OK picture the scenario your baby just fell asleep in the car, you are so desperate for a break that you’re going to just drive by your house and take a short jaunt to nearest largest city to you which is over 100
miles away! You do this because you know the minute you stop the car she’s going to wake up. and quite frankly if that happens you are going to find yourself cry the ugly cry.
Then when you look for answers the majority of well know parenting books & apparently child experts say this is the norm for the first year of your new life with a baby…it will be spent in a haze of sleep deprivation caused by night feedings, teething, ear infections, etc. We look around at all the other Mums you know & see at the playground & they are look equally exhausted, then you find out your neighbour is still night-nursing her 5-year-old….So this is all normal. Right?
In a word, yes.
Let me elaborate this for you. For the first few weeks after birth, baby sleep may be all over the place with sleeping & feeding. They may find yourself sleeping so much you find yourself wondering why other new mum’s seem so tired…Or you may find you never get to sleep for more than 45-minute windows, which leaves you wondering how you are possibly going to make it through one more night. Both & all scenario in between are normal & you should not expect anything else.
What research has found is most new born babies are extra fussy for a few hours in the evening, often from 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM, in some places this is known as the “witching hour.” This is being so as everybody is now exhausted, the possibility of even play “pass the cranky baby” is impossible due to the fact that all the people you wish to pass the baby to (grandparents, friends, etc.) have all gone home & are now lounging on the couch thinking about how glad they are that right now they don’t to have a fussy new born to deal with! It’s not uncommon for new born babies to have a long period where they are awake and fussy (by which I mean they are all but inconsolable but WILL NOT SLEEP). This generally falls anywhere between 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM. While at the time it can leave the whole household in tears, it’s normal and temporary. This time of day is also, followed blessedly by the largest chunk of uninterrupted sleep you are likely to see for the first few months. So, if you aren’t going to bed immediately after your new born baby, you’re missing out and I would advise you to do so with immediate effect to stop your sleep debt worsening.
So, let’s talk timescale, how long will you have to deal with the fussiness and the non-sleeping baby? What research has shown is that most of the fussiness & mixed sleeping patterns tends to come to a peak at 6 weeks. However, word of caution do not be fooled into thinking that by week 7 you are going to end up with an easy baby at the end of the 7 week mark, as this is not the case. What it does mean is that you will find things will gradually get easier from that point on. What has been shown to occur is somewhere between 2 to 6 months your baby will consolidate their naps. Meaning that instead of taking 4-5 tiny naps throughout the day they’ll take 3 good (45+ minute) naps. What I wish to point out though at this age we don’t just look at the frequency & length of naps, we look at the total number of hours of sleep they have had in a 24hour period, which should be close to the following targets outline below.
Other things you probably want to know about newborn babies and bedtime include:
BABY SLEEP: HOW MUCH, WHEN, HOW LONG
What I have found is if you keep a track of how much your baby is sleeping for a few days by using a sleep diary . If you’re somewhere close to the numbers in the chart you’re doing OK. If not, maybe it’s time to make a change and I will discuss below some of the areas you will need to focus on to make these changes happen.
COMMON BABY SLEEP PROBLEMS
BABY IS AWAKE TOO LONG
This is probably the #1 sleep problem that trips up parents with babies under 1. People think babies will simply fall asleep when they need sleep. It would be great if babies worked that way but they don’t & it is usually the main cause for sleep issues. We expect our new born to be awake more than they are which means we start off on the wrong foot and a sleep debt occurs very quickly and the spiral effect begins. By using the chart as a guideline, you can see where you are with regards being in the right place with the amount of sleep needed. If your baby is awake dramatically longer than what is indicated in the “time between naps” column, they are likely to be overtired. I am not sure why we feel this should be something to come naturally when we are taught and learn everything else we do in our lives. It would also be great if babies were born knowing how to do most things like eating, speaking, using the potty. Sadly none of these are the case, we are everything we do & sleep is no exception.
BABY IS NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP
Your baby should not be getting substantially less sleep than is indicated in the “Total Hrs per Day” column. I can’t tell you how often people try to convince me that their baby just doesn’t need that much sleep. My answer to this is very simple…. Liar!
By saying this I’m not saying that the parent means to tell lies, they simply don’t have the knowledge they need to ensure they are doing it correct. Unlike everything else, like feeding & eating, where clear instructions are written on the side of package stating what is needed. The parent does not know exactly what amount of sleep is needed for each age group as we have become programmed to run about with our busy lives so it suits them not to be tied to naps in cots at home & that helping babies get the sleep they need is easy. Nor am I saying that you should beat yourself up if you’re doing everything you possibly can and your baby isn’t quite getting as much sleep as you would like. But I AM saying that the chart gives you a pretty good idea of how much sleep your child needs. If you’re vastly off the mark, that’s OK..you now know what you should be aiming for so lets use the knowledge you have just gained & let’s keep working towards these numbers as a goal.
