Baby Sleep Problems

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I am usually told that I am lucky to have “perfect sleepers”, but don’t let that fool you! I’ve had my share of sleeping issues to deal with – and I didn’t just “luck in to” good sleepers. After hours upon hours of research, reading, and trial & error, I’ve compiled some solutions that worked for me.

You might think, “I can handle this sleeping arrangement until she’s a toddler and starts sleeping better,” or, “I’ll fix the sleeping issue later… I’m too tired right now!” but – keep in mind that sleep is important for our babies! Cognitive & Psychomotor skills are developed and matured during infant sleep; it literally affects the development of their brain and their central nervous system.

Science

Babies have two cycles of sleep, known as deep sleep and active sleep:

Active Sleep is REM – this is so important! If you watch your baby sleep, you’ll often be able to tell when he or she is engaged in REM because of the Rapid-Eye-Movement or the smiling, the slight movements, or the slight twitches. During this cycle of sleep, your baby’s brain is working in overtime, developing!

Deep Sleep is… weird and I don’t fully understand it. Some sleep studies show that it is during this cycle where the brain makes deep connections and develops deeper than during REM. During Deep Sleep, your body relaxes and your breathing slows – you don’t even dream during the Non-REM/Deep Sleep cycle.

The weird part is that babies (and adults!) go through the cycles all night – switching off about intermittently. With adults t’s about every 1.5 to 2 hours that we go from deep to active and back to deep sleep; as adults, we mostly know how to our ourselves back to sleep upon waking so it’s a non-issue. You probably wake up/stir very often at night (and if you have a FitBit, you may be well aware of your sleeping habits!) but it doesn’t much affect your overall sleep.

However, a baby’s sleep cycle is shorter, with intervals around 60-90 minutes between active & deep sleep (this regulates around 6 months of age). Because of this, it’s VITAL that your baby know how to go back to sleep on their own! Teaching your baby how to sleep, or sleep training, isn’t something that’s for parents who want peace & quiet – it’s a life skill for you baby and will mature their cognitive development!

Statistics

If your baby cannot put themselves back to sleep, they’ll wake up and cry potentially at every switch of their sleep cycle! This allows them to rarely enter deep sleep.By providing your child with the ability and to enter deep sleep and obtain efficient sleep, you are statistically giving your child a higher chance of:

  • Scoring higher on cognitive tests,
  • Combatting Obesity (you retain more fat when you don’t get proper sleep),
  • Having good sleeping habits as an adult,
  • Remembering this (deep sleep impacts your memory!),
  • Mental Alertness & therefore increased ability to learn (studies show that children with higher IQ’s all had longer sleep times than others),
  • A Longer Attention Span,
  • Higher brain function,
  • Preventing learning problems,
  • and Increased Social & Emotional happiness.

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Sometimes life calls for a nap on the beach…

Sleep Problems (Naps + Bedtime)

Please keep in mind when reading this: This is how I have personally handled these types of situations. That’s not to say these will positively work for you; it’s just my two cents, so take it for what it’s worth.

FIRST, ASK YOURSELF: Is it a Sleep Problem or Something Else?

Before trying to fix the sleep problem, try to make sure there isn’t a separate issue that your baby may be experiencing:

Growth Spurts

Your baby is never too old or young to be having a growth spurt – they happen all the time!! Sometimes your baby will eat more and you naturally provide them with more food.

However, maybe one of you aren’t realizing the “I’m hungrier” cues, so… is your baby eating at least the recommended amount? Check it out and increase accordingly (scroll to “nutrients guide by age”).

All babies are different so I would try increasing nutritious foods either way. Also, check their diet… The amount of sugar a child is supposed to have daily will blow your mind (spoiler: most packaged baby foods exceed the recommended DAILY dose!!)

Room Atmosphere

  • Is the room too bright or does baby see the sun coming up? Use blackout shades!
  • Is the room too quiet, causing baby to hear every noise in the house? Use a sound machine!
  • Is the room too hot or cold? The recommendation is to dress baby in pants & long sleeves with socks, in a 68-72 degree room, without a ceiling fan (which can stir up allergens).
  • Does baby have a possible sickness?
    • If it has been WEEKS, chances are it’s not a sickness or you’d know by now. If it’s just been a few days, check:
      • Temperature for signs of a fever
      • Throat for redness
      • Ears (if possible, or go in for a checkup) for potential ear infection, redness, or other irritation.
  • Teething: A major culprit!! Signs are typically:
    • low grade fever (not always)
    • fussiness all the time, not just at night
    • drooling a lot
    • chewing on hands and/or toys

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Back porch naps in the Texas Spring weather… is there really any better atmosphere for a nap?

