Teaching Kids to Sleep Through the Night
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As a parent, you learn to live without a good night's sleep when you have a new child. The sooner you can teach your child to sleep through the night, the more effective you'll be in your daily life.
After two kids that are 4 years apart in age, it’s nice to get a full night’s sleep. For me, 8 hours in bed constitutes a full night’s sleep - some people will need more and other’s less. We’re actually very fortunate as both of our children ended up being great sleepers very quickly. They didn’t have any health issues that would prevent that from being the case. If you believe your child has some type of health issue then you should definitely discuss with your pediatrician to determine how to correctly help your child sleep at night. The following tips assume that your baby was born healthy.
By the time our kids were 6 months old, my wife and I were getting a full night’s sleep each. The sooner you can get to this, the sooner you’ll feel like a fully functioning person. Additionally, it will be much easier to take on many of the other tasks and goals that you have in your life, including living a healthy lifestyle.
Not getting a full night’s sleep will generally lead to a poorer diet and just feeling worse day to day. If you were pregnant and have given birth recently, the physical toll of those 9 months are not easy to get over. Getting your child to sleep through the night will help you both mentally and physically to recover.
While it may sound like we had a breeze of a time with our kids, we were frustrated most nights trying to get them to sleep through the night when they were little. There was plenty of swearing, cursing, crying, and other emotions that went into getting them to sleep through the night.
Beyond that, our first child was much harder to get to sleep through the night. Our first child just had more energy than our second, and has a very strong attitude - if he wants something, he will let you know. Additionally, we learned a lot with our first that really helped with the second. You’ll grow and learn as a parent, as you should. Below are several of the things that we did that helped us to get our kids sleeping through the night.
Have your baby sleep in their own room
This might seem a bit scary, especially with your first child. The sooner you can get to your baby sleeping in their own room, the easier it will be for them to sleep through the night later. Imagine being used to waking up at night and having your parents right next to you for several months, and then suddenly that changes. While it can be done later, it’s just going to get harder the longer you sleep with them.
If you’re worried about your child for safety reasons, consider getting a babycam or security camera that you can watch your child on. We started putting both our sons in their own rooms at 2 weeks old (this took some convincing for my wife, but she’d agree that it was the best decision after the fact - she also likes her sleep). We used a security camera that we put on a phone that was next to our bed to both hear and see our child at night. We used the camera for watching the baby sleep during naps as well.
Take turns with your spouse feeding the baby
If you were reading carefully earlier, you’ll notice that I said that my wife and I were both “getting a full night’s sleep” by the time our kids were 6 months old. What I didn’t say was that the baby was sleeping through the night that quickly. The way we were able to pull this off was by taking turns feeding the baby at night.
In order to make this happen, you’ll need to be bottle feeding your baby either formula or pumped breast milk - I think that’s obvious as to why. We were bottle feeding our baby formula, so this was quite easy to accomplish for us. My wife, a night person, would stay up and take the first shift with the baby, completing a feeding around midnight, and then going to sleep. I would then take the next feeding anytime after 4AM - I’d be in bed between 8-9PM so that I’d wake up well rested. I’d feed the baby (quickly mixing the bottle when getting up), put them back to bed, and then head downstairs for a morning workout - one of the benefits of working out at home vs going to the gym.
Of course, your baby’s sleeping habits will change over time, but the goal is to allow both partners to get a full nights sleep as soon as possible. You’ll want to figure out what works best for you and your partner in making it work.
One of the misconceptions that I had early on was that my wife should be the one getting up since she wasn’t working and would be able to sleep the next day. However, getting 8 hours of sleep broken up in 2 hour chunks is nothing like getting a full night of sleep with all of your hours straight - you’ll feel a million times better when this is the case. Work towards getting both partners this sleep.
Have a consistent sleeping routine
You should put your baby to sleep at the same time every night, and wake them in the morning at the same time. For example, you would put them to bed at 8PM every night, and then follow that up by waking them at 8AM every morning, regardless of when they were last awake. Even if your baby was awake from 12PM to 4AM, you’d still do this. Do it every single night.
Once your baby is old enough to sleep through the night without needing to eat, do not wake them up for feeding. I’d argue that you should almost never wake them up for a feeding - they’ll wake up and let you know if they’re hungry. Waking them up to feed is only going to lead them to believe that they have to eat at that time. Let them sleep as long as they can.
Beyond when you put them to bed and when you wake them, you should have a consistent routine on how you put them to bed. Perhaps you do a bath before bed each night, or perhaps you play them some music. Give them some type of cue each night to indicate that it’s time to go to sleep.
Let your baby cry themselves to sleep
Honestly, this will likely be one of the hardest tips to follow on this list. Listening to your baby cry in their room for more than a couple of minutes is worrisome as a parent. The older the baby is, the less stressful this is, and you shouldn’t really be doing this until you feel like your baby is old enough - 4 months old is the youngest you’d start doing this.
