Tell me if this scenario sounds at all familiar…
Your baby wakes up in the morning after a solid night’s sleep. You feed her, change her, play with her for a little bit, take her for a walk outside, then rock her to sleep and put her gently into her crib for her morning nap.
And then, 30 minutes later, much to your dismay she wakes up fussy and irritable and refuses to go back to sleep.
So after half an hour of trying to put her back down, you finally give in, hoping she will be that much more tired when her afternoon nap rolls around, only to have the exact same script play out again, and baby is a cranky ball of unhappiness for the rest of the day.
Sleep, like food, is one of those elements where baby has the final say on whether or not she is going to cooperate, so there is no sense in trying to force the issue. If she is not sleeping, just leaving her in her room usually won’t fix things.
So here is what's going on, and how to fix it.
Babies, just like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light state and can be easily woken up, then gradually fall into a deeper stage where even loud noises or movement might not be able to rouse us. This, incidentally, is the good stuff. This is the really rejuvenating, restful sleep where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us refreshed, clear-headed and energetic (when we get enough of it).
Once we have come to the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the whole process starts over.
In adults, one of those cycles typically takes about an hour and a half. In babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes.
So the fact that your baby is waking up after only 30 minutes is actually completely natural.
In fact, if she wasn’t waking up regularly, that might be cause for concern.
“But,” you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.”
Well, that is partially true. Although in a more literal sense, their baby is stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is…
Their baby learned how to fall back to sleep on their own.
That’s it. That is the missing piece of the puzzle. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, she will start stringing together her sleep cycles like an absolute champ.
That is going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, on the self-indulgent side, leave you with two hours at a time to do whatever you like. (Granted, as a new mother, “whatever you like” might not mean what it once did, but still, two hours twice a day to catch up on motherhood-related tasks is something we can all appreciate.)
So remember back at the start of that scenario, there you were, getting ready to put baby down for her nap, gently rocking her to sleep and then putting her down in her crib.
Stop right there. That is where you need to make some changes. Because in this scenario, you are acting as what we in the sleep consulting business refer to as a “sleep prop.”
Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Pacifiers are the most common example, but there are many others, including feeding, rocking, singing, bouncing, snuggling, and car rides.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t rock your baby, or sing to her, or read her stories, or love her like crazy. You absolutely should!
Just not to the point where she falls asleep.
When it comes to bedtime, whatever time of the day that might be, put your baby down in her crib, while she is still awake, and let her fall asleep on her own.
There might be a little bit of protest for a day or two, but for the majority of our clients, the results start to materialize in about two or three days.
Think about that. Two or three days, and you and your little one could be enjoying the extraordinary benefits of proper sleep. She will be happier, healthier, more energetic, and you will both sleep better at night to boot.
Some other pointers for extending baby’s nap time…
Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Buy some blackout blinds if the sun is getting in, or if you’re on a budget, tape some black garbage bags over the windows. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be functional.
White noise machines are useful if baby tends to wake up due to the neighbor’s barking dog, the delivery guy ringing the doorbell, or any other noise that might startle them out of their nap. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud. 50 dB is the recommended limit.
If you’re running into trouble applying these suggestions, give us a call and set up a free 15 minute evaluation. The solution might be simpler than it appears, and most of our clients are amazed by the dramatic improvement!