Sleep deprived and desperate, Jessica Rojas searched the internet for information and read every book she could find about baby sleep issues in order to help her 7 month old baby sleep. She finally hired a sleep consultant and the outcome was so dramatic that she decided to become a sleep consultant herself. Here she talks to MumAbroad Life about babies and toddlers, their common sleep issues and what can be done about them.
We all know that sleep is vitally important to babies but how much do they need?
Each child is different and has different sleep needs. There’s no set amount of sleep that all children of a particular age need, but there some guidelines issued by the National Sleep Foundation and American Academy of Pediatrics, which are very helpful. I found parents often underestimate how much their child should sleep or especially if they are still very young how much time they actually can manage to stay awake.
The following chart gives an approximate idea about the recommended hours of sleep for children up to 3 years of age:
• Newborns to 3 month olds: 10-11 hours at night, 4-5 hours day in 4-5 naps (short naps are ok)
• 4 to 5 month olds: 10-12 hours at night, 2-4 hours day in 3-4 naps
• 6 to 8 month: 11-12 hours at night, 2-3 hours day in 2-3 naps
• 9 to 17 month: 11-12 hours at night, 2-3 hours day in 1-2 naps
• 18 month olds to 3 years: 10-12 hours at night, 1 nap
Why is it that some babies have difficulty falling asleep?
Think of sleep as a journey: Point A is awake; point B is asleep. How a person gets themselves from point A to point B is usually the same every night – we all developed (unconsciously) some strategies how to fall asleep. Maybe we like the same side of the bed, our own pillow, open windows, a special position or a hot cup of tea… Any disruption to this process can cause some anxiety and make it harder to go to sleep.
Children who don’t sleep well normally need help to get themselves from point A to point B. This can be falling asleep on the breast or with the bottle, being rocked or held, using a pacifier etc. This external help is their little vehicle into sleep. They’ve attached the idea of getting to sleep to something external. This is called a “sleep prop”.
Very young babies need help sleeping and I recommend parents to give them all the help they need. Furthermore if you have a new baby, enjoy the closeness and snuggle time with him, without worrying too much if you teach him bad sleep habits.
The challenge is to know and recognize when your baby is mature enough to develop his own healthy and independent internal sleeping skills. Around the 4 month mark most babies work on a big developmental milestone which affects their sleep as well. Since from then on, they are mature enough to start their journey of independent sleep, their external sleep props will stop working little by little. This is when parents are noticing that sleep will become more and more difficult instead of getting better. Now is the time to get rid of all sleep props and teach your child how to fall asleep by themselves.
How important is a routine to establish healthy sleeping habits?
A structured day and good routines are key! It turns out that they also serve to enhance your child’s development.
The world is a very exiting place for young children. Everything is new and very day has it’s own adventures and excitements! This is how they learn and grow but it can be very overwhelming and stressful at the same time. A structured day and recognizable routines will give your baby security and comfort because they know what’s coming next. Babies are very adaptable but if there is nothing to adapt to they feel lost.
A good bedtime routine works like a cueing system for their bodies telling them that now bedtime is approaching and helps them to relax and get ready for sleep. It can also help to regulate your baby’s body clock and help her to establish a sleeping pattern.
The routine should be between 20-30 minutes long and include at least 4-6 recognizable steps which should be repeated always in the same order. Try to put your baby to bed around the same time every day. Don’t include any sleep props in your routine – remember you want to help your child find internal strategies to fall asleep. Always put them to bed awake so they recognize where they are and won’t be scared or confused when they wake up at night. This will help them to eventually sleep through the night.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training is the process of helping a baby or toddler learn to get to sleep by himself and stay asleep through the night. A key for sleep training success is finding the right balance between parental soothing and teaching the baby to self-soothe and find internal strategies.
Are there different methods of sleep training?
When parents hear about infant sleep training, they often think of babies left alone in their cribs to cry themselves to sleep. The so called “Cry It Out” method. But there are alternatives to such an approach and there are many methods that are being taught to parents with babies that don’t sleep well. Each method varies a bit, but in the end they all have the same goal…to get your baby to sleep through the night. Each parent needs to decide which method will work best for their child and their parenting style.
How do you know which method is best for your baby?
Each parent needs to decide which method will work best for their child, his unique personality and their parenting style. I think most methods will help the child learn how to sleep, some may be more effective or gentler as others but if you avoid the crazy ones they are all ok.