BEDTIME IS TOO LATE
This is the #2 sleep problem people run into. This is typically it is caused by two things. The first is that younger babies (under 6 months) tend to take naps late in the afternoon or early evening which means their bedtime is fairly late (9:00PM – 10:30PM). Whey they stop sleeping in the late afternoon their bedtime should be moved up closer to 7:00PM (parents forget this step and keep the original late bedtime). The second cause is that babies generally wake up far earlier than you would like to. Parents will do just about anything to try to get their baby to sleep past 6:00 AM and they often think that keeping them up later at night will do the trick. However generally keeping your baby up late just reduces the total amount of sleep they’re getting and leads to a chronically sleep-deprived baby.
So if your new born baby is staying up college-student late, for example, your baby goes to bed at 11:00 PM you have a normal new born baby. If your baby is still awake at 2:00 AM then you have a problem. The MOST COMMON causes of a baby who is awake when the bars close are:
You’re taking your baby to a bar…Please stop this a bar is NOT the place for a baby.
Your baby is OVER tired. If your new born baby has been awake since noon they are likely to be so tired that it’s now all but impossible for them to sleep.
Your baby needs more soothing. Have you embraced white noise, swaddling, swinging, and pacifiers? If not, please do just don’t use them to put them to sleep, they are to be used for comfort only.
I love this quote – No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap. ~Carrie Snow
BABY DOESN’T NAP AT ALL
If your child is under 3 they almost always need to take a nap. I see & speak to so many parents who have a 2 year old who doesn’t nap who will tell me about how “Little Timmy decided to stop napping just after his 2nd birthday.” I ask myself, “Why did Little Timmy get a vote in this decision?” Naps are your friend. Even if it seems inconvenient (especially if you have a non-napping older sibling) to maintain a consistent nap schedule with your 2-3 year old pre-schooler, this is something their little body needs (even if they don’t seem to WANT to do it). Two-year-old kids are challenging boundaries all day long and are likely to challenge naps as well. Please DONT confuse this with a signal that they no longer need a nap.
BABY IS GETTING TOO MUCH SLEEP
Before I trained I used to believe that there was no such thing as a kid who sleeps too much. The truth be known I always wanted to be the parent of one of these kids! But what I’ve learnt is that some kids who sleep more than expected often have some underlying medical issue that leaves them unusually tired. This is REALLY rare, most often your kid is sleeping longer because you got lucky. If you’re worried, the most frequent causes of sleeping TOO much are sleep apnea and things like celiac disease that hinder your child’s ability to absorb nutrients. Both of which are totally manageable conditions. But if your baby is over 3 months old and seems to sleep far more than what is suggested in the chart, it’s probably time to talk to your paediatrician just make sure everything is OK.
WHERE WILL YOUR NEWBORN BABY SLEEP?
There are few things more fun for a new Mum (or even experienced Mums) than decorating the new baby’s room. We coordinate colours and stack diapers while quietly fantasizing about the sweet moments when we’ll gently lay our beloved new born into her crib and silently creep out of the room to enjoy a healthy gourmet meal with our partner while discussing world events. Ah….its a wonderful time isn’t it?
Well chances are your precious tot will spend very little time in that lovely new room for far longer than you expect.
WHEN WILL BABY SLEEP IN THEIR BED?
The reality is that your new born is unlikely to sleep inside the charming crib that you spent an entire day assembling until she is 6 months or older. Further your new born should and probably will be sleeping with you IN YOUR ROOM for about the first 6 months.
This is called co-rooming which simply implies that the baby is somewhere within your bedroom. This is different from co-sleeping which means that the baby is actually IN your bed.
There are a number of compelling reasons for your baby to stay in your room for the first 6 months:
Safety. Numerous health organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, SIDS Alliance and NIH) suggest that the safest place for your new born to sleep is in your room with you.
Convenience. Regardless of your choice to breastfeed, bottlefeed, or something in-between, your new born is going to be eating anywhere from 2-6 times a night for months. Scrambling around the house at 3:00 AM is unappealing to even the most devoted night owls.
Oversight. If you are like most new parents’ you will need to compulsively check on your new born baby for many months. This will include waking up every time they make a noise (note: new borns make a LOT of noise), checking their toes to make sure they aren’t cold, and of course – making sure they are still breathing. It is not just you – we all do this.
