The Secret to Sleeping Through the Night
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Need More Sleep?
Here’s what you need to know:
The Secret to Sleeping Through the Night
- I have found that the secret to sleeping through the night is that it is a learned skill that some babies just need to be taught. Don’t be afraid to empower yourself to teach your child how to sleep independently if you want to. As a parent, I know that not everything I will need to teach my children will come easily, but I will do the best I can to do what is best for our family even when it is hard for me.
- IF you need to teach your baby to sleep, just like IF you need to teach your first grader to read (some babies just sleep and some first graders started reading on their own when they were 4…), it is not necessarily going to be easy. Babies and kids learn things at different rates and in different ways and that is NORMAL. Kids also forget things once they’ve learned them or need to be reminded. This is also NORMAL. If you have a particularly difficult sleeper, it may take more time for them to learn or you may need to try some different methods.
- Don’t fix anything that isn’t broken. If you are happy with the way things are going, keep doing it. Sleep rules and schedules aren’t hard and fast… they are meant to be adapted to what works for you. If you want to co-sleep (note that the AAP recommends infants sleep in their own crib) and not follow a schedule, don’t. But if you do, then do. Do what works for you and your family!
- On the definition of “STTN” (sleeping through the night): a full 12 hour night without waking to eat MIGHT happen for you before 3 months of age, but at 3 months, STTN is defined as going 6-8 hours at night without feeding. It is completely reasonable and should be expected that you feed your baby 1-2 times a night between 3-6 months. If you are able to teach your baby earlier than that to go all night without eating, good for you! A 12 hour night really shouldn’t be expected (but could happen earlier) until 6-9 months and might not happen until solids are well-established (see below.)
- Some babies will sleep through before starting solids but others will need solids to be well-established. When feeding solids (starting around 6 months), I like to think of balancing their diet by including fats, protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables. I have found that serving high fat/protein foods at dinnertime can help keep them full longer.
- Before 3 mo, there are things you can do to encourage your baby to learn to eat during the day including following a schedule that fits in enough daytime calories/feedings and an appropriate amount of daytime sleep. See the Wake and Sleep Times Chart at the end of this post for more info on appropriate schedules.
- I personally recommend waiting between 10-20 minutes before responding to night-wakings to encourage your baby to learn to go back to sleep on their own (Though I will admit that in practice I do not always wait this long.) Each parent’s response to this will differ based on their philosophies and sleep training plan if they are using one.
- The Routine – You want to encourage a positive routine / associations with sleep. My routine is change diaper, put in sleep sack, turn on white noise, turn off lights, sing song, and put in crib (baby should be wide awake when placed in crib to learn to fall asleep completely independently.) As my babies have gotten older, I include reading books as part of the winding down before naps and bed as well. Find a routine that works for you, the idea is that your baby will learn to associate the routine with sleeping and fall right asleep each time you do the routine!
The First 12 Weeks
- Night and Day Teach your baby from the beginning the difference between night and day. Keep night feedings dark, make minimal eye contact, don’t talk, keep white noise on. When it is time to get up for the day, say good morning, smile, turn the lights on and white noise off, play and have fun! Hopefully these things will help baby learn day vs. night!
- Eat, Play, Sleep The best way to ease into making sure your baby is getting appropriate daytime feeds and sleep is to try to accomplish a feed, wake, sleep PATTERN starting whenever you feel comfortable. The first 12 weeks are full of unpredictability and growth spurts, and sticking to a by the clock schedule might make you crazy (but does work for some people.) Try to make sure you feed your baby at least every 3 hours, but more often if necessary. My babies tended to eat every 2-3 hours during the day during the early weeks. During the early weeks, I would wake my babies if they went longer than 3 hours during the day without eating. I wanted to get as many daytime feeds in so that if they happened to sleep longer at night I could let them. Ask your doctor about weight gain and when it is OK to start letting your baby sleep longer at night. With my first baby, I woke him every 3 hours around the clock at first, but with my second, I decided I would never wake him at night. If he woke, I of course would feed him, but I let him sleep as long as he wanted to at night.
- Full Feedings Encouraging your baby to take full feeds and not snack all day if you are breastfeeding will help their feeding and sleep times regulate. If you are formula feeding, my understanding is that this is much easier to do. My babies always took both sides at every feeding and fed around 10 minutes per side in the beginning. Most breastfeeding moms need to give 8-12 feedings in a 24 hour period during the first few months.
- Sleep Location Transition baby to sleep in his crib when you are comfortable with it. In the beginning it was convenient to have my babies right next to my bed because of the frequency of night wakings. I think 6 weeks was a good time to transition for our family for our first baby. For our second baby, we don’t have a separate room so he is staying in our room until we can move him to share with his brother. Current AAP guidelines recommend room-sharing for the first 6 months so that is also something to consider when planning where your baby will sleep.
