Sleep deprivation is one of the main challenges of parenthood. How much a baby needs to sleep and how much they want to sleep are often two different things. This often results in a tired, cranky child and tired, frustrated parents.
That’s why sticking with a routine for your baby is so crucial. While newborns sleep more, they’re less likely to sleep through the night. Introducing a sleep schedule can help both parent and child get some rest.
Why Sleep Is Essential
Sleep goes hand-in-hand with overall well-being, particularly for babies who are rapidly growing and developing. This is because quality sleep helps to regulate emotions, mental health and processing tasks such as forming memories. Sleep also provides the body time to generate cells, repair itself and strengthen the immune system.
If your baby doesn’t get enough quality sleep, they may:
Become irritable and struggle to settle during bed and nap times.
Experience difficulty with their normal routine, including eating during mealtimes.
Have trouble concentrating, which may affect play and learning.
Be overly tired and sleep more during the day, disrupting their sleep times.
Benefits of a Sleep Schedule
Establishing a sleep schedule can help your baby get enough quality sleep. It also teaches them how to manage their sleep schedule as they get older and how to naturally follow routines.
A sleep schedule teaches a child what to expect during their daily routine and how to behave to anticipate each activity. For example, once a child is old enough for day care and later, school and work, they understand the importance of routine. They will also learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Set the Scene for Sleep
Each age range has its own sleep requirements, and setting up the ideal environment for quality sleep is key. Once your baby is between 3 and 6 months old, their bedtime and naptime will become mostly predictable.
Ways to create a soothing sleep environment:
Dim the lights or turn on the bedside lamp and turn off the overhead lights.
Try to keep the room as quiet as possible, and consider playing soothing music.
Allow your baby to keep their favorite stuffed toy or doll with them for comfort (if they are older than 12 months).
Keep the room cool — between 68 and 72 F is recommended — and dress your baby in comfortable sleepwear.
Practice Sleep Cues
Just like adults need cues to sleep, babies do, too. For example, if you put your baby in their crib at night, this eventually will signal to them that it’s bedtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a set of three cues: brush, book, bed:
BRUSH: Brush your child’s teeth.
BOOK: Read a book together.
BED: Put your child in the crib.
It may take some time, but your child eventually will understand that these activities indicate bedtime. This is especially helpful if you’re readjusting to your regular schedule after being on vacation, particularly if you’re switching time zones.
When Sleep Is a Struggle
Getting your baby into the rhythm of any routine can be difficult, so it’s normal to feel frustrated. The most important thing to do is to be patient — with yourself and your child. Here are some ways to channel those negative feelings into positive action:
Keep track of your baby’s sleep in a journal and take note of trends or habits.
If you notice they struggle to fall asleep regularly, try cutting back on naptimes and don’t force naps when they aren’t tired.
Put them in their crib or bed when they are drowsy and close to falling asleep.
If you hear them crying or waking up, don’t run to them immediately. Give them a chance to self-soothe. If you struggle to leave them, gradually increase the time it takes for you to reach them until you are more comfortable.
Try calming activities before bed such as a story, a massage, some cuddle time or a bath.
When To Talk To the Pediatrician
Every family has their own routines and living situation, so it’s best to stick with what works for you. Just keep in mind how much your baby needs to sleep and start from there. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep or consistently getting poor-quality sleep can lead to bigger issues later.
Poor quality of sleep could put your baby at risk for a weakened immune system and a higher risk for conditions like hypertension, headache, anxiety and depression when they are older. If your child struggles with falling or staying asleep regularly, talk to your pediatrician, who can refer you to a sleep specialist if necessary.
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