“The Answers” to Some Common Problems

…and by “the answers”, I mean these were the answers that worked for me.

Is your baby getting too much sleep? 

Check out the recommended total sleep and make sure you’re not expecting too much of your baby. Maybe it’s time to move on to the next nap schedule or to change your bedtime.

Is your baby getting too little sleep? 

Check recommend total sleep and make sure you’re on par with it. You made need to increase wake time between naps, or total number of naps, or bedtime.

Atmosphere

You checked brightness, temperature, and sound machine – right?

Signs:

  • Waking in the night
  • Waking early

We love our sound machines and our dark rooms!! I think this is one of the main factors in our sleep routine.

Experts recommend long sleeves, long pants, socks, and a room temperature of 68-72 degrees F, with no ceiling fan.

Growth Spurt

Signs:

  • Waking during the night
  • Waking very early
  • Eating more during the day
  • Wanting more drinks/breastfeeding sessions
  • Increase in weight/height
  • Learning new skills

This is a common culprit when it comes to sleep issues with baby’s.

Babies go through growth spurts every few months; never underestimate the power of a hungry baby!

Solution:

  • We’ve always done 8 oz milk before bath, and I felt like that has helped to keep them full all night.
  • Feed your baby more calories during the day, making sure that they eat a full supper.

A Phase or Sleep Regression

Signs:

  • Waking during the night
  • Waking very early

Phases don’t last more than a few days, so if you’ve tried to “stick it out” that long and it hasn’t subsided – move down the list!

If it is a phase or a regression, I would cater to it for the first 1-2 nights, but after that – cry it out. Especially if you’ve had a great sleeper up until now.

The sleep cycles change a lot (especially around 6 months old) and it causes a different sleeping pattern, so they sometimes just have to figure this out all over again.

Bedtime Timing

A late bedtime does NOT mean a late wake time (unless your whole daily schedule is later and fits).

Signs:

  • Fighting bedtime
  • Waking up very early
  • Not taking good naps
  • Waking during the night

Solution:

  • Try moving your bedtime earlier, even though it seems counterproductive. Check the guidelines to determine if you’re putting your baby to bed too late.
  • Alternatively, it maybe be time to move your bedtime to a little later – depending on age and nap schedule. Check the guidelines to determine if you’re child is reaching their Total Recommended Sleep Hours.
  • Click here to see typical bedtimes & total sleep hours based on age.

Wake Time

Signs Wake Time is Too Long:

  • baby becomes fussy
  • fights bedtime and/or nap time and is whiny

Signs Wake Time is Too Short:

  • baby seems happy until you try to put them down for a nap/bedtime
  • fights bedtime and/or nap time

If your baby’s wake time between the last nap of the day and bedtime is too long this could cause baby to be overtired, and therefore fight bedtime.

Click here for a very ‘loose guideline’ of typical wake-times.

Solution:

  • Determine the proper wake-time for your baby, based on their age, and try to stick very closely to it.

Sleep Associations

Signs:

  • Waking in the night
  • Can’t fall asleep on their own

A sleep association can be anything from a pacifier to being rocked to sleep.

The problem with sleep associations is that your baby becomes dependent upon having this “thing” to be able to go to sleep; when baby wakes in the middle of the night, they will require this “thing” to fall back asleep. By providing sleep associations, you are denying your baby the ability to learn to self-soothe!

Imagine falling asleep on your couch and waking up in a strange bed – that would freak anyone out. It’s the same with our babies: it’s confusing.

If your baby cries overnight due to a lost pacifier, it might be time to either get rid of the pacifier or get ones that are easy to find, such as the wubbanub.

Solution:

  • Try laying your baby in the crib awake, but drowsy, and at the proper time (i.e. not overtired, over stimulated, or hungry).
  • If you have trouble with this, there are many methods (such as pick-up, put-down), but I recommend cry-in-out because it’s very effective and, in my case, worked after just one night.

Not in sleepy mode/too much stimulation

Having a daily routine is very important for babies – they do well on schedules! Have a “sleepy time routine” for bedtime that involves a bath, story-time, songs, and a goodnight prayer. Personally, our routine takes about 25 minutes (and I do both of my kids at the same time; they’re 17 months apart).

