Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer – Matthew Walker
We’re learning so much more about sleep and what it means when get less sleep. According to Matthew Walker from the book ‘Why we Sleep’, we know that someone who is super sleep deprived is more at risk of having a car accident than someone that has consumed alcohol or drugs. Sleep deprivation in those early months as a parent can be super tough and we wanted to share some sleep training tips for your baby so you can also get a good night’s rest.
Sleep is an integral part of human life and creating a healthy sleeping program from a young age is a great way to get your baby into a routine by getting a good amount of rest each day. We found with our twin boys that when they don’t get enough sleep, they will be grumpy and tired throughout the day. In other words hard work as a parent! We’re big advocates of developing a sleep routine as it’s important for your own sanity so you can catch up some much needed sleep while it creates a routine which they will carry through their childhood into their adulthood.
What is Sleep Training?
Sleep training is helping your baby learn how to fall and stay asleep independently.
While everyone’s approach to sleep training will differ (as we discuss further down below), we recommend taking a moderate approach which takes into account what type of baby you have and what you think, as the parent, will work best for your baby based on trends and themes. So please, trust your judgement instead of reading online about what your favourite baby influencer used to help get their baby into a sleep routine.
There’s a range of reasons to why getting your baby into a sleep routine is a great idea. In fact, we’re big advocates of it and think all parents should have their baby in a sleep routine even if just for their own sanity! Here’s some benefits of sleep training:
- Teaches the baby independence from a young age
- Helps the baby to get used to and enjoy sleeping on their own
- Trains the baby on how to self settle if they wake up during the night
- Finally and one of the most important reasons – it means you can get a full night’s rest and be operating at 100%
Negatives of Sleep Training
Although not everyone is for sleep routines so we’ve tried to create a list of negatives against sleep training your baby. Here’s what we came up with:
- Sleep training may take a while before your baby gets accustomed to the new routine, and this can bring frustration to both the baby and the parents
- New parents may feel guilty for leaving their children, especially if the child cries after leaving them. Many babies are taught to sleep training on a regular basis. Just know the signs to look out for when you are trying to train your baby to have a good nights sleep. Is their cry escalating? Are they sitting up right and trying to get out of the cot? Have they soiled their nappy and are uncomfortable? These are all signs you may need to intervene and help them out.
What’s the Right Age for Sleep Training?
Sleep training can start when the baby from around the 4-6 month mark which coincides with them beginning developing a regular sleep-wake cycle. At this age we begin to see babies becoming ready to learn the skill of falling asleep on their own (or self settling as its known). While it can take a lot of work and effort, they will get there eventually.
As your baby gets older, getting them into a sleep routine only becomes easier as they able to sleep for long periods at night due to dropping some of their night feedings. We have to be careful here and say that this is quite general and every baby is different with their night time feeds. You may find your child drops their night time feeds later which may result in their sleep training kicking off a bit later. Try not to compare your baby to others as everyone is different and your baby may have early teething or other development spikes which you may not realise at the time.
Different Types of Sleep Training
Sleep training is quite contentious amongst parents with some people strongly favouring some methods more than others. We don’t judge and have tried to keep things neutral for the purpose of this article by sharing all the main techniques people use. Have a read and try find works best for you and your parenting style.
Check and comfort/Ferber Method/Progressive Waiting
This technique works by you checking on your baby at interval but avoiding feeding and rocking them to sleep. The key with this technique is for them not to be reliant on you to help them fall asleep.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the Ferber Method, we’d recommend Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber.
Cry it out
As the name suggests, the cry it out method (also known as the extinction sleep training method) works by leaving your baby to cry it out until they fall asleep by self settling themselves. We need to add a big caveat around this one. This technique relies on you understanding what the different cries of your child makes. This technique recommends avoiding those cries which are generally just your baby a bit of noise to settle but recommends going in and comfort them if their crying escalates to the point that they are worked up or need some support.
Opponents to this technique argue that it causes long-term damage to the child while supporters of the approach argue the opposite and that it doesn’t affect how your child will eventually be.
NPR have written an interesting article looking at the research with arguments for and against crying it out. We’d recommend a read!
In terms of good reads on this topic, we’d also recommend Tizzie Halls book ‘Save our Sleep’ which uses part of the crying it out method.
This technique works by placing a chair near your babies cot and sitting in the chair until your baby falls asleep. If they wake up, resume your position in the chair until they fall asleep and then leave the room. This technique can be tough as you’re physically there watching them cry which may only work them up even more.
Pick up, put down, comfort
This is one of the less extreme options out there and relies on you to stick around after putting your baby to bed by patting and shooshing to help comfort them.