Choosing the right method in the end boils down to how comfortable and confident the parents feel about it. If they don’t think they’ll manage to stay consistent and strong then it won’t work.
This is where a professional sleep consultant could be helpful. It takes the whole guesswork out of the process. The consultant can help you to choose the right method for your family, shows you how to implement a sleep plan created especially for your child and keeps you on track by offering knowledge and support throughout the entire sleep training process.
Some babies start off as “good sleepers” but then change as they become toddlers. What might be the reason for this?
There might be various reasons for that. For one thing the reason might be, as mentioned above, that their sleep props stopped working over time but they haven’t figured out to fall asleep by themselves.
On the other hand developmental milestones are a big cause if sleep gets worse and often go hand in hand with sleep recessions. During these milestones or growth spurts even the best little sleepers will have sleeping problems. If your child never really developed good sleeping skills this will throw them off track completely.
Some developmental milestones you won’t really notice but others you surely will and they could last up to several weeks.
The following milestones or sleep regressions will affect your child the most:
• 4 month Sleep Regression: you baby’s sleep habits and patterns will change permanently and they establish a day-night rhythm
• 8/9 month Sleep Regression: is due to a lot of brain development (start crawling, sitting up, pulling up, cruising and language skills) Another factor is teething and they might transition from 3 to 2 naps.
• 18 month Sleep Regression: the child is demanding more independence and want to do more for themselves. This leads to a stronger will, they might fight sleep or won’t stay in bed to see how far they can go. The previous regressions didn’t have anything to do with defiant behavior on your baby’s part, but this one does. Separation anxiety, which peaks at 18 months, can have it’s share in this regression as well.
• 2 year Sleep Regression: often big transitions taking place at this age: moving to a big bed, potty training, stoping the nap altogether, the arrival of a new sibling, a vacation, change or start in daycare which can put them off balance. Night fears could appear at this stage as well.
Many toddlers, however, simply don’t want to miss out on whatever they believe the rest of the family are doing after they’re put to bed.
How difficult is it to sleep train a toddler who can get out of bed when he/she wants to?
Sleep training a toddler is a lot harder then training an infant. They have their own minds, are very mobile, they are naturally born boundary pushers and they are so clever and sneaky! You have to be 10 steps ahead of them, if not they will outsmart you!
With toddlers it really has to be black and white, there is no room for grey. The clearer you’re rules and boundaries are the better. They learn quickly though if you stay consistent. Sleep training a toddler is actually more about parenting and defining your roles then teaching them how to sleep.
How does infant sleep differ from adult sleep?
Infant sleep cycles (40-60min) are short compared to adults (90min). Sleeping through the night is not quite accurate. We all “wake up” between two sleep cycles. This is why with short sleep cycles, babies tend to wake up more often.
Babies begin sleep in active sleep (dream or REM sleep) and spend equal amounts of time in active and quiet or deep sleep. This means 50% of baby sleep is relatively light and often filled with dreams. Light sleep may contribute to your baby waking up quite easily. Adults only spend 25% in this active/dream sleep.
What are the most common misconceptions parents have about their child’s sleep?
“My child will out grow his bad sleep habits” or “I just have to sit it out“:
Some babies will just learn by themselves how to develop internal and independent sleep skills. These babies often start to start to sleep through the night around 3-4 months.
If your baby doesn’t fall into this category then most probably it will get a lot worse before it will get better eventually. And I’m talking here about many months and even years! Having to endure bad sleep (child as well as parents) is absolutely unnecessary, avoidable and dangerous. Not enough or bad quality sleep will affect your child’s development seriously in a negative way both physically as well as mentally.
“My child just needs less sleep then others“:
This is almost never the case. Either the child learned to cope with less sleep or is sleeping less since he has a hard time to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you teach your child healthy sleeping habits and give them the opportunity to sleep enough, most children will sleep longer and better.
“It won’t work with my child“:
This sentence I hear all the time! If I talk to families they often can’t believe that their baby will sleep through the night or improve their sleep habits. It sounds to good to be true or they doubt that their child can do it.
If there is no medical, physical or developmental issue, you’re child will learn good sleeping skills! It could take longer then expected, and maybe you won’t reach you goal a 100%, but I can promise there will be a huge improvement.
If the parents are 100% on board and determined and working with me in a team – then it will work! So far I had no case yet where we couldn’t see huge positive results.
For a FREE first evaluation call contact Jessica: email@example.com
Consultations can be done in English, Spanish or German and either in-home visits (Jessica is based in Barcelona) or over phone/Skype.