Ah, finally after a few false starts, your little one is sleeping soundly and now you can get a few hours in before the next feeding. So, you leap into your bed and wait for that wonderful lull that comes right before you nod off. You turn to one side, then the other; you’re exhausted. Why won’t sleep come?
Does that sound familiar? It may be that you are actually overtired. It may also be that your baby is overtired and that state, for all ages, lends itself to taking a longer length of time to settle in and to stay asleep. Here are a few tips, three for you and three for your little one, to help you all get the rest you need.
- Create a bedroom environment that minimizes distractions and says, “This is where sleep happens.” If you can, remove clothesbaskets of laundry, piles of papers or anything that triggers an urge to work. Keep your bed tidy and inviting. If you enjoy aromatherapy, consider incorporating relaxing scents such as lavender in your bedroom.
- Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. This is frequently recommended for youth and teens with sleep troubles and it certainly applies to adults as well. Your brain needs to transition from awake to asleep. The light from your smartphone or tablet signals your brain that it is time to be awake and your brain is stimulated by what is on the screen. There is quite a bit of current research that supports the findings that electronic devices affect our circadian rhythms by telling us to be awake when we should be winding down and creating an unfortunate cycle of daytime sleepiness/nighttime restlessness. Do what needs to be done on your computer or phone and then give yourself time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
- Once you climb into your cozy bed and get into your “I’m ready to fall asleep” position, focus on your breath. This is my version of counting sheep. No need to change how you are breathing. The depth, the pace, it is where you fall naturally. Allow yourself to relax into it then simply observe the place where the inhale meets the exhale. Mentally note it, and continue to breathe, noting where the in-breath meets the out-breath. If your mind wanders, acknowledge the thoughts and simply go back to the breath. This keeps the endless “ to do list” from taking over and robbing you of the relaxation you deserve.
- Routine, routine, routine! Some children adapt easily to changes in their daily routine. But for most, it is unsettling and disruptive. Until you know how your baby will manage schedule changes, keep to a bedtime (and naptime) routine. You can develop this in your baby’s early months, keeping it simple and consistent. Do the same tasks, in the same order, at the same time.
- As often as you can, put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake. With newborns, this is easier said than done but as your baby gets closer to 3-4 months, you should see the beginnings of a schedule emerge. Whatever your sleep arrangements are, look for signs that s/he is getting sleepy, follow your bedtime routine and put him/her down while the little eyes are still closing.
- Help your baby learn to distinguish between days and nights. During the day, have bright lights, lively conversations, barking dogs and music playing. Be sure to tune into and be aware of the signals your baby is giving you. Too much of a good thing can make him/her over stimulated and fussy. Toward bedtime, quiet things down, dim the lights, play soothing music, sending the message that it is time for sweet slumber.
Babies need sleep for overall growth and development. Their brains need it; their bodies need it. If you begin to view your role in teaching your little one good healthy sleep habits as part of your parenting responsibilities, it may strengthen your determination to make sleep a priority for your entire family and help you stick with a long term sleep plan.
If simple steps are not working, reach out for support. My approach to sleep coaching avoids one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, I will listen to your priorities and values, and partner with you to develop — and follow through — on a sleep plan that meets your goals and your family’s needs. You may already have someone who can help support you compassionately without an agenda. For those others, always remember that you have me.