I get a lot of questions about sleep – from clients of babies and clients of toddlers, moms and dads, grandma and grandpas, inexperienced parents, and parents who are on their eighth child. I have answered questions on the phone, via email, through text message, in line at the farmers’ market, and in the bathroom at Starbucks. I… have… heard… it… all.
A few questions never get old; they are asked over and over again because they are top of mind for virtually all parents of babies and young children. So, here are parents’ top sleep questions: a sleep consultant answers the biggest hurdles to those baby sleep challenges!
My baby wakes SO early; how can I get her to sleep longer in the morning?!
Much to the chagrin of parents worldwide, it is actually very biologically appropriate for babies and toddlers to wake for the day between 6-7 am. However, if you’re dealing with daily 4:30 am wake-ups, that’s a whole different ball game!
One of the biggest reasons babies wake very early is over-tiredness at bedtime. I know, I know – this is totally counter-intuitive: shouldn’t a baby sleep longer if he’s super tired going to bed the night before? You’d think so, but, sadly, it’s not the case.
The more tired and overstimulated your child is at bedtime, the harder it’s going to be for him to get into a nice, deep, restful sleep, and stay sleeping during those early hours of the morning when he is in a lighter stage of sleep. So, implement an early bedtime, give it some time, and you should see a change in those crack-of-dawn wakes!
Why does my baby always wake and cry as soon as I try to put her in the crib?
If your child is always put to sleep (by rocking, feeding, bouncing on an exercise ball, dancing with mommy to J-Lo’s greatest hits, etc. Trust me, I’ve heard it all!), then she will be very unfamiliar with being in her crib. And, if she is still in a light stage of sleep when she is placed in it, she will likely wake immediately and protest at being taken from her familiar place (your arms) into a place she is less comfortable with (her crib).
As tough as the process can be sometimes, it is important for proper sleep that your child be placed in her crib awake and allowed opportunities to learn to fall asleep on her own. This is how she will become more familiar with her own sleep space and with falling asleep in it.
My baby only every naps for 45 minutes – why?
Ah, yes, the 45 minute nap – the bane of so many new parents’ existence. Here’s the deal: 45 minutes is exactly one sleep cycle for a baby. Your little one is in a light stage of sleep at this point in his nap. Babies (and adults!) with healthy, independent sleep skills will roll straight through this into their next sleep cycle, with little more than a rustle or a grunt.
Babies who are not comfortable falling asleep on their own, however, will wake very abruptly at this point, looking for whatever (or whomever!) got them to sleep at the beginning of the nap, to get them back to sleep again. “Hey mom! Hey dad! Where’s the soother that I went to sleep with 45 minutes ago? Get it back here, please… NOW!!”
My baby is 5 months and still taking 3 naps per day – how do I get out of the house, like, ever?
It is not necessary to be “trapped by the nap” simply because you have a young baby. It is possible to have a baby with proper, healthy sleep habits and be a mom who gets out of the house. While I don’t recommend making naps on-the-go every single day, here’s how to get out and regain your sanity a couple times per week!: Ensure the first nap of the day is at home whenever possible – this nap is usually the easiest and longest and sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Then, get out! When your baby wakes, head to the coffee shop to meet up with your girlfriends, and enjoy some adult time. Let your baby have his second nap on the drive or the stroll home. Then, make the third nap of the day at home again. In my experience, this is the get-out-of-the-house strategy to which babies respond best.
We are travelling out of the country next month – how do I make sure my baby’s sleep doesn’t suffer?
Babies love familiarity and don’t enjoy surprises in their schedules, but this doesn’t mean that travel with baby has to be a sleep disaster! Make things on vacation as similar to your baby’s regular scenarios as possible, to help her feel comfortable and safe at nap times and bedtimes.
Do the same pre-bed routine that you do at home, and make her environment similar to what she is used to: if she uses a sleep sack and a snuggly buddy at home, ensure those are with you while you travel. And, if she is in her own quiet sleep space at home, ensure she will also have her own area for sleep (in a crib or playpen or other appropriate, separate sleep space) while away from home.
If you are travelling to a different time zone, my advice is to simply jump into the new time zone when you leave, and jump right back to your usual time zone when you return.
My toddler sometimes takes hours to fall asleep at night – how can I get him to stop singing to his teddy bear and start sleeping?!
Many parents are unaware of just how much sleep their child needs – for children under 10 years of age, believe it or not, it’s 10-12 hours per night! Further, children are biologically more ready for sleep at around 7pm, and become increasingly overtired and overstimulated, and increasingly less ready for sleep, as the evening wears on.
Don’t be afraid of an early bedtime! Sometimes just this change alone can make a world of difference in how easily your toddler or preschooler will hit the hay.
When should I start implementing a consistent bedtime routine for my baby?
The short answer? Yesterday. It is never too early to start a consistent, daily bedtime routine for your baby.
This can include, for example, a bath, into comfy pajamas, putting on a swaddle or sleep sack (depending on age and preference), having a great bedtime feed, and then reading a book and singing a sweet song as you place your cutie in her crib. Sound simple? It really can be! But the key is consistency!
What’s the deal with sleep sacks?
Sleep sacks are, in a word, awesome. For babies who hate the swaddle, they are great to use from day one. For babies who have outgrown the swaddle phase, sleep sacks are a great transition.
They keep your baby warm and cozy, and offer your child an excellent, positive sleep cue. And, bonus: they keep curious little monkeys from climbing out of cribs when they are old enough to have thoughts of doing so!
Is white noise actually helpful?
Yes! While babies can certainly learn healthy, proper sleep habits without white noise, a sound machine or white noise app can introduce huge benefits to your child’s sleep if you live on a busy street, have a loud pet or a noisy older toddler running around.
If you choose to use a sound machine, it is very important that it be on a white noise or rain setting (no jungle sounds or breaking ocean waves that will stimulate your child), and that it be on continuously, rather than on a timer that will turn off while your child is trying to get from one sleep cycle to the next (ahem – I’m talking to you, Mr. Sleepy Sheep).
I keep putting my baby down “drowsy but awake,” like the books are telling me, but he is still not sleeping any longer/better! What gives?
I know I’m going against the advice of about 100 sleep books here but, folks, in my experience, “drowsy but awake” simply does not work. Why? Because it’s pretty much the same thing as putting your child all the way to sleep before placing her in the crib, and then expecting her to have any idea of how to put herself back to sleep when she wakes at night.
If you do all the work of putting your baby sleep (e.g. feeding until she passes out in your arms) or even most or some of the work (i.e. rocking until your kiddo’s eyelids are drooping and head is bobbing), then your child will have no opportunity to learn to fall asleep in her crib on her own. They will always wake up at night (or 45 minutes into a nap) looking for the same thing that got her to sleep in the first place to get her back to sleep. So, put your angel in her sleep sack, read her a story, and then put her in her crib awake to fall asleep on her own, and – with time and lots of practice! – she will amaze you with her fantastic, long, restful sleeps.
Ever wondered if you are keeping your child up long enough or too long? Check out this FREE Awake Time Chart you can print and reference at any time!