Baby Sleep Central | Getting Baby to Sleep & Toddler Sleep Training
My name is Amy Douglas, Mother, Certified Child Sleep Consultant, and Newborn Care Specialist. I've been in your situation, and I understand what sleep deprivation is like first-hand. Because of this, I promote gentle methods in which parents can comfort their children through sleep shaping, and have helped hundreds of families with my custom service options.
Did you know that your baby has a specific Wake Time Allowance? It's true! This is essentially the amount of time your child can be awake before requiring another sleep period. One of the most common exhausted sentiments I hear from parents is this: “My baby just won’t sleep”. Surely the baby must be tired, right? Said baby is developing at an accelerated rate, more than any other point in their entire lives, and is comprehending a multitude of new ideas every hour. Simultaneously deciphering your language for the first time, while struggling with their own communication attempts. Not to mention physically pushing themselves to new heights and visually processing new sights. With all of this being said, why isn't baby tired enough to give in and not fight sleep?
Over-tiredness is generally the main culprit here. Sure you've heard that phrase and perhaps have even thrown it around from time to time, but do you understand this concept enough to actually know how to help your little one? To put this in the simplest of terms, have you, yourself, ever felt so tired that you couldn't get to sleep? Perhaps your adrenaline was flowing, your pulse was racing, or your mind was wondering a hundred miles per minute? And you actually KNOW how to sleep, understand the concept, and have a superb grasp of cause and effect, but it still happened regardless.
Our internal systems, even at a very young age are conditioned to wind down and fall asleep after we've depleted our energy. But, if we are forced to go beyond the standard threshold, our tired bodies have but little choice to dip into our reserves. That second wind, while it can be helpful for us at times, is often detrimental to our quantity and quality of sleep. This sudden feeling of renewed energy when we were just struggling to keep our eyes open, is the result of the cortisol hormone coursing through our system. Our body is essentially fighting with extra willpower to muster through and keep plowing ahead, because we have missed our opportunity window for ideal sleep to occur. Babies are not any different in that regard, but there is the added complexity of not being able to tell us how they feel other than to disconnect with us and/or cry.
This feeling of being tired and ready to sleep, with the addition of the second wind is often confusing for parents to know how to respond. I find this to be especially true when parents are trying their hardest to adhere to a schedule. I understand why they are doing this, and as a parent myself, I know that doctors, sleep experts, and most books and websites suggest scheduling at a very young age. This works – until it doesn’t. Just as we, adults, try to keep to a schedule, there are still certain days when we are hungrier, more tired, and/or have more or less energy than what is standard. Sometimes it is the result of us doing something different to produce these outcomes, and other times we may not be able to put a finger on why we feel out of sorts. All of this may in turn, alter our day’s events depending on how we feel (better or worse).
I suggest to rather use the Wake Time Allowance Chart posted above, at least for the first year of growth. I find this much more important than sticking to a rigid timed schedule. At this point, a schedule to your baby should mean: I wake up every day in my bed, then I eat, play, and nap again. Then we sometimes go somewhere, sometimes not, and I do it all again. This is excellent and enough predictability for your little one. A key mistake (hate to use that word) parents often make is the timing of the first nap, which can derail the entire day. For example, a 6-month old baby will very likely be ready for his first nap, just 2 hours after waking for the day. Many parents find this alarming at first, because their child just slept a full 11 hours, but if you test the theory and put your baby down around this time, it is generally optimal for this age and they will fall asleep quickly. Here is where the issue lies – a baby may truly wake at 6am, and stir and coo contently, so in this scenario the child is not retrieved (physically UP) until closer to 6:30am or even later. Therefore, the parents often grab the child at 6:30am and start their mental nap clock then, instead of the true time baby awoke, which was 6:00am. We should still count that wake time into the equation. The same can be said for all of baby’s naps.
You can then use the Wake Time Allowance Chart and keep the 2 hour suggested time in your head as a guideline, but nothing more than that. It is most important to observe your baby and look for signs of tiredness. Is he yawning, looking past you (and not at you), and rubbing his eyes only an hour and a half after being awake? That’s go time. If you miss the sleep window, that is exactly how overtiredness occurs. No need to put added pressure on yourself, just begin really observing your baby’s behavior and any visual cues once it is closer to naptime. After you get into a good rhythm and your baby is sleeping well night after night, and nap after nap, you will find this second nature and it will start to take very little detective work.
Please note: While babies and toddlers will sometimes fall asleep before the start of the minimum Wake Time Allowance range (which is fine), it is important that they do not exceed the maximum allowance in the range. Staying within this range is the sleep spot. The range is particularly helpful the first year of your baby's life as the first nap of the day will usually be on the shorter end of the range, and the subsequent sleep periods until bedtime will fall closer to the max).
More information on Scheduling in the Sleep NEEDS Course! Check it out!