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Sisterly Advice

10 Things You Can Do Tonight

Making lasting changes to sleep habits typically takes around two weeks for infants (closer to four weeks for toddlers), but there are several things you can do TONIGHT to get started.

  1. Formalize Your Bedtime Routine. You don’t have to engrave it, but do write down all the steps of your bedtime ritual. That way, no matter who is putting your darling to bed at night, he can follow the same steps in the same order. Going through the familiar steps will actually signal to baby’s body that it’s time for bed.
  2. Make a Plan. Often, we make choices in the middle of the night that we wish we hadn’t in the light of day. So plan ahead. Decide now who is “on duty” to respond to your baby’s cries overnight. When will you feed? How will you soothe? How long will you wait? While you are well-rested, answer those questions and write them down. Then when baby cries at 2am, you don’t have to think; you just have to follow your plan.
  3. Turn Off Screens One Hour Before Bed. Even if your baby is too young to be watching TV or playing on the iPad, it’s still a good idea to have all those electronics off at least an hour before baby’s bedtime. Electronics emit blue light, which studies show can delay the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy.
  4. Make it Dark. Even before saying “good night” to your little on, dim or turn off the lights in any rooms your baby is in before bedtime. Even though it may still be light outside, making our environment dark is another powerful signal to the body that it’s time to relax for sleep. In the bedroom, do make the room as dark as possible – it will help baby sleep better.
  5. Start Before Baby is Tired. Missed timing is a big contributor to baby sleep struggles. If you are waiting for signs from your child that he’s tired, you are likely missing the ideal timing. Babies fall asleep most easily before they are so tired they are making signs like yawning or eye rubbing. Keep your bedtime routine relatively short, but start well before you see sleepy signs. Just because baby doesn’t look tired, doesn’t mean she isn’t or that she won’t be able to fall asleep.
  6. Use White Noise. White noise is a great tool if you use it correctly. The noise is a powerful sleep association when used consistently. Select a sound that has no pattern. Keep it on the entire sleep period. Have the noise at about conversational level (50 decibels is recommended max) and keep the machine/iPod/fan away from baby’s head.
  7. Encourage Self-Soothing. In order for your baby to sleep long stretches, she needs self-soothing skills to help her settle back to sleep in between sleep cycles. Encourage your baby to develop these skills by offering a pacifier or fingers for sucking, a lovey to snuggle once your doctor OKs it, a swaddle to provide that comforting “hug” when you aren’t there. Practice is the best way for baby to develp the skill of self-soothing.
  8. Turn Down the Thermostat. We all sleep best in cooler environments, so keep baby’s room between 68-72 degrees.
  9. Turn Off Your Monitor. If you can, give yourself a break from the monitor one night. Babies make lots of noises when they sleep. Not all of them require your intervention, but if you are listening for every peep on the monitor or watching it like it’s your favorite TV show, you won’t get any sleep. If your baby really cries and you can hear it without the monitor, go ahead and turn it off when you head to bed yourself.
  10. Allow Your Child to Become an Independent Sleeper. You wouldn’t swoop in and pick up your baby the moment he takes his first step, would you? Just as you’d wait and watch his first steps, take a step back and wait and watch as he learns to sleep independently. Give him a chance to show you how he’s growing and mastering this amazing new skill. If you are currently doing a lot to help your child fall asleep (and he’s more than 3 months old), tonight, try to do one less thing and see how it goes. If you hold and rock, tonight try just holding. Your baby may surprise you!

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