As new parents soon learn, if their baby is not sleeping soundly, neither are they. Studies show that up to half of all infants go through night awakenings, which continue throughout the first two years of life. As babies age, these awakenings slowly decrease. However, some tricks in the meantime can help your little one sleep more soundly.
Children as young as seven months may benefit from a consistent bedtime routine, according to research. One study showed that sticking to a 30-minute, three-step routine resulted in significant sleeping improvements for infants and toddlers between seven and 36 months of age.
Not only did the babies fall asleep more quickly, but they woke up fewer times during the night and slept more soundly.
Another study found that a 15-minute bedtime massage with lotion can lead to fewer nighttime awakenings. Parents also reported that their children, from newborn to toddler, slept for longer.
Researchers of another study assigned a 30-minute massage therapy session beginning when the babies were 10 to 14 days old. By 12 weeks, those infants showed significant increases in nocturnal melatonin secretion, which allowed them to adjust their circadian rhythms, or body clocks, at an earlier age.
Several studies link a warm bath at bedtime with sleep improvements. For babies, implementing a soothing bath can be an effective part of the bedtime ritual, providing a calming atmosphere to help them fall asleep easier and sleep more soundly.
Bedtime baths can continue as an ongoing part of the child’s nightly routine as they age.
A dark or very dim room at night helps a baby develop circadian rhythms, an important step in establishing healthy sleep patterns. A brighter room inhibits the development of the hormone melatonin, which regulates the sleep and wake cycles.
Pediatricians recommend exposing newborns to light and noise during the daytime. As the evening hours approach, dim the lights and create calm, peaceful surroundings. Keep the room dark and quiet during nighttime feedings.
Sticking to a baby’s hunger cues rather than a set feeding schedule can improve sleep patterns. Child health experts recommend baby-led feeding, also called responsive feeding, for both bottle-fed and breastfed infants for a variety of reasons, including the establishment of sleep patterns.
In the first few weeks, infants wake every few hours to feed, which is a part of healthy circadian rhythm development. Create a routine of brief, calm, and quiet feeding sessions. Do not play with or stimulate the baby. Over time, the child will adjust and fall back asleep on their own.
For a child to feel sleepy, their cortisol levels must decrease. Lullabies are a proven technique for calming babies.
Pediatricians recommend dimming the lights and playing soft music, tranquil sounds, or using a white noise machine or app to help calm the baby’s senses so that their cortisol levels decrease.
After the last nighttime feeding, spend some time rocking or cuddling the baby. This should be a relaxed time for parent and child, with no distractions. Once the child is sleepy, but before they’ve fallen into a deep sleep, place them in their bed.
This practice teaches them to fall asleep on their own from an early age, which leads to healthier sleep patterns as they get older.
The Cry It Out (CIO) method can teach a child to soothe themselves to sleep and also stay asleep longer, though it is controversial in some circles. A few studies found no adverse effects for allowing a healthy infant to “cry it out,” while other research was inconclusive.
Graduated extinction is one form of the CIO method, where caretakers increase the intervals between comforting the infant. Doctors warn that the child should never be allowed to cry indefinitely because it could cause severe stress and unhealthy outcomes.
Learn more about this method in our article, From No-Cry to Cry-It-Out: Getting Your Baby to Sleep
A milder approach to the CIO method, the Fading method takes more time, but the baby cries less. One approach is for parents to delay bedtime by specific increments each night to determine a time when the baby is tired enough to doze off.
Like graduated extinction, this sleep- training method has been found to effectively decrease sleep latency and the number of times a child awakens during the night.
Not every baby needs 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Researchers say a combination of 12 to 16 hours of nighttime sleep and daytime naps per 24 hours is appropriate for most infants.
Trying to force a 12-hour nighttime schedule can lead to sleep issues, such as split nights, where the baby wakes up in the middle of the night or extremely early the next morning.
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