Setting up your baby with great sleep habits takes commitment, consistency, and confidence that you are on the right path. Follow these eight steps from a certified infant and toddler sleep consultant to help you achieve great sleep in one to two weeks.
Once you decide sleep is a priority in your house, your next step is to instill great sleep habits! It may seem daunting, but what it really takes is commitment, consistency, and confidence that you are on the right path. These eight steps can help you achieve great sleep for your children in as little as a week or two!
1. Commit 2 weeks: Once you make your child’s sleep a priority, clear your calendar so you can focus on the task with 100% consistency. It may even require you to limit your child’s social life for a couple of weeks. That includes no middle of the day music classes; no stroller naps so you can sneak a trip to the mall; no early dinners at your favorite restaurant that turns into just one more glass of wine for mom and dad while the baby dozes or your toddler enters meltdown mode.
2. Stay confident: The research shows that babies can pick up on your anxieties even when they are as little as 4-6 months. The more tentative and nervous you feel about “sleep training”, the harder it will be for them and for you. Be confident, shower your baby with hugs and kisses, and allow him the opportunity to learn one of the most valuable things you will teach them—how to fall asleep without needing YOU!
3. Limit wake time: All parents spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the baby is crying, especially in the early days. While it may be tricky at first, the options are usually limited—thankfully! She’s hungry, she needs a diaper change, or she’s just plain tired. Hard as it is to believe, babies can only tolerate 1-2 hours of wakefulness before they need to sleep again. When we make the mistake of stretching wakeful periods too long, it makes it very difficult to fall asleep because she will be overtired, and in fact wired! Between 6-12 months, the wake time stretches a bit, but remember to err on the side of earlier bedtimes which should start no more than 3.5 hours from the end of the second nap. Yes, that may mean as early as 5:30pm or 6pm.
4. Be consistent: We never strive to be boring, but to get your child on a great sleep schedule, you need to be, well, a little boring! That means establishing a soothing sleep time routine that is short (15-20 minutes; 10 minutes for naps), repeatable, and predictable. A good routine can be two books, a song, a quick massage, and bed. Perform this ritual at the same time, in the same place, in the same order, every single night, including before every single nap. This routine evolves over time as your child gets older, but the concept remains the same: It serves as a consistent, calming cue that it’s time for sleep and your child will come to associate the routine with sleep. Bedtimes will become easier, even if they are a bit boring!
5. Set the mood: Imagine a date in a bright room with neon lights, loud noise, and hard chairs—the mood just doesn’t exude romance, does it? It’s so important to set the right “mood” for sleep for our kids (and for ourselves!). Here are three suggestions:
A. Make the room pitch black! Turn off closet lights, night lights, and block that light seeping in from the sides of the blinds as much as possible.
B. Add some noise—white noise that is. Recreating the wooshing sounds from the womb is comforting and sleep-inducing, like the sound of a shower or a fan. For safety, keep the noise machine at least 6 feet from the crib.
C. Keep it quiet. Other than white noise, keep the ambient house noise to a minimum while your little one is falling asleep. Once asleep, normal noise levels can resume because they won’t hear a thing.
6. Beware of unhelpful sleep associations: In your attempts to win “mother of the year” award in your baby’s early months of life, you may have inadvertently created some negative sleep associations. All that rocking and nursing to sleep which seemed to do the trick to get your baby to sleep longer, can become a problem when that is the only way they know to fall asleep. Of course they would rather snuggle in your arms than alone in that big crib, but rocking or nursing to sleep becomes a hard habit to break. Start by introducing a transitional object like a “lovey” in your bedtime routines; then transition your still awake baby to the crib after your calming routine. Don’t worry, you can still have ample snuggle time all day long; just break the habit of your baby needing you to fall asleep.
7. Put children in bed awake: Falling asleep is a skill—just like learning to ride a bike. And just like teaching your child to ride a bike, you can set her up for success by giving her some pointers and a helmet with that shiny new two wheeler, but at some point you have to let her fall so she can figure out how to get back up and start again on her own. With sleep, you will set your child up for success by providing a perfect environment, putting your child to sleep at biologically appropriate times, and creating soothing bedtime routines. But then it is equally important that you put her in the crib awake so she can learn the crucial skill—to fall asleep alone.
8. Be patient: Although dozens of my clients have seen overnight success after implementing my step by step sleep plans, it doesn’t always work so quickly. Be patient. With consistency and follow through over the period of a couple weeks, your child will be a sleep champ sooner than you think.
A graduate of Cornell Medical School, Rebecca Kempton, MD, became interested in the topic of sleep when her first son refused to sleep day or night—or so it seemed. After much research and conversations with other moms, Dr. Kempton honed her sleep training skills with her next two children. She then became certified as an infant and toddler sleep consultant with the Family Sleep Institute, and she now creates customized sleep solutions for families. For more information on Dr. Kempton and her services, visit babysleeppro.com or follow her on social media: facebook.com/babysleeppro or @babysleeppro on Twitter.