No Sleep ‘Till Kindergarten: Helping Your Baby Get Their Zzz’s

baby with blanket over head

It’s midnight and your little bundle of joy is screeching bloody murder. You’ve fed him, changed him and rocked him. What could possibly be wrong?

Understanding Sleep For Children

It’s most likely the simplest of human experiences, brought on the by the most basic of needs. He’s tired and wants to sleep. So why can’t he just drift off blissfully like we adults do? Why the never ending nightly battles? How long does this war usually last and is there anything bedraggled parents can do to speed the process along?

The first thing to understand is that from an infant’s point of view, everything is new. The world is an abundance, sometimes over-abundance, of stimulation. By the end of the day, your baby is exhausted by all he has seen and experienced. Tiredness as a sensation, even for adults, is not a pleasant experience. For a baby who doesn’t understand the feeling, it’s even worse. Add to that the fact that you, the primary caregiver have spent all day catering to his every need, playing with him and showering him with affection. Now you are all of a sudden laying him down and abandoning him in a dark room. Is it any wonder your baby cries?

baby in a onesie playing outside

Best Sleep Techniques

So what are some of the things you can do to help your baby get his ‘zzz’s’ and in turn help yourself get them too? Well, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone! Every mother since the beginning of time has had to deal with the trial of getting their baby to sleep. There are as many different methods as there are mothers, not to mention that what works for one child, may not work for another, even in the same family.

Jessica Torres, a 28 year old home daycare provider from Welland, Ontario encountered this difference between her two children. “My oldest Elaina (now 5) was a great sleeper from the age of 6 weeks to about 9 months, then she went through separation anxiety where for a month she had to be able to see you to fall asleep, even if she woke in the night you would need to go into her room and stand there at her crib until she fell asleep. She got over that and became a good sleeper, but still wanted someone to sit with her while she fell asleep. My youngest Jade (now 3), was a terrible sleeper, she did not sleep through the night until she was almost 3. She would wake 3-4 times/night, and absolutely refused to sleep in her crib!”

For Denise DiBuo, a 26 year old home maker from Toronto, there was a need for reinforcements. Daddy had to take over sleep time duty for their son. “With my son, he had to have daddy put him to bed at night. I think it was because he knew with me being home with him all day, we play too much and daddy had to be the firm one.”

It’s a simple fact that your baby’s feeding habits will be a major factor in dictating not only his sleeping patterns but yours as well. Getting up every two hours isn’t any more fun for him than it is for you, and he has the added discomfort of hunger to make him wake up. You will more than likely be as irritable as he will, especially since you know that once your baby is fed, you have the added stress of getting him back to sleep.

litte girl smiling

There are two schools of thought on the ‘bed sharing’ method. Some swear by it while others discover it leads to more problems for them because the child becomes too attached and the habit of having the parent there becomes too ingrained. There’s no way of knowing which way your baby will deal with first ‘bed sharing’ and then the attempt to wean them off needing your presence. For Sonia Marques, a 26 year old Administrative Coordinator from Milton Ontario, sharing her little girl’s bed became a necessity to maintain the tactile motherly sensation her child seemed to need to be comfortable enough to drift off. “When she was still an infant, she had to be rocked to sleep. As she got older, she would lie in her crib and fall asleep holding my hand. I had to stay with her until she fell asleep. Now, she's nearly two and she still needs me to be with her as she falls asleep. She has a double bed now so she asks me to lay down with her until she falls asleep.”

The most helpful thing you can do for your baby is to not only remain calm and try your best to remain soothing, understandably more difficult at three in the morning than it is at seven at night, but a consistent ritual is imperative as well. Keep bed times to the same hour as often as possible, remove anything too stimulating such as excessive noise or television, and dim the lights. You can keep the hall light on to give you some illumination in your baby’s dark nursery until you can leave the room. A warm bath, favorite toy, or even a favorite song (the baby won’t care if you can’t carry a tune), has been known to help babies sleep.

Sometimes, just letting the baby cry himself to sleep does the trick. For Alison Brown, a 26 year old court reporter from Fayette, Missouri, this technique seemed to work for her baby boy. “He had been sleeping through the night, then all of the sudden, at about 7 months, he started waking up and thinking he had to eat. So I decided to put him in his own room at that point. He would wake up, but I knew he was okay, so I let him cry for about five minutes the first couple of nights, and he would put himself back to sleep and slept through the night perfectly after that.”

While the sheer volume of advice out there on getting your baby to sleep can seem as overwhelming as the stress of dealing with the crying baby to begin with, it also offers hope that what may not work for one baby, just may work for yours. Your baby will let you know which techniques work and which ones don’t.