You asked and I answered. I compiled some of your top sleep questions that you asked Whitney and provided you with my top sleep tips and tricks to help you and your family sleep better tonight!
- How can I help my baby sleep through the night and not wake for a feed?
I think it’s important to first talk about the term ‘sleep through the night.’ None of us actually sleep through the night. Babies to adults cycle in and out of light and deep sleep and as we shift through each sleep cycle we all partially wakeup. What’s called partial arousal. Because we as adults can fall back to sleep on our own we don’t fully wake up or realize we’ve woken up. Sleeping through the night isn’t so that your child will fall asleep and not wakeup again until the morning because they will wakeup but it’s so that they are able to independently fall back to sleep when they do partially wake up. This is a learned skill and one they are all capable of learning.
When eliminating feeds, provided your child is old enough and thriving, there are a few steps you can take. When we are eliminating a sleep association like a feed we would choose a method of sleep training and replace that feed with the method. It’s also important to apply all the other tools of sleep training as well. For instance, making sure their sleep environment is safe, consistent, and conducive to sleep. Focusing on daytime sleep, as creating better consolidated naps will help your child go to bed better rested and sleep more restfully. The most important tool to apply when trying to eliminate nightly wakings is implementing an earlier bedtime. Allowing your child to go to bed earlier and therefore not overtired will help them accept sleep, sleep more restfully, and even push out some of those early morning wakings.
- Is CIO the only way to sleep train?
Often sleep training gets a bad rap because the first thing that comes to mind is CIO. While, extinction is a method you can use once a baby becomes old enough it isn’t the only method to use. I always recommend parents to do their research and to choose the method that works best for their own parenting philosophy and one that they feel more comfortable using. If you aren’t going to be comfortable with the method you won’t be consistent and consistency is key. You also have to choose a method that you can both support, as you will have to work as a team and support each other through the process. Above all else you have to choose the method that works best for you child and it may not always be the method that mom or dad want to use.
No matter which method you choose, crying may be a result as the crying stems from the changes you are making in how you are responding to your child. Whether you choose a method where you are more involved, or one where you aren’t you will still be changing how you usually respond to your child. In order for change to happen, change needs to take place. Know that when done correctly and safely your child can learn to sleep independently and still love you in the morning and be secure in your love for them.
- Is it too late to sleep train a toddler?
It is never too late to teach healthier sleep habits. We work with many toddlers and their families to help them sleep better. If you find that you have a tiny escape artist on your hands and they are getting out of bed and leaving their room incorporate some tricks of the sleep trade. Positive sleep props like a toddler clock, can visually cue your child that it’s bedtime and he or she needs to stay in their room. It also shows them when they are allowed to either come out of their room in the morning or when a parent will come to get them.
A bedtime routine chart helps organize the down time required to prepare your child for sleep. Make it fun and craft a chart with them that has all their go-to excuses at bedtime. Setting limits can be the toughest to implement, but necessary. Limits really help in your journey towards good sleep habits and should be established early on. If they do come out of their room, lead them back again every time, with little to no engagement. You may have to do this over and over again throughout the night, but provided you remain consistent in setting those boundaries, after a few nights they will get the message.
- How can I help my child take longer naps?
Probably the biggest sleep struggle out there. Daytime sleep is one of the most important fundamentals in creating healthy sleep at night and we want to aim for a consolidated nap of at least an hour or more. While short naps of 30-45 minutes are common, it’s not enough of a restorative sleep and they are capable of pushing into the next cycle with a lot of persistence and consistency. Keep nap routines and your baby’s sleep environment consistent to help you baby fall asleep easier during the day and stretch out nap length times as well. Stop, wait, and listen. Try not to rush in right away to end the nap. They need time to practice the skill of falling back into that next cycle of sleep to consolidate their nap. With time and consistency they can do it.
- What are important things to do with sleep the first few weeks with baby to start off right.
The one thing I tell any parent in the 4th trimester (0-4 months of age) is to take the pressure off. You are reading so much information on sleep and speaking to different people and you may feel like you need to tackle it all right away. You don’t and you shouldn’t. We want to make sure that we are taking age appropriate steps with our babies and not starting off too soon. The 3 things you can work on right from day one is:
- Create a safe environment for your baby to sleep. The safest sleep environment is so that they are sleeping alone, on their backs, and in a separate sleep space like a crib or bassinet.
- Create a consistent bedtime routine to cue your baby that sleep is coming next. It could be as simple as dimming the lights, talking in soothing tones, changing their diapers, and singing them a lullaby.
- Watch to not overextend wakeful periods in between sleep phases. Keep them short and watch your baby’s cues. During the 4th trimester babies can become overstimulated very easily and in turn overtired. Focus on keeping your baby consistently fed and rested during this time no matter how you have to do it (provided it’s in a safe environment) and once baby becomes closer to 4-4.5 months of age you can start to take more control and create a more formal sleep training plan.
Alanna McGinn is Founder and Certified Sleep Consultant of Good Night Sleep Site, a global sleep consulting practice. She serves on the faculty of The Family Sleep Institute and is host of the ‘This Girl Loves Sleep’ Podcast. She and her husband, Mike, live in Toronto, Canada with their 3 children (1+twins!) You can follow her expert advice in national publications like Macleans, Prevention Magazine, Today’s Parent, and Huffington Post. Alanna strives in helping families (baby to adults) and corporations overcome their sleep challenges and have happy well-rested smiles in the morning. You can find out more about Alanna McGinn and how to work with a Good Night Sleep Consultant at goodnightsleepsite.comand follow Alanna and all her sleep tips on Instagram.