Similarly, for naps you should have a routine. Obviously it won’t include a bath, and it will be much shorter than the bedtime routine. Ours is <10 minutes and consists of 1 story and 1 song.

  • Signs:
    • Tired & Whiny/Fussy but can’t settle down
    • Wants to play in bed
    • Vocalizes that they aren’t tired
  • Solution:
    • For the 30 minutes prior to bedtime, talk quietly and dim all lights.
    • Be soft spoken and slow moving.
    • Sing slow/soft songs.
    • Use lavender scents in the bath.
    • Read a soothing book.
    • It helped me to make the crib-time quick once they got to about 10-months-old; I read a book in the living room (or in the bedroom floor) and just sing on the way to the crib, then lay them down saying my “I love you”s, and walk out.

Toddler wanting “MORE”

“One more book”,  “One more song”, “A drink of water”, etc.

This is common amongst toddlers!

Make it clear in the beginning what the plan is,

“I’m going to read one book tonight and sig two songs. When I leave I will kiss you and hug you and I don’t want you to cry or holler. Mommy has to go to sleep and I’m not coming back in here after I love. I love you!”

…but say this all very nicely and just like a regular instruction, not like a lecture … If that makes sense.

crib

Two things about this picture… First, you can see that the thermometer on it says 77 degrees! This monitor was NEVER accurate and that was flustering – we now use a Summer Infant brand. Second, THIS was my “I need oooooone more snack!” toddler. It went on for a few weeks before we figured him out; we still get some sass from him sometimes, though!

Peeing in the bed

  • Night time diapers
  • Check size – if too big or too small they’ll leak
  • Encourage them to go potty before and after the bath

Skipping Naps

How old is your baby? Maybe it’s time for a new nap schedule! See below for typical nap schedules. Yes, the ages overlap – every baby is different and it’s a basic guideline:

  • 6-12 months 3 naps (9:30am, 12pm, 4pm)
  • 9-20 months 2 naps (10am & 2pm)
  • 15-24 months 1 nap (12pm)

Is it Time to Drop a Nap?

The purpose of dropping a nap is to increase positive wake-time and decrease undesirable behaviors, such as (1) early wake times, (2) short naps, or (3) bedtime-fighting-babies.

  • First: Are you in line with the typical time frame for your baby?

    • 6-12 months 3 naps (9:30, 12, 4)
    • 9-20 months 2 naps (10 & 2)
    • 15-24 months 1 nap (12)
  • Tell-Tale Signs

    • Waking Early, but Happy
    • Fighting the last nap
    • Having shorter naps than typical
    • Fighting bedtime

What to do: Drop the nap!!

  • Move your first nap earlier to compensate, and move your second nap later so baby can make it all the way to bedtime after waking.
  • If moving from 3 to 2 naps:
    • I would try 9am and 2pm, and then ultimately move to 10am & 2pm.
    • Depending on age, both naps should be around 1.5 hours each.
    • If after 3-4 days your baby still isn’t sleeping 1.5 hours per nap, they may need to go back to 3 naps.
  • If moving from 2 to 1 nap:
    • I would start with 10:30am, and move the time up daily in increments of 15-30 minutes, with an ultimate goal of napping from 12pm-3pm.
    • Depending on age, the one nap should be around 3 hours.
    • If after 3-4 days your baby still isn’t sleeping 3 hours per nap, they may need to go back to 2 naps.

My Baby Wakes up Right when I lay Him Down!

When your baby falls asleep, he or she will enter light sleep at first, lasting anywhere from 20-90 minutes. I bet you know this stage all to well. For example, when you have rocked your baby to sleep and you wait a few minutes to “make sure they’re fully asleep” before lying them in the crib, yet as soon as you lay them down – they scream at you! This is because he or she was only in a light sleep. If you’re going to do this, you’ll usually have to wait for deep sleep to occur before you can move them to the crib.

Also, by rocking your baby to sleep and sneaking them in to the crib and sneaking out, you’re providing them with a sleep association that is hard to break. To them, your rocking is the only way for them to fall asleep, so naturally when they wake up in the middle of the night they will need you there to guide them back to sleep. Sleep associations are hard to break – so it’s awesome if you can start at 3-months-old with good sleep habits!

Something Else?

Feel free to leave a comment here if you have a new problem or are looking for clarification on something. I research a lot, but I learned the ‘basic information’ from reading the books The Baby Whisperer and Baby-Wise.

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