- Creating the right environment and schedule for baby’s bedtime
Every parent wonders what the magic formula is for getting their baby to sleep through the night. Every baby is different but generally speaking a baby over 4 months should only wake up approximately 2 times per night for feedings and then somewhere between 6 and 9 months a baby will drop night feedings entirely. If you have a baby that wakes up too often for feedings, or to be rocked back to sleep, there are definitely ways to encourage sleeping through the night, (minus the 1 or 2 feedings per night).
The first thing to look at is your child’s sleep environment. Is their sleep environment conducive to sleep? The bedroom shouldn’t be an overly stimulating environment that gets in the way of relaxing to sleep. Blackout blinds are incredibly important as babies are more sensitive to the morning sun. Sunlight suppresses melatonin, which helps us feel drowsy and fall asleep at night. Having blackout blinds that block out all the light will help them sleep to a reasonable time in the morning, as well as help them nap during the bright light of day. Blackout blinds become even more important during the summer months when the sun is still shining brightly at bedtime. Many babies also benefit from a sound machine on the lowest setting to block out the intermittent sounds going on around them.
A consistent soothing bedtime routine that happens the same way every night acts as a cue to sleep. It has been shown to reduce night wakings. These activities also relax your baby and fill their tank with enjoyable bonding activities right before drifting off to sleep. It is important that this routine not take too long, so start it no earlier than 30 minutes before the designated bedtime. The routine can have any element that feels comfortable for your family but can include things like a bath, reading, feeding, lullabies and putting on diaper and pajamas.
Making sure that bedtime is at an appropriate time for your baby makes a big difference in the quality of their overnight sleep. Babies who go to bed too late are much more likely to wake overnight and wake for the day earlier in the morning. A sign of being overtired is actually having difficulty sleeping through the night. For a baby, a bedtime around the 7pm mark, if not earlier, is appropriate. When a baby goes to bed too late they can get a second wind, which makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep, and stay asleep. This can become a vicious cycle, where the baby just can’t get the rest they need to fill up their sleep tank. Bedtime needs to be a somewhat moving target based on the day they have had. Do not be afraid of an early bedtime to catch a baby up on some sleep, if they need it!
One key element of giving your baby the best chance of sleeping through the night is to provide them with the opportunity to soothe themself to sleep. If a baby is always being fed, rocked or patted to sleep they start to feel like this is what they always need in order to sleep. Every baby has brief awakenings during the night, but if they can self soothe they will be able to put themselves back to sleep at each awakening and not feel that they need their parents to help. It can also be quite startling for a baby to be put to sleep in a parent’s arms and then wake up in their crib sometime later. Falling asleep by themselves, in their crib, is the best way to promote successful sleeping. As young babies you can put them down drowsy but awake and they can complete the falling asleep process, but from 4 months onwards it is recommended that they be put down awake so they go through the full process by themselves.
If you follow the key steps provided above you will help put your baby on the road to sleep success. However, remember that it is biologically appropriate for your baby to wake up for feedings. What isn’t to be expected is regular wakings for parents to assist them to return back to sleep. The key is to give babies the opportunity to do that on their own. Once they practice that skill they will be on the road to sleeping through the night.