The battle for sleep is one that I think just about every parent can relate to. After my son and my daughter were born, my husband and I faced the usual sleep challenges, but we used this sleep method, and it worked beautifully (I still highly recommend it). But when my youngest was born, he fought sleep tooth-and-nail, and I thought I was going to lose my mind! With two other young children to take care of (one with special needs), constantly being sleep-deprived was not a part of my game plan.
Everything the little man-cub knows about sleep, he had to be taught. And it was hard work. Although you could say we “taught” our older kids to sleep, it was different with our youngest. Getting him to sleep through the night was a constant battle, requiring lots of effort and continual fine-tuning.
While I can’t tell you which sleep method will work best for your kiddo, I can give some tips that I think can be generalized to most babies. These are some of the most crucial elements that helped our high-maintenance, sleep-fighting baby sleep through the night, and they just might help your kiddo too!
- Get on a schedule. I think most babies just do better on schedules in general, but high-maintenance ones can really benefit from it. Schedules can be tough, I get that. With #3 we had a particularly hard time keeping him on a schedule. Between my older son’s therapies and school schedule and my daughter’s needs, there hardly seemed to be any time for scheduling regular naps and bedtimes for the baby. However, I could always tell a difference when we were consistent with my little man’s schedule versus those times when we weren’t.
- Learn your child’s sensory stimulation needs and work to meet those during the day. Does your little one like to always be on the go? Does she thrive in new environments? Or does she prefer peace and quiet? I’ve found that if you meet your child’s sensory needs during the day, they will sleep better at night. My youngest liked to get out of the house during the day, but it was important that we not overdo it. He liked going for walks in the stroller or sitting at the park while his brother and sister played. If we stayed at home all day, he wouldn’t be as sleepy in the evening, but if I took him out for a marathon shopping trip, he’d be over-stimulated and restless at night. Once I figured out what kinds of and how much sensory stimulation baby boy needed, his sleep improved.
- Keep it cool. Did you know that the optimal sleeping temperature is between 65 and 70 (some say 68-72) degrees? It’s one reason kids tend to sleep better during the winter! If you can keep your baby’s room around that temperature, then fantastic! If you just can’t afford that kind of power bill at this time of year, keep the thermostat at the point you find acceptable, dress your baby lightly, and consider blowing a fan in the room/on the crib area. My kiddos LOVE having fans (the portable kind, not just ceiling fans) blowing directly on them in the summer. Not only do fans keep them cool at night (and during naps), the white noise the fans create is soothing and blocks out other household noises.
- Develop a bedtime routine. You can make it simple or complex, but the idea is to develop cues that will tell your baby that it’s time to go to sleep. Your routine should be something you can do every single night, which is why we didn’t include baths in our bedtime routine. Our routine has generally consisted of feeding, stories, singing songs in our rocker, and then going to bed. The littlest man definitely knows now when bedtime has arrived—he can always tell as soon as we start the routine!
- Get in as many calories during the day as you can! This was THE biggest factor in getting my little guy to sleep through the night. Babies who get hungry during the night won’t sleep! Even now we make sure to “top off” our little one right before bed if it has been a while since dinner. It can be hard to make sure your baby eats enough during the day, especially if he is used to getting up and eating during the night. A few tricks that helped with this were: 1) Cluster feeding in the evening – squeeze in several feedings close together in the hours before bedtime 2) Breast compressions (if you’re nursing) – Use these if you’re nursing to help your baby extract more milk and stay alert as the flow of milk slows (this is a good video to watch if you want learn more about this)
(Even though this last point is really important, don’t be tempted to introduce solids early. It isn’t recommended by physicians and isn’t proven to be helpful.)
These are tips that I feel will benefit just about everyone. If you’re looking for a few more ideas, these are additional tricks that benefitted us as well:
- A white noise machine – White noise machines (such as this one) are great things to try if you’ve got a problem-sleeper. My older two didn’t seem to need white noise at night, but my youngest couldn’t sleep without it. We used white noise for a long time, although he now sleeps without it (he still loves the noise of the fan, though!)
- Natural sunlight – Exposing your child to natural sunlight during the day can be a great way to get his circadian rhythms in order. Natural sunlight teaches your body that it is time to be alert, and the lack of it causes you to be more sleepy.
- Blackout (or dark) curtains – Before we moved, we had dark curtains in our son’s room. After we moved, the number and dimensions of the windows his room changed drastically. We still managed to get him to sleep, but recently I finished making blackout curtains like these for his room and holy cow! They have made a HUGE difference in his sleep, especially his naps during the day! Had I realized what a difference these made, I would have taken care of this project immediately!
Even using all these tricks, my son was over a year before he finally slept 100% through the night, although his sleep got better and better throughout the first year. As I said before, everything he knows about sleep, we had to teach him. However, I’m positive that we wouldn’t have fared as well as we did that first year if we hadn’t used these strategies. And now he sleeps like a champ, sleeping 12 hours straight each night. It is heavenly!
I hope you find at least one of these tips is beneficial. Good luck and happy sleeping!