’ve just managed to disassociate bedtime sleep with waking in the night, and if Mom’s still willing to give up some breast milk in the night, well then, so much the better!
The bad news is that you’re going to have to break this association by giving up night feeds. That’s going to mean some protesting, which won’t be fun for anyone.
But the good news is that, since your baby’s learned to sleep without props at bedtime, that means he’s already got some strong sleep skills, and the protesting should be over within a couple of nights. So what’s the strategy for this? The same as it is for quitting just about everything else. Cold turkey. Stop tonight and don’t start again. The sooner your little one learns those skills, the sooner he’ll be sleeping through the night.
That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for baby! More uninterrupted sleep means baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!
If you're ready to night wean, this can be a really good time to make sure you have a baby monitor that fits your needs. Most parents like to keep a careful eye on baby during the first few nights of night weaning. I've found this baby monitor review fantastic! Check it out and see which one is right for you. www.reviews.com/baby-monitor/
Do you have questions about night weaning? I'd love to hear your comments below!
One of my biggest rules for parents who are sleep training is to remain consistent. Whether it’s the bedtime routine, where baby sleeps, or what the consequences are for leaving their room in the night, consistency is absolutely essential to regular nights of quality sleep.
However, there’s this crazy little thing called life that tends to get involved and throw the occasional curve ball into your routine. Special occasions, family functions, and the occasional emergency can all call for an exception to me made and for your little one to stay up past their scheduled bedtime or miss a nap.
So when can you make exceptions? Well, I would say, “As rarely as possible, but as often as is absolutely necessary.”
The truth is, is you’re visiting family or friends, and you let your little one stay up late in order to extend their visit, they’re probably going to be a bit of a handful the next day. So ask yourself, is it worth it to have a grouchy baby on my hands tomorrow in exchange for a couple of hours of fun tonight?
Another important thing to consider is how well your baby adapts to a change in routine. Some kids are quite good at dealing with a slight change in the schedule, whereas others can get thrown for a loop for the next couple of days if they so much as go down late for a nap.
But I don’t want to sound like I’m condemning parents and kids to a lifetime of repetition. It’s important to have some new experiences and to enjoy life, so yes, exceptions should be made. Just make sure that you evaluate the costs and benefits and prepare as best as you can for the situation.
In addition, I would advise against making any changes too early into the program. If you just started sleep training a week ago, don’t pick this moment to go on a trip or stay overnight at someone else’s house. Once you’ve had a month or two of really solid, quality nights, then you can start playing around with the rules on occasion.
The other piece of advice I would offer when it comes to breaking the rules is, “Try to bend them instead.”
If you’re going to be at a friend’s place when baby’s supposed to be taking a nap, consider bringing along a Pack and Play or a stroller so that they have somewhere to lay down when it’s time for a snooze, or if you have a bit of a drive involved, try to plan so that baby can sleep in the car when they would normally be going down for a nap. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than skipping a nap altogether.
This may all sound a little authoritative, but over-tiredness is an absolute monster when it comes to bedtime. Kids who are overtired will have a harder time falling asleep, which leads to a bad night, which leads to more over-tiredness, and so on. It’s a cycle you really don’t want to get into.
So you’re ultimately the only one who can decide when it’s okay to break the rules. If you feel your little one can handle it, give it a try. If not, I suggest you play it safe. As they get older, you’ll find they’ll be more accepting of changes in the schedule, but developing them into champion sleepers in these early years will go a long way towards that goal.
P.S. When is it ok for you to break the "sleep rules" in your home? I'd love to hear from you!
Tis' the season! There are some nasty bugs going around this time of year.
One of the most aggravating situations I see parents running into when they’re sleep training is the sudden onset of a minor illness when they’re finally seeing some progress.
After months of sleep issues, they finally decide to take the initiative and get serious about getting their baby onto a schedule, baby starts getting the hang of it, the whole family is starting to see longer periods of consolidated sleep, and everyone’s getting ready to break out the champagne...
