If you're one of our frequent subscribers (which makes you awesome by the way) you may recall an article I published a few months ago titled 7 Tips and Tricks for Getting Kids to Sleep at Night. And don't worry, if you're not a subscriber, I'll get you up to speed real quick (or you can check the article out for yourself *wink*).
The research that went into that article wasn't simply to help all of you parents out there. The truth is, my wife and I were going through our own mini crisis with getting our baby on a consistent sleep schedule. While that article may have helped you some with your own kids, the tips and tricks in there pretty much saved my sanity. You see, my daughter––we'll call her Taylor (because that's her real name) has been, since birth, what can only be described as a "delightful nightmare."
Taylor was born at the most inconvenient time possible––smack dab in the middle of my wife and I's final semester of college. But everything was going to be fine, we were as prepared as two expecting parents could be (I'm sure every eye reading this just rolled a little. It's okay. I deserve it). We quickly realized how terrible our predicament was, and to this day I wouldn't wish this situation on my second worst enemy (but maybe my first). Take all of the stress of taking tests, doing hours of homework, group projects, studying for finals, applying for graduation, and then just for fun, throw in a freaking newborn baby with sleep troubles.
Taylor was (and still is to this day) the most beautiful little girl I had ever laid eyes on. She is a perfect little angel when she's awake. She makes us laugh, smile, and reach for our cameras every thirty seconds when she does something adorable (which is about every 30 seconds). But there were times when I wished babies came with a return policy. I hope I'm not alone in this terrible thought.
As I said before, she was a perfect, little adorable angel when she was awake, but Taylor hated two things: sleep and her car seat.
She was only sleeping 8-10 hours a day, which is insane for a newborn who should be getting 16-17 hours of sleep. We tried everything; we listened to every piece of advice from veteran parents, notable parenting bloggers, and our daughter's pediatrician. We soothed, we swaddled, we even spent a small fortune on various vibrating chairs, rockers, and some space-looking device that mimics every type of soothing motion that babies love including car rides, tire swings, ocean waves, and even a kangaroo's bounce (I'm kind of terrified about the research that went into that machine. All of those things sound way too dangerous for a baby).
We quickly found out her sleep troubles stemmed from two major things: her collarbone was broken during delivery causing her pain and discomfort, and she had a dairy allergy, causing her even more discomfort. No wonder she wasn't sleeping. However, even after discovering the root of some of her sleeping troubles, and why she absolutely hated being secured into a car seat (I'll give you a hint: it was the collarbone), it still took some time for things to settle as my wife had to go cold-turkey on eating dairy to keep it out of her milk, and we had to makes sure Taylor's arm was allowed time to heal.
Those first three months were extremely stressful for all three of us. My wife and I would take turns looking after little Terror–I mean Taylor, while the other went to class or did homework. But little by little things began to improve. Taylor began to sleep a little more like a normal baby, and my wife and I both graduated college, allowing us more time to finally stop doing homework and appreciate the family we were building.
The Secret to Bed Time for All Babies (or at least mine)
Let's fast-forward to today. Taylor is still the most beautiful little girl. I mean seriously, look to the right and try and tell me she isn't the most adorable child you've ever seen. But more than being a little cutie, her sleep schedule is on point. She goes to bed and wakes up in the morning on such a regular schedule that Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, would be proud (I heard he had a thing for punctual locomotives).
So what did we do to turn this baby's bedtime from a nightmare into a dream come true? We followed the most important rule in the book: routine, routine, routine.
You see, a consistent routine helps calm and relax your child because they know what's coming next, putting them in familiar territory, and they like it––Nay, they love it. Routines help reduce stress, and stress produces cortisol, and cortisol is a hormone that can wreak havoc on sleep. You don't want your kid to have a bunch of cortisol coursing through their veins. Trust me. It turns them into whining, crying, screaming, hellish imps.
Instead of re-hashing all the types of routines you can implement for your kid, I'm just going to give you Taylor's nighttime ritual. This is the one that works for us. It may not work for everyone, or some modifications may need to be made, but it works for us, and I refuse to break the routine unless I'm ready to see horns sprout from her head and fire to spew forth from her eyes.
Now let's get down to the meat of this thing and discover how to get your baby to sleep.
I'd say Taylor's nighttime routine really begins when I get off from work at 5 p.m. Because when I get home, I've got a lot of pent up energy from sitting at a desk all day to burn, and my wife is needing a break from trying to keep Taylor from injuring herself all day (seriously, with some of the stuff kids do, I'm amazed so many of them make it to adulthood), so Taylor and I play hard with a mix of "I'm gonna get you" games, piggyback rides, dancing, and on some nights we go swimming after work.
The goal here is to help her burn off any extra stores of energy she has built up. Just get it all out. It might wear you out in the process (it sure does for me), but it'll go a long way in helping them wind down later.
