The most common question I hear parents ask is, “Why isn’t my child sleeping through the night?!” While we all expect newborns to wake frequently, it is easy to lose hope when your older baby, toddler, or child continues to wake frequently each night. Here are five possible reasons you and your child were up last night.
Bedtime Falls Too Late
One of the most common reasons for both bedtime struggles and night waking is putting your baby or child to bed too late. Parents often try this in an effort to fix sleep struggles, but a bedtime that falls beyond what your child’s internal clock is programmed for can easily lead to lengthier bedtimes with a greater likelihood of interrupted sleep. It may seem counterintuitive, but moving bedtime earlier can actually result in less waking and sleeping later the next morning. Don’t be afraid to try it!
Not Enough Daytime Sleep
The day sets the tone for the night. In other words, if your child isn’t getting enough daytime sleep to “fill up his tank,” you will likely see the results of that in bedtime struggles, night waking, and early rising. Don’t fall victim to the myth that if you keep your child awake they will crash overnight. Sleep begets sleep, so do your best to make sure those naps add up.
Awake Too Long Between Sleep Periods
In addition to getting enough daytime sleep, it is vital to keep the “windows” of awake time between sleep periods short enough to prevent a child from becoming overtired. Often, these windows are shorter than you think. When your child is awake too long before sleeping, hormones are released that make a child harder to settle and cause them to pop awake too soon. Do your best to catch the wave of tiredness before it peaks and learn your little one’s early tired signals. If your child is crying and melting down, it is likely too late, so aim for an earlier start next time. Also be aware that some children show little to no signs of being tired — and so by the time you start the bedtime process, they have already grown just a bit too tired. Even a shift of 10 to 15 minutes can make or break sleep for some little ones.
Going To Bed Too Drowsy or Asleep
Another common cause of night waking is putting your baby down when they’re too drowsy or completely asleep. Night waking is normal for all of us in between sleep cycles. It isn’t the waking that’s the problem — it is the inability to go back to sleep independently. A baby who is nursed, rocked, or held to sleep all or most of the time will likely need the same support to return to sleep overnight. There are gentle and gradual ways to help little ones practice self-soothing skills so you can reduce or eliminate the support they need from you or other sleep crutches.
Inconsistency in Responding
The key to changing sleep habits is consistency. It is actually more important than the method or response you choose. When your child won’t fall asleep or is waking at night, we as parents often do whatever works in the moment. This can be very confusing to a curious mind and result in more frequent waking, as well as taking longer to return to sleep. While babies are not manipulative, they can, in effect, learn to hold out to see what you may try next. The best approach is to choose a response you know you can follow through with and hang in there.
Originally Published on FamilyFocus.org