Everybody Sleeps in the Same Room
Accepting this reality far simplifies the process of sleep parenting for the first few months. It removes any pressure to try to shoehorn baby into their room for a while. And it frees you to look at your bedroom and make changes that will help both you AND baby sleep safely and comfortably for the first few months. So take a few minutes out of your room decorating fun and think about what might make you both more comfortable in YOUR room. Consider things like block-out blinds, white noise generator, and of course a safe-sleep option that fits comfortably next to your bed, that you will undoubtedly use in the coming months.
BEDTIME – WHAT TIME?
Before you had kids going to bed was a forgettable event. Now bedtime is a glorious nirvana that you fantasize about throughout the day. I can’t stress enough how important bedtime is to your baby or kid. Bedtime that is too late, unpredictable, or inconsistent can set you up for a long slog of a night. So by figuring out when bedtime should be, what it should look like & how to do this is not always easy. Lots of parents seem to be wondering, “What is a normal bedtime?” So let’s simplify
BEDTIME IS LATE.
Probably later than you would like. Anywhere between 7:00 PM and 12:00 AM.
DON’T SPEND 3 HOURS TRYING TO MAKE BEDTIME HAPPEN.
Trying to get a non-sleeping baby to sleep will leave you both feeling exhausted and resentful. If you’ve been at it for 45 minutes and it’s not happening then it’s time to graciously accept defeat. Move on to some other soothing activity (warm bath, stroller walk, bouncy seat time) and try again a short while later.
BEDTIME MAY BOUNCE AROUND.
New borns may not fall asleep consistently at the same time each night. What was their “bedtime” last night may turn into a 20 minute nap tonight. This is frustrating but also inevitable however every minute of sleep adds up towards the daily total amount of hours…which is great news at this age.
NEWBORN BEDTIME ROUTINE?
Your new born baby doesn’t require a consistent routine initially but it certainly won’t hurt as the older they get the more the take these signs as sleepy q’s and they can help promote good sleep hygiene when they are slightly older.
WHAT DOES A NEWBORN BEDTIME ROUTINE LOOK LIKE?
Usually it’s pretty simple – a warm bath, infant massage, clean diaper, feed, then soothe to sleep but not in your arms, allowing them the space they require to do this themselves without the need for constant rocking or feeding to sleep as this creates more problems down the line which become harder to deal with. Never ignore a cry & always offer your new born love and cuddles to soothe them when they are crying or showing distress.
DON’T SWEAT “PUTTING THEM DOWN AWAKE.”
YES you need to teach your baby to fall asleep on their own and all the baby sleep books you’ve got stacked next to your bed stress the importance of this. However NOW is not the time to worry about this. VERY few new born babies are able to fall asleep without substantial assistance. So while you are welcome to try putting your baby down awake don’t feel like a failure if it’s not working yet.
SLEEP IS SHIFTED?
When we are busy getting on with our life, we sometime don’t notice the time and before we know it baby bedtime too late. Sometimes new born babies go to bed very late and then sleep very late. For example your baby might be up until 1:00 AM and then (not including night feedings) sleep until noon the next day. This demonstrates that you have a baby who is getting a healthy 11 hours of sleep at night, unfortunately the timing of “night” isn’t lining up with the rest of civilization. How do you fix this? You gradually start waking your baby up earlier in the morning. Wake your baby up 15 minutes earlier every day or so until your baby is waking up closer to 6:00 AM – 7:00 AM. This will slowly shift everything else in his day so that naps and thus bedtime will start to shift earlier too. It will take weeks for everything to get sorted out but it’s definitely worth it.
EARLY BEDTIME IS BETTER
As your baby get’s older (3/4+ months) an early bedtime has multiple benefits.
As I mentioned previously nobody wants to come over and help you with your fussy baby at 1:00 AM, where plenty of people would love to tickle his cranky toes at 9:00 AM.
It creates the opportunity for you to have a bit of free time yourself. In most homes, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM is known as “happy hour”. Not because everybody has a cocktail in hand (although it’s possible) but because this is the only time of the day that you aren’t running after a little person.
Most playgroups/playdates are scheduled on the assumption of baby’s naps occurring at 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM (ish) which will never happen when your baby is sleeping till noon.
Having a baby up in the dark and sleeping during the day disrupts some very important chemical processes that are triggered by light, which overtime, will work against you. So expose your baby to as much nature daylight as possible to help reset their internal circadian rhythm body clocks.
And as your baby gets older you’ll find he wakes up earlier regardless of when he goes to bed, so maintaining a late bedtime simply results in less sleep overall.
BEDTIME FOR BABY
Once your baby is no longer a new born (older than 3-4 months) bedtime should no longer be a stressful crapshoot. You may still have a witching hour but hopefully this has shifted earlier and is easier to manage. Other things that are pretty typical for a baby (3 months to 1 year) include:
BEDTIME HAPPENS AT THE SAME TIME EACH NIGHT. – Consistency it might fluctuate by 30-45 minutes but unlike when your baby was a new born, it should no longer be a complete and total mystery.
