During my 5 years as a sleep professional, I’ve gotten used to people asking me what the “secret” is to getting a baby to sleep through the night.
Of course, there is no ONE secret. Supporting a child to develop healthy sleep habits is a combination of lots of different things.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some shortcuts, either!
With that in mind, today I’d like to share with you 7 different shortcuts you can start trying over the next few nights to get your child sleeping better
Sleep Shortcut #1: Watch the Waking Hours
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep – especially for babies and toddlers – is overtiredness… and many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired!
Here’s a quick guide to how long your child can cope with being awake between naps during the day:
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime… AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too!
Sleep Shortcut #2: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
For a lot of babies and toddlers, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association.
In other words, your child has “linked” the ideas of feeding and sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.
By feeding right after naptime – instead of before – you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This strategy should only be used before naps, not before putting your child to bed for the night. (A full tummy is needed to make sure your child doesn’t wake up hungry during the night!)
Sleep Shortcut #3: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, it’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place – at the same time – every day.
This means that naptime is best in the same couple of places – you do not need to have cot naps for every single nap, maybe the first nap of the day is prioritised at home in the same place as nighttime sleep for example.
It is impossible and not healthy to be stuck inside all day trying to get your young baby to sleep, motion sleep in the pram/buggy is ok and the fresh air and natural daylight is great for nighttime sleep.
BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it’s a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep.
In other words, if your child falls asleep in your arms on the couch and then wakes up during the night in a completely different place (like their crib), chances are they’ll be surprised… and start crying to let you know about it!
Sleep Shortcut #4: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing.
No throwing your toddler in the air… or watching TV… or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I totally encourage tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just NOT in the five minutes before bed. (Right after waking up is a great time to play!)
Sleep Shortcut #5: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)
Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.
A typical bedtime routine might look something like this:
Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child!
After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to “drag out” bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc.
If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!
Sleep Shortcut #6: Drowsy but Awake – Does NOT Work!
This is a common scenario, you might have been putting your newborn or very young baby down drowsy but awake and for a while bedtimes have been easy and then suddenly – your baby is not playing ball, their eyes ping open as soon as you lay them down – OR – maybe that has always been the case!!
The truth is if your baby is too drowsy you have likely helped them to fall asleep about 50% of the way and then as you lay them down you disturb them and the whole cycle starts again or they do manage the next part well enough once laid down but as soon as they cycle into a lighter stage of sleep - about 35 minutes later they wake fully and wonder why you are not holding them and signal out for help –
One solution is putting your baby into their crib AWAKE.
It is important to get the timing right from the last nap to bedtime and then allowing your baby to fall asleep while already lying down in their crib.
To begin with you will likely need to offer lots of crib side comfort with your voice and touch and sit with your baby while she falls asleep and gradually over several weeks help her get to a point she can fall asleep from awake without lots of help.
Most parents are surprised to learn that the optimal time for your baby to fall asleep is 10-15 minutes.
Sleep Shortcut #6: Try The “1, 2, 3? System
When your child wakes up during the night – or during a nap – and starts crying or fussing, but is clearly still tired, try to wait a specific length of time before going to them.
The first day you try this, I recommend waiting exactly one minute before going in to check on your child. On the second day, wait two minutes. Three minutes on the third day, and so on until you can wait around 3-10 minutes
Well, everyone (babies and toddlers included) will wake up briefly at the end of each 45-60 minute “sleep cycle.”
Most adults wake so briefly that we don’t even remember it in the morning. But children who haven’t learned to fall asleep independently need a little longer.
This “1, 2, 3? System gives your child the opportunity to get themselves back to sleep – without your help. And once your child has learned this skill, you’re home free! – talk about stimulating them
The Next Step?
Like I said, these are “shortcuts” – quick tricks that, for some parents, are the missing piece of the puzzle that gets their child sleeping through the night.
And while I hope that you’ll be one of the lucky parents who’s able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks, I’m also here for you if you need a little more guidance