Michele DiSpirito is the guest author for today’s blog post on SLEEP! Michele is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and is the owner/founder of Goodnight Families. She has been SO helpful in our sleep journey with Sylas since we began consulting with her when he was around 4 months old. We have her knowledge and expertise to thank for all of us sleeping well, navigating regressions with ease, and feeling so much better about our daily routine! I asked her to share some of that knowledge with you today in today’s post . I hope you find it as valuable as we did — because ALL of us want to know how to get better sleep, right? 🙂
Let’s Get Started.
Sleep is a hot topic among mothers – and rightfully so! Most of us didn’t really realize how precious sleep is until we weren’t getting it. As I’m sure you’ve come to find out, sleep is a critical part of our health and wellbeing of mind, body, and soul. Of course, just knowing that doesn’t make sleep happen. (Unfortunately) So, whether you’re in the thick of the newborn days or wrestling with a preschooler at bedtime, these three tips can be the start of your family’s journey to blessed sleep.
Define sleep success for your family
Each family is as unique as the individuals that make them up. Though, even with that individuality, most children fall into a range of “normal” when it comes to the amount of sleep they need according to their age. Of course, there are some children that require less or more than the normal range, but the normal range provides a good starting place, a good initial goal. According to SleepFoundation.org, which I’ve found to be very accurate based on the families I’ve worked with, these are the normal ranges based on age:
|Recommended Hours of Sleep/24hrs
If you notice, there’s quite a range of normal, typically 3 hours worth. But, not only is the amount of sleep variable by age, so are when and how sleep is accomplished. Let’s have a brief overview of what’s to be expected in each season of early childhood:
There are two main things to expect in regards to newborns and their sleep.
- They aren’t developmentally capable of self-soothing and,
- Though they sleep a lot, they sleep in shorter stints of anywhere between 20 minutes and 4 hours, day or night.
In the early days, newborns will sleep anywhere at any time with any amount of stimulation around them but, as I like to say, that’s all grace. They’re so sleepy because they’re recovering from the major work of being born. By the time they’re roughly 2-3 weeks old, they’ve started to “wake up”. When this happens you’ll likely find that your sleeping babe now needs a lot more help getting settled – and that’s ok! Newborns, once they’re out of that sleepy stage, are not able to soothe themselves fully to sleep like those older than them. Expect to help them and expect to help them often.
Though some babies start sleeping through the night as early as 10 weeks old, that is not the norm! That doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong with the young baby that does sleep so long, but it is not a standard that needs to be met.
The average age of a baby sleeping through the night (with zero night-feedings) is roughly 9-months-old.
It is biologically normal and ok for your newborn to wake multiple times a night to eat. Their bellies are tiny and need to be refilled often.
When it comes to babies 4 months old to 11 months old, you can expect
- The first sleep regression at 4 months and potentially others at 6 and 9 months
- More predictability, longer stretches of sleep, and towards the latter ages, a full night’s sleep.
Around 4 months old, babies go through their first sleep regression (really, it’s a progression). At this point, their brains are developing and shifting their sleep patterns to those like ours. With this change, you’ll likely find that what was working to help them get to sleep in the newborn stage no longer works, they’re waking way more often than before (even if your newborn started taking longer stretches of sleep at night), and everyone’s beyond tired. When this happens, your baby is letting you know they’re ready to learn the lifelong skill of independent sleep.
The internet has made this sound far scarier than it really is. Though it is hard to help your baby through the process of learning independent sleep (no matter how involved or removed you are during the process), when your baby is surrounded by loving, nurturing parents that are in tune with them, their strong attachment to you will remain while their ability to sleep well will improve. It’s a beautiful thing!
Oh, the toddler years. They’re still your baby, but they’re not quite babies anymore, nor are they “kids”… they’re in the in-between and their attitude shows it. You can expect:
- Resistance to sleep times due to increased independence with sleep regressions common around 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months.
- Nightmares and, less commonly, night terrors show up around 2-3 years old.
Sleep for toddlers brings some transition. They’re really starting to realize that they have their own voice and like to use it when they’d rather not be sleeping. Tantrums ensue, opinions are expressed, and sleep may be affected. But, whether they were great sleepers before these years or not, having confident leadership from their parents and predictability to their days are the main factors in bringing sleep into the home.
By the preschool years, the naps are no more but the nights are full. At this age, you can expect
- Naps to be dropped completely by age 3-4. (Again, that’s a “normal” range. Sometimes it’s sooner or later.)
- An even greater need for clear boundaries and intentional time with their parents.
In my mind, preschoolers have reached the “kid” age. They’re capable of more independence and responsibility and with that sometimes comes a forgetfulness from parents that they still very much need clear direction and intentional connection. Being their strong leader with a tender heart towards them is beneficial in many regards, even in sleep. Most families have the longest separation from their children in the nighttime hours and if the child is feeling a lack of connection, there’s a great chance they’ll seek it out in the night. So, making the bedtime routine a time for undistracted (no phone, computer, television) connection will help improve their sleep quality and foster your lifelong relationship. Win-win!
