Baby Sleep Decoded: Q+A with The Sleepy Mama
By Cris Pearlstein
Sleep can be a very illusive thing for new parents, and getting your baby to sleep through the night is like the holy grail. Because after all, if your baby isn’t sleeping you probably aren’t either. The tricky thing is “Not all good sleepers are born that way,” says Nicole Cannon (aka @SleepyMamaNJ) who has been helping parents decode the puzzle of baby sleep for nine years. Like everything else, getting a good night’s sleep is something we have to teach them. We spoke to Nicole about the most common sleep issues new parents face and the two words we all dread most: sleep regressions.
In your 9 years working as a sleep expert, what is the number one issue parents face? Fighting sleep, which is an issue that transcends ages. Parents are just as likely to have an infant that is unable to go to sleep on their own as they are to have a 5-year-old who needs a ton of help as well.
What’s the one thing you’d like all parents to know when it comes to infant sleep? Not all good sleepers are born that way. For some babies it takes a lot of hard work and consistency on their parents’ parts. This may mean having to constantly adjust schedules or always having sleep rules. The payoff is great but the work to get there can be very challenging.
Do you have any tips or advice for parents who are trying to get more + better sleep themselves during the newborn phase? Understand that your newborn doesn’t have an internal clock yet and their sleep is erratic naturally. It doesn’t mean it will always be so poor but the first three months (the 4th trimester) are especially tough. Newborns don’t have the benefit of a circadian rhythm or the development of melatonin.
These babies may not have any rhyme or reason to their sleep but it will pass. Often, they are hard to settle and overtired. Parents might consider trying the Mommy’s Bliss Organic Baby Bedtime Drops for their babies that are four months or older. The drops are a special blend of organic chamomile, passionflower, and lemon balm, plus organic elderberry and vitamin C. But, don’t stress yourself looking for a perfect schedule or chasing long overnight stretches—the truth is that may not come until they are a little older.
What is one of the most common baby sleep myths you’d like to bust? The most common baby sleep myth is that all babies are capable of sleeping through the night by three months old. This depends on so many factors such as caloric intake, medical issues, and temperament. And most importantly, some babies just aren’t developmentally ready to sleep through the night until they are older.
Information on baby sleep is everywhere and can be overwhelming. Can you break down the sleep regressions new parents can expect in the first two years of a baby’s life? Regressions can really happen at any age and I think the term is a bit of a misnomer. Normally the “regression” coincides with a developmental progression. The most common I see are at four months, eight or nine months, 12 months, 18 months and two years.
- 4 months: Change in a sleep cycle from newborn sleep cycle to infant sleep cycle. An infant sleep cycle involves a period of light sleep and after that stage a child must transition into another sleep cycle. This can impact sleep onset and duration, especially for a child that is unable to put themselves to sleep. They will then often wake every few sleep cycles (one sleep cycle is roughly 45 min) until a parent comes in and helps replicate how they fell asleep. If a child is rocked, fed, or held to sleep then they are more likely to struggle with this transition.
- 8 months: This regression tends to coincide with learning how to crawl or pull up in the crib. In addition, separation anxiety is ramping up here and that can create a double effect. Also, babies this age are usually in the midst of transition from three to two naps and that can create periods of overtiredness if they are awake for too long. The new nap schedule should be adjusted for an age-appropriate wake period, which is usually about 3-4 hours between sleeps. Another tip is to incorporate plenty of one-on-one time practicing leaving a room and coming back to help build in security around separation. The most important thing is to be consistent for the few weeks until the new skill has clicked.
- 12 months: This is similar to the 8-month regression since it has a lot to do with learning the skill of walking. So, a child might wake in the middle of the night to practice the new skill. Also, a lot of children start fighting a nap but aren’t truly ready for a one nap schedule and then end up overtired. A parent may need to adjust nap lengths or bedtime expectation. And while practicing walking, it should pass as long as a parent doesn’t start any new intervention.
- 18 months: A child is once again learning a new skill and transition sleep times. Here a child may be undergoing a verbal explosion and waking overnight to practice talking. They may also be in the midst still of a nap transition and many times bedtime has to be adjusted as there’s a long stretch between nap ending and going to sleep for the night.
- 2 years: The skill is learning about control. A toddler may fight bedtime because they want more books or a cup of water. This can be one of the hardest regressions because it relies on really strict boundaries from the parent. So, parents need to set limits such as only three books and only one sip of water. In addition, naps may need to be shortened at this age so that bedtime isn’t a huge fight. But this becomes a challenge when children are at daycare and have a mandatory nap length.
- 3 years + older: At this point, I often suggest that parents try melatonin products like the ones from Mommy’s Bliss to help regulate the sleep cycle and get their kids back on track. When used, the supplement is only meant to be a temporary solution and not a daily supplement.
Nicole Cannon is a certified infant and child sleep consultant dedicated to helping families get more sleep. A member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants and mom of 4, Nicole can empathize with her clients. In 2013 she struggled with getting her son to sleep and knows firsthand what it’s like to be a sleep-deprived parent. That’s when Sleepy Mama was born.