It’s a wonderful night. You’ve finally put your little monster to sleep. You'll finally get some rest now right? Wrong. Your child wakes up again and starts fussing. You have to get up and put them to sleep again. And again. And before you know it, the sun’s rising.
Night wakings. The absolute bane of a parent’s good night sleep. But what if I told you that night waking is completely normal? People naturally wake up several times throughout the night, as we transition between stages of sleep. The issue here is that your child is not settling themselves back to sleep.
So what can you do to help? Here are some tips and tricks to help you get started.
Set up a bedtime routine. As mentioned in my previous blog post, create a consistent bedtime routine. You can set up a “quiet time” with your child to help them relax, and keep them away from electronics. Children should also wake up and go to sleep at consistent times.
Keep the bedroom environment fit for sleeping. Make sure the room is quiet, calm and cool enough for sleeping. If your child is afraid of the dark, you can put on a red night light for them. A white noise machine is recommended because it can reduce the amount of time it takes for babies and young children to sleep. White noise will help create essentially a “blanket of sound” that helps reduce the impact of loud noises.
Put your child to sleep when they are getting sleepy but still awake. This helps your child learn to fall asleep independently. If you are worried about your child, you could sit by their bed for the first few nights and then sit further away each night until you are finally out of the room.
If your child wakes up crying, you can go in and briefly comfort them. Briefly reassure them, but don’t let them fall asleep while you’re comforting them.
Don’t over-intervene. If you OVER-comfort your child, you may raise the chances of continued sleep challenges down the road.
Help your child stay in bed. Review the expectation of your child staying in bed throughout the day. By building a habit of sleeping in a specific place, your child will fall asleep easier.
If they successfully stay in their bed the entire night, give them praise to encourage this behavior. Try not to give rewards, because we want to make sure your kids are intrinsically motivated to go to sleep. By giving your child rewards when they go to sleep, they will continue relying on the rewards for motivation. This can make it hard for your child to practice independent sleep.
Try not to feed your child any food or drinks too close to bedtime. Some foods, like chocolate, have caffeine in them, which could prevent your child from sleeping through the night.
Introduce your child (12m+) to a security object. Try offering your child a transitional/love object. They can help your child feel more secure when they sleep in your absence. Remember that there should be no blankets or stuffies in the crib until they are 12 months of age.
Use a pacifier. You can use a pacifier to soothe your child into sleeping. From a young age, babies learn to fall asleep while doing the sucking motion during feeding. However, don’t over rely on it. When your child’s pacifier falls out, it can be a reason why they wake up in the middle of the night.
But sometimes the issue lies somewhere else. Your child can be waking up at night for a multitude of reasons.
For one, babies go through developmental milestones as they grow. These can drastically affect your babies’ sleep. At 4 months old, children develop their adult sleep cycles, leading to awakenings throughout the night. When your child learns a new skill, such as rolling, sitting and standing in the cribs, it can lead to what is known as a sleep regression. The main reason behind your baby’s waking during the night is because they are practicing these skills at night and if they get stuck, they’ll get distressed and wake up. You can help your child by assisting them directly at first if they’re stuck. Then you can transition to encouraging them to do these skills on their own, eventually fading away your response all together so your child can sleep independently. Help your child practice during the day. This can help reduce the amount of responses at night and tire them out.
Mental milestones can also be a reason why your child wakes up multiple times throughout the night. At around 6 months and 9 months respectively, children will learn to become more independent and aware of their surroundings. In the case of 6 month olds, they’ll start babbling more. At 9 months old, your baby can become more sensitive to separation anxiety because of all their physical and mental growth. All of these factors can affect your child’s sleeping habits and cause night wakings.
Teething is also a reason for many night wakings in children. If teething is a reason your child is not sleeping, please consult with a pediatrician to see what you can do to help alleviate their pain.
Children are prone to infections! Starting at around 6 months of age, they will put anything in their mouth, subjecting them to various germs that linger around the house. These germs can cause colds and other illnesses which can lead to a baby waking up in the middle of the night due to congestion or coughing. Other symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea all can cause night wakings as well. If you are sleep training during this time, put it on hold for a bit until your baby has recovered. Try not to regress to old habits and resume sleep training after your baby is well enough to do so.
Last but not least, some kiddos are just stubborn. There’s a reason why we’re called Little Monster Sleep Solutions. We can help you help them become independent sleepers with good sleep habits.