It’s one of the most common questions new parents get: “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” But the process of making that happen can only add to your exhaustion. “With every sleep expert offering slightly different advice on the ideal timing and method for sleep training, it can be tough to know how to proceed,” says Ann Douglas, author of Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler and Preschooler in Peterborough, Ontario. “The most effective sleep solutions are those that are designed by you, the parent, with your baby’s needs in mind.” That said, Douglas shares these strategies, identified by sleep scientists, that are worth exploring:
- Clue in. Obviously, all babies get sleepy, so look for signs. If you notice your little one becoming calm or quiet, or if her eyes are drooping, she’s yawning or feeding less vigorously, get her down before the window of opportunity closes.
- Set the clock. Keep it light during the day and dark after hours, and you’ll have a better chance of setting your baby’s internal clock and circadian rhythms so he’ll feel alert—and sleepy—at the appropriate times.
- Establish a routine. No matter how relaxed you are as a parent, your baby needs some predictable cues that it’s time for bed. “Focus on activities your baby finds soothing, whether it’s a bath, massage or lullaby,” says Douglas.
- Promote naps. It may seem counterintuitive, but well-rested babies have an easier time falling asleep. “Sleep experts sum up this phenomenon nicely: Sleep begets sleep,” says Douglas. “Your child needs nutritious ‘sleep snacks’ during the day in addition to his main nighttime ‘sleep meal’ in order to be at his best.”
- Minimize night feedings. If your baby makes it through the night without a feeding or doesn’t seem all that interested when he does get up, he might be ready to rely on non-food methods for returning to slumber. This could happen anywhere between 5 months and 1 year, says Douglas.
- Be calm. Babies can sense when you’re stressed, and that will prevent anyone from sleeping well. “Accept the fact that some children may take a little longer to learn the sleep ropes,” says Douglas. “Remain confident in your ability to handle any curveballs that the baby throws your way, and you’ll more easily handle the challenges of nighttime parenting.”
—Alexa Joy Sherman