After playing hard and letting her recover a little from the games (by which I mean get her balance back, because I love spinning her in circles just to see her drunk-walk around the room) we do family dinner together. Taylor's got her own seat right up there with the adults and we share our meals together. This might not seem part of the routine, but after you see how messy she gets at dinner, you'll know why most routines include a post-dinner bath.
When necessary, which it is about every other day because kids are nothing short of disgusting (did you know they are perfectly comfortable having sticky foods in their hands and then touching their hair, face, neck, or your hair, face, and neck?), we give Taylor a bath after dinner.
After bath time, we start to wind down with her a little bit. One of us will usually get to watch TV while the other takes Taylor back into her room to play with toys. This time around there's no intense, adrenaline-packed horseplay going on. It's more mellow "hey-lets-see-if-you-understand-puzzles-yet" type of playing, and maybe a little peek-a-boo. I had no idea how hilarious I really was until I started playing pee-a-boo with my daughter. She just thinks I'm the funniest guy ever.
I'm kind of a book nerd so it's important to me that my daughter gets into reading at an early age. Unfortunately, when she's given books to hold, she likes to chew on them (I guess that's one way to enjoy a book). But at night, we plop her on our laps and read her a few of her favorite books. She's getting old enough now that she will go pick a book out and bring it to one of us to read (while trying to eat it on the way).
Dimming the Lights
Around 8:30 we begin to dim the lights to help signal to her that it's getting close to bedtime. I know what some of you are saying, "8:30 that's kind of late. Shouldn't she be in bed by now?" Well, 8:30 is what works for us because I don't have to get up as early as some of you (#bloggerbenefits). If I'm watching TV, my wife even makes me turn the volume down to levels that require me to watch it with subtitles on. I have to read my television shows. That's how dedicated to this routine I am.
Okay, I'm not going to lie and try and steal any credit here. The rest of the routine is pretty much done by my wife. I really have very little part in what happens next as it's usually my time to catch up on a little extra work, or at least pretend I'm working to avoid the rest of the routine.
My wife brushes Taylor's teeth (and even lets her practice brushing them herself), changes her into a fresh over-night diaper, rubs her down with coconut oil, puts her in fresh jammies, has Taylor kiss me goodnight (well, I guess I am part of this routine after all), and takes her to bed.
The Bedroom Environment
In the room (most of this has been relayed to me as I've previously mentioned I'm not really a participant in this portion of the routine) the overhead lights are turned off, a dim lamp is turned on and a sound machine playing Rain on repeat helps signal her to sleep. My wife is usually in the room for anywhere between 10-minutes on a good night up to 45-minutes on a bad night. Her process is to lay Taylor down, avoid talking to her and eye contact (which can stimulate a baby and make them want to stay up) and nurse her a little bit. When Taylor tries to get up, she is immediately laid back down until she finally relents, and gives in to sleep. She will cry and fight sleep (she's still not a fan), but the key is to not give in. After awhile she will realize that it's easier to give in to sleep than to fight mom on it.
After The Baby is in Bed
Even after Taylor is in bed, we keep the house dark and quiet. The TV stays turned down with the subtitles turned up, and we tip-toe through the house like burglars avoiding a vicious sleeping dog. Taylor is a light sleeper and even stepping on a creaky part of the floor can wake her up. My wife is so adamant about silence that if I even want to get a snack out of the pantry, she will get it herself because she doesn't trust my clumsy self from walking loudly, or accidently letting the fridge slam shut.
No Sleep Routine is Perfect
I know I said Mussolini would be proud of our routine, but I may have embellished a little (sorry Benito). The truth is, there are times when the routine just goes to crap. Often it's because of certain growth spurts, monumental development stages, or even sickness that throws the routine off. Seriously, the time Taylor had a double ear infection and cried till about 4 a.m. was one of the most heartbreaking and sleepless nights I've had in forever (not to mention a neighbor not too happy with the constant screaming).
So don't feel bad when the routine occasionally disintegrates into a terrible mess, but whatever you do, don't give up on the routine. A few bad nights are expected, but for the most part, nothing beats a consistent routine.
And don't forget to take pics of your child sleeping so you can photoshop them to look like they're doing something cool. [See pic to the right].
Haha, it looks like she's doing interpretive dancing. She's silly.
Now for a little Alaska Sleep Clinic plug
If you're a parent at your wits end with trying to get your kids to sleep, it's possible that they could have a sleep disorder. There are many types of sleep disorders that could be keeping your little one from sleep. Getting to the bottom of their troubles can help them get the sleep they need, and you get the sleep you crave. So don't let your kids suffer (even if they kind of deserve a little suffering because they dropped your phone in the toilet with a smile on their little smug face), contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic where we have trained staff members that are able to help your child get to the root of their sleep troubles (seriously, our sleep techs are the best). Click the link below to schedule a 10-minute phone consultation, and while waiting for your free call check out some more pediatric articles here.