We stumble into first time parenting, with no manual on how to bring up a baby and make mistakes as we go along. A year down the line, we look back and say – “Oh wow if only I had gone to that wedding instead of worrying about throwing our schedule out” or “If only I had known how to…..then Joe would sleep better!” Wouldn’t be great if you could avoid those pit falls before habits develop? Here are the Top 8 Bedtime Boo Boo’s – the things you should avoid doing so that your baby’s sleep habits will develop well.
1. Waiting until baby is overtired before putting to bed
It is easy to miss your baby’s sleep cues and wait too long to put him to bed.
What’s happening for your baby? All babies have optimal periods of time that they can be awake and interact happily. I call these his Awake time. As the Awake time draws to a close, your baby will be most likely to settle to sleep happily as his neurotransmitters work in favor of sleep. But if you miss this period, his tired brain begins to release chemicals that keep him alert for the next Awake period, such as adrenaline and cortisol. In this ‘slightly’ stressed state, it is very hard to settle your baby to sleep because you are working against his sleep hormones.
Before long your baby becomes over-stimulated and very hard to put down.
The secret is to be aware of your baby’s recommended awake time and watch for his associated sleepy cues, such as rubbing eyes, sucking his hands and losing interest in a game.
If you are in the situation with an overtired and overstimulated little one, remove him from the stimulation and take him to a quiet space and invest a little more time than you would usually in settling him into a drowsy state. Try not to settle him all the way to sleep if he is over 4 months of age as this can result in habits developing.
2. Skipping the bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is such an easy strategy that makes the world of difference to how quickly your baby will settle to sleep and how much support he needs to fall asleep. As time-consuming or rigid as it may feel, it saves you time and energy in the long run. One hour before you want your baby asleep (6 – 7 pm is an appropriate bedtime for your baby or toddler), begin your bath time routine. Close the curtains, dim the room and prepare his bottle and story. Warm his towel if it is a cool night and bath your baby or toddler. When he is ready to be taken out of the bath, take him straight to his room and dress him in the dim room with a lullaby CD. Read a story and then feed him in your arms. Once he is finished his feed, settle him into a drowsy state and then put him to sleep awake but drowsy.
3. Rocking to sleep (or anything else that can be seen as a sleep crutch)
Settling your baby all the way to sleep, regardless of the way you do it – feed to sleep, rock to sleep and pushing in the stroller to sleep are the common ones, creates an expectation for every bedtime as well as midnight wakings. These crutches are usually introduced in an attempt to get an overtired baby to sleep. So to avoid having to do this, do not let your baby get overtired. Then use the strategy to get your little one to a drowsy state but not all the way to sleep. If he falls asleep, rouse him and make sure he is put into his crib or bed awake but drowsy.
4. Switching from crib to big kid bed too soon
This is a classic mistake parents make. Do not move your baby until he can literally climb out of the crib on his own. In this case, he is a danger to himself and must be moved into a bed. Otherwise, let him sleep in his crib until around two years old, when most toddlers are ready for a bed. A crib’s sides provide a very useful barrier at a time when your baby cannot understand or obey verbal boundaries (such as stay in your bed).
5. Keeping your baby awake all day to help him sleep better at night
A common misconception is that a tired baby will sleep better at night. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, if your baby gets overtired during the day he is more likely to wake at night. These babies usually fall asleep easily but wake up repeatedly through the night. Be sure to follow the awake time suggested for your baby’s age and put him down regularly throughout the day.
6. Using a pacifier at night to get your baby to resettle without a feed
Some babies start to sleep through the night before three months of age but when they are ready for solids begin to wake earlier and earlier each night. Instead of being tempted to pacify him or put him back to sleep with a pacifier, rather feed your baby when he wakes if more than 4 hours (for a baby over 4 months old) have passed. Your baby is probably hungry and needs to be fed. If you ‘pacify’ him back to sleep, you will probably be up 45 minutes later when he is reminded of his hunger during his light sleep state. By using a pacifier to coax him back to sleep, you will end up with a pacifier-to-sleep habit at 9 months old.
7. Make your baby fit your lifestyle by putting him to sleep wherever you are
To develop good sleep habits your baby should have a familiar sleep zone – a space where he goes to sleep every night at the same time. If you are going out get a baby sitter or family member to help out so that your baby is not falling asleep overtired in an unfamiliar environment.
8. Waking your baby at 10 pm in an attempt to avoid the 2 am feed
The idea that you can influence your baby’s night sleep rhythm by waking him when it suits you sounds like wisdom but in fact most babies are disrupted by this forced waking. Your baby will probably feed very poorly as he is too tired and not hungry enough to feed. He will then go on to wake after midnight anyway as he did not feed well enough at 10pm. But worse than that if you wake your baby up sufficiently that he does feed well, he is probably wide awake and may not resettle easily or may have long term sleep problems as he has not been left to develop good sleep rhythms independently.