Are you struggling to get your little one to sleep? Do they go down easily some days but on others you feel like you need the skills of a magician and the patience of a saint to achieve the same thing?
I feel you Mumma! I’ve been there too. For me, trying to get my second daughter to sleep—never mind stay asleep for any period of time—felt like a very sensitively tuned balancing act.
I want to help you fast-track getting your little one back to sleep.
Let’s take a look at 4 of the most common reasons why your little one might not be sleeping well. Better yet, let’s see how we take these reasons and work them in your little one’s favour from a holistic perspective.
1. Your little one is overtired
If your baby has been awake for too long, their little body will start to have a chemical reaction caused by their lack of sleep. This means they start to produce excess cortisol (a stress hormone) that in turn converts to adrenaline. Now, imagine you were trying to fall asleep while you were in the middle of a ‘fight or flight’ mode experience. That’s exactly the state your little one gets into when they’re overtired, which is why overtired babies are incredibly difficult to get to sleep.
To make matters worse, even when you do eventually get them to close their eyes, your little one will still wake shortly after their sleep cycle because their body has effectively been tipped over the edge and it will take some time and patience to get them back on track.
The best way to deal with overtiredness is to avoid it in the first place. Get your little one into a healthy sleep routine with age appropriate awake times and stick with it as much as.
Download my nap routines guide to help you develop a healthy sleep routine.
2. Your little one is undertired
Say what? Weren’t we just talking about how easily your little one can get overtired?
Well, yes! But your little one being undertired is also a contributing factor to them being able to sleep – although it is the less likely of the two, especially in younger babies.
Let’s talk sleep pressure. In order to sleep or nap, your little one needs to build up the right amount of sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is the brain’s desire for sleep, and it builds throughout the day. The longer your little one is awake, the more sleep pressure they’ll experience.
If your little one is undertired (i.e. they haven’t built up enough sleep pressure), they are likely to take a while to settle. They may be smiling, rolling around, or just having a good old chat with you instead of falling asleep. Or, they may settle easily for their nap but then wake again after only 40-45 minutes, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and almost impossible to re-settle.
To make sure your little one is getting enough awake time to avoid being undertired, here’s what to aim for as they grow:
Birth to 3 months
At this age you can aim for your little to have around 3-5 naps each day, spaced around 1-1.5 hours apart. Your little one will nap for a total of approximately 4-5 hours during the day and 11-12 hours overnight (broken for feeds).
Your 3-6-month-old will need around 3 naps throughout the day, totalling around 3-3.5 hours. Their awake times will be increasing towards 2-2.5 hours between each nap. They’ll continue to need 11-12 hours of sleep overnight (broken for feeds).
At this age your little one will drop towards having two naps (around 7-8 months) a day, and they’ll now need to be awake for anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours. The great news is, once you settle into this two-nap pattern, you’ll be able to stay there for a significant period of time (until they’re around 15-18 months of age).
3. Are they hungry?
Your little one won’t sleep well at all if they’re hungry. To rule hunger out from the equation, feed breast or bottle-fed babies on demand or at least every 3-4 hours during the day to make sure they’re getting enough calories during the day to sustain them for the longer stretches of sleep overnight. If your little one is established on solids (usually between 6-9 months of age), make sure they’re eating plenty of complex carbohydrates and protein. You can then expect your little one to reduce their night feeds or even wean off of them completely.
4. Sleep environment – the trilogy
There are three key considerations for your little one’s sleep environment – darkness, temperature, and white noise.
Give your little one a dark sleep space
I always recommend a nice dark sleep space for babies from three weeks of age. By putting your little one down for their naps and longer sleeps in a dark space, you’ll be helping them to settle into healthy sleep cycles at an early age.
When your little one’s in a dark sleep space, their body will release melatonin – the sleepy hormone. If the room has too much light, it will trigger your little one’s body to wake up fully at the end of a sleep cycle, meaning they’re more likely to get up and play rather than re-settle into their next sleep cycle.
Hint: Block out blinds or curtains will be your best friend, especially over the long summer months.
Make sure the room temperature is just right
Temperature can also play a role in your little one’s sleep. Children under 18 months of age cannot self-regulate their body temperature and so they rely on us to dress them appropriately and keep the room at a steady temperature. I recommended keeping your little one’s room at 18-20ﹾ over winter and at 20-24ﹾ over summer.
Use white noise
The final piece of the sleep environment trilogy is white noise. White noise acts as an additional buffer for your little one from the outside world. Why do they need buffering when they’re trying to sleep? Well, perhaps you have a noisy neighbour hammering away in their backyard or roadworks going on down the street? Or maybe there’s an older sibling in the house who, with their impeccable timing, suddenly start making noise when you’re trying to settle the baby for their nap?
White noise is non-addictive and can be played safely for all naps and overnight sleeps at around 50-60 decibels. When you’re ready to wean your little one off the white noise, just start turning it down and eventually off over the period of about one week.
Article written by Kelly Martin - Sleep Consultant - Check out her website here!