I have never been a champion sleeper. I am a light sleeper and sleep for very short ranges of time. Waking me up to go to school was as simple as calling my name once and in high school, I was a human alarm clock for those who wanted to wake up and read in the morning. I was more reliable than the alarm clocks they had and yet I did not own one.Then I had a baby and the game changed. See, all through my pregnancy I never had a problem sleeping except for the incessant need to pee. I would get back to bed and fall back to sleep almost immediately. I was lucky. Then, again I wasn’t prepared for the frequent sleep interruptions that came with new motherhood. Waking up every couple of hours for anything between 15 minutes to an hour every night can take a toll on you. It doesn’t help that almost everyone who came before me kept saying it gets better, and he’ll sleep even longer when he starts on solids. 6 whole months of erratic sleep! That thought in itself is scary.
So, I embarked on a journey to better sleep for me and my family. There had to be a solution. I scoured the internet for answers, Google is my friend, and got a couple of books to read. The answers to the sleep question are many and varied and it’s up to you to choose what you can work with. Some I threw out the window, like not cuddling my baby unless you are cuddling him to sleep. I refuse to do that, I cuddle my baby whenever he wants to be cuddled and I am able to.
I have learned so much in this quest, for example, babies do not produce enough melatonin (sleep hormone) till they are about 3 months old and that their biological clock kicks in at 4 months till then they can’t quite differentiate between day and night. This means that without assistance, their sleep pattern can be all over the place,
A few of the things that helped us sleep a whole lot better include:
- As much as possible trying to put the baby to bed, sleepy but awake. This highly encouraged him to learn self-soothing. Meaning if he does stir in the middle of the night and all is well he can easily go back to sleep. Determination of when to put him down is tricky but one site (unfortunately, I didn’t note the name down) said to try to calibrate your baby’s sleep from 1-10 where 1 is completely awake and 10 out cold and try starting from a 7-8 trying to work your way slowly to a 1.
- Teaching the baby difference between day and night: Our days are active and bright, nights are quiet and we keep the bedroom dark and only turn on a dim light for night feedings and diaper changes if necessary. As much as possible we avoid direct eye-contact during these night interactions.
- Not skipping naps. Some people swear that their babies sleep better at night if they skip naps and get tired. Mine is not one of those, if he gets over-tired, he sleeps horribly at night. So whenever I notice his tired cues, I encourage him to go down for his nap. On average we do 3 naps somedays they get to 4 and other days only 2.
- Not changing the diaper unless it’s dirty. Choose a good diaper that can hold until morning. When the baby is past the 5-week mark they don’t have so many dirty diapers and a good diaper should be able to handle the night’s wetness. Changing diapers tends to disrupt sleep. Many diaper brands promise up to 8-12 hours protection but not all hold up to this promise. The right one will also depend on your child as some babies react to some diapers. I tried one popular brand and hated it because it leaked even when it wasn’t full, regardless of how well I fastened it.
- Choosing an early consistent bedtime. Most babies have a time where it is easier for them to sleep as their hormones actually recognize that at bedtime. For my child that is between 6 and 7 PM. I normally put him down for the day between 6:30 and 6:45PM and by 6 if the naps didn’t go well. Most people’s question is when does he wake up if I put him down that early. Well, no matter what time he goes to bed, he will be up at around 6:45 AM. He still wakes up to feed but goes right back to sleep.
- Establishing a bedtime routine and sticking to it. I cannot emphasize this enough. Even if the monotony of it threatens your sanity, stick with it and adjust it to your babies age as they grow. My bedtime routine has been a lifesaver. From birth, it was bath massage, feed, and sleep. At 6 weeks, he stopped nursing to sleep, and that made it really difficult to get him to sleep, some unhealthy soothing options may have been used that week 🙂 That’s when we introduced a lullaby, same lullaby every day, and a prayer. and when he got to 3 months we added storybooks. Once he got the hang of it, at the end of the routine he would just snuggle up to me in a cuddle and soothe himself to sleep and I would put him in his crib when he was drowsy enough.
- Do not pick the baby up immediately he wakes up, gives him a minute to sort himself out. Although balance is key, leave him as he is just fussing but pick him up before he has cranked it up enough to be fully awake.
- Playing white noise in the background. Especially in the first 4 months, this will really since it mimics the womb and two it drowns out sudden noises that may interrupt his sleep.
With all these, we were sleeping much better and I wasn’t planning on doing any formal “sleep training”. I put it in quotes since my sleep bible says “your baby already knows how to sleep”. Then the 4-month regression hit. AT 21 weeks, my son would wake up at around 2 or 3AM, within an hour of his last feed, and he didn’t want to feed, he just wanted to be held back to sleep and specifically by me. If his dad picked him he would only increase his volume. This was so tiring. Luckily my sleep bible recommends handing over the responsibility of sleeping to the child at 5 months. So 2 days before the 5-month mark, I went for it. It was hard listening to him cry but I knew it was something I had to do if I was ever going to function optimally during the day. The book says he would get what was happening in 2-4 days if I was consistent and that day 2 would be the hardest. Luckily he got it in one day, he only cried the first time I put him to bed and after his first night-feeding. for the two subsequent feedings, he went right back to sleep. The next day, I was ready to do the checks, but he slept no fuss and has been doing so since. He’s sleeping for even longer periods before waking up for feeds, and when he does the feeds are short and precise as it’s just the feeding time and a minute to burp and he is back down.
I do not recommend embarking on any sleep training method before you have read enough on it to understand it and be confident in it. Also, note the decision will be highly governed by your child’s temperament.
Ps: Here are some of the literature that has helped me in navigating sleep is as below:
The Happy Sleeper *My sleep bible, I love this book*