As any new parent will tell you, sleep deprivation comes with the territory. But when it lasts for weeks and even months, parents can turn to pros for some help. The newest generation of baby sleep experts are getting fast results. But you don’t need to hire an expert. Sleepy Planet co-founders Jill Spivack and Jennifer Waldburger have written a new book, “The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parents’ Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep.” Here’s an excerpt:
There are seven main “sleep stealers,” or reasons your child isn’t sleeping well; she may be affected by one of them, by a combination of several, or — if you’ve hit the jackpot — by all seven. Here are three of the most common.
Sleep Stealer #1: No Consistent Bedtime Routine
Though most parents know that a bedtime routine is a good idea, it can be hard to be consistent about doing it, either because there’s too much to do before bed or because your child has so much energy that it’s hard to slow her down. Nonetheless, a predictable wind-down routine is one of the most important tools your child needs to sleep well.
Sleepeasy Solution: Use a predictable bedtime routine each night and for naps
Do approximately the same activities each night or at nap time, in the same order. This is what will help your child develop sleep cues, so that over time just doing the routine makes your child sleepy. Wind-down activities can include:
- A bath
- A massage
- Dimming the lights
- Playing soft music
- Diaper change and putting on pj’s
- Nursing, a bottle, or a cup of milk
- A book or song (or several of each)
- Playing quietly on the floor (no toys that beep or blink)
- With an older child, talking about your day together
You get the idea. Have fun and be creative; just remember to keep it low-key.
Sleep Stealer #2: Your Child Needs You to Fall Asleep It’s the most natural thing in the world to rock, feed, or hold your child while he falls asleep. So why doesn’t doing this help him stay asleep throughout the night? Some children actually can fall asleep on the breast or bottle — or with motion — and then transfer to their crib easily and sleep all night long. Some older children can also fall asleep with Mom or Dad lying next to them in bed without waking in the night. In these cases, there is no sleep problem — and if this describes your situation, by all means continue doing what you’re doing, and don’t worry about making changes. But many other children who fall asleep with this kind of assistance awaken repeatedly throughout the night, and these disruptions are often caused at least partially by their dependence on certain conditions or activities, or what are called sleep associations.
A sleep association is anything your child associates with falling asleep — such as arms holding her; rocking or bouncing; sucking on a pacifier, breast, bottle, or sippy cup; or having a parent lying nearby. Periodically throughout the night, your child drifts up into lighter sleep phases to check out her environment. During these checks, called “partial arousals,” she’s not fully conscious — and as long as nothing has changed significantly since she fell asleep in the first place, she simply returns to deeper sleep. But for many children, if something is different, this raises a red flag. Your child’s brain signals “crisis,” and she cries, calls to you, or comes to your bedside for help. What she needs is for you to re-create the same conditions that were present when she fell asleep in the first place, so she can fall back asleep now. Which you very diligently do!
- Typical sleep associations include:
- Sucking on a breast, bottle, or pacifier
- Drinking from a sippy cup
- Bouncing, walking, or rocking
- Someone lying down in bed with him
- Music playing
- Watching an aquarium or other stimulating toys with sounds or lights
- Drinking bottles or breast-feeding throughout the night (for a child who’s old enough not to feed at night)
Sleepeasy Solution: Put your child down awakeChildren older than four months have the ability to soothe themselves into sleep. There are a variety of things that children may do as they relax, and these skills are hidden inside your child, too, waiting to be discovered. They may include:
- Sucking a thumb or hand
- Gently moving her head from side to side
- Rhythmic kicking or arm movements
- Holding a lovey or stuffed animal
- Finding a favorite comfy position
- Singing or talking
- Sliding his head to the top of the crib for comfort
- Twirling her hair
What you need to do is make sure the conditions present when your child falls asleep are the same ones that will be present throughout the night. It doesn’t mean you can’t feed, rock, or lie next to her at bedtime; it simply means that you can’t allow her to fall asleep while you do this.
By the way, not all associations are bad; what’s important is that your child can re-create them on his own. So if your child can reinsert the pacifier (each time consistently) or reach for the lovey that was in his hand when he fell asleep, then it’s fine for him to continue using them.
Sleep Stealer # 3: Poor Sleep Environment
Your child’s environment plays a very important role in her ability to sleep well. She needs to be protected from disruptions that can prevent her from settling to sleep, sleeping deeply, and sleeping for the right length of time at night and for naps during the day.
Sleepeasy Solution: Protect sleep environment to ensure healthy sleep
Remove whatever is in or around your child’s crib or bed that doesn’t contribute to sleep--or is a potential safety hazard. This includes aquariums, activity boards, and large blankets or pillows (for babies under 12 months).
To prevent early morning wakings and to help your child take good naps, make sure the room is darkened (8 to 9 on a scale of 10, 10 being dark), and use white noise (such as an appliance that makes a steady hum, or environmental sound machine) if you have a busy household (other children playing, dogs barking) or neighborhood (traffic sounds outside your child’s window).
Excerpted from “The Sleepeasy Solution” by Jill Spivack and Jennifer Waldburger. Copyright 2007 Jill Spivack and Jennifer Waldburger. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher, HCI.