No sensible parent would ever knowingly prevent their little one from getting a good night’s sleep, right?
Well, I suppose there are always some crazies out there, but generally speaking, no. In all my years of dealing with the families of sleep-challenged kids, I’ve never met anyone who admitted to sneaking into their little one’s room in the middle of the night and giving their peacefully sleeping baby a little shake.
However, I’ve met hundreds who were doing it unintentionally.
More often than not, they do it out of instinct. “This thing we tried last night didn’t work, so we tried this other thing, which seemed to work a little, so we tried that again and it didn’t work the next night.” It’s tough to determine the cause and effect with babies, and they’re all unique little creatures, so we use our best judgement and see what sticks.
So in order to take some of the guesswork out of it for you new parents, here are some of the most common “sleep sabotage” mistakes I see.
This is one of the more common problems I come across. Mom and Dad have stuffed baby’s crib full of playthings, a light-up mobile is spinning and playing music above, and they’re engaging in all kinds of fun activities with her before lying her on her back and telling her it’s time for sleep.
It sends a confusing message when baby wakes in the night, because here she is waking up and wondering where her party guests are. We don’t want baby associating the crib with songs, stories, toys or snuggles. Instead, we want to send a very clear message that, “This is your bedroom, this is your crib, and your crib is for sleep,” so make sure your bedtime routine takes place entirely outside of that area. They should associate their bed with sleep and nothing else.
Naturally, when we hear our kids crying, we instinctively run to see what’s wrong. The problem with that instant response is this – Babies, like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. They go from light sleep to deep sleep and back again several times a night. Adults typically go from cycle to cycle without waking up completely, or we forget that we woke up at all.
Babies tend to make a bit more of a fuss. They’ll wake up between cycles and have no way of knowing what they’re supposed to do. Kids who are “naturally great sleepers” are typically kids who instinctively shut their eyes again and go back to sleep between cycles.
So although I know it’s so, so tough to do, wait a few minutes before going in to check on baby when she starts to fuss. If she realizes that you’re only a shriek away at any given moment, you can bet she’ll be quick to call you every time she stirs.
If you do have to enter baby’s bedroom, try to keep everything as dark as possible. Light sends a signal to baby’s brain, telling it that the sun’s up, and the body responds accordingly. Whenever possible, leave the light off and speak softly, lie her back down, tell her it’s still sleepy time, and cross your fingers.
While rocking, bouncing and other motions can have a great effect for shushing a crying baby, they’re not great for promoting a quick turnaround between sleep cycles. Motion is stimulating and tends to wake baby up to a point where it’s difficult for them to get back to sleep.
Whenever possible, leave baby in the crib and calm her by stroking her head or rubbing her back. It’s a much clearer signal that it’s still time to sleep, and a more effective way of teaching her to stay settled between cycles.
This one’s a little counter-intuitive, but a lot of parents sabotage their baby’s sleep by, well, letting them sleep. The problem is that they let them sleep wherever and whenever they close their eyes.
Getting a little shut eye at irregular intervals can be terribly damaging to baby’s ability to sleep through the night. Physically and mentally, we need to stay in sync with our circadian rhythm. This is true of adults as well, but more importantly for infants, who are still learning the basics.
So if your little one is sleeping when they’re out of their crib, adjust her sleep schedule accordingly and make sure she’s in her crib when she’s ready for a snooze.
My friend’s father once told me, after getting onto a serious health kick, “You can either make time to be healthy or make time to be sick.”
The same idea is true of your child’s sleep. I know a lot of people feel that they don’t have the time or the flexibility to stick to a rigid sleep schedule, but I assure you, baby’s going to get that time from you one way or another. If you don’t take the time to implement her routine, you had better make the time to deal with her waking up throughout the night.
Of course, maybe your child is just having a tough time sleeping and it’s got nothing to do with you. If you’re looking at this list and thinking, “Nope. Not me,” then check out the Sleep Sense Program. It’s a complete, easy-to-follow system that’s guaranteed to get your child sleeping straight through the night!
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