I’m always jealous when I hear moms talk about how their child has always been a great sleeper — laying down without a fuss and waking up happy 12 hours later at only a few months old.
This was SOOOO not the case with my son!
In the beginning, things were going well. By 3 months, he was waking one time in the night to eat, and I thought I would be adding my success story to all the rest of the ones I’d heard.
Then we hit the 6 month sleep regression.
And ear infection season.
My great sleeper turned back into something that resembled a newborn’s habits. He would be up every hour and a half like clockwork. Down at 7:30 p.m. Up at 9 p.m. Then it would take me 30-45 minutes to get him back to sleep, only to wake up again around 11 p.m. to start the process over again.
ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
I spent more time sleeping in the glider in the nursery than in my actual bed. (He was NOT a fan of co-sleeping … but was a HUGE fan of sleeping in my arms while I sat up. You can imagine how comfortable that was.) Did I mention I was working full time? I lived off caffeine and survived off 5 hours of sleep on a good night.
This went on for 6 more months until my child turned a year old.
I was miserable, my husband was miserable and so was my son. During my down time, I read everything I could about sleeping habits and how to help my baby sleep through the night.
From the information I read, I tried many different solutions. Some worked, some not so much. Several I still practice to this day with my 2-year-old (just in case).
I’m by no means an expert, and I think what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for others, but here at tactics we tried that helped my son (and us) get a better night’s sleep.
1. Establish an Early Bedtime
Sleep begets sleep. Often times, we think keeping a child up later will cause them to be more tired, thus leading to a good night’s sleep. But the opposite actually occurs.
Think about your own experiences. If you were to stay up later than your normal bedtime, say 3 a.m., and then go to sleep, you would probably still wake up around the normal time your body is used to, not at 11 a.m. (8 hours later).
Same is true for baby. To help your little one sleep longer, and get the required amount of sleep they need, try putting them to be EARLIER. You’ll be surprised at the results. Even if they don’t appear tired, I can’t tell you how many times I put my child to sleep like this when he seemed wide awake only to see him fall asleep between 5-15 minutes later.
2. Follow a Bedtime Routine
Children actually thrive on rules and guidelines, no matter how much they fight them. A bedtime routine helps signal to your child it’s time to unwind and go to sleep. Children look to us for cues on what to do.
Our bedtime routine for my 2-year-old looks something like this:
- 6:30 p.m. – Dinner
- 6:50 p.m. – Bathtime
- 7:10 p.m. – Storytime and/or light play
- 7:20 p.m. – Rocking and nursing
- 7:30 p.m. – Bedtime
However, sometimes life happens – visitors come over, events happen at night – so we might not adhere to this schedule exactly, but it is always within around 20 minutes of the established time. Anything longer and we’ll have a cranky, screaming toddler on our hands. Not only are WE used to the times, HE is too, and is ready to go to sleep at the established bedtime.
3. Use Room Darkening Curtains
Whoever invented these curtains seriously needs to win an award. They look like a regular curtain, but are lined so that no light comes through.
We ordered ours from Restoration Hardware Baby & Child (mainly because that is where we bought his nursery bedding and knew it would match), but other stores like Target sell similar options. These curtains are SO helpful, because they create a dark atmosphere, which is an important cue to let baby know it’s time for sleep (especially at nap and during Daylight Savings when it doesn’t get dark until 8:30 p.m. or later).
4. Turn on a Sound Machine
When you watch movies or television, you always hear people shushing each other so as not to make a sound because a baby sleeping. However, this concept is opposite from what baby experiences in the womb. While in your belly, baby is comforted by the constant sound of your heartbeat. She hears your voice and your stomach gurgling from whatever craving you’ve given into. These noises lull her to sleep and help her feel comforted. The same is true once outside your body. Baby is so used to sound, that a little noise will do her good when trying to sleep.
We purchased a sound machine from Buy Buy Baby. There are all sorts of models on the market with different bells and whistles, but at the end of the day we just needed something with sound. We read a lot of reviews and ending up going with a lower end $20 model that has six different noises. Out of those six, he listens to one … the ocean. This is his “sleep time” sound. We turn it on in his room while he is eating (both at lunch and dinner), so that when he enters his room it is playing, giving him the signal it’s time for sleep.
Before we had a sound machine, we used an app on our phone which was great … until you realize you can’t use your phone after 7:30 p.m. (a real bummer when hubby is out and needs to get in touch with you or vice versa). But the app is still great for when we travel to grandma’s for the day and need to put him down for nap.
5. Dim Lights (or turn off all together)
After we turn on the sound machine, we dim the lights (or turn them off altogether if it’s not so dark we can’t see). I know a lot of people use nightlights, but we found this to actually be more a distraction for our son. If a light is on, he is wanting to look at the light, point at the light, say “light” instead of focusing on sleeping. Also, once he is in the bed he will stand up and look at the nightlight repeatedly whereas if it’s dark in his room, he doesn’t have anything to look at and goes to sleep.
Other Tactics to Try:
There are several other things you can try that worked for other families, but unfortunately, not for my little one. Nonetheless, they are definitely worth mentioning (and trying out for yourself)! Just make sure if you try any of the approaches below, they are age appropriate for your child.
- A lovey – As much as I tried and wanted my son to have a special stuffed animal or blanket for comfort, he never took to it. Placing stuffed animals in the crib (when he was old enough) was more of a distraction, and he just ended up standing up and throwing the animals out of the crib. Then he would stand there for a long time looking at them.
- An item with your scent – Lots of people talked about placing a shirt or article of clothing in the crib for your child to sleep on so they would have your scent for comfort and not wake up. This never worked for us. I tried laying him on a shirt I wore all day … several times. No luck.
- Rubbing your child’s back until he went to sleep – This tactic is supposed to be comforting … but it actually made my son more upset. He didn’t understand why I wasn’t picking him up like I normally would.
- Feeding your child milk/solids/cereal before bed – So many people would tell us if he had a full stomach he wouldn’t wake up. (That’s probably the main reason his dinner time is so close to his bedtime even today.) However when we talked to our pediatrician about it, he told us there was no medical research backing this theory.
Overall Experience and Conclusions
I will be honest, the five methods I mentioned HELPED, but they didn’t cure the problem. We tried co-sleeping, the No Cry Sleep Solution, the Full Cry Sleep Solution (aka Crying it Out) and had to make a decision which method worked best for us based on our comfort level (and after discussing with our pediatrician). However, these strategies HELPED when it was time to determine how we were going to tackle the bigger issue … helping him sleep through the night.
Did your child have a hard time sleeping? What methods worked for you?