Sleep is one of those great conundrums when it comes to parenting little ones. Some children are amazing sleepers from day one. Others fight naps and bed time every day. But for growing children, lots of quality sleep is vital. Newborn babies sleep for up to 18 hours a day, and toddlers may sleep up to 15 hours a day!
How a Bed Time Will Transform Your Life
Every animal, humans included, thrives on routine. The human body is full of cycle and routine. From women’s reproductive cycle, to our digestive system, our body is full of routine processes. Sleep is no different. When babies are born, they are not in line with the routine of their parents’ day to day lives. It takes some time for them, and Mommy and Daddy, to adjust to their new life together.
Humans, again like other animals, are easily conditioned, which is where having a bed time routine with your children can be of great benefit. For newborns, it can be the saving grace in getting your baby to sleep easily every night. For older children, the benefits of a bed time routine will mean a good night’s sleep, which will translate into more efficient digestion, and better mental focus. Across the board, for little ones and adults both, better sleep decreases lifetime risk for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, and increases immune function.
“A good night’s sleep,” for little ones, means two things.
- The ability for a child to fall asleep easily.
- The ability for a child to stay asleep throughout the night, and self soothe if they wake.
My daughter was about four months old before I was able to lay her down and walk away, trusting she would fall asleep without 30 minutes of rocking and singing. My son was 11 months old before he slept through the night without needing to breastfeed. I have been to the most desperate places in my search for sleep solutions for my kids.
The Book That Changed My Life
The No Cry Sleep Solution.This book changed my life. I have written about it in previous posts, and I’ll probably reference it again. Elizabeth Pantley’s advice resonated with me. I could never wrap my brain around letting my kids cry it out.
Pantley’s advice is practical and personal. She starts by explain the biological and psychological process that affect and are affected by a healthy sleep schedule. Then, she has you document how your baby sleeps and what you are doing as a parent. Then the book helps you put a GENTLE plan in place, to ease your child into a routine that fosters comfort and teaches them how to be great sleepers.
My son was sleeping through the night within three weeks of implementing Pantley’s method, and my daughter took less than two weeks to fall asleep on her own.
How to Get Your Baby Asleep Fast
Routine, routine, routine. I can’t stress this enough: having a comforting and consistent bed time routine is essential for establishing good sleep habits in your baby (or toddler, or six year old). Start your bed time routine at the same time every night. This will help set your child’s biological clock. Eventually, he will be tired and ready for bed at this time every night, less dependent on the routine you have set.
Start earlier. Elizabeth Pantley recommends that infants go to bed anytime after 6 P.M. when they are showing signs of being tired. Some of these signs are hard to catch if you don’t know what you are looking for. For example, a baby who is staring off into space is a tired baby. A baby that is crying because he is tired is an OVERTIRED baby, and he may not be able to fall asleep easily.
Have your routine be a comforting time. For us, we started with a warm bath with dimmed lights. A lavender bath soap that is made for relaxation. A warm bedroom, lavender scented lotion. We snuggled up and read a book, and finished with the same song each night. My kids both sleep with a box fan running in their rooms. But when we travel, I bring a portable white noise machine. (Newborns are used to hearing the sounds inside your body – it’s the silence that is strange for them!)
The Three Minute Rule
This is my personal rule and it has helped me tremendously to encourage my children to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own, while minimizing my mommy guilt. It’s simple. I tuck my children in after their bed time routines, leave the room, and shut the door. Then I do not reenter their room for three minutes. If after three minutes, they are CRYING, I will go back in and comfort them (talking, babbling, or rolling around is not reason to reenter their room).
I give them the smallest amount of comfort I can to calm them down. If they are pacified by being tucked in again and my singing a song, that’s what we do. I don’t pick them up, lay with them, or rock them unless nothing else works. Then we start the three minutes again.
Most of the time, if either of my kids are fussing after I lay them down, they will calm themselves down and settle in before the three minutes is up. By going back in their room right away or staying until they are asleep, I am not allowing them the opportunity to learn to self soothe.
Stick With It!
The first few nights of our bed time routine with my son, my husband begged me to quit. I had gone back in his room to comfort him probably five times. I still got up with him every time he woke during the night. But it really does work.
Remember, you are both teaching your children to associate the elements of your routine with sleep AND set their biological clock to sleep at the same time each day. Experts say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. In this case, it might take even less, because the human body already craves routine!
You might have to adjust your own schedule, say no to dinner guests or other evening activities, to stick to your routine. But you will be so glad that you did. My own kids are so set in their routine that now they will both let me know when it is time for bed. They go to bed without difficulty and sleep soundly until about 7:00 A.M..
Go Forth, and Sleep Well!
We moms wear our sleep deprivation like a badge of honor sometimes. It truly is a rite of passage that every parent will go through at some point. But it needn’t be a prolonged struggle. There IS a way for the whole family to get back to a good night’s sleep.
Every child, every mother, and every family is different. Pay attention to your child’s unique personality and sleep cues. Before you know it, you won’t be stressing about sleep anymore.
The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I truly believe every parent should read this book. Your little one not a baby any more? Or maybe you expecting? Pantley has also modified her book into The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and the No Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns.