“How’s your baby sleeping?” was the question I dreaded THE MOST when I spoke to people. I dreaded it so much because the answer was “not great” and that seemed like an open invitation for unsolicited advice. And this brought up a whole host of unpleasant feelings!
I felt guilty because I wasn’t ‘strong’ enough to sleep train. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t managed to ‘teach’ my little one this essential skill of sleep. I felt confused by the fact that everyone else seemed to have cracked this sleep thing. I felt overwhelmed by the variety of advice. I felt conflicted because my gut was telling me to do something very different to what other people were telling me to do. I felt worried that I was ‘making a rod for my own back.’ But most of all, I just felt exhausted.
And, so, do you know what I did… I lied. I said he was sleeping beautifully (with a big, fake smile plastered on my face) and perpetuated the myth that our babies are broken if they don’t sleep. Well, let me tell you something… YOUR BABY ISN’T BROKEN!
I wish I knew what normal infant sleep looked like back then. It would’ve made me feel a whole lot better about everything! Babies waking frequently at night is normal. It’s biologically normal. Baby wanting to feed during the night? Normal. Baby needing a cuddle to get back to sleep? Normal. Baby waking up at some crazy hour ready for a 2 hour party? Normal. Early rising? Normal. Are you starting to see a pattern here?!
However, there are a few things that you can do to gently encourage more sleep without resorting to sleep training or investing in some industrial strength noise blocking headphones.
- Invest in a red night light
This was a revelation to me. Blue and yellow based nightlights interfere with the levels of melatonin produced in your little one’s body. In simple terms this means that regular night lights tell your baby’s brain that it’s still daytime, so the sleep hormones that make them sleepy stop being produced. Red light doesn’t interfere with melatonin production, so it won’t MAKE your baby sleepy, but it won’t stop them from getting/staying sleepy either. It works for grown ups too!
- Start using alpha music
Alpha music (or any music that is relaxing like rainforest/ocean sounds) is set to the same 60 beats per minute as a resting heart rate, meaning that it’s effective in helping your body to relax. You’ll need to ‘condition’ the music so that your little one associates it with being sleepy. That means, play it softly during the bedtime routine (and preferably all night), when you’re both relaxing, having cuddles and falling asleep. After a few weeks you could start to see a real difference, as your baby hears the music on waking in the night, and is conditioned to feel safe and relaxed while hearing it (and drifts back off to sleep!)
- Establish a bedtime rhythm
This doesn’t have to be a strict routine but little ones find rhythm very comforting and relaxing. If you do the same things at a similar time and order every night, your baby is being psychologically and physiologically prepared for sleep before you turn the lights out. Nothing long or elaborate is necessary, just some cuddles, stories, milk, songs (whatever you enjoy in your family).
- Manage your expectations
Remembering that it’s entirely normal (and desirable) for babies to wake at night really does help to cope. Frequent waking is built into babies – their sleep is much lighter than ours (and their sleep cycles are shorter), which means they’re able to wake easier if they have breathing problems and it is their best defence against a range of physiological challenges. So, your baby is actually likely to be a lot safer if they wake often. It’s also important to remember that babies wake for reasons other than hunger. They can also get lonely, scared or confused – or maybe they just need a cuddle.
- Create a calm environment.
External stimuli can often have a big impact on sleep. Creating a calm atmosphere at home by offering plenty of comfort, cuddles, feeds and interaction can really help. Smells like lavender and chamomile are relaxing and incorporating massage or other loving touch can really ramp up the relaxation, which can definitely help with sleep!
Overall, remember, this time doesn’t last forever and you’ll get through it! Having what feels like no sleep is so tough, so make sure you’re looking after yourself too. Your needs are also vitally important.
If you’d like to know more about any aspect of raising a baby or toddler, I’d love to chat or see you at one of my workshops.
We hope these tips are useful to all parents, but if you want to go a little further then Lauren runs workshops on a regular basis on various things like behaviour, sleep, eating and weaning. Keep an eye out on her Facebook Page for announcements but the next ones are a Weaning Workshop and a Sleep Workshop that you can book on to now.
Read Lauren’s previous blog on FUSSY EATING and look out for her next one on play next week.