I have two good sleepers. Both girls were sleeping through the night within a week or two. (And no, I didn’t nurse, so I know that has a lot to do with it. And yes, I got a lot of crap about not nursing. We’ll get to that in a separate post.) Today, my big girl goes down around 7:15. She’s got to be up and dressed by 8:15 when the bus comes. The baby goes down by 7. She’s usually up between 7:30 and 8. She takes a two to three hour nap during the day, too.
Some of this sleepiness is genetic, I’m sure. My husband can sleep anywhere. Before we had kids he would sleep in on Saturdays until 2 or 3 p.m. I’d go out, do a cardio class, take yoga or Pilates, hit a karate class, go food shopping and come home and wake him up for the day. Thank goodness the kids take after Daddy. If they took after me — someone who stays up until 1 or 2 every night, I’d be losing my mind. Genetics aside, there are some things we do to keep them on these amazing schedules. I’m going to skip the tips you always hear — setting a routine, playing soft music, making their tummies full and warm — and concentrate on the things you may have missed.
- Get rid of the monitor. When I had Big Girl, we had a monitor. It drove us nuts. We’d hear every sniff and snuffle. I’d go in to see if she was okay, and I’d wake her in the process. Once I got rid of the monitor, she slept much better. Made perfect sense. All of us — babies included — wake up several times each night as we pass from stage to stage of sleep. By running when the baby made a little noise, or even let out a cry or two, we weren’t letting her learn how to soothe herself back to sleep.
- Keep it dark. Light helps our bodies awaken us. It’s one of the reasons we are awake during the day and sleep at night. You can help babies sleep longer and go down for naps easier by installing blackout shades, which will bring evening dusk into your nursery even at 11 a.m.
- Nap them — even if they don’t want to nap. My very sage pediatrician Dr. Ilyse Nayor once told me that every child needs to learn to be alone. And I should put my daughter in for a nap even if she didn’t want to sleep. We followed her advice, and to this day I can tell Big Girl to go into her room and take some quiet time. There’s good research that says daytime naps help children learn, and since all babies need up to 16 hours of sleep each day, if you put them in regularly, eventually, they are going to fall asleep.
- Don’t let them sleep in your bed. I know there is a very strong co-sleeping contingent online, however when I look at the research I am convinced that co-sleeping isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Safety aside (the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against co-sleeping), babies who sleep with parents get less sleep than their peers, and the affects of co-sleeping stay with them until they are school age, according to one study.
- Avoid caffeine. This might seem like a crazy tip. Who would give a baby or a child caffeine, right? But well-meaning parents who let kids have a chocolate bar, chocolate ice cream or cookies or a sip of soda or hot cocoa are setting their kids up for potential sleep issues. All of the above have caffeine. And while a cup of cocoa might not bother a 135-pound mommy, it’s going to affect a 25-pound toddler. You can also inadvertently give your infant caffeine via breast milk and, since small babies can’t clear it from their systems all that well, it builds up over time keeping them awake. Bottom line: keep caffeine to a minimum to help your baby drift off to sleep better.
- Keep things cool — but not too cool. When we fall asleep, our bodies cool down. If the room is too warm — warmer than 68 degrees — it takes our bodies longer to cool, and it takes us longer to fall asleep. Babies have it tougher because they can’t self-regulate temperature when they are small, so we need to be careful that they are not too cold or too warm when we put them into their cribs.
- Don’t smoke — or let kids breathe second-hand smoke. The nicotine in cigarette smoke disrupts babies’ sleeping habits. And yes, it will get to your child through your breast milk, so if you’re still smoking, please stop.
- Keep the sleep location consistent. If you let your baby sleep in the car — or pack-and-play or stroller — during the day, they may not sleep as well at night in their crib, according to a study. Don’t get crazy if you can’t put your baby down in her crib every day, but whenever possible, let her sleep where she’s used to sleeping at night.
Do you have a sleep strategy that I’ve missed? How long did it take you to sleep train your child? Are you a fan of crying it out? (We are…) Tell me about it.