BEDTIME IS EARLIER. – If your baby is under 6 – 8 months it still might be later (say 9:00 PM) but when they drop the 3rd nap (usually by 9-12 months) bedtime should scoot up towards 7:00 PM and stay there.
YOU ARE “DEFENDING” BEDTIME AGAINST LATE NAPS.
If early evening naps are throwing off bedtime, it’s time to skip them. As your baby gets older a consistent bedtime is more important than napping at 5:00 PM. This may mean you can no longer get into the car after 4:00 PM, take an evening walk in the stroller, etc as this will make the baby fall asleep and knock the rest of the evening off.
YOU HAVE A CONSISTENT ROUTINE.
It’s time to get serious about a routine. It should be something you love that you can do without fail every night for the next 3+ years. Boob/bottle, bath, books, bed is a classic.
BABY IS SLEEPING IN THE SAME PLACE EACH NIGHT.
It doesn’t have to be the same place where they nap but it should be consistent. However, it’s OK to have them sleep in one place consistently and then move them into a new place where they’ll sleep consistently. So, your 5-month-old may still be in a co-sleeper attached to your bed but then move into a crib in their room at 9 months.
YOU ARE WORKING TOWARDS “PUT DOWN AWAKE.”
Remember when I said you didn’t need to sweat putting your new born baby down awake? Work this one the best you can. When your baby is no longer a new born, so it’s time to start making these changes when they can cope better with the situations.
BEDTIME VS. SLEEPTIME
Your new born baby will need to be soothed to sleep while your older child should be going to sleep on their own. When kids older than 1 are waking up during the night it’s almost always because they aren’t falling to sleep on their own (generally because parents stay and cuddle until they fall asleep and then sneak out). This results in the same problem of night waking that babies have. As delightful as cuddling with your children is, you need to leave before they are totally asleep. Cuddles are just given at a different time so they never feel abandoned.
Additionally, I want to be clear that we are talking about BEDTIME. This is the time you put your child to bed. The only rule is that they stay in bed. You can’t make an older child sleep (nor will you be able to make them eat or poop FYI). This is why we don’t call it SLEEPTIME. As a parent your job is to give them an age-appropriate bedtime, a soothing consistent bedtime routine, establish the limits (primarily that they stay in bed), and then leave. What they do at that point is up to them.
Does that mean it’s OK for your 2 YO to sit in their bed awake and talking to themselves for 45 minutes? It sure does! If your kid is chronically up for 1+ hours it could mean that bedtime is too early. However, I’d be hesitant to suggest this because it is almost NEVER the case (most bedtimes are too late). You can test this theory by temporarily pushing bedtime back – does your child still spend an hour kicking around in there or do they fall asleep quickly? If the latter, then perhaps bedtime was too late. Otherwise it may just be that your child needs extra quiet time to settle down at night.
Is this a form of torture? No it isn’t! Learning to entertain themselves, care for their bodies, or (*gasp*) spend a moment of the day without constant stimulation is actually really healthy! As adults, what do you do when you can’t fall asleep? You lie there and think quiet thoughts until you DO fall asleep. Your child is learning to do this too.
So, bedtime for baby once your child is no longer a new born baby bedtime should be your favourite time of day. LITERALLY. If you and/or your child hate/dread bedtime than something isn’t working and it’s time to fix it. Personally, I LOVE bedtime. Kids in jammies are the cutest thing ever. Cuddling and reading books is the best thing in the world. And once they are asleep you get to watch be a adult again doing what you love most whether its watching TV, or reading a book or a meal & catching up & reconnecting with your partner it is all good and essential to you & YOUR well-being. I therefore, I find myself asking parents what’s not to love & why wouldn’t you wish to do this?
For help with your as expecting parents or if you have already brought your little bundle home with you and you wish or need some advice on how to best get your little one sleeping and establish a great sleep habit then please do reach out. I can help expecting parents with a sleep plan you can use from the moment your precious bundle arrives making sure the good practices are in place to make sleep a natural and enjoyable time in the house. I can help parents who have their babies home with them and are struggling with the various points I have discussed above to help create that great bedtime and sleep time I have mentioned. With my knowledge and understanding in this area I can help every unique family. Don’t struggle & believe it will sort itself, change need changes to occur so let me help you find the quickly and painlessly.
I offer free 15-minute sleep evaluation calls to help you ensure the holistic programs are 100% correct for you and your family and details can be found by clicking the program link. To book a call please click here and I look forward to chatting with you about sleep and hearing your positive stories about how your family was turned around.