Build a Good Sleep Foundation
No matter which sleep coaching method is the best fit for you and your child there are things that you will want to do to build a good sleep foundation to set yourselves up for success.
There is, as I am sure you know, a lot of information out there on sleep, sleep methods, which is the best, which it the worst etc. The truth is all of the sleep coaching/training methods fall into one of three categories - Extinction (aka Cry It Out), Modified Extinction (Ferber’s method or Timed checks), or Parental Fading (the Shuffle for example). Opinions about which one is best are like belly buttons - everybody has one and some people love to share theirs with great enthusiasm and conviction. I will go into the different methods in another post.
For now let’s talk about what you can put in place before you even begin more structured coaching that will help set you up for success.
The ideal sleep environment is between 68-72 degrees, quiet, dark and above all safe and appropriate for your child.
A white noise machine can be very helpful. Put it across the room from the baby, it shouldn’t be loud. You can download an app and do a decibel test near where your baby is sleeping ~ 50-55dB is the range you are looking for (similar to a quiet dishwasher or conversation)
For tiny babies who are not yet rolling over a swaddle sleep sack that allows you to swaddle them with their hands and arms midline so they can put their hands to their mouth helps them to feel secure and decreases their startle response. Once they start rolling you want to
swaddle them with their arms free (you can take out one arm at a time to help them adjust) and they can transition into a sleep sack without the swaddle wings. Some babies don’t like being swaddled even in the early days - follow their lead.
Pre sleep routine for naps and bedtime:
It doesn’t need to be elaborate. ~ 15 minutes before naps and 30 minutes before bedtime to provide some wind down time and provide them with a predictable routine so they know what is coming next. Doing this consistently will cue their body and mind to prepare to sleep. When they are less than 6 months old you do not need to worry about forming bad sleep habits!! Do what works to get some sleep for both them and you. As they approach 5-6 months of age separate the last feeding before bed from going into their crib. For example - Bath (at nighttime), feeding, diaper and pajamas, into their sleep sack, and then a short story before going into their bed. (With older infants/children who still have a feeding before bed ~ do the feeding, brush teeth and then the bath). You want to keep realistic expectations for what they are developmentally ready and able to do in terms of getting to sleep at each particular age.
Then there is the unique personality and temperament of each baby to also take into consideration.
Having a fairly consistent sleep schedule keeping naps and bedtime the same time (+/- 30 minutes) will condition their mind and body to be prepared for sleep.
In addition to watching your child for their sleepy cues you want to pay attention to their wake windows (the amount of time in between sleeping sessions) - some little ones hide their sleep cues extremely well and you want to avoid having them become overly tired because that makes it harder for them to fall asleep, stay asleep and even get themselves back to sleep.
Consistent response to wakings that are not meant to be feeding times or time to wake up
This is a very important component of the sleep coaching process. Once you have chosen your method for coaching you want to follow the steps and respond consistently throughout the night &/or the nap depending on how you are approaching your coaching.
For example if you have opted for the extinction method you don’t want to do a couple of nights and then on the
third night go in and take your child out of their bed and rock them til they fall asleep because the crying became too much for you. This is extremely confusing and frustrating for your child.
Inconsistency is the most common cause of poor sleep habits as well as the most common reason attempts at sleep coaching are unsuccessful.
Clear differentiation of “Time to Wake Up!”
There will be times in the sleep coaching process (and even afterwards) that sleep was not achieved for the desired length of time. When it is time for the nap to be over or for the day to begin you want to make a clear distinction from the attempt at sleep. In some circles, this is known as the ‘dramatic wake up’. First, you create a break from the attempting so if you were using time checks or shhhing you would stop, wait a couple minutes without any attempts. If you can control the light from outside the room turn it on before you enter, otherwise turn it on as you enter and make a big deal that it is time to get up because the light is on. By doing this you are creating a cue to wake up just as you have cues it is time to go to sleep. They will get the idea that the nap is over because the light went on and you came in not because they were fussing and crying. Exiting the room and exposing them to natural daylight is helpful as well to establish a good sleep foundation.