After having two babies who I felt I had successfully trained into good sleepers, I considered myself an unofficial baby sleep expert. Then I had baby three and realized the universe had thought I was a little too cocky and gave me a really tough nut to crack when it came to good sleep. Quincy didn’t sleep through the night until he was almost a year old (compared to his big brothers who were more like 2-3 months), and even then he was a very early riser. After almost two years of having to get up by 5 am with a screaming baby (he was never happy and rested when he did wake up), I was ready to find a better solution than three cups of coffee. So I called in expert Melissa Brown of Sleep Shop Consulting.
Based on Quincy’s issues, she gave me the following advice:
- An earlier bedtime: Because I was solo parenting while my husband was away for work, I was having a hard time getting Quincy to bed until around 7. But he was waking up unhappy at 5 am. Melissa suggested to move Quincy’s bedtime up gradually and aim for being in bed by 6 pm.
- Exhaust him mentally: Sometimes the first thing he would say when he woke up at 5 am was “book.” He would fall asleep wanting a book and wake up in that same place mentally. Melissa said that using books, songs, and even flash cards to stimulate him throughout the day vs. bedtime reading might help him to tire and make his brain want a rest. I don’t even do bedtime books with Quincy, but instead read to him throughout the day.
- Keep him cool: Despite what grandmothers say, babies sleep better when they are on the cool side. This is something I already knew and dress Quincy appropriately at night. However, he does tend to get warm and even get sweaty feet at times, so Melissa suggested a bath before bed each night could help him regulate his body temperature throughout the night. In the winter we do baths every 2-3 nights (unless it was a messy day) but when I was implementing Melissa’s tips I started giving him one nightly.
Within two weeks, Quincy was going to bed by 6 pm and sleeping until 6 am (sometimes 6:30). He still occasionally wakes up by 5:30-5:45, but because he is going to bed at 6 pm he is less screamy and more rested and usually those earlier wakes happen when I didn’t have time for a bath or when he is sick or teething.
Since Melissa helped me, I thought maybe she could help you too. So on Instagram I asked you to post your sleep questions and I picked some of the most common ones and shared them with Melissa. But there were so many great questions that we plan to do a podcast to talk about the ones we couldn’t cover in this post, so stay tuned for that! But here are a few that I hope will help some of you solve your baby sleep issues.
nap problem: the 45 minute intruder
Q: What should you do when your baby keeps waking up after 45 minutes still exhausted but won’t go back to sleep? Any advice for getting naps to last longer?
A: All babies wake when they transition to REM sleep (which happens right around 45 minutes after they fall asleep). Babies need to be putting themselves to sleep for the nap because if they know how to put themselves to sleep they will know how to put themselves back to sleep when they wake at this transition. You also want to make sure that your baby is not hungry, not too hot or too cold and that they are not in any pain. A lot of times those are the reasons they won’t put themselves back to sleep. Sometimes they need help getting back to sleep, rubbing their back, putting a paci in or going in and rubbing their head, etc. I always tell my clients you can help them go back to sleep just don’t do it for them.
working parents problem: impossible to meet an early bedtime
Q: Many parents work outside of the home and are unable to get their babies down by a bedtime of 6:00 or even 7:00. What advice would you give them for how to best manage bedtime for babies with parents who work and have a later bedtime schedule because of it?
A. This is hard because everyone’s schedule is so different and I will have different advice depending on the age of the baby. One trick is to give the baby a late afternoon catnap either in a car, or swing or even in their crib. Sometimes if they can get that extra sleep they are able to stay up later. Also if you can allow them to sleep in in the morning that will help as well!
the sleep creeper: when your kids come into your bed during the night
Q: How do you handle the kid who comes into your bed at night?
A: Whatever you do, be CONSISTENT. Some families are OK with kids coming in, others are not ok but allow their child to sleep on the floor. Other families want the child to go back to their own bed in their own room. I would just have boundaries around sleep and bedtime routines and wake up times in order for your child to know what to expect. If you want them to sleep in their own room, then the best advice is to consistently walk them back to their room and have a clock an ok to wake clock or something that gives them a green light to know when its time to get up. If you child is old enough to tell time you can give them specific times that it is OK to come out of their room unless it is an emergency.
breastfeeding baby sleep problems: when they want to nurse allll night long
Q: What is the best way for a breastfeeding mom to handle a baby who is old enough to sleep through the night without a feeding (after 4 months old, but especially when they are 8, 9, 10 months) but wakes up to nurse multiple times a night?
A: I would tell them to try and make sure their baby is eating a full meal when they are breastfeeding. If they are able to eat enough they will not have to eat as frequently. A lot of the times the baby doesn’t really need to eat but uses mom to pacify and be put to sleep. So I would encourage them to try and avoid this because they will keep waking up wanting to be put back to sleep!
Side note: Quincy started doing this around 8-9 months. He was still in our room and started waking up every 1-2 hours to nurse. Even if I tried to not respond to him, he knew I was in there and was relentless and I always caved because I was SO TIRED and I just wanted to go back to sleep. Finally I moved my older two into a bedroom together and moved Quincy into the nursery. Once I did that we implemented a sleep training regimen to get him back into self-soothing, and after a couple nights he stopped waking and crying at night and we all started sleeping again. You can read more about how we sleep trained here.
creating a sleep-friendly space
Q: What is the best environment for my baby to promote good sleep?
A: A good sleep environment is key to sleep success. I would have black out shades, a loud white noise machine and a fan that keeps the air circulating. The temperature of the room is very important — 68-72 degrees is ideal.
best sleep training methods
What is the best way to sleep train? How do you feel about cry-it-out methods?
There are a lot of different ways to sleep train and I say you have to do what’s best for your family and make sure you are comfortable with it. That looks different for everyone! I will say don’t feed or rock your baby to sleep! They will never learn to go to sleep on their own if you do that. The goal is for your baby to learn independent sleep and then they don’t need you to help put them back to sleep when they wake up at different sleep transitions throughout the night. Anytime you are teaching a baby to sleep, some crying will be involved, but you can decide how you choose to respond to that crying.
You can find Melissa online at Sleep Shop Consulting and on instagram here. She also has a podcast you might find helpful, and I’ll be joining her in an episode soon to talk more sleep issues. What are your biggest sleep concerns and questions? Maybe we’ll answer it for you!