And then BAM! Baby gets a cold, or an ear infection, or a bout of diarrhea, or one of the other seven thousand illnesses that babies are prone to, and the whole thing goes off the rails.
And given how often babies get sick, it’s hardly a surprise. I’m always telling my clients to plan on starting the program when they have a couple of weeks that they can really devote to the training, but you can’t schedule around an illness. So when it happens, it can really take the wind out of everyone’s sails.
So today, I have a few suggestions for you in case this happens. Hopefully they can help you push through this trying situation and get you motivated to get back on track.
First off, resist the temptation to bring baby into your bed. If you’re really concerned and want to be in the same room as them through the night, I suggest you bring an inflatable mattress or a camping pad into their room and sleep on the floor. Keeping them in their own room with familiar sleeping conditions will be much less disruptive than moving them into your room, and you don’t run the risk of them getting used to sleeping in your bed.
Second, do NOT give in to the temptation to start offering any sleep props that you might have recently taken away. I know it’s tough, because obviously you want to offer them any kind of comfort you can while they’re feeling miserable, but you really don’t want to reintroduce those things they were dependent on prior to starting sleep training. It can be really confusing and is often even more difficult to break the association the second time around.
Now, let me just point out that I’m not saying that you can’t offer more night time comfort to your baby while they’re sick. On the contrary, I completely recommend it. You should absolutely feel free to go in and check on them more often, take care of any needs they might have, and even give them a little cuddle or a rocking session in order to comfort them.
Just be vigilant and be sure to put them back into bed before they fall back to sleep. Otherwise you run the risk of them developing those associations where falling asleep requires a rocking session or a cuddle, and then you’re back to square one.
This can be a really good time to make sure you have a baby monitor that fits your needs so you can keep a careful watch on your baby when they're not feeling well. I found this review of baby monitors really helpful. Check it out and see which one is right for you! www.reviews.com/baby-monitor/
You may notice a slight regression when the illness has passed, but not to worry. Your baby has learned some great sleep skills at this point and will probably only need a slight reminder of how things go before they’ll be back into their routine and sleeping soundly through the night again. Just get back to the program, reintroduce the old bedtime routine, and you’ll be seeing those same wonderful results in no time.
P.S. Do you enjoy my blog? I'd love to hear your comments below.
With the holidays fast approaching I thought it would be a good idea to remind parents of some travel tips to remember when you are traveling with little ones.
When you’re planning a family holiday with a baby, an important thing to consider is how your travel plans are going to affect your child’s sleep routine. You’ll have a much more enjoyable vacation if you organize your trip in a way that allows for as little disruption as possible to your little one’s sleep schedule.
This will help ensure she gets the rest she needs to be happy, healthy, and alert during your trip—which is bound to make your holiday more enjoyable for everyone!
Here are some tips to help ensure sure your baby gets the sleep he needs during your travels:
Tip 1: Don’t over-schedule
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might have had back in their “child-free” days. The fact is, when you travel with a baby you can’t plan to go bungee-jumping in the morning, swim with dolphins in the early afternoon, go parasailing in the late afternoon, and go on a dinner cruise in the evening.
It’s better to slow down the pace and make sure you schedule regular naps and early bedtimes, just like you would at home.
Tip 2: Be consistent with naps and bedtime
An occasional nap in the car seat or a later-than-usual bedtime probably won’t do too much harm, but if your baby’s naps are all over the place and she goes to bed much later than usual several days in a row, your baby will become so overtired and cranky that a complete meltdown will be inevitable.
Tip 3: Be patient as your baby acclimatizes to the new environment
Even if your baby is the best little sleeper in the world at home, when you’re in a strange environment things might be very different. It’s normal for babies and toddlers to test boundaries around sleep when they’re someone new.
Just because you have certain rules at home, they won’t automatically understand that the same rules apply at Grandma’s house.