- Sleepwear Swaddle for every nap and night sleep as well. The Woombie is great and allows for easy diaper changes with a bottom zipper. Also, my babies liked that they could move their arms around in it. The Summer Infant SwaddleMe also worked well and kept their arms tight at their sides.
As Time Goes On
- For breastfeeding moms: Breastfeeding is hard work. Remind yourself that you alone are sustaining the life of a tiny human and that in itself is a full time job. Don’t try to accomplish too much else or feel bad for not getting things done. Really. Just don’t.
- Some days will be good and some days will be bad, but I think what is most important is to trust your instincts and not stress over it too much. Many times, it is what it is and not much can be done to change that.
- Let your baby sleep when he is tired. If he is sick, go with the flow and allow more sleep and feedings if necessary. Sometimes they need more sleep also when they are learning new skills, teething, or going through mental leaps and changes.
- Sleep Training: In my experience, letting my babies cry a little was necessary. If you don’t want to let your baby cry, you can still teach them to sleep and sleep train them, it will just look a little different for you. Everyone’s sleep training journey will be different anyways, so as I have said before, do what works best for you.
My Sleep Training Journeys
- In my experience, there are different things I have trained my babies to do when it comes to sleeping. The big ones are falling asleep on their own, sleeping all night in their crib, and nap training.
- For falling asleep independently, I did it with my first baby sometime between 2-4 months. He would fuss usually for 10-20 minutes before falling asleep each time, and that didn’t change for a long time. For my second baby, I started at 4 months. He cried a LONG time the first time he successfully fell asleep independently (I tried 2-3 times before but wasn’t willing to let him cry long enough for him to do it.) But for him, after he learned, he doesn’t cry at all when I put him down.
- For sleeping all night in their cribs, at 6 months both of my babies started waking excessively at night and were becoming increasingly difficult to soothe. I decided to implement a feeding cut-off where if they woke after 2 AM I would feed them, but other than that I expected them to be in their crib sleeping from 7PM-7AM. I tried different methods but ultimately what worked for all of us was to just not respond to any other wakings other than the one allowed feeding. What became important for me to realize was that the needs of the whole family are important, and not just the baby. Sleep training is hard!
- For nap training, I used recommended wake times and baby schedules from the Babywise book. I struggled to integrate the schedules from Babywise with the frequency my babies wanted to breastfeed, and I knew that pushing them to breastfeed less frequently could reduce my supply to where it might be impossible for me to continue breastfeeding. So I came up with my own schedules that worked for me. If naps were shorter than I needed them to be, I used something called crib hour where the baby stays in the crib an entire hour to have a chance to learn to nap longer. This worked quickly and effectively for both of my babies, and they became great nappers. The benefit of them learning to take good naps was that they were well rested and ready to learn and play during their waketimes and I was able to have predictable breaks!
Wake and Sleep Times Chart
The chart below details some common sleep schedule recommendations/guidelines based on age. Personally, I have followed recommended wake times until around 5-6 months and then transitioned to a 2 nap schedule based on clock times (set naps at 9:30 and 2 for example) while I kept wake times of 2-3-4 in mind.
The 2-3-4 schedule mindset has worked well for me and my kids from 6 mo – 15 mo (I will probably transition to a 1 nap schedule a bit earlier for my second baby,) but some people have more success with different waketimes depending on their child and overall schedule. Some kids need more waketime in their 2 nap day (3-3-4 for example) or less (2-3-3 for another example). Every child is different!
The information in this chart is not exact, is not a science, and is not necessarily a requirement to have a baby who sleeps well. It is meant to be used to help guide an appropriate schedule at each age.
- A newborn needs to sleep between 16-20 hours a day. As babies grow older, this daily sleep requirement lessens and eventually by 3 years of age, children need approximately 12 hours of sleep per day.
- Limiting naps… may seem crazy but I never let a nap go longer than 2 hours unless there is illness or extenuating circumstances. I also try to limit total sleep during the day to around 3 hours, but will allow more for younger babies.
- In general, naps should end by 4 so that the baby/child will have a reasonable 7 or 8 pm bedtime. For younger babies 4 months and under with shorter waketimes, I would let my babies go until 4:30 or 5 if they wanted to.
- Nap transitions: It is hard to know when to transition or make changes in your baby’s schedule, but I have found that trusting my instincts and not being afraid to test something out have been key. Sometimes you will just realize when it’s time both for you and the baby. I have transitioned my second baby in a more parent-led approach because I needed his sleep times to align with my toddler’s. With my first baby I let him lead the way with sleep because he was the only baby!