Baby sleep training – when rocket science is just not challenging enough…
Am I the only one who has read a thousand articles on sleep coaching online and has an enviable collection of books on the subject and not even a clue why it’s not working? I have a Master’s degree for God’s sake! How can it be so damn hard to make an infant sleep through the night?
I am sure you must be asking yourself the same questions after each sleepless night you spend soothing, shushing, rocking, and gradually losing your mind. It’s ironic that the more time passes by, the more ignorant parent you think you are as the sleep deprivation spreads on your mind like butter on bread and you just don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
I have been there. And I can tell you that there IS light. You may not see it yet, but it’s THERE. Perhaps you (as many other parents) have only taken a few steps off the road and you just can’t see it from where you are standing. Let me get you right back on track. Read on for the most common baby sleep training mistakes and find out which ones you are making. Then start avoiding them at all cost and watch as miracles happen and your child starts enjoying a full night’s sleep. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
1. Bad timing
If there was only one mistake that I would want you to read about, it would be this one. If there is anything (ANYTHING) that will guarantee your inevitable sleep training failure, it would be bad timing. Here are 3 babies you do not want to sleep-train:
A baby who is younger than 6 months
Up until your little one is able to act more like a person than a screaming and vomiting alien, you can put away the sleep coaching materials. There is really no need to do this to yourself, your husband, your little one or your unfortunate pets. Really. Newborns are still trying to figure out how to survive in this strange new world where, unlike in the womb, there are hunger, cold, daylight, colors, and strange new noises.
Sleep coaching a newborn will have zero effect on sleep and will turn to a disaster that will only discourage you from giving it another chance when time is more appropriate. So, until your baby is ready to be sleep-trained (at about 6 months), your routine should be more about survival. Car seats, swings, carriers, nursing to sleep, whatever works for your bundle of joy to get to sleep is your only way out during this survival period. If you come out alive (and even partially sane), you have done it right. Congratulations!
A baby in pain
Whether it is a cold, the flu, a painful rash or teething, a baby in pain is a pain in the… house. The whole household feels that pain on so many levels as your little one is fussy, screaming, whining, and wanting to be held all the time. When your baby is sick, you start thinking if a fairy had come at night and changed your little bundle of joy with this exhausted miserable creature that you both feel pity for and can barely stand.
No sleep training technique will work for your baby in pain. In fact, any schedule you think you have established will vanish into thin air and by the time your little one gets better, you will have to start from scratch. For any period of physical discomfort, be prepared to cuddle, comfort, and just pray for it to end sooner.
A nervous baby
It is incredible how babies from a very early age start figuring out what’s going on around them (and act accordingly). Any time of change in your current family situation will make your tot more sensitive and more nervous, making it impossible for them to stick to any sleep schedule.
The usual change that happens in many families is mommy going back to work. This is a period in which everybody is overwhelmed by the new circumstances so you should resume your efforts only after everything has settled and you have all adjusted to the new daily routine. The same applies to upcoming holidays or family celebrations as all the preparations may overstimulate your baby, turning his established sleep schedule into an unpredictable mess. Literally.
2. Bad setting
Too many parents are paying too much attention to their infant’s nursery making it picture-perfect while it should be sleep-perfect instead. The surroundings a baby needs to get quality sleep have nothing to do with fancy cribs and expensive nursery furniture. Browse through our checklist to see which detail of the nursery setting (sleep-wise) you are missing:
- Light (or lack thereof) – your baby will become a better sleeper if it’s dark in their nursery. Quite shocking, isn’t it? Sarcasm aside, the darker it is in your baby’s sleeping area, the easier it will be for them (and you) to enjoy longer stretches of blissful sleep. You have many options to make the place dark – blackout curtains, shutters, functional blinds, heck, even an old sheet might do the trick! Oh, and don’t forget to use them for daytime naps as well.
- Noise – some parents wrongly get the idea behind the lack of distractions when their child is sleeping. They mute the whole house and try to keep it as quiet as possible for as long as they can. But then, inevitably, the unthinkable happens (like the DHL guy rings the doorbell or your neighbor’s kids get back from school and start yelling at the dog) and you’re doomed. Why do this to yourself? Get a noisemaker (a non-self-turning-off one at that) and don’t be afraid to use it. Then collapse on the couch with a glass of wine and turn the TV on. You are welcome.
- Humidity – I know this slightly started to resemble the perfect conditions for growing parsley on Mars (what, with the levels of light, noise, and now… humidity) but hear me out. I am not suggesting you keep a diary of the humidity levels on a national scale, but a high-quality humidifier for your baby’s nursery may turn out to be one of your best purchases. Why? Because it guarantees the best breathing conditions for your infant, it helps with many skin problems, and most models emit white noise helping you keep those annoying distractions away from your sleeping baby.
3. The sleep window
The sleep window is this time interval when your little one is ready to get to sleep and if you catch it, your bundle of joy will effortlessly fall asleep with no fuss, no crying, or no tantrums whatsoever. It is a period in which your baby’s brain produces the sleep hormone, melatonin. Although it is found, in small quantities, in some foods (meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables), melatonin production is mainly boosted by darkness and social cues that nighttime is approaching. We are looking at you, nighttime routine.
The catch? This is such a teeny tiny time interval that you almost need to have superpowers to see it, let alone put it to use. As if it can get any worse, once the sleep window is closed, the overtired-sleep-fighting window is pushed wide open, testing the limits of your patience. Again. There are, however, some clues that your tot shows during the magical sleep window (should I call it the sleep wicket?) so you’d better be on the look for those:
- The frowns – your baby is making strange faces as if he is frowning or wrinkling his forehead.
- The eyes rubbing – this is a typical sign that your baby wants to sleep. The sooner you get this cue (and act accordingly), the better.
- The ears pulling – some babies (especially younger ones) seem to express their readiness to be put to sleep by pulling their ears. It’s strange, I know!
- The yawns. Obviously.
- The blank look – when your child turns his face away and stares at one point, seeing nothing (pretty much like the look you have after an epic 40-minute tantrum).
Some final words:
There are no two babies who respond in the same way to sleep coaching. Or any coaching for that matter. Whatever method or technique you use to get to the dreamland of uninterrupted night’s sleep, remember that your baby is like nobody else. Stick to whatever routine, book, or schedule you have chosen, but don’t overlook the individuality of your child and the changing conditions around them.
Did you know that falling asleep is a skill? Just like learning to stand on his feet, walk, and talk, you baby has to learn how to fall asleep. Yes, it’s a natural thing and your sleep-deprived mind may find it hard to digest the fact that someone has to actually learn how to fall asleep (and stay asleep) but it’s true. And with babies, it’s us, parents, who have to teach them how to do it. If only it could happen through demonstration…