This article is written by Lauren Engler, founder of Via Graces.
Does any of this sound familiar?
- My baby still wakes up multiple times a night for a feeding.
- My child gets out of bed all night long.
- My baby wakes up 45 minutes after bedtime.
- The only way my child will stay asleep is if I’m holding him or if he’s in bed with me.
First of all, I want you to know that you are not alone. And while this is all very common with babies and young children, it does not have to be the norm!
If you’re ready to teach your little one to sleep through the night, here are four strategies you can start implementing now to help your little one (and you!) sleep.
Preparing a child’s sleep environment is the first step toward better sleep, and two key pieces of that environment are darkness and white noise.
I know this sounds crazy, but the ideal level of darkness for a child’s bedroom is, “I can’t see my hand in front of my face,” whether it’s 2 pm or 2 am. We want it DARK! And this is for newborns and older kids!
When it is time for sleep, whether that’s a nap or overnight, we want our kids to be able to fall asleep regardless of how bright it is outside. And any bit of light that’s streaming in the windows could cause more distraction as they’re trying to fall asleep, it could cause a short nap, and/or it could cause an early morning waking.
White noise is also a helpful tool to have on throughout naps and through the night. For newborns, white noise is a comforting sound, as it’s similar to what they heard while still in the womb. For older children, white noise is more for parents, so we don’t have to worry about having the TV on, running the dishwasher, or talking on the phone while our little ones are sleeping.
Routines are key to helping kids’ minds and bodies prepare for sleep. An ideal bedtime routine is around 20-30 minutes long, and a great way to start is with a bath, as water is a good signal that something different is happening. Then there’s of course jammies and teeth brushing, a few stories, and maybe a song or prayer to finish the routine. And then goodnight!
If your child is 12 months or younger, nursing or bottle-feeding is still an important part of the bedtime routine to make sure they’re nice and full, and having that feed as the first step of the routine (before the bath!) helps promote independent sleep skills and prevent drowsiness at bedtime.
Finally, bedtime doesn’t have to be serious and quiet. It’s the last time of the day to fill our kids’ little “love tanks,” so it’s okay to get silly and have some fun during bath or storytime!
Have you ever heard someone say, “Keep her awake longer so she’ll sleep later!?” I hear this advice given all the time, but it’s just not right!
Overtiredness is one of the most common reasons children have a difficult time both falling and staying asleep, so it’s important that we structure our kids’ days based on an age-appropriate schedule.
For babies, that looks like following awake windows. Awake windows are how much time your baby should be awake between sleeps, and they are based on your little one’s age.
For example, a 6 week old really can’t handle much more than 60 minutes awake before becoming overtired. Similarly, a 6-month-old really can’t handle much more than 2.5 hours awake before becoming overtired. So when your little one wakes up in the morning, or from a nap, set a timer and aim to be laying them down in their bed when the awake window is over. They don’t have to be asleep when that timer goes off, just in an environment where they can start falling asleep.
For more help navigating your baby’s awake windows and how to adjust schedules as they get older, go snag this (free!) Ultimate Guide to Sleep Schedules!
For toddlers and school-aged kids, an age-appropriate schedule looks like making sure they are still going to bed between 6:30-8:30 pm and having time to sleep a full 10-12 hours overnight. And yes, that is how much sleep children should be getting every night until about 10 years old!
We may have the perfect sleep environment, the most predictable routines, and the best schedules, but if our little ones are not able to fall asleep independently, they likely will not sleep through the night.
Adults and kids, alike, experience natural wakings throughout the night as we slip from one sleep cycle to the next. As independent sleepers, we generally don’t even remember we woke up as we know how to roll over and go right back to sleep.
For kids who rely on someone or something to fall asleep (a sleep prop!), however, they often wake up all the more, looking for that same help to get back to sleep. This is often why a 9-month-old still wakes up 4 times throughout the night, or why a 3-year-old still runs to their parents’ room in the middle of the night; they’re looking for that feeding, rocking, or parent sitting in their room to help them fall back asleep.
When teaching kids to fall asleep independently, we must lay them down awake. “Drowsy but awake” is a strategy that is really helpful for newborns to get more comfortable sleeping in their bassinet or crib, but once babies reach four months old, it’s important to lay them down awake so they can learn to fall asleep on their own.
This does not mean we simply lay them down, walk away, and expect them to figure out sleep on their own. Teaching our kids to sleep is a process that requires both time and space to learn a new skill, yet also comfort and support so they learn to sleep with confidence.
The good news in all of this is, no matter what your little one’s sleep looks like now, it’s never too late to teach our kids to sleep! These four tips are part of every sleep plan I write for families, and we don’t have to simply wait for them to “figure it out.” We can make changes now so that sleepless nights until our kids go to college does not have to be the norm.
About Lauren of Via Graces
Lauren Engler, founder of Via Graces, is a certified pediatric sleep consultant who believes that a well-rested child is curious, energetic, playful, and eager to learn. When working one-on-one with families, Lauren personalizes a holistic sleep plan to help parents and children approach sleep with both confidence and independence. Over the 2-3 weeks of working together, Lauren is in close touch with families to provide support and encouragement, to answer questions, to make sure the child is progressing well, and to make any necessary changes. If interested in hearing more, sign up for a FREE discovery call to hear more: https://viagraces.com/booking-page