The Magic Behind It All

September, the time to get back into a routine as we settle in for fall…
Almost everyone I speak to has implemented some kind of bedtime routine for their child. This is great place to start because your child needs to have a predictable and consistent bedtime routine.  The steps in the bedtime routine are the cues to signal to your child that bedtime is coming.  It helps prepare their body for sleep.

When you want a child to sleep well throughout the night, you always need to start with the bedtime routine.  And the number one goal of the routine is to ensure your child has not started his journey to sleep before you place him in bed. He needs to be placed in the crib wide awake. This is where the magic happens! 

The most common place where a baby gets drowsy or actually falls right asleep during the routine is during the bedtime feed. This can interfere greatly with nighttime sleep.  Falling asleep outside of the crib is problematic. If it happens while feeding this means the baby has a feed sleep association and depends on feeding to go to sleep. This interferes with their own innate ability to sleep well.   If your baby falls asleep while feeding, when your baby wakes in the night, the last thing he remembers is laying in mom’s arms nursing or having his bottle.  He has no idea how he got in the crib and he definitely can not go back to sleep on his own, as he was not given he chance to do so in the beginning.

And if your baby falls asleep feeding, then you put him down in the crib and he wakes up right away, he has to fall asleep for a second time.  And we all know how hard that is to do!

After a baby reaches the 10 week mark, it is always best to move the feed to the first step in the routine, about 30-40 minutes before you want to put baby in the crib. You want feeding to be for feeding, not to put baby to sleep. Do the feed, then bath, jammies and a song or story and then into bed. That will really help break any association that baby has with feeding and sleeping.

You may get some protest for the first few nights while making the change. Hang in there! After a few nights of being consistent, he will be falling asleep peacefully in his crib.

Fall Back

Time change has snuck up on us once again.  And now we are left with the task of resetting our children’s body clock by an hour. This year it just so happens on Halloween night.

My recommendation to all parents is that they just leave their clocks alone so it’s not a psychologically upsetting event to see your little one up an hour earlier. Just get up at your usual time and start the day. After a cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, then you can go around changing the clocks. It will feel much better this way!

If for example your little one usually takes a morning nap round 9:30, you will adjust this to 9:00 am for the 3 days after the time change. It will be a bit of a push for your child, but not so much that it will cause much damage to her schedule. Do the same for the afternoon nap.

Let’s say your child usually goes to bed at 7 PM, I recommend putting that child to bed at 6:30 PM for the first 3 days following the time change. (This will FEEL like 7:30 to your child.) And it will take about a week for your child’s body to get used to this. It takes everybody’s body roughly one week to adjust to any kind of change in sleeping habits. On the 4th night at bedtime, just get in line with the new time. So your baby is back to going to bed when the clock says 7:00 pm, and adjust naps to the correct time on day 4 as well.

If you have children over the age of two, you can put a digital clock in the room and put a piece of tape over the minute numerals, so that they can see if it is 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock, but they cannot see the minutes, which often confuses toddlers. I would just set the clock forward half an hour so that at 6:30, it reads 7:00 and I would let them get up a little earlier than normal, knowing that by the end of the week, they would be back on track and sleep until their normal wakeup time.

If you are dealing with a baby, you cannot do that. Do not rush in as soon as you hear your baby waking up, because you do not want to send a message that getting up at 6 a.m. is okay now. So if she normally wakes at 7:00am, but is now up at 6:00, you will wait until 6:10 on the first day, and then 6:20 the next, then 6:30 the next day and by the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and waking up at their usual hour.

Our little creatures
Our little creatures

Get Better Sleep Tonight

During my 3.5 years as a sleep professional, I’ve gotten used to people asking me what the “secret” is to getting a baby to sleep through the night.

Of course, there is no ONE secret. Teaching a child healthy sleep habits is a combination of lots of different things.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some shortcuts, either!

With that in mind, today I’d like to share with you 7 different shortcuts you can start trying over the next few nights to get your child sleeping better.

Let’s get right to it:

Sleep Shortcut #1: Watch the waking hours

One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep – especially for babies and toddlers – is overtiredness… and many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired!

Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:

Newborns (0-12 weeks): 45 minutes of awake time
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours of awake time
6-8 months: 2-3 hours of awake time
9-12 months: 3-4 hours of awake time
13 months to 2.5 years: 5-6 hours of awake time

If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime… AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too!

Sleep Shortcut #2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep better in the dark.

Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. (I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard over the windows, or whatever it takes!)

In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle!

BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day!

Sleep Shortcut #3: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)

Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.

A typical bedtime routine might look something like this:

– nursing or bottle (10-15 minutes)
– bath (10 minutes)
– put on pajamas (5 minutes)
– read a story or sing some songs (5 minutes)

Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child!

After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to “drag out” bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc.

Don’t participate.

If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!

Sleep Shortcut #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before

For a lot of babies and toddlers, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association.

In other words, your child has “linked” the ideas of feeding and sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.

By feeding right after naptime – instead of before – you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This strategy should only be used before naps, not before putting your child to bed for the night. (A full tummy is needed to make sure your child doesn’t wake up hungry during the night!)

Sleep Shortcut #5: Same Place, Same Time

Remembering that our children love predictability, it’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place – at the same time – every day.

This means that naptime should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep – rather than in carseats, strollers, your lap at the coffee shop, etc.

For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.

BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it’s a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep.

In other words, if your child falls asleep in your arms on the couch and then wakes up during the night in a completely different place (like their crib), chances are they’ll be surprised… and start crying to let you know about it!

Sleep Shortcut #6: Try The “1, 2, 3? System

When your child wakes up during the night – or during a nap – and starts crying or fussing, try to wait a specific length of time before going in to check on them.

The first day you try this, I recommend waiting exactly one minute before going in to check on your child. On the second day, wait two minutes. Three minutes on the third day, and so on.

Why?

Well, everyone (babies and toddlers included) will wake up briefly at the end of each 45-minute “sleep cycle.”

Most adults wake so briefly that we don’t even remember it in the morning. But children who haven’t learned to fall asleep independently need a little longer.

This “1, 2, 3? System gives your child the opportunity to get themselves back to sleep – without your help. And once your child has learned this skill, you’re home free!

Sleep Shortcut #7: Take Five

Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing.

No throwing your toddler in the air… or watching TV… or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I totally encourage tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just NOT in the five minutes before bed. (Right after waking up is a great time to play!)

The Next Step?

Like I said, these are “shortcuts” – quick tricks that, for some parents, are the missing piece of the puzzle that gets their child sleeping through the night.

And while I hope that you’ll be one of the lucky parents who’s able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks, I’m also here for you if you need a little more guidance.