Sleeping Like a Baby: 5 Strategies I Adopted to Help My Son Establish Healthy Sleep Habits
By Whitney Swance Starczewski
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
I pick Noah up out of his swing; we stroll around the living room another time, bouncing, shushing every step of the way. My mind runs down the list of potential culprits - hunger, dirty diaper, illness. He can’t be hungry, I just fed him. And, his diaper is clean, he was just changed. Is he sick? What if he’s sick and I just don’t know it? The tantrum has been going on for an hour now; I don’t know what the hell to do! Rage bubbles up my esophagus while tears well in my eyes. I feel like I’m taming a viper inside of me, begging him to settle down while I swallow another sob. WHY WON’T HE STOP CRYING???
“Let’s just put him to bed!” I finally lash out in exasperation. My chest feels like it’s going to explode.
As we make our way up to my three-month old’s room, I decide we’ll be skipping our usual reading routine - I don’t have enough patience tonight. I change his diaper, slip on his sleep sack, lay him down in his crib and turn off the lights. Then, I turn on his glowing owl nightlight; it projects swirling stars on the ceiling and croons “Rock-A-Bye Baby.” I sing along for a while. “Goodnight, Noahie. I love you,” I whisper, cradling his head in both hands and kissing him softly on his forehead. Then, I casually slip out the door.
I stop. Exhale. Then, I take a few steps down. Not before long, the crying starts again. My jaw feels like it’s going to crack under the pressure, but I continue down. I take a seat on the couch and listen intently, helplessly, not knowing what to do to relieve my son’s unrelenting anguish.
Then, suddenly, it stops. Silence. I glance at the clock; that can’t possibly be right. It’s only been two minutes. I cautiously climb back up the stairs, willing them to cope with the weight of my body just this one time in silence. When I peek into this room, the owl is still humming faithfully while the stars dance along in unison. But, Noah’s eyes are closed, his chest moving ever so subtly up and down while the rest of his body remains motionless. I cannot believe it. HE NEEDED SLEEP!
It occurs to me that this wasn’t the first meltdown Noah had experienced; he often got cranky, if not all out furious, later at night. We had just dealt with it. But, the new-baby exhaustion has slowly whittled away my patience and it finally clicks that now is the time to act. From this point forward, I am determined to figure out how to better meet the needs of my tired baby.
I remember a book my favorite professor from graduate school gave me while I was pregnant. “Read this,” she had said. “It saved my sanity.” Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluh. I open it reluctantly. I don’t have time, I thought, to read 250+ pages on baby sleep research and recommendations that don’t apply to us right now. I’m freakin’ tired! But, I decided to give it a shot anyway. And thank goodness I did!
Let me start by staying that I recognize that every child is unique and has their own individual set of needs. That said, I do believe this book offers a set of simple, practical strategies to get any parent at least started on improving their child’s sleep habits. I can confidently say that since Noah’s sleep patterns have become routine thanks to the strategies laid out in this book, both his sleep quality and our moods have improved considerably. And he sleeps through the night, too.
Below I summarize for you the five key strategies that I personally adopted from the book and that have worked for us with my son Noah, starting at three months old through the present (eight months). I share them here in hopes that you, as perhaps an overtired parent like I was, might find a trick or two to get your family sleeping better.
1. Babies need two naps every day. In their crib. After Noah came home from the NICU, he would snooze on and off all day in his bouncer or in his car seat. I didn’t realize that the noise we were making around him, the light, and the movement were preventing him from getting quality sleep! Now, I put Noah in his crib around 9:00am (approximately two hours after he wakes up), and again around 2:00pm. He sleeps on average anywhere between 1.5-2.5 hours per nap. This gives me some much-needed time “to do my thing” and it allows him to get the sleep his body needs.
2. A consistent soothing routine is crucial. Every time before Noah takes a nap, or goes to bed for the night, he has a bottle. Then, I put him in his crib, we read a book and sing a lullaby. I tell him I love him and then I leave the room. Every.single.time. He may cry for a few minutes after we leave, but the soothing routine informs him that it’s time to sleep.
3. Consistency is key. I repeat consistency, because it has been crucial to establishing Noah’s sleep habits. I do my very best to schedule all appointments and outings outside of his scheduled sleep times. It’s hard. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t. But, the weeks where he can take full advantage of his naps, tend to be his, and our, happiest.
4. Survive the crying. This advice took some convincing. Like most moms, I loathed letting Noah cry himself to sleep. I felt horrible knowing he was miserable and alone in his crib. But, then I started timing the duration of his crying stints. It turns out what I thought was him carrying on for 20 minutes, was actually only five! What’s more, the crying became less and less common the more Noah acclimated to our routine. At first, he may have hollered for five minutes, now it’s only one or two. And, sometimes he just falls asleep immediately.
5. Remain flexible and patient. Establishing a pattern for Noah’s sleep habits has paid off, but not every nap or bedtime routine is perfect. Some nights, he just doesn’t want to go to bed. Other times, his nap may last for a short 30 minutes. Or, we have a doctor appointment or other engagement. That’s life. Considering Noah’s sleep routine to be a rough blueprint, but also a work in progress, rather than something absolute, written in stone, allows for flexibility and grace. We could probably all use a little more of that, right?
There you have it! The tips I outline here are the very tip of the iceberg when you consider all the recommendations you can find in the book itself. Everything from how to cope with a child who just won’t go to sleep no matter what, to how to adjust your child’s sleep habits as they get older, from how to handle specific sleep-related challenges to why your child needs the amount of sleep they do, you will be happy to discover. Happy reading, good luck and good night!
*I’m in no way affiliated with the author, publisher or anyone associated with the book itself; I’m just a mom trying to do what’s best for her family!
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