11 September 2009
thoughts on baby sleep
Firstly, please know that by writing this I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, and what I’ve covered below only touches on the main issues I’ve experienced to date. Hopefully, though, someone out there benefits from some of this as I know first-hand how perilously close to the edge one is pushed when sleep doesn’t frequent…
Regular Day Naps
I’m a big fan of babies having regular naps in their bed. I’ve never found Audrey slept well in a carseat or buggy, and pretty much since birth I’ve been quite strict on her daytime naps to the point of being a reclusive homebody a lot of the time. Hey, I sew, I don't need company!
With Audrey being an early waker (something I’m working on), her first nap of the day is around 7.30 – 8am, and she sleeps for around 2.5 hours. She is then up for two-ish hours, with her next sleep starting around 12.-12.30pm. She then sleeps for another 2-2.5 hrs. When she wakes at around 2.30-3pm she’s then up until bedtime, which for her is now 5pm.
This is basically the ability of the child to fall asleep unaided – ideally no dummy, music, feeds, rocking, etc. If they need help to fall asleep at bedtime then they’re gonna need it at 2am too. I’ve just kicked the nursing to sleep habit. I thought I was putting her down awake, but in hindsight maybe she was in too much of a drowsy state even though her eyes were open. Now I try to finish a feed at least 5-10 minutes prior to bedtime. On those occasions where I don’t have time, then after her feed I walk around briefly, sometimes out into the light, and then put her to bed. She’s sufficiently awake yet settled.
I read that once your baby masters self-settling you may have a tot that sleeps through the night within two weeks. Woohoo!! This works for most, but not all, babies. Though if your baby has been waking frequently during the night, you’d hopefully see a big reduction in that respect as they’ll be able to put themselves back to sleep without the rocking, nursing, music, etc…
Getting the bedtime at the right time
Of all the books I’ve read, 7pm is touted as the ideal bedtime (though they do say anytime between 6-8pm is the norm). Well it turns out Audrey’s ideal time to go to bed – that is, no fussing, and the onset of tired signs - is 5pm. Yes, 5pm. Sounds ridiculously early doesn’t it. I remember in the early months I put her down for a late sleep at close to 5pm, and she was still sound asleep at 10.30pm – I was busy fretting whether to wake her for a feed or not. She’d never slept this long! For some reason I abandoned the 5pm bedtime, and tried for a later time, but only since I’ve started this again has she been more settled and gone to sleep without a fuss.
Books say to shift the bedtime slightly earlier each night until you achieve a relatively fuss-free bedtime. Tonight she went down at 5pm, and woke at 8pm for a feed. I treat that as a tanking-up feed, and so long as she feeds well (and doesn’t dither) and goes straight back to sleep I am fine with that.
I think often parents believe if their child wakes up too early in the morning, then logically if they want them to sleep later they then put them to bed later. But no, apparently the answer is more biological rather than logical – trying an earlier bedtime should in fact (in time) encourage them to wake up later in the morning. Many books swear by this.
Lately, Audrey has been waking sometimes as early as 5.15am. The culprit could be the surprise she has for me in her nappy, though after changing her I never even considered trying to resettle her until I read it. If she does this now, I do the job and then put her back in her cot until 6am. We then get up. I read that by feeding your baby at that time, they come to expect it and it can then even cause them to wake earlier. Heaven forbid!
Lucy often wakes around 6am too (sometimes the scary side of 6am), and this one book suggested for early waking toddlers setting a nightlight to come on at a respectable waking hour by way of a timer. Even if they’re playing in their room, they perhaps might continue playing rather than trotting out of their room and waking up the household. I had considered an alarm clock for Lucy, but then thought what if she sleeps later than the alarm? I quite fancy the night light-on-a-timer idea.
And some random tidbits of advice for you to take or leave (as is the case regarding anything within this post):
Don’t be afraid to try something different if something’s not working. One author likened baby sleep to a jigsaw - you have to look at it as a whole (day naps, feeds, bedtime, etc). I think by changing one element though there is a ripple effect, e.g. simply by moving Audrey's bedtime earlier she sleeps much more soundly, and doesn't go to bed fussing.
When you do try something different, stick at it for four days and then assess.
Trust your instincts – you know your baby best.
Best of luck!