“What am I doing wrong?”
I can recall asking myself that many times when my son wouldn’t sleep the first several months of his life. I would walk, rock and bounce him for what felt like hours at a time. During my many laps around the house, I always wondered, “What can I do to get him more sleep, or get him to sleep longer?”
This question isn’t limited to just new parents.
Sleep does not discriminate on who is blessed with its presence and who isn’t!
I hear from both first-time parents, as well as parents with older children. “How can I get my baby to sleep longer?” is an age-old question.
When thinking about your baby’s sleep, it is important to set realistic expectations that are based on your child’s age. It is unrealistic to think that within the first 16-weeks of life (if baby was born at 40-weeks) he or she will have organized sleep, and that their sleep will be anything but unorganized.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t start building a healthy sleep foundation from Day One.
Here are the two primary keys to getting your baby to sleep longer once they have reached 16-weeks adjusted age:
1.) Teach your child to fall asleep independently, and
2.) Have them on an age-appropriate schedule
LEARNING TO FALL ASLEEP INDEPENDENTLY
Parents often think that teaching their child to learn to fall sleep independently means letting them “Cry It Out” (CIO). In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The most important reason for teaching your child to fall asleep independently is so that when they wake in the middle of the night, or at nap time they can connect their sleep cycles on their own, without assistance. If your child requires you to walk, rock, bounce or feed them in order to fall sleep, they will need you to help them each time they wake from their sleep cycles.
This cycle will need to be repeated over and over and over.
On the flip side, once a child learns to fall asleep independently, they no longer need Mom or Dad’s assistance falling back to sleep. They will have learned the skills needed to connect their sleep cycles, allowing them to sleep longer.
AGE APPROPRIATE SCHEDULE
While learning to fall asleep independently is a key piece to the sleep puzzle, it isn’t the only piece. Even an independent sleeper can and will struggle with sleep if they aren’t on an age-appropriate schedule.
An age-appropriate schedule is two-fold: the correct nap schedule (for more information on that, check out this post here) AND the correct bedtime is both key components. They (day and night schedules) go hand and hand and have a major impact on one another.
Helpful Tip: If your child has been on the wrong schedule, they are likely over-tired and have developed a sleep debt. An early bedtime can help to restore their needed sleep and establish a healthy schedule.
There are many pieces to getting your child to sleep more and sleep longer. A healthy foundation, independent sleep and an age-appropriate schedule work harmoniously together to make your little one a champion sleeper! If you are struggling to with sleep training or need some guidance with schedules, check out my sleep training guide or my age-based guides here.