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Why Won't my Baby Sleep?

That’s the big question in my line of work.

People can really get into specifics beyond that general question. “He goes down for about an hour and a half if I put him to bed after 8:00, so long as he’s had a bottle sometime after 6:30, and he’ll stay down for about three hours, but then he’s up for at least an hour, and needs to be rocked a little, and on alternate nights, the whole thing’s reversed…”

But no matter what the specifics are, that’s the question parents are almost always asking me. Why can’t my baby get a good night’s sleep? Simple as that.
Although there are so many variables and intricacies to that question, there are a few very simple answers that I’d like to share with you, and if you haven’t tried any of these approaches yet, and you’re having issues with your child’s sleep, there’s a good chance that things are about to improve.

  1. Sleep props

    I’m not just talking about pacifiers and mobiles here, although those definitely qualify as sleep props. I’m also talking about bottles, rocking, breastfeeding, or anything else that you do to get your baby to sleep before she goes into her crib. These techniques can seem effective, because after all, they’re getting the job done, right?

    Not really. When you nurse, feed, rock or bounce your baby to sleep, you’re putting her to sleep, which is not what we’re trying for. We want her to fall asleep, completely independently, so that when she wakes up at night, she can get back to sleep on her own. If she needs to be rocked, sang to, a pacifier, or anything else that she can’t provide on her own from her crib, then she’s going to need you to wake up, get out of bed, remedy her situation, and put her back down.

    That, as I’m sure we’re all aware, can take anywhere from 20 minutes to half the night. If she has learned to fall back to sleep on her own, however, she can be back in dreamland in a couple of minutes, and without you needing to get up and come into the room, which leads to a better night’s sleep for everyone.

  2. Lack of consistency

    I know that it’s tough to stick to something when you’re not sure if it’s the right thing to stick to. After all, babies are all so unique, and what works for one can be completely ineffective for another. But if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to leave your baby unable to sleep through the night, it’s an irregular schedule.

    Babies develop a circadian rhythm at around four months, and it’s your strongest ally in getting your baby sleeping well. This built-in clock decides when to release melatonin, and it takes its cues primarily from the light and dark cues of the sun rising and setting. In short, when it gets dark, you release melatonin and it helps you sleep.

    But it also relies on a 24 hour clock, and it gets into a groove. If your body knows that 10:00 is bedtime, it acts accordingly and starts getting you ready for bed on a bunch of levels that you don’t even notice. If your baby doesn’t get to sleep shortly after this happens, her body assumes it’s made a mistake and secretes hormones to fire the engines back up, which is when you end up with a cranky, overtired baby who won’t sleep.

  3. You’re not letting her learn

    “Sleep skills” are a bit on an abstract thought, I know, but they’re very much like any other skill in that they have to be learned. And the only way to learn them is to practice.

    I see so many parents who rush into their child’s room the instant they start fussing even the tiniest little bit, and proceed to go through a 45 minute routine of rocking, feeding and soothing which the mother swears is, “The only way she’ll go back to sleep.”

    If your child was learning the piano, or taking ballet, you wouldn’t rush the stage every time they made a mistake. They need to learn through trial and error, and learning sleep skills requires the same process, patience and determination. Luckily, unlike dancing or musical instruments, your child can learn great sleep skills in a matter of a couple of nights, but you need to keep their schedule consistent after they’ve mastered it or they’ll run into the same problems again.

Like I say, these tips are not going to cure every sleep ailment for every baby 100 per cent of the time, but they’re a fabulous starting point. I can’t even tell you how many parents I’ve helped go from ten or twelve wake-ups a night down to two, one, or even sleeping straight through the night with these 3 little golden rules.

If you’re still having trouble with your child’s sleep after implementing these tips for about a week, you might want to pick up a copy of the Sleep Sense Program. It’s a full-on comprehensive guide to getting your child sleeping through the night, with tools for plotting your schedule, establishing effective bedtime routines, identifying problem areas and planning optimum naptimes. And it comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so you have literally nothing to lose!

Baby Not Sleeping Through The Night?

Get One-On-One Help!

Yes, The Sleep Sense™ Program is a great Do-It-Yourself guide for solving your baby or toddler’s sleep problems!

But if you’re looking for full-service, one-on-one help, I’m here to help!

The Sleep Sense Philosophy

Cry-it-out? Coddle? Co-sleep? Attachment parenting? Ferberizing?
If you’re going to let me help you with something as precious as your child’s sleep, you probably want to know a little bit about who I am and exactly how I think...

Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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