The reason that you let your baby cry themselves to sleep is because they must learn to comfort themselves when it’s time for bed. If you’re always rocking them to sleep or comforting them to go to sleep, they’ll not learn how to fall asleep on their own. This is important for when they wake up in the middle of the night as they get older - they’ll learn how to be comfortable falling back asleep when no one else is there (hopefully without any screaming in this case).
If you’re going to have a hard time with this, which my wife definitely did more than I did, then you’ll need to set up some parameters for yourself. First, determine the minimum time you’re going to let the baby cry before going back into the room - no less than 5 minutes, and you’re better off with closer to 15 minutes. Make sure to set a timer. Second, feel free to watch the baby on your baby camera so you’ll know they’re fine, just crying - make sure to turn the sound off though. Lastly, get away from the screaming sound as best you can. It can really wear on you and make you think far worse of yourself. Try to shut it out as much as you can. You’ve got your timer and your view of the baby already, so hearing them scream is only going to work to break your resolve.
Play white noise for them
When you're at wit’s end, this can be a real lifesaver. I’m not sure what it is, but white noise can calm a baby quite easily. I generally prefer it quiet when I sleep, but a baby loves the consistent blank noise, and it can be quite soothing for them. When you’ve tried and tried to get your child to go to sleep, and nothing else works, then some white noise can really help you to get a few hours of much needed sleep.
If this is your only option, I’d recommend a dedicated white noise machine. However, for most an old phone will work that you can just leave in the room. The free apps that are available will have a multitude of options available in terms of what the noise is, and for how long you let it play (so that it automatically turns off). The nice thing about a dedicated machine is that you won’t hear where the sound loops or breaks - the phone apps are generally clear where those breaks take place. This may not be a deal breaker for some, but just a heads up.
If your child is older, and they’re still having trouble going to sleep, or sleeping through the night, then there are a few additional ways to try to get them to sleep through the night. Most of the ideas from the baby section are still applicable, so don’t discount them, but below are a few additional ideas.
While our kids were both great sleepers from very early on, when we started our toddler in daycare, he started having some real trouble with sleep - he was very scared to go to sleep, and would wake up some during the night. Fortunately, we found that the following ideas quickly helped us to get over that fright.
Play a game with them to get them to sleep
If your child won’t stay in their room or bed when it’s time to sleep, then a game may be in order. Constantly getting out of bed or screaming for you is a problem. Crying it out may be an option as well, but if that’s not working, then a game may be in order. The game is more of a way to encourage your child to stay in their bed, and it may be tedious, but it worked wonders for us.
The following is an example of how this game/praise works.
- Get your child in bed, and tell them it’s bedtime.
- Get everything ready for them as if they’ll be going to sleep - light’s off, nightlight on, etc.
- Tell them that you’ll be right back, and that you want them to stay in bed.
- Step out of the room (out of their view) and then step back in.
- Praise them for doing a good job for staying in bed - including some clapping while doing so.
- Tell them that you’re going to be right back, that you want them to stay in bed, and that you want them to do a great job again (like they just did)
- Step out of the room again, this time for 5-10 seconds.
- Step back in, praise them if they’ve stayed in bed.
- Repeat this, increasing the time you’re out of the room) until you’re up to enough time that they fall asleep.
- If your child gets out of bed while you’re out, get them back in bed, tell them you’re disappointed they got out of bed, and that you said you’d be back. You may need to decrease your time again when this happens, but keep building it up.
You will likely have to play this game for many weeks, but if it works you’ll be glad to do it. Ultimately, you should be able to make fewer visits to the room each night as they realize that you’re not abandoning them, and that you always come back. After 6 months, we didn't usually have to go back into our child’s room at all unless they asked us to come back.
Leave the door open if they’re scared
We always closed the door to our childrens' rooms for bedtime. However, when our youngest was scared (due to daycare), closing the door was one of the things that really triggered him to scream and not want to sleep. As part of the above game, we started to just leave the door open when he goes to sleep so he feels loved and comforted.
We will close the door when we go to bed, but we’ll leave it open for him to fall asleep. He sometimes wakes up and opens it back up, but he now goes right back to his bed when he does. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night and freaks out because the door is closed, you may need to leave it open for the night until they’re comfortable with it being closed.
Sleep in their room if things are really tough
If you really must have your child sleep with you to get them sleeping at night, do it in their room rather than in your room. It’s going to be more uncomfortable as you’re almost for sure on the floor, but it will be far easier later to get them to sleep alone in their room where they’ve been sleeping than sleeping alone in a different room than they’re used to. If you need something to sleep on, try this floor mattress.
This should be a last resort. This is what we were trying before we found the game option that was discussed above. You won’t get nearly as much sleep with this, and you’re not teaching your child to sleep on their own. However, if everything else has failed, you can give it a try.
Getting your child to sleep through the night will go a long way in helping your mental and physical health. We would love to hear anything that may have helped you in your struggle to make it happen.