How to help your baby sleep better at night
By Terrance Matteo, Ph.D.
Many parents quickly discover that “sleeping like a baby” isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be. Sleep issues are one of the most common concerns that parents share with professionals when raising infants and young children.
Studies show that about 25 to 30 percent of children and adults have sleep problems. Despite having a common nature, sleep disturbances should not be ignored, especially in children. Continuous sleep problems can have a detrimental effect on a child’s mood and behavior, often leading to a shift in parent’s mood and behavior.
Most babies are able to sleep through the night by the age of 6 months old. To provide an ideal sleep environment for babies, sleep experts recommend simple solutions to alter their surroundings, and create sleep habits that have the power to likely improve sleep quality. Help initiate healthy sleep habits with your baby beginning at birth by developing a consistent, regular schedule for eating and sleeping. Babies’ brains respond well to patterns. By creating a regular activity pattern during the day and a regular sleep routine before bed, their brains are able to learn and predict what will come next. The regularity of a routine at night helps your child’s brain learn how to anticipate and prepare for sleep.
Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual that requires only two or three steps (e.g., bath, reading a book, relaxing in bed). Set a regular time for sleep and try to be as consistent as possible. Most importantly, end the bedtime ritual with your child in her bed, relaxing without eating, singing, or rocking. Parents are recommended not to stay in the room for more than one or two minutes at the conclusion of the ritual.
An essential component of babies’ sleeping habits is that they have the ability to fall asleep on their own. If your baby cries, it’s appropriate to return to the room, but not to pick up your baby. Parents can stay for about a minute to assure a feeling of safety. All in all, the best thing a parent can do is to help babies’ learn to soothe themselves without the assistance of an adult.
Many literary resources are available for parents who are eager to educate themselves on sleep patterns, including Sleeping through the night: How infants, toddlers, and their parents can get a good night’s sleep by Jodi Mindell, Ph.D. and Happy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Mark Weissbluth, MD. Well-researched books can provide parents with extraordinary insight into the world of babies’ sleep habits.
Each baby is different, some may continuously struggle with sleeping through the night despite parents’ dedicated efforts. After trying various solutions, parents are encouraged to share concerns regarding sleep habits with their child’s pediatrician. There are many reasons for babies to cry at night, your trusted professional will help you evaluate your specific situation. The resolution may be to let your child cry at night until they fall asleep, or may be to tend to a potential health concern. Consulting with a professional will ensure that you and your child receive the best possible advice and care.
For support or questions about the development of young children,
call the Birth to Five Helpline at 877-705-KIDS (5437)
or download the Birth to Five Helpline app!
Terrance Matteo, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist at Southwest Human Development’s Children’s Developmental Center. For more information about the Children’s Developmental Center, please visit swhd.org/cdcenter.
All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.