There are different approaches to help babies sleep but the two approaches that stand out the most are on the opposite ends – you either leave your baby to cry it out alone or you continue to wait it out until your baby is sleeping through the night on their own. This second method usually involves lots of soothing from a parent such as nursing or rocking all the way to sleep and back to sleep after every wakings.
In my 5 years experience as a baby sleep coach, there are MANY ways to sleep. Some are less ideal ways than others, but then again, there is no PERFECT way to go to sleep.
So my philosophy or approach to sleep is, yes there will be some crying involved especially when you’re trying to change an entrenched sleep habits but you don’t have to leave your baby or child crying alone in the name of independent sleep. I believe in meeting the emotional needs of the baby first and foremost before deciding which approach to use and stick to consistently.
What makes good sleep then?
Secure attachment and emotional wellbeing
To me, this is the number 1 important thing for good sleep to occur. When a child feels connected, safe and secure, it is much easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep longer in the night.
Secure attachment does not mean baby is literally attached to our hip all day long. It means that when small babies get soothed and responded to accurately and promptly in the first few months, this builds a sense of trust in the parent/caregiver and over time, this develops into a healthy attachment.
Babies who feel safe and secure to their primary caregiver, will feel more relaxed and become more independent as they grow.
This secure attachment helps baby to know that no matter what changes are implemented, they can count on the parent to keep them safe.
Feeling safe is one of the factors that help babies fall asleep quickly.
Age appropriate sleep schedule
When I say schedule, it doesn’t mean that you need to put your baby on a rigid and robotic schedule. Babies are just like us but with different sleep needs. They need a lot more sleep and their forming circadian rhythm helps us as parents to determine when they’re ready for sleep.
Newborns’ sleep needs are far different than a 7 months old sleep needs.
With a schedule (and I really mean schedule as a guide), we can be certain not to allow babies to go into a state of over tiredness and not to put baby down for sleep when they are undertired.
There is science behind the sleep needs for babies of different ages.
In a nutshell, a schedule helps a baby to regulate the sleep pressure by carefully watching their optimum period of wakefulness or I like to call it wake windows.
Too short wake window = short naps
Too long wake window = over tiredness, long waking 1-2 hours in the middle of the night and early rising (waking at 5am ready to start the day)
Depending on the family’s lifestyle and the baby’s caregiving arrangement, certain parts of the sleep may need to be capped to protect naps and/or bedtime.
You’ll be surprised to hear that many babies go to sleep without a consistent bedtime routine.
Why is it so important?
Bedtime routine sets the expectation for how the child is to fall asleep. A baby who puts herself to sleep at bedtime with minimal help from her parents would most likely be able to put herself back to sleep when she wakes in the night;
bedtime routine helps parent and baby to slow down and highly connect;
bedtime is the best place to change/improve sleep habits,
bedtime routine acts like a bridge from a busy day to letting go of concsiousness into sleep,
bedtime routine acts as a strong signal to the baby or child that it’s sleepy time, a soothing and happy bedtime routine helps the child to look forward to going to sleep.
In fact bedtime is so significant that research shows if you work on bedtime skills alone, you have a 50% or better chance that sleep will improve through the entire night.
While these three things make good sleep, there are many other factors you need to consider to help your child get better sleep. Check out our baby sleep guide according to your baby’s age.