There is so much information out there - often it is just all so overwhelming for parents. We can all read "at 5 months of age your baby will need 3 naps a day of xx in length" but putting this into practice is a whole other story. Babies are not robots and there will always be days where they nap beautifully and days when they do not...parents often tell me, "My baby napped so well one day so I did EXACTLY what I had done the day before the next day and it did not work."
Looking at your child's day in a 24-hour lense is important.
We need to look at their day sleep and night sleep together as they are deeply intertwined. Some babies that catnap in the daytime still sleep well at night but long-term this eventually leads to problems.
There are a few things that you can help to promote better napping.
1. ENSURE THE SLEEP ENVIRONMENT IS CONDUCIVE FOR GOOD SLEEP
If the environment is bright, stimulating and not conducive for sleep why would your baby want to sleep? There is too much to look at and they will want to play instead of shut those little eyes. Even dots on wallpaper will be interesting to your baby. Make sure the room is dark, there are no distractions and definitely not cot mobiles! White noise is also great for those under one as it blocks out any outside noises and provides a calming and relaxing sound for your baby to fall asleep to.
2. THE TIME OF DAY THAT YOUR BABY NAPS IS IMPORTANT
Your baby has biological sleep windows that occur between 9am and 10am in the morning and again between 12pm and 2pm in the afternoon. This is where the hormone melatonin (responsible for sleep) rises and the body temperature lowers, which makes it easier for your baby to settle and go to sleep as their body is ready for it.
You also need to ensure that your baby is not under tired or overtired - both lead to catnapping. Has your baby had the correct amount of awake time for their age? Have they had enough stimulation during their awake time?
Some ideas of things to do with your baby during awake time are:
(All of these activities were taken from the "Babysparks" app - I absolutely love this app! It has activities for ages 0-24 months)
3. GENTLY WORKING WITH YOUR BABY SO THAT THEY CAN SELF-SETTLE BY 4 MONTHS OF AGE
A newborn is developmentally incapable of self-settling. As they get closer to the 3 month mark you can back off the amount of assistance needed to go to sleep very gradually so that by 4 months they are settling to sleep themselves. 4 months is when a huge regression occurs and the 45 minute sleep cycles become very evident. If you baby has not learnt how to go to sleep by this age they are more likely to catnap as they wake at the end of every sleep cycle unsure of how to get themselves back to sleep.
Napping at the same times everyday ensures that your baby's circadian rhythm is in check. Their little body will learn to expect sleep at a certain time and even the amount of sleep they get at these times. For example, they may have a shorter sleep in the morning and a longer sleep at their lunchtime nap.
Routine has the ability to restore predictability and consistency to your day.
You no longer have to look out for tired signs (sometimes these happen to early or too late) as you know exactly what time your baby will be going down for their naps. It is important that by 3 months of age you start respecting your baby's need for sleep and stop "napping on the go." If they are napping out and about and not getting good chunks of long, consolidate sleep they will never learn to sleep well and they will end up becoming very overtired. Movement sleep in a pram or in the car is not as restorative as a sleep in their cot.
Age: 5 months
Settling method: Feed to sleep
Arlo was a dream baby in the first four months of his life. He would feed to sleep easily and mum could put him down in the cot where he would happily sleep. Overnight he was an absolute dream waking once for a feed at around 3am. When Arlo was around four months everything changed - he started catnapping during the day sometimes sleeping for as little as 20 minutes at a time! This led to him starting to wake more and more frequently during the night and by the time he was 5 months old he was waking every two hours. Mum was exhausted and resorted to feeding him back to sleep every time he woke as he just would not settle without being breastfed. Arlo was often brought in to her bed at around 4am and mum was absolutely exhausted and just needed some sleep!
Cheryl found my Facebook Page and contacted me to get some help. After a chat with Cheryl she was happy to go ahead and book the four hour evening home consultation as she wanted hands on guidance.
After going through the sleep plan I had set out for Arlo (based on information in his sleep intake form), we implemented some changes.
Things that we worked on - nap timings, sleep associations, sleep environment, awake windows and a wind down/bedtime routine. Cheryl wanted to use a gentle method so we worked together with one of my in-room techniques that incorporated breastfeeding to soothe Arlo. Cheryl was able to calm and comfort Arlo by putting him on the breast but he was not to fall asleep on the breast as we were aiming to remove the feed to sleep association.
It took Arlo two days to stop needing the breast for comfort and after another week he was falling asleep with mum sitting next to his cot. After two weeks he was falling asleep all on his own! His naps took a good three weeks to consolidate but he got there! Mum was amazing and was so consistent and that is why it worked!
The 4 month sleep regression will affect some babies and not others. It is a developmental period that all babies will pass through. This development means that a baby's sleep cycles will start becoming more like and adults and they can start waking between each sleep cycle (around 45-50 minutes) and if they do not know how to get back to sleep themselves they will wake looking for help. Around this age parents really need to start respecting their baby's need for sleep (as they would food) and this often means putting a stop to napping on the go. Overtired babies do not sleep well and napping on the go most often leads to catnapping and then overnight waking.
To make positive changes to your child's sleep, take a look at my sleep packages where I outline everything in detail!
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons
tips for better sleep...
A DARK ROOM
Have you ever tried to sleep in a very light room? It's near impossible - it's amazing what a difference just closing some shutters or blinds will make. For babies a dark room is comforting as it takes away all stimulation that will prevent them from sleep. A dark room also helps in production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is only produced in the dark. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Levels of this hormone vary in 24 hour cycles and are controlled by our body clock. It's production is reduced by being in bright light. Having a black out blind that makes the room DARK will pay dividends for your baby's sleep. It will help naps during the day as a dark room will help your baby to link sleep cycles more easily and will prevent any early morning wake-ups - particularly in summer. Who wants a baby that wakes between 4:30am and 5:00am? It is also really helpful when you need to put your baby to bed and the sun is still shining outside - especially important for those who have daylight savings time!
White noise is calming and relaxing for babies. It helps them to focus on one thing if they are overtired or overstimulated. Some toys and loveys play white noise, which is great but most only play it for 30 minutes. To be effective white noise needs to be played for the duration of all naps and all night. The best volume for white noise is 65dB - around the sound of a running shower. White noise also eliminates outside sounds that may wake your baby up - for example, early morning rubbish trucks and loud birds. If you have an older child in the house it will also mean that they do not have to be quiet every time your baby is napping.
HAVE THEY HAD TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE AWAKE TIME?
Babies can be both overtired and under tired - either of these scenarios will mean they are very hard to settle. Under tiredness leads to poor naps and over tiredness leads to night waking. Babies are constantly developing meaning before the age of 6 months, their awake time changes constantly!
This can be a simple thing to add to help your baby on the road to a restful night's sleep. It is an object that becomes emotionally comforting for your baby and they really learn to love it as the years go on. You can introduce a lovey between the ages of 4 and 6 months - this gives your baby plenty of time to become attached! When introducing it, make it smell like mum! Wear it down your top and sleep with it down your top for a few nights so that your smell is transferred. To make your baby's lovey a comfort object and differentiate it from a toy, it's important to reserve the lovey for sleep and/or feeding time (milk). I highly recommend buying 3 of the same and swap them over regularly so that your baby cannot tell the difference. This really helps if one gets lost. Babies are sensitive to changes in texture and smell so there will be less chance of a protest if all loveys have been equally adored.
A swaddle will be extremely comforting to your baby and I suggest that you keep your baby swaddled until 16 weeks. The only reason for un swaddling before then would be because they are starting to roll. Swaddling makes your baby feel like they are in the womb - they are confined and comforted. It will also eliminate the chance of them waking themselves up due to the Moro (startle) reflex.
Once your baby is ready to be weaned off the swaddle you can transition to a good-quality tog-rated sleeping bag, which becomes such a wonderful, positive sleep association. Use a sleeping bag for all naps and overnight. Sleeping bags ensure that your baby is not too hot or too cold. Most sleeping bags come with a temperature and clothing layer chart. Check the temperature of your room and use the appropriate layers for the temperature under the sleeping bag. The ideal temperature for a baby's room is between 18 and 20 degrees celsius.
Lauryn Stanlake - Infant and Child Sleep Consultant