While there isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach to baby sleep challenges, there are some common problems that have fairly straightforward solutions. We spoke to the experts about how to deal with the most common baby sleep issues.
How do I get my baby to sleep longer?
For parents whose children were sleeping fine, but suddenly begin to wake constantly at night, I usually point to factors like illness, teething, a sleep regression or a recent vacation that threw off the usual daily schedule.
In these cases, I recommend that parents provide the additional comfort needed while making sure not to backtrack and return to rocking or feeding their baby all the way to sleep after each night-time waking.
For parents whose children have never slept well, and are now waking frequently at night, although they no longer technically ‘need’ to, I usually ask them to identify how their baby falls asleep. If he needs mom or dad to put him all the way to sleep (by rocking, feeding or holding), then that’s the root of the issue. The first step in helping a baby sleep for long, deep stretches at night (and eventually to sleep through the night) is to help him learn to fall asleep independently. You want to be able to lay your baby down in his sleeping area when he’s already drowsy, but awake, and have him fall asleep without assistance from you. This way, when he wakes briefly between sleep cycles at night, he will be able to go right back to sleep without help. However, when your baby isn’t able to fall asleep without your help, he’ll cry every time he wakes between cycles, because he will need you to come and put him back to sleep.
Nicole Johnson, owner of The Baby Sleep Site
How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?
You need to work out whether it has to do with a medical or nutritional issue. Or is it an emotional issue (leading to comfort feeding), separation anxiety on both the baby and parents’ part, simply behavioural, or a bad habit? When you’ve worked out which of these it is, you can work out the appropriate response for dealing with it.
Ann Richardson, co-author of the Baby Sense series
How do I get my baby to sleep when he doesn’t want to?
Make sure that his sleeps during the day are not interfering with his bed time. There needs to be an age-appropriate period of awake time before a child is ready to sleep again. This can mean that bedtime jumps around a bit, depending on the frequency and spacing between his daytime naps. This will eventually come right as he drops his daytime naps.
Another problem could be that he is overtired by bed time. This means he’s entered a fatigue cycle and his body is producing hormones that keep him awake. So make sure that you don’t keep him awake between naps for too long.
Do your best to make bedtime a positive experience, with soft lighting, cuddles and stories. if your toddler is older, you can also rationalise and give him choices so that he has some sense of control.
Meg Faure, sleep consultant, occupational therapist and author of the Baby Sense series
When is the best time to start encouraging baby to sleep in his own bed?
There really is no ‘right age’ at which to transition. We’ve worked with families in which older toddlers and pre-schoolers are still happily sharing a bed with mom and dad, and it works for everyone. I’d say the right age to transition from co-sleeping is really whatever age is right for you and your family. That said, it’s usually easier to make this transition before your child is 12 months old, as toddlers with deeply entrenched sleep habits are usually tougher to sleep coach. By this age, the process tends to take longer and may be more frustrating.
As for how to do it — if you’re transferring baby out of your bed, but still want to share a room, you can usually start by keeping the bassinet or crib right next to your bed for a while, so that it’s almost like you’re sharing a sleep surface. From there, you can gradually move the bassinet or crib further away from your bed.
Transitioning your child to a different room can be tougher. I recommend first co-sleeping with your child in the new room and gradually shortening the time you spend in your child’s new room.
How do I get my baby to sleep later in the mornings?
Congratulations! You have an early bird. I don’t really believe it’s possible to sleep train a baby to sleep later, but you should check if he is warm or dry enough. You could also install dark curtains and put on white noise to try and keep him in the sleep space. If none of these tricks work, embrace your early start and make it a positive one. You can also bring your baby into bed with you to see when he wakes up and see if you get an extra hour or two’s worth of sleep that way.
If this is still happening with a toddler, try to get a child’s wake-up clock that shows the sun after a set time. You can reward him for not calling you before the sun is showing.
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