Ahh sleep training. As a first time mom, before Aria was even born I did all the research. I even wrote out a sleep schedule and posted it on our fridge months before the due date! Little did I know what I was in for!
Aria was colicky and had a scream loud enough to leave your hearing muffled and your ears ringing. She needed to be held and bounced on a bouncy ball constantly or else she would scream at the top of her lungs with no end in sight. My pre-planned sleep schedule certainly was no match for reality, but I still wanted to ease my baby into a healthy sleep routine that would benefit both baby and parents!
Every child is different, but I hope this article is helpful for you as you work on finding the best sleep routine for both you and your baby!
Tip 1: Set a Routine
Even though your baby may still have its days and nights mixed around, it’s never too early to begin implementing a nightly ritual. This doesn’t mean that your baby is necessarily ready to follow it, but by sticking to the same routine consistently, it will eventually become a source of normalcy and comfort to your child- and eventually, make your life a lot easier!
Set a time in the evening that you would like your child to eventually go to bed at. A half hour before that time, keep noise to a minimum and follow a nightly ritual- for Aria, it was bath time, lotion, jammies, and bottle. Once “bedtime” comes, turn the lights off and keep things very quiet. Even if your baby isn’t ready to be laid down for bed alone yet, doing this is preparing it for the environment it will eventually be comfortable falling asleep in by itself. I would turn the lights off at 8 pm and watch Netflix on a low volume while I bounced Aria on the ball. Eventually, we transitioned away from bouncing, but having that routine established made it so much easier!
Once you get to the stage where they are taking naps, having a slightly different routine is helpful so they know the difference between nap time and all night long bed time. For naps with Aria, I simply lay her in her crib and sing her her bedtime song- Somewhere Over the Rainbow- no bath time or bottle.
Tip 2: Timing is Everything
At first Aria had to be bounced constantly. Eventually, I was able to bounce her just to sleep and then lay her carefully down without waking her. After that, she transitioned to falling asleep on her own, without having to be bounced. However, all of these stages happened gradually and only when she was ready. I tried to ditch the bouncy ball many times with no success. I tried laying her down and making her fall asleep again and again and it didn’t work.
The reality is, you can’t make a baby do something before they are ready for it. The good news is, you will know when what you are doing is no longer working and it’s time to move on to the next stage. If your baby sleeps better in your arms or being bounced, then go with it! They won’t do it forever, and if it brings peace and rest for yourself in the meantime, then that is worth it!
I knew it was time to transition Aria to nap and bed times in her pack and play instead of my arms when she was crying for a bit as she fell asleep no matter where she was, the ball wasn’t comforting her like it used to and she was old enough to self soothe. Only you can tell what the signs will be with your own child, but watch carefully and when you feel something isn’t working like is used to, go on to something else that does work.
Tip 3: The 90 Minute Sleep Schedule
This was our saving grace once Aria was old enough to follow it and it has established her sleep routine that lasts to this day!! The 90 minute sleep schedule is a theory based on the sleep cycles of children under a year old. It goes that every 90 minutes, your child’s awake cycle is on the downward end, and they are ready to fall asleep if you provide the proper environment for them to do so. (You can google this and read all about it online!)
Once Aria was ready to fall asleep without the bouncy ball, I would make note of what time she first woke up in the morning. 90 minutes from that time, I would swaddle her, feed her, and lay her down in her crib. At first she cried for a bit, but she always ended up falling asleep. Whenever she woke up, I would make sure to put her down 90 minutes from that time.
I found this routine to prevent her from getting overtired and therefore fighting sleep. Even if she wasn’t acting tired, she always fell asleep and had a nap, even if it was a short one. I especially loved it because it gave me frequent breaks throughout the day as well, which oftentimes I really needed! Aria even started to expect and look forward to her nap times. It was a much needed time for her to reset and re-center herself. She even went through a phase where she would crawl to her pack and play and wait next to it if we were nearing the 90 minute mark! I can’t complain about that!
The 90 minute sleep schedule not only established a great nap time and bed time routine for us, but it also established a good connotation of sleep time for Aria. She loves her crib and she hasn’t fought us on a nap or a bedtime since we started doing it. (This doesn’t mean she doesn’t cry at times, but she is able to self soothe and her crib is a comforting, safe place for her to do that as she works on falling asleep.) As long as we followed her schedule, she had no trouble going to sleep wherever we took her and with whoever was watching her at the time, which was a life saver for us as and allowed us to travel with her and have babysitters with no issue at all!
Tip 4: Stay Strong!
Once your child is old enough to self soothe and it’s time for them to learn how to fall asleep without your help (remember- this is a healthy and important thing for them to do!) then you need to stick to your routine and not budge. Aria knows that we will not come back in that bedroom unless she really needs us, and she will not get out of her crib unless she really needs to. If she is just fussing because she’s tired or fighting sleep, we let her be. If she’s screaming because her leg got stuck in the crib, or her diaper needs changing, obviously we will take care of her and then put her back down immediately. You can still be there for your child and establish that sense of trust and security without enabling them to need you to fall or stay asleep.
Pick a routine and stick to it. Right away, there will be more tears, but if your baby is old enough to self soothe, they will adapt. To this day, although Aria’s routine has changed in some ways, at its core it is almost exactly the same as when we brought her home from the hospital. A half hour before bed we give her a bath, lotion her, put her in her PJ’s and give her a bottle. At 7 pm every night we lay her in her crib and sing her somewhere over the rainbow. Then I kiss her on her forehead and walk out quietly. This is the same as the first day I took her home from the hospital, only I’m laying her down in the crib instead of continuing to bounce her to sleep.
Having a sleep routine for Aria has brought so much peace and stability to our household. It’s given Daniel and I much needed time together in the evenings, and it has resulted in a child that isn’t overtired, doesn’t dread naps and bedtime, and finds comfort and safety in her crib and routine. Although there were ups and downs while transitioning and establishing her sleep routine, I’m so glad we were intentional about it from the very beginning.
I hope his article gave you some good ideas about what things might work to implement into your family and routine! Give yourself grace, be patient, and realize that everything is only a phase! These sleepless nights will pass, and having a set routine should help them pass sooner! I’d love to hear what sleep tips and tricks have worked for your kids and family!