Critics of this technique note that it can take longer to get in place into a proper routine due to the model being a more soft approach compared to the no cry method which is a bit more abrupt in its ways.
This works by gently phasing out a sleep routine to the point that they are not dependent on anything to get them to sleep (e.g. you sitting on a chair by their bed). This technique is normally hard initially and you may find you’ll go through phases of different sleep training techniques (e.g. controlled crying) until you get there.
Preparing your Baby for Sleep Training
After reading the above, you’ve decided on a sleep routine that makes the most sense for your parenting style and you’re ready to read up more and implement. But how do best prepare your baby for transitioning them into a sleep routine? Here’s some tips on preparing your baby for sleep training:
- Introduce a bedtime routine – You can start this when the baby is as young as a new born, but you can still introduce it when they are much older. Sleep routines can vary but may include a warm bath, reading a book, telling a bedtime story, or singing a lullaby before putting the baby to sleep. A set bedtime routine gets the baby’s brain and body in sleep mode. We don’t think it’s ever too late to create a sleep routine. In fact, I’ve just started doing relaxing stretching before I jump into bed to slow down before my head hits the pillow.
- Ensure also that they sleep in the same place every night. Let them know that their bedroom and crib indicate bedtime. While it can be hard during the day, ensure the room is always the same in terms of light and temperature. We recommend block out blinds if your curtains are letting a lot of light in during the day.
- Consistent bedtime- Pick a constant time that you put your baby down to sleep. From our experience, we opted for 7pm and have used this time since the boys were around 6 months old. We’ll look to increase this over time as they become older. Ensure that you slow things for the baby an hour before bedtime by bathing them, reading to them and reducing play time/exposure to lights (e.g. TV’s, iPad, etc).
- Patience – This isn’t really a tip for your baby but more so for you. Getting a sleep plan in place can be hard and it takes time. You’ll have your moments where it might feel impossible and you’re not making any process and you should change to another style. Stay strong as you’ll get there eventually.
7 Tips to Get Your Baby to Sleep For Longer Hours at Night
Regardless of what type of sleep training technique you choose, we’ve created a list of some actionable tips from our experience of getting our twins to become great sleepers. These include:
- Ensure they don’t miss meals during the day: Encourage your child to eat as much as possible and fill their tummy during the day. This will help them to learn that day time is for eating and night time is for sleeping. While also means they’ll goto bed with a full tummy and not wake up feeling hungry in the middle of the night.
- Don’t respond too fast to crying: Babies wake up periodically during the night, but that does not mean that you should pick them up every time they scream. Wait for while before going to pick them to ensure that they are actually crying. Sometimes, they are just whimpering in their sleep and will go back to sleep immediately. We find putting a timer on for 10-15 minutes while listening closely to their cry to make sure they aren’t working themselves up.
- Schedule an early bedtime: When your child becomes overtired, they may find it difficult to fall asleep, and when they eventually do, they may struggle to fall asleep. They may also wake up very early, making you have sleepless nights as well. Earlier bedtimes, like 7:00 pm, will help them sleep better and for longer. If you see signs that they are starting to crash before your designated time (like 10-15 minutes before), get them into bed as they’re likely about to enter a sleep cycle.
- Make them understand the difference: Teach your baby to understand the difference between day time and night time. You can do this by opening the curtains in the morning and taking them outside during the day. Keep his night time environment dark and quiet and let him understand that it is time to sleep.
- Put them to bed feeling fresh: We bath our boys and put them into a fresh set of pyjamas with new nappies just as we’re about to put them to bed. We leave it to the last minute just in case they soil their nappy after we’ve bathed them. This means they go to bed feeling clean and fresh which is important.
- Comfort them where needed: If your baby is teething or sick and you have them on Panadol, try schedule this just before they’re about to go to bed so the medication will take effect just as they’re trying to settle which will hopefully numb any pain/discomfort.
- Position comforters/pacifiers close by: We use breathable comforters or pacifiers as they’re sometimes known and position these close to the boys body. We find if they wake up during the night unsettled they’ll often grab these and use them to fall back to sleep. If you’re starting out with comforters, we’d recommend putting one in your bed and sleeping with it so it can catch your scent. Your baby will pick up on the scent and get comfort from it.
Thanks for reading this article and making it to the end!
If you’ve read this article and looking for other sleep related activities on our blog, be sure to read the below:
Thanks for reading!
My name’s Alex and I’m a husband, dad to beautiful identical twin boys, cyclist, photographer and connoisseur of great coffee!
Help I’m Having Twins has been created for me to share what I found useful as a new parent and dad to twins.