By Brittney Stefanic
Sharing My Top Solutions for Baby Sleep Problems
Last week I was so excited to take over the Instagram Stories of Sleeping Baby to host a Q&A session about all things sleep. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!
I loved getting to share my sleep education with sleep-deprived families, and I look forward to summing up the Q&A here!
Question 1: How do I teach my little one to nap longer than 30ish minutes?
Daytime sleep is harder for our bodies to come into (and stay in) which is what makes “crap naps” such a common struggle among parents. Until your baby can get themselves to sleep and connect sleep cycles through the night, it is unlikely that their nap length will be anything too impressive.
A daytime sleep cycle for most babies and toddlers is 40 to 45 minutes, so if your baby can't sleep for a nap longer than this, it is because they don’t know HOW to string two cycles together. Since daytime sleep is harder than nights, it is unfair to expect naps to fall into place if there are still lingering sleep props.
Sleep is a skill which some little ones take to quite easily and some take a little longer to learn. As a parent, you have the choice to support your little one in learning the skill whenever you are ready to make sleep changes and see improvements. Until you teach your baby how to fall asleep on their own (without props such as feeding, rocking, other motion or a pacifier), they will be hard pressed to get through the connection of sleep cycles without these same props, which can lead to long-term baby sleep problems.
As for the HOW portion of how to help your baby sleep for longer naps, start by picking a sleep training methodology to use. Be sure that the program you select feels comfortable and then, stick to it! If you hop over to Pinterest for a quick search, you will instantly find blogs that outline various methods (Ferber, the chair, leave and check, control intervals, etc) that fit the needs of different families. The method of “sleep teaching” you select depends on the age/weight of your little, your sensitivity to crying and your ultimate sleep goals. The most important thing about picking a program/method/technique is that you are committed to it.
Question 2: Why won’t my older baby sleep like they used to as a newborn?
We got TONS of questions the other day about the 4 to 6-month-olds and their lack of daytime and nighttime sleep. This isn’t all that surprising to me because of the biological sleep changes that little ones go through around the 4-month mark. This sleep regression is actually a progression and is the result of babies' sleep cycles being re-organized from a 2 part newborn sleep cycle to a 4 part adult cycle.
Oftentimes the things that worked to get your newborn down to sleep are a lot less effective once this change takes place. Which is why it feels like your baby is not sleeping properly and the biggest regression EVER! The basic premise of the 4 month change is that until your baby learns how to fall asleep independently, it is going to feel like you have taken a big step backwards in the sleep department.
As much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired and stay asleep all night long at any age, it simply doesn’t work that way most of the time because they get easily reliant on sleep props. You’ve gotta teach that baby how to sleep independently in order to ride out this 4 month regression, mama!
Many questions also came up about babies crying while making habit changes with sleep, and the truth is… Change is hard! Since babies can’t communicate by telling you that they are thrown off by the behavioral differences or habit alterations, most of them cry (a least a little bit) when we modify their routines and practices. BUT this does not mean that you have to leave the baby alone in a room to cry for hours on end. There are tons of “sleep teaching” methods out there, so do a little research and find one that feels like the best fit for your family!
Question 3: How do I get my toddler to stay in their own bed and not sneak into mine?
Hey toddler mamas! With a 3-year-old of my own, I FEEL YOU! If your baby is not sleeping and you are having to sit with, feed, lay next to, rock, or hold hands with your toddler to fall asleep, YOU are the sleep prop that they need to fall asleep.
You can read in the questions above that without independent sleep skills, making it through the night in their own bed is unlikely to happen. Your little one needs to know how to put themselves to sleep in order to connect their sleep cycles in the middle of the night! Most likely, they are coming into your room because they need you (their sleep prop) to get hop into their next sleep cycle.
In addition to needing the SKILL, routine is huge for this age. No matter how much they push boundaries, toddlers and preschoolers crave consistency and knowing what comes next for them. Similarly, it is important to set expectations around sleep and stick to them. Toddlers love game playing, and anytime there is a little variation in your expectation or “rules” they find this to be an opportunity to push boundaries.
If your end goal is a toddler who falls asleep in their own bed and stays there until morning, you need to be super consistent in taking them back to their own bed in the middle of the night rather than letting them snuggle in yours. This can be the biggest reason your baby can't sleep in the long run. I know that getting them back into their room seems like the “harder” option, but it typically only takes a few nights to set the new expectation and see awesome results! And remember, the way they are falling asleep at bedtime is the best place to start with sleep independence.
Brittney Stefanic is a whole-family certified sleep consultant. She totally understands that being a parent can be exhausting, especially if your little ones struggle with sleep. As an educator, she believes in the power of teaching and loves to support families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and other opportunities to get your top sleep questions answered.