2. Establish routines and a rhythm to your days
Once you’ve defined what success looks like for your family and each child within your home, you can start reaching that goal by establishing routines and a rhythm to your days.
Routines vs. Rhythm
As defined by Oxford Languages (via Google), a routine is “a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.” When it comes to routines for sleep success, I recommend having 3 set routines – the morning wake-up routine, the nap time routine, and the bedtime routine.
The morning routine and the nap time routine only need to be 3-5 minutes long; the bedtime routine typically takes longer, around 30-45 minutes, since it usually includes a bath and a feeding session for babies.
No matter how long your routine takes, there needs to be a few steps in each that are repeated in the same order every time you go through them.
An example of a bedtime routine is: directly after dinner, take a bath > brush teeth > put on PJs > read a bedtime story > turn off lights > snuggles and prayers > say goodnight
Once a routine is well established, just like a habit, the mind and body will move through it with little effort and end with the reward of sleep. (But note, when I say little effort, I do mean little need for a reminder. An effort of other sorts may be required for toddlers and preschoolers. These routine cards are majorly helpful to ease those struggles!)
Oxford Languages defines rhythm as “a regularly recurring sequence of events, actions, or processes.” In this regard, I’m referring to the overall flow to your days. Even if each day is slightly different, there is still a familiarity and predictability to it overall.
For example, your child’s weekdays may look like this:
- Get up at 7 am
- Wake-up routine
- Play time/activity
- Nap time routine
- Play time/activity
- Bedtime routine
Having a predictable rhythm to the day with routines strategically placed throughout brings a sense of comfort and control for your child. When they know what to expect, they have greater peace; when they know what’s ahead, they can flex greater autonomy. This not only strengthens their independence in sleep but in every area of their life.
3. Establish helpful sleep props
Put simply, a sleep prop (also known as a sleep association) is anything consistently used to help you get to sleep.
I say establish helpful sleep props because some sleep props can be quite unhelpful. There is no exhaustive list of which sleep props are helpful or unhelpful, and a sleep prop that’s helpful for your child may be unhelpful for another (or may be helpful at one age but not another), but there are sleep props that are most commonly considered one or the other. Here are the most common helpful and unhelpful sleep props:
|The pacifier (for newborns)
|The pacifier (for 4-month-olds and older)
|Rocking to sleep
|Dark room (an optimal sleep environment)
|The crib or bed
|A lounger like a Dock-a-Tot (also unsafe for sleep)
|Pajamas, swaddle (for newborns), sleep sack
|Feeding to sleep
|Being held to sleep
To establish helpful sleep props, incorporate them into your nap time and bedtime routines. Having them consistently present during sleep times will create a cue for your child’s body that it’s time to sleep and, in turn, make sleep come a little easier. Use the fact that we’re creatures of habit to your (and their) advantage!
When it comes to removing unhelpful sleep props, remove the unhelpful sleep prop and replace it with a helpful sleep prop. There will likely be upset at the change for a few days as they’re adjusting to and forming a new habit. Use a sleep training technique that you’re most comfortable with at nap time and bedtime, whether it be a gentle method or a more hands-off approach, if/when the upset occurs.
For more guidance on removing unhelpful sleep props and replacing them with helpful ones, this post is for you!
In a nutshell, the groundwork for a successful night of sleep is first knowing what success means for you and then forming helpful, healthy habits that promote quality sleep.
The road to get there is not usually a smooth one, but it is one worthwhile for the whole family!
You don’t have to take that road alone, either. A trained, trusted, experienced guide is always an option and I’d be honored to be yours – complete with a personalized, specific-to-your-child roadmap! Learn more about working with me here. Book a free discovery call here.
Links + Resources throughout the post:
Sleep Foundation “How Much Sleep” chart: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/how-much-sleep-do-kids-need
My Sleep Regressions & Nap Transitions Guide: https://view.flodesk.com/pages/5f6aa1fa4b0d0b793ef5e6be
Why is Newborn Sleep So Different than Adult Sleep? Post: https://www.goodnightfamilies.com/post/newborn-sleep-versus-adult
5 Ways to Improve Your Toddler’s Sleep Post: https://www.goodnightfamilies.com/post/5-ways-to-improve-toddler-sleep
Toddler Routine Card Freebie: https://view.flodesk.com/pages/5fd28b1c956e486faf57b1d2
Optimal Sleep Environment Freebie: https://www.goodnightfamilies.com/post/creating-the-perfect-sleep-environment-part-2
Sleep Props & Sleep Associations: What they are and 3 ways to stop using unhelpful ones Post: https://www.goodnightfamilies.com/post/sleep-props-sleep-associations
My Packages & Services: https://www.goodnightfamilies.com/packages-services