Conquering a Crazy Sleep Schedule
He's not seeing the light.
Too tired to go for a walk with the baby before 3 p.m. -- or too busy to open all the shades? Keeping your baby in the dark may be causing his crazy sleep schedule. "Infants who get more exposure to light during the day sleep better," says Dr. Mindell.
Sleep solutions: The key is exposure to morning light. "It suppresses melatonin -- a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle -- so that it peaks at the right time," says Dr. Mindell. Move your baby's high chair or nursing pillow to the sunniest spot in the house and feed him there. A morning walk is a good idea too, even on a cloudy day, but if it's not doable, turning on a bunch of lamps is a decent substitute. Remember to dim them an hour or two before bedtime, though. "You want your baby to associate light and activity with the day and darkness and inactivity with nighttime," says Dr. Karp.
She's a midnight snacker.
"This is probably the number one reason why babies have trouble falling asleep," says Cathryn Tobin, MD, author of The Lull-A-Baby Sleep Plan. When you feed your baby immediately before you lay her in the crib, she'll associate nursing with sleeping -- especially if you let her fall asleep at your breast. That may not be a problem at 7 p.m., but it can become one when she wakes up at 3 a.m. and needs to eat in order to drift off again.
Sleep solutions: You don't have to get rid of pre-bedtime nursing all together -- just move it earlier in the napping or bedtime routine, says Dr. Mindell. Try nursing, then doing a diaper change, then putting her down when she's awake. And consider not feeding your baby in her bedroom -- she needs to learn that the nursery is just for sleeping.
Eventually your baby will learn to soothe herself when she wakes up at night. But if she isn't getting the hang of it, her stomach might actually be empty. Dr. Karp suggests packing in extra calories so she's not hungry at night by feeding your baby every hour or two in the evening. For example, if bedtime is 8, feed her at 5, 6, and at least one more before you tuck her in. Another option is doing "dream feed": Put her down for the night at 8, then wake her for a feeding before you go to sleep.
Babies who refuse to snooze do more than cost you some free time during the day. "A child who misses a nap or only takes a short one has a harder time falling asleep and will wake more often during the night," says Dr. Mindell.
Sleep solutions: "For babies under 12 months, it's typically a timing issue," says Dr. Tobin. "You have to hit that exact moment -- the beginning of the yawn, the heavy eyes -- or you often miss the opportunity for a nap." At that point, they're overtired and too wired to fall asleep. Watch for your baby's sleepy signs and put her down immediately. And be consistent -- if your bedtime routine is a lullaby and a story, do the same before naptime. If he sleeps, great. If he spends an hour cooing, fine -- restorative downtime is still better than nothing. Newborns sleep whenever they feel like it, but by 4 months, babies typically fall into a nap schedule consisting of two longer naps a day (one in the morning and another in the afternoon) or three shorter ones.