In a strange place, your baby might cry for a while at bedtime or wake up at odd times during the night. The best way to handle this kind of behavior is to react the same way you would at home. Go into the room every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.
Tip 4. Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket
If your child has a treasured comfort item, it will go a long way to helping him feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep in a strange environment. Forget it at your peril!
Tip 5. If you’re not a co-sleeping family, don’t start now
Another big mistake parents make is to start sharing a bed with their baby or toddler while traveling. Even if it’s only for a few nights, if your baby decides this is her new preferred way to sleep, you could find yourself dealing with a big problem when you get home and put her back in her crib.
The good news is, most hotels have a crib you can use or rent. You could also take your portable playpen along and use that as a crib.
P.S. Share your favorite travel tip in the comments! I'd love to hear from you.
One of the biggest obstacles my clients face is what to do when they send their little ones to daycare.
Whether they’ve already gotten their baby on a carefully planned nap schedule or they’re planning on starting one, a problem obviously arises if their daycare provider doesn’t follow that same schedule.
In the latter scenario, parents have a little bit more leeway, and I always suggest that they look around and try their best to find a daycare that follows at least a similar schedule as the one the parents are comfortable with.
After all, sleep is such a crucial element of your little one’s development, and their day to day life, that it should be a primary concern when you’re choosing where they’ll be spending their day, so I’m a huge advocate of shopping around until you find one that’s on the same page as you, nap-wise.
Unfortunately, there are a finite number of daycare providers in any given area, so that might not be an option. Or maybe your little one has already started going to daycare and they only put the kids down for one nap a day.
In this instance, the most important thing to do is communicate what you’re okay with. Let them know that you’ve been working on a nap time schedule and ask if they can accommodate the times you’ve been working with. If they agree, great! Many daycares are happy to have a baby that sleeps a lot, and are always happy to have one that goes to sleep easily. Champion sleepers are welcome everywhere they go!
It’s also important that you let them know if you’re alright with a little bit of crying while baby falls asleep, because if you don’t tell them otherwise, they’ll almost always soothe baby to sleep in one way or another as soon as they start to make some noise.
Some daycares, however, have a policy regarding crying, and will pick baby up and soothe them as soon as they start crying regardless of your instructions. This can be frustrating if you know your little one will fall asleep after 45 seconds of fussing, but if it’s the policy of the daycare, there’s not much you or the staff can do about it, so it’s best to just focus on how to minimize the effect they have on the program.
So let the daycare providers know what you would prefer as far as “sleep props” go, and what you would prefer they avoid. If you’ve just broken a serious soother habit, tell them about it and ask that they avoid offering pacifiers. If baby’s got a strong association between rocking and falling asleep, ask that they soothe baby without picking her up. Again, most daycare providers are happy to make some arrangements with parents if it means a happy, sleeping baby and a happy, satisfied parent.
The good news is that babies are quite often able to distinguish, somewhat, between what happens at daycare and what happens at home, as far as sleep routines are concerned. They have an easier time realizing that, even though they might have gotten rocked to sleep in the one environment, it doesn't necessarily mean they’ll be getting the same treatment at home, so bear that in mind when you’re deciding how much diversion from the plan you’re willing to accept.
The other silver lining is that nap time sleep isn’t quite as deep and “high-quality” as nighttime sleep. The night is when baby really gets the good hours of rejuvenation and restorative effects of a solid snooze, so even though they might be missing out on some nap time, it’s not as bad as if they weren’t getting those hours at night.
I’m not usually big on making exceptions to the rules, as routine is such an important part of a baby’s sleep, but sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept the reality of the situation. Work with your daycare, communicate your wishes and explain why it’s important, and whatever they can’t accommodate, well... you might as well accept it and move on.
P.S. Do you have a successful sleep training/daycare story to share? I'd love to see it in the comments below!
One of the central rules of sleep training is that you should allow your little one to develop their abilities to fall asleep on their own. So it can cause a real “Should I or shouldn’t I” moment when you look at the baby monitor and see that your child has pushed themselves into an uncomfortable looking ball against the side of their crib.
