As parents, we’re all obsessed with sleep. How much your child sleeps can make or break your day. You were up six times overnight? Good luck at that important meeting today. Spent an hour lying in bed with your toddler while he fell asleep? Bet you’d rather have been watching Scandal. Your kid slept from 7pm to 7am? Best. Gift. Ever.
The moment your baby is born, their (and your) sleep is all you can think about. Are they sleeping too much? Too little? At the right times? Is that weird noise he makes normal? Will this ever end? All of these questions pile up, making our sleep-deprived minds go a little crazy.
We’re all looking for solutions. But there are so many books, methods, old wives tales—it’s overwhelming! The good news: I’ve read the books. I’ve studied the studies. I’ve worked with families facing the same types of challenges. Here are answers to your biggest sleep problems.
My 7-month-old just won’t stay asleep at night. She wakes up at least 3-4 times and I’m exhausted. What can I do?
Overnight wakings are the most common complaint amongst my clients. It’s a problem that is mentally and physically challenging for parents and creates a huge sleep debt for everyone involved. Without knowing why your child is waking—is she hungry or does she just want to hang out with you?—I see two possible solutions.
First, I’d recommend speaking with your pediatrician to determine how often she needs to eat overnight. Every baby is different, but eating 3-4 times per night may indicate that she’s not getting enough nourishment during the day.
Second, I’d recommend moving her bedtime earlier. It seems counterintuitive, but an earlier bedtime promotes consolidated sleep overnight. If your baby is too tired when she falls asleep, then her body will fight sleep throughout the night. Overtired baby = Overnight wakings.
Start by shifting her bedtime earlier in 15-minute increments until you find the sweet spot. For example, if she currently goes to bed at 8pm, try 7:45pm for a few days. If she continues to wake overnight, try 7:30pm. You’ll know you found the right bedtime when she sleeps through the night more consistently. Just remember, it’s better to err on the side of an earlier bedtime than one that is too late.
It takes forever to get my toddler to go to sleep! Our bedtime routine takes up to 90 minutes and my husband and I can’t take it anymore.
I hear ya! Bedtime battles are tough. I’m sure you’d much rather be spending time with your husband than coaxing your toddler to sleep.
Now see the advice I gave the mom, above. Your toddler may need an earlier bedtime. Often, the reason they fight sleep is because they’ve become overtired (which, as we all know, means they get a little crazy). Try to start your bedtime routine 30 minutes earlier for a few days to see if that helps. Some parents find it helpful to set an alarm to remind everyone that it’s time to start winding down for bedtime.
At the same time, establish a solid bedtime routine: A series of soothing events that you do every night for 20-30 minutes. The goal is to find a predictable regimen so your child knows when to wind down and isn’t surprised when it’s bedtime.
In our household, we change into PJs, brush teeth, sing three songs, then read three books. Do I ever read four books? Actually, no. If my son asks for another, I remind him that we’ve just read three and it’s time to turn off the lights.
Once the routine is over, put your child in bed and turn off the lights. Give him a final kiss and confidently say that you’ll see him in the morning. While he may at first protest you leaving, he will quickly adapt to the new, abbreviated bedtime routine and be happy to go to sleep.
My 4-month old refuses to sleep unless I hold him. Even for naps. How can I put him down?
Sounds like it’s been a long four months for you! The good news is that this age is a great time to form healthy sleep habits, as your baby’s circadian rhythm is established and he’s developmentally ready to learn to self-soothe. This is the perfect moment to gently help him to fall asleep by himself.
Since he’s used to falling asleep while being held, you’ll want to start slowly. Choose where you want him to sleep (such as a bassinet) and use that area exclusively for all naps and bedtime. Before each sleep period, implement a short and soothing routine (e.g., lullaby, reading a short book) that will cue his brain to start winding down. Put him in his crib/bassinet while he’s tired but still awake. Walk away so he can’t see you. If he begins to protest, implement a very gentle timed-check system (1, 2 or 3 minutes) where you go to soothe him and let him know you’re there for him. At first, you’ll probably need to pick him up after a minute or two, but the important thing is he begins to understand that it’s okay to be alone in his crib. It’s a tough skill for him to learn, but one that’s vital to him sleeping like a champ throughout his infancy and childhood.
I see so many gadgets designed for babies. Do I need any of them?
You’re right, there is no shortage of electronic devices—everything from musical mobiles to sensors you place under the mattress to detect a newborn’s every movement. It’s a bold new world for baby technology!
I’m not a fan of incorporating a lot of gadgets in the nursery, but I do recommend having a device that creates white noise. It could be a fan, air purifier, humidifier, or an actual white noise machine. If you don’t want to make a purchase, there are many white noise apps you can buy for your smartphone or tablet. Living in a small apartment in a big city, I find that white noise helps drown out both household and city noises so that the baby can sleep more deeply.
I also find it valuable to have a video baby monitor. Even if you live in an apartment where you can hear your baby’s every murmur, it’s sometimes helpful to be able to see them. When we first moved our infant to his own room, I’d wake in the middle of the night convinced that he had stopped breathing—a quick check of the video monitor put my mind at ease so I could go back to sleep. As he got older, I found it helpful to be able to watch how he fell asleep so I knew when to intervene and when to let him self-soothe.
My 3-year-old still comes into bed with me every night. We’ve had many discussions about how she needs to stay in her own bed, but it still hasn’t happened. Is she going to sleep with me until she goes to college?
Ahh, the joys of waking up with a toddler-sized foot in your face! This is a common challenge but, with consistency and patience, can definitely be solved.
Let’s look at the underlying problem: Why does your daughter prefer to sleep with you?
When you have a better idea of why she seeks solace in your bed, try to address that elsewhere in her life. For example, establish morning snuggle time in your bed once the family is awake. Or spend time each night before bed “trapping” the monsters in a bag and taking them out of her room.
Once you’ve addressed the underlying issue, it’s time to lay down the law. If you don’t want her sleeping in your bed, then you need to set a consistent rule. Explain that going forward, everyone will sleep in their own beds for the entire night. Before she goes to sleep, gently remind her of the rule and tell her you’ll see her in the morning. If she comes into your bed, calmly lead her back to her bed with minimal interaction. Do this each and every time she gets out of bed—the first few nights may be difficult, but she quickly will understand the new rule. And you’ll be able to sleep better knowing that you’ll wake up the same way you fell asleep: Alone.