Good Night Stars, Good Night Air, Good Night Noises Everywhere.
Good Night Moon… The association is so deep in our minds that just these few words can bring on a sense of calm, if not put us right to sleep.
In working with families for over 25 years, I have come to realize that the single most important factor in helping your child become a great sleeper is creating the right associations in his mind with falling asleep.
Put yourself in your baby’s mind. What is the last thing your four-month old experiences as he is falling asleep? For the baby who is rocked to sleep or who falls asleep at the breast or taking a bottle, the last thing is the warmth and tenderness of a loving parent. But, in the middle of the night, when he wakes up, and they do wake up, “How did I get here again?!! I am back in that cold dark cage that they call a crib! My parents must wonder where I am! I’d better cry and tell them to set me free.”
And thus it starts. As babies round the half way mark of their first year, their nighttime sleep cycles begin to resemble those of adults. Every couple of hours they pass through deep sleep and the dreamy REM sleep and back to a very light sleep state. It is then that they can check to see “Are all things as they were when I went to sleep?” For the baby who fell asleep in your arms, the answer is no.
We have all known that exhausted parent whose baby is up every 2 hours. The only thing that puts them back to sleep is a feeding, and yet they only take a little bit. Can they really be that hungry? No. The problem is that their association with falling asleep is being with the parent and feeding.
The key to avoiding this nightly nightmare is to plan what you would like to have your child associate with falling asleep.
At three or four months of age, when babies are starting to become aware of these patterns, I encourage parents to start putting their baby to bed in the crib awake. One clue to knowing when it is time to start is when your baby starts falling asleep at the same time every evening. His daily rhythm is cycling into sleep. This is the tool you can use. Your baby is entering his window of optimal sleepiness.
Give the last feeding a half an hour before this time, when he is still wide-awake. He can store enough nourishment to make it through the night. Then, start the wind down. Change him. Dim the lights. Have some cuddle time and then put him to bed awake with a hug and a kiss and the message from you that this is where you sleep. When he wakes in the middle of the night he is in his room, in his crib, in the dark, just how he fell asleep.
Good Night Babies Everywhere.