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Sleepy Critter

Baby's Natural Sleep Pattern - Baby Sleep Problems, Pt. 1

My first baby, Cherith, was about 3 months old the day I realized sleep does not come naturally to a baby. I spent pretty much the entire day in the recliner, nursing my chubby little baby, because every time I stopped nursing her, she would wake up and cry. I knew she was very tired, but she just wouldn’t fall asleep like she had every other day of her life. I tried the baby swing, but rather than make her drowsy, it made her mad. I tried walking with her on my shoulder, but she only managed to give me a headache by screaming in my ear.

So there I sat, nursing the long hours of the day away. When you’re stuck in a quiet apartment, you have a lot of time to think, especially when you’re stuck in a recliner the entire day. But with all the thinking, I could not come up with a single reason why sleep was a problem or a single solution for this problem.

Lucky for me, I had access to two invaluable tools: a husband who loves to problem solve and a fantastic local library.

I visited the library and came home with Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weissbluth. Seriously, one of THE best books out there for understanding the science of childhood sleep and getting some practical advice on how to teach your baby to sleep and continue to help your child through each sleep stage in their development.*

My husband (the king of spreadsheets – seriously, he makes one for everything) suggested I make a spreadsheet chart to keep track of Cherith’s schedule tendencies over the course of a week or two.

I was surprised that Cherith’s sleeping, eating, and awake times were not as haphazard as I thought. Since I used colors to fill in the chart, it was easy to see a pattern coming through. Knowing her natural schedule pattern was probably the biggest help to me as I tried to make sense of her sleep needs.

If you think you would benefit from keeping track of your baby’s tendencies, download the chart and give it a try.

Next time, I will elaborate on what an average normal schedule should look like for babies of different ages and stages and discuss methods for training your baby to put herself to sleep.

*Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child does encourage the “cry it out” method. If you prefer a gentler method, I would recommend The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantly. I also found this book invaluable for its charts and easy to grasp information on the basics of sleep. No matter what method you choose, I recommend reading both books, or at least skimming through them.

(For what it’s worth, I use a combination of these methods. I let them cry, but I listen to their cry. If it’s a whining/sleepy frustration, I let them go. When it turns to a real cry, I generally go in and cuddle them for a while to help them calm down, whisper calmly to them, and then put them back in bed.)

Why Babies "Grow Out Of" Easy Sleeping - Baby Sleep Issues, Pt 2

As I was saying last time I touched on baby sleep issues, I noticed a definite change in Cherith's sleep habits when she reached about 3 months. There was a reason for that.
Newborns have a natural instinct to sleep when they are tired. No one has to tell them to sleep, they just fall asleep anywhere... in the swing, in your arms, in their bed, in the car... anywhere. But when they reach about 3 months (calculated by gestational birth date), they lose that natural instinct and are left to learn