I see this issue predominantly in babies who have been either rocked or nursed to sleep in mommy’s arms, and are then put into their crib already asleep. It may seem a little silly, but this is typically because they haven’t learned that they need to lie down in order for sleep to come easily.
After all, up until they start the program, babies have been held in a certain position in their parents’ arms, which doesn’t allow for any kind of exploration or experimentation. They’re held in a nice, comfortable pose until they fall asleep, and then they wake up in their crib.
This can lead to babies falling asleep in some pretty amusing positions when they are eventually left to figure it out for themselves, as they try to discover what sort of position they need to get into to get to sleep. Many will fall asleep sitting up, or even while they’re still on their feet, after a little time spent exploring their crib. So obviously, priority one with any baby is safety, so yes, you should absolutely go in and lie your baby on their back if they fall asleep in a position that’s not safe for them.
“But won’t that wake them up and send the whole process back to square one?” you may be asking.
Well, yes and no. There’s a good chance baby might wake up and want to interact with you, but if you lay them down and reassure them that’s it’s still time for sleep, then promptly leave the room, chances are they’ll find their way back to sleep before long. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than risking them falling over.
But what about those times when they manage to wriggle their way into the corner of their crib? There are times when baby might not be in a dangerous sleeping position, per say, but just one that looks really uncomfortable.
Well, what may seem uncomfortable looking to us grown ups might be super comfortable to a baby. The most common scenario I see is babies lying against the edge of their crib, which we equate with sleeping against a wall, which is not something most adults are terribly fond of.
But babies do seem to like to sleep while pushed up against something. It may be for a sense of security, or a feeling of being next to someone, but whatever the reason, they do seem to gravitate towards some kind of a surface to sleep against.
And if they do end up a little smushed up against the side of their crib, or curled up into the corner, your best bet is to let them sleep.
Again, our number one concern is safety, so if baby has a limb hanging between the bars of the crib, or has gotten into a position that might make it difficult to breathe, go ahead and reposition them. Just remember to make it as quick and quiet as possible, and don’t linger any longer than you have to in order to get them back into a safe sleeping position.
As for what to do when your partner gets into a position that only leaves you seven inches of space on the edge of the bed, you’re on your own with that one.
P.S. In what position does your baby sleep? I'd love to hear your comments
Daylight savings ends in the Fall season each year. It will be time to “fall back” the clocks. It can be a dreaded time for parents of young children because with this, comes an adjustment that does not happen immediately. This is because children tend to be more structured in their bedtime and wake up around the same time each morning and that is why people usually can see a greater effect on children when the time changes.
However there are some things you can do to help make the transition to the new time go a little smoother. My recommendation is to leave your clocks alone Saturday night. Wake up Sunday morning, have breakfast, then go around your house and change your clocks. Psychologically, it will feel much better for everyone if you wait until Sunday morning to change the time.
My best advice for children to help them with the change is to split the difference with the old time and the new time. How does that work?
School Age Children- If you have a child that does not nap and normally goes to bed at 7:00 p.m., you would put him to bed at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday night, the first night of the time change. Do this for 3 nights, putting him to bed 30 minutes earlier than normal, then on the 4th night put him to bed at the normal time, 7:00 p.m. or whatever is normal bedtime for your child.
Toddlers- If you have a toddler ages one and older, on Sunday the first day of the time change, you would put him down for his first nap 30 minutes earlier than normal. So if he naps usually at 9:30 a.m. put him down at 9:00 a.m. You would do the same with the afternoon nap if he takes an afternoon nap. For bedtime, if his normal bedtime is 7:00 p.m., you would put him down at 6:30 p.m. Do this for 3 nights after the time change and then on the 4th night, put him to bed at 7:00 p.m. and on 5th day move nap times back to normal time. So if your child naps at 9:30 a.m. put him down at 9:30 a.m. and so on with the rest of the day.
