Monday, March 24, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: How to Get Your Child on a Sleep Schedule

There is no one idea fits all when it comes to babies and sleep. All babies are different, and you might need to try a few different tactics when it comes to your baby.

Here's the one thing you need to know: your baby's sleep schedule will constantly evolve as s/he grows older. In Bug's first couple of months of life, she slept a lot. She was also awake a lot, though - apparently more than the average baby. Then around two months, we were taking two to three naps a day and they were somewhat predictable. Around four months, we were taking two naps a day. All during this time, she was going to bed fairly early - around 7 PM. Around seven months, things started going a little haywire. Naps were much less predictable as to when they would occur. Bedtime wasn't really set in stone for her either.

You can't really make a baby go to sleep when you want them to. Well, I guess you could. You could let them cry until they are so miserable and exhausted they fall asleep.

If you're in the cry-it-out camp, I'm glad for you that that works for you.

It definitely does not and would not ever work for me.

Babies will set their own sleep schedule. There are things you can do to help them along in setting one that you may like, but just as you cannot make yourself go to bed at 7 PM just because, babies are not necessarily going to fall asleep then either just because you said so (This is important advice to remember in the future when your older child wants to have a popsicle and you say no and she asks why and you say, "Because I said so." You generally need to have a real reason to tell your child for them to semi-happily obey you and learn to make good judgments on their own).

From months eight to ten, Bug stayed up really late, some nights until 10:30, which is very late for us. That was perhaps the roughest period of time. After month ten, Bug started clearly transitioning to one nap a day and by month 11, she was fully transitioned to one nap a day. That nap became fairly predictable. It usually began between 12 and 1 and would last anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours. She is definitely a good sleeper!

Bug's wake-up and night-night times were fairly predictable as well around month ten. She usually woke up between 8 and 9 AM and would be asleep between 9 and 10 PM.

Great, you say. How do I get my kid to have any schedule?

Again, your baby will set his or her own schedule. Some babies don't feel the need to nap, I've been told, but I will say this: generally speaking, babies need naps. So if you're having trouble getting your baby to nap at all or fall asleep at night, here's what I have found works well for getting a baby to sleep:

  • Rigorous play time during awake hours
    • Do NOT corral your child during the day! Let that baby crawl all over the house. Let baby explore his/her world. If you have a pack and play or other device, that's fine, but use it incredibly sparingly. This will ensure your baby's getting enough exercise and building up his muscles. This will help make him sleepy! 
  • Tub time every night
    • In the beginning, I would not recommend this so much, but once baby starts enjoying bath time (I pray yours does enjoy it; Bug is obsessed with her tub and anything involving water), tub time is totally acceptable every day. You don't need to soap baby up every day, but let him enjoy the water and his bath toys. Tub time should be in the evening and about an hour or so from when you want baby to be in dreamland. Warm water helps a baby relax and get into a sleepy frame of mind. It's also a good way for baby to play right before bed. 
  • Develop a solid routine for bedtime 
    • Tub time is definitely part of this. First, we have potty time. Bug sits on her potty and we read a board book to her. Then, we have tub time. After tub time and we're all in our PJs, depending on her current state, we will either have a bit more play time where Bug crawls all over the house, expending that last bit of energy, or we just feed her and she goes to bed. Bug definitely knows when the water is running to fill the tub and we're undressing her that it's potty and book time, followed by bath. We do this every single night. I'm sure there have been a few times we skipped this, but in general, we complete this routine 6.5 out of every 7 nights. 
  • Listen to and obey baby's cues
    • If your baby is showing signs of sleepiness, let baby sleep! This sometimes means Bug sleeps during an odd time of day, especially when she was very little. But I found that waking her up didn't work. She would just fall right back asleep. Generally speaking, I let Bug sleep when she needs to sleep. If she wants to be awake really early, that's fine, too (have hope: whenever Bug has woken very early, she sleeps a lot that day, and the phase will pass, I promise!). 
  • Let baby think over bedtime if all else is failing
    • I am a very laid-back parent. So much so that I think it, at times, frightens Jason. I do believe Bug understands a lot at her young age, especially since I take the time to explain everything to her. "It's time for bed because you need sleep to grow big and strong. You're going to go night-night so you can have sweet dreams, and in the morning, we will play again." But there are times when Bug just doesn't want to sleep, even when I can clearly see she is exhausted. If your baby has reached the point of absolute exhaustion, calmly explain to your baby that it is time to sleep, place him/her lovingly and gently in the crib and leave the room. Yes, wailing and sobbing is likely to ensue. After some period of time, for me this varied between one and five minutes, come back into the room and offer breast or bottle again. Bug would get to the point where she wouldn't eat so I would leave and when I came back, we were ready to settle down, eat and sleep. I always said, the period of time when I was gone from the room, that this was Bug thinking about what she wants to do. It worked 99% of the time. 
There are many books and other resources out there that will claim your baby can be on a sleep schedule in 12 weeks or some other period of time. Personally, I think to force a baby into a one-idea-fits-all concept for anything is delusional. Do you go to sleep at the same time as everyone else you know? Probably not. So why would all babies go to bed at the same time? It's just really weird when you think about it. 

Instead, I really believe you should work with your baby to develop a routine that works for him or her, knowing that your baby's schedule will continue to change. Nothing will ever be set in stone. Have patience, and you and your baby will figure out what works best for you. 

And if needed, you can always call grandma or a friend to come relieve you so you can get sleep if baby isn't giving it up ever. Do not be afraid to ask for help! You will figure this out. 

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