We’ve all been there . . . feeling like we can barely make it through our day having been awake much of the night before with our babies. Here are the top ten reasons, in no particular order, that your little one may not be sleeping through the night and what you can do to change that.
Your baby is not old enough.
SOLUTION: Wouldn’t it be nice if our babies were born ready and able to sleep through the night? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Most babies are not developmentally ready to sleep through the night until closer to four months and, for some, it may not happen until six months.
Your baby’s room is not ideal for sleep.
SOLUTION: Create a safe and calming room environment that is cool (68-70 degrees) and cave-like dark. A sound machine set on the white noise setting will help resemble the sounds of the womb and muffle any house or outside noises that could disrupt your baby’s sleep.
The bedtime routine is not consistent at each and every nap and night.
SOLUTION: A consistent and predictable routine is critical for all children. Each piece of the routine becomes a cue to them that it is time to get ready for sleep. The routine does not have to be particularly long (10-15 minutes is ideal), but it should be the same each nap and night. Consistency helps a baby feel safe and secure.
Your baby is going to sleep for the night already overtired.
SOLUTION: Be sure to start the bedtime routine so that your little one is getting to bed with enough time to fall asleep before becoming overtired. In today’s society, it is so easy to let bedtime slip later and later because of the many directions we are being pulled in during the late afternoon and early evening. Don’t forget that an overtired child can have more difficulty falling asleep, wakes more often during the night, and wakes earlier in the morning.
Your baby is going through a developmental leap.
SOLUTION: While your baby is working hard to learn to master a new skill such as rolling, crawling, walking, or even a language burst, his sleep may take a temporary turn for the worse. Spend lots of time practicing this skill with him when he is awake. If it takes him longer to fall asleep because he is practicing this new skill in his crib, consider putting him to sleep 15-20 minutes earlier. This way he can practice and still fall asleep at the best time for him.
Your baby requires help to fall asleep.
SOLUTION: While it may make it easier for your baby to fall asleep with the help of rocking, nursing, a bottle, or being held, it is keeping him from learning to fall asleep independently. In order to sleep through the night, it is essential that a baby learn to do this on his own. You can think of learning to sleep independently in the same way as learning any other physical skill such as walking or riding a bike – in order to become successful, it requires the space and opportunity to practice, practice, practice!
There is not enough time between bedtime and the last feeding of the day.
SOLUTION: It is important with our newborns to “fill them up” before getting them to bed for the night so they will not wake earlier than necessary from hunger. By the time a baby is four months old, it is necessary to make sure there is a time separation between the last feeding of the day and going to sleep for the night. Yes, eating and sleeping are both very necessary things in the life of a baby, but, by four months old, one should not depend on the other.
Your baby is too drowsy when put to bed.
SOLUTION: Avoid putting your little one to sleep for the night already half asleep. Children (and adults) move between sleep cycles throughout the night. If we are skilled at going right back into sleep, the transition between the two cycles is seamless, and we don’t fully wake up. We want our babies to do the same. In order to be successful at this, a little one needs to do the hard work of falling asleep on his own at the start of the night, as well as in the middle of the night between sleep cycles. Putting him in the crib calm but awake (and not too drowsy) will give him the needed opportunity to learn to fall asleep independently.
You are changing diapers in the middle of the night.
SOLUTION: Unless your baby has had an explosive mess in the middle of the night, there is no need to change the diaper. Changing the diaper can wake him unnecessarily and make it harder for him to fall back to sleep. I recommend using plenty of Aquaphor (or similar product) to make sure the skin is protected before putting your baby down for the night (think of it as frosting a cake!). However, if you do need to change the diaper during the night, keep the lights dimmed or off and have little to no interaction. Consider using overnight diapers and diaper doublers if your baby often leaks through his diaper during the night.
You rush in to feed in the middle of the night each time your baby wakes.
SOLUTION: If you rush to feed your baby immediately when he wakes and don’t give him the chance to practice putting himself back to sleep, he will never learn to do it independently. Try giving your little one the space to work it out on his own . . . he may surprise you and put himself back to sleep without your help! Have the confidence in your child that he is capable of becoming an independent sleeper. He will definitely feed off of your energy.
Renee Wasserman, PT, MPH, founder of SleepyHead Solutions, is a Family Sleep Institute-certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant. She offers many services including phone, email, Skype/FaceTime, and in-person consultations to solve your child’s sleep challenges. Feel free to email her with any questions. You can find out more information at her website and on her Facebook page.