The topic of infant sleep is foremost in every new parent's mind, and the information available on the subject is highly varied. Some books recommend getting up with your baby a dozen times a night, while others suggest letting them cry alone until they throw up! With contradictory advice like this, it’s no wonder parents are confused.
Although most parents can appreciate that their infant needs to sleep in order to grow and develop, many are unaware of the important sleep associations children acquire along the way. If children are not given the opportunity to develop strategies to fall and stay asleep on their own, they may become dependent on outside stimuli to assist them.
Consider these tips for helping your child get the sleep he or she needs.
1. The single most important skill you can teach children is how to fall asleep on their own without any external help. It is a life skill that is just as important as learning healthy eating habits or the benefits of daily exercise.
2. Consistency is key. Whatever your method, you need to stick to it. Bedtime and naptime have to be non-negotiable. Sleep is just as important to a child's health as a nutritious meal.
3. A predictable bedtime routine is an important cue to let the child's body know that bedtime is near and it’s time to relax and prepare for nighttime sleep.
4. A short naptime routine will help in creating a relaxing environment that will prepare a child's mind and body for the idea of a nap.
5. An early bedtime is the key to avoiding overtiredness and hyperactivity in the evening. Any time between 6 and 8pm is ideal for most infants and toddlers to be heading to bed.
6. Think of sleep as a continuous 24-hour cycle. Whatever happens at each stage of the day has a direct impact on what happens for the next 24 hours. Think twice about skipping naps and allowing late-night bedtimes. It will affect what happens at the next stage of the 24-hour cycle.
7. Infants who are allowed to fall asleep while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding often require this routine when they wake during the night. If possible, avoid letting your child fall asleep while feeding.
8. Proper daytime naps will help your baby sleep better at night. It's just not true that keeping your baby up all day will help them sleep better at night. In fact, the opposite may be the case, as overtiredness leads to a much more restless sleep with frequent wake ups, even for adults.
DANA OBLEMAN, a mother of three and former school teacher, founded the Sleep Sense Program, which focuses on creating an effective yet gentle and completely customized sleep plan for parents to help their infants and toddlers achieve a good night's rest. Dana offers individual consultations with parents in person or via telephone (www.sleepsense.net/private-consultations), group seminars (www.sleepsense.net/seminars-speaking), and a "do-it-yourself" guide for tired parents (www.sleepsense.net/do-it-yourself-options).