Infants- If you have a baby and his bedtime and naps have become predictable (usually over 6 months old) meaning he is always going to bed around the same time each day. For example if bedtime is normally 7:00 p.m. move bedtime 15 minutes later each night until you reach the normal time again. So the first night you would put him down at 6:15 p.m., the second night 6:30 p.m., and so on. On the fourth night you should be back to 7:00 p.m. Do the same thing for naps. Start 45 minutes earlier than normal and move them 15 minutes later each day. So if morning nap is at 9:00 a.m. normally, start with 8:15 a.m. on Sunday, 8:30 a.m. on Monday, 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday and then 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Do the same for the afternoon nap. If their bedtime and nap times are not predictable (0-6 months old) simply jump to the new time Sunday night as if you were traveling to a new time zone and use their wake time window (awake time between sleep periods) as your guide.
A great thing about this time change is that there are more hours of darkness which helps make this transition a little easier. If your child wakes up too early, walk them back to their room and tell them it’s not time to get up yet. If your child wakes up too early and is in a crib, be sure to help his body understand it isn’t morning time by keeping him in his crib in the dark room until normal wake time.
Note for Toddlers/School-aged children: If you have a toddler or an older child who relies on a clock to know when their “morning time” has arrived, set the clock one half hour ahead of the new time so that it reads 7:00 a.m. at the new time of 6:30 a.m. Allow your child to wake a bit earlier than normal (they will think it is 7:00 according to the clock but it will be 6:30 a.m., new time). This will only be temporary as your child adjusts to wake at their usual 7:00 a.m. time after about one or two weeks.
It may take children and babies a bit more time to fall asleep, this is normal, since the time is different initially they might seem tired earlier. It usually takes about a week for children and babies to completely adjust to the new time, some children it can take up to a month.
Be patient and stay very consistent, it will happen. If you have questions, I am always here to help, firstname.lastname@example.org
Take care and sleep well,
P.S. I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
So, perhaps that’s a bit of a misleading title.
I’m not suggesting that you can remove yourself from baby’s bedtime routine altogether. Even if you could somehow say to your child, “Alright. It’s almost bedtime. Go have a bath, brush your teeth, get into your PJs, read yourself a story and tuck yourself in. Mommy will be out here watching The Bachelor with a glass of wine if you need me.”
Even if we could pull that off, I don’t know a single mother that would actually enjoy removing themselves from the routine. (Well, maybe once a week.)
Truth be told, I loved putting my kids to bed. Watching them play in the bath, getting them dressed in their warm, fuzzy pajamas, cuddling and reading stories, I wouldn’t trade that for all the wine and trash TV in the world.
But the issue that I see with most parents whose babies won’t sleep through the night takes place after their little one gets into bed.
Specifically, the problem stems from a parent getting in bed with their child in order to get them to fall asleep, and here’s why…
When you crawl into bed with your little one, they will almost always want to cuddle up to you in some manner. Even if it’s just the slightest touch, they rely on the sensation of feeling you next to them in order to soothe themselves to sleep.
The problem with this arrangement is that babies, like their adult counterparts, don’t just fall asleep and stay asleep for eight or ten hours. We all sleep in cycles, which transition from a stage of light sleep to one of deep sleep, and back again.
When adults wake from one of these cycles, we typically don’t even remember it happening the next day, because we’re barely awake for a minute or two before we fall back to sleep. We can do that easily because we’re good at it. We know how to get back to sleep on our own.
But if baby is accustomed to falling asleep next to a parent, with the reassuring ability to reach out and touch that parent, then what are they supposed to do when they wake up after a sleep cycle and that parent is nowhere to be found?
Well, as I’m sure every parent knows, when a baby wants their parents, they cry.
They cry until a parent shows up and gets back into that familiar spot, which baby recognizes as a cue to go to sleep.
So that’s the reason why you’ll so often hear parents utter some twist on the old line, “My baby absolutely won’t go to sleep without me next to her.” It’s not because they need the reassurance that they’re safe, or that your presence is necessarily calming to them, it’s just part of their routine that they follow to get to sleep.
So what’s the solution?
Well, you could co-sleep, so your baby can reach out and touch you every time she wakes up, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve already given that a go, and found it’s not the Utopian solution you had hoped for.
A couple of late-night kicks in the face, or a perpetually writhing baby with her fingers in your eye can cause a quick change in plans for a lot of parents who thought co-sleeping would solve their nighttime woes.
Or, and this suggestion comes with a much higher recommendation, you can let them learn some independent sleep skills which they can call on anytime they wake up, in order to get back to sleep all on their own.
I know that might sound like a tall order for a baby, but I’m not suggesting anything too challenging, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they adapt to new strategies for getting to sleep. Stroking a lovey, chewing on a blanket, or even just playing with their own fingers and toes can be effective little methods for making the transition into sleep, and the best part is, they can be done anytime baby wakes up, whatever time of the day or night.
P.S. I'd love to hear your comments below!
Is your baby a light sleeper? Does she wake up every time you so much as walk past her door? Does she go from fast asleep to wide awake the second you put her into her crib?
This is one of the most common complaints I get from parents. They say that their babies are just so easy to wake, and when they do, they’re exceedingly difficult to get back to sleep.
So first of all, let me dispel a little myth.
All babies are light sleepers, and all babies are heavy sleepers. So, for that matter, are all adults.
We all go from light sleep to heavy sleep and back again several times a night. Some babies spend more time in light sleep stages before slipping into deeper sleep, and some go from light sleep to deep sleep in almost no time at all, but everyone goes through these cycles every time they shut their eyes.
The truly restorative sleep, the stuff that does us the most good, is the NREM or “deep” sleep that we get in the middle of the cycles. That’s why some people can get by on less sleep than others, because they get more NREM sleep than those of us who spend more time in light sleep stages.
So when someone claims that their baby is a light sleeper, what they probably mean is that their baby tends to spend more time in light sleep than deep sleep, because that’s the easiest stage to wake up from. It’s when we dream and are more aware of our surroundings, so external noises tend to wake us up easier.
Babies also have shorter cycles than adults, and are therefore spend nearly twice as much time in light stages of sleep than grown ups. So if you’re finding that your baby is prone to waking up a lot, it’s partly a matter of inconvenient timing.
So what can you do about it? How can you teach a baby to spend more time in deep sleep?
Well, you can’t really. But what you can do is teach them to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake up. It’s a wonderful gift to give them, and it will benefit your entire family for years to come.
There are a lot of elements to teaching a baby to fall asleep independently, but the single most important one is the elimination of sleep props. By that, I mean anything that baby uses to help them fall asleep that they can’t provide on their own.
Pacifiers, rocking motions, and feeding are all good examples of sleep props. If baby needs a car ride to fall asleep, then they’re going to need another car ride when they wake up again at the end of the next sleep cycle. If they get rocked to sleep, they learn to rely on that motion as part of the process, so once they wake up at night, they’re stuck that way until you come in and help them get back to sleep.
This is often accompanied by a bunch of crying and fussing in order to get your attention, which wakes them up even further and requires more soothing to get them settled.
However, the babies that people refer to as “good sleepers” have the same sleep cycles as the ones who wake up crying. They’ve just gotten the hang of falling asleep on their own, so they wake up, squirm around a little, maybe babble to themselves for a bit, then go happily back to sleep.
So although you can’t stop your little one from waking up at night, you can absolutely teach them how to get back to sleep independently, and once you do, you and baby can both look forward to full nights of deep, rejuvenating, uninterrupted sleep.
P.S. Have a thought about a light sleeper? Comment below!
Jo Anna Inks
I help tired, frustrated parents get their babies sleeping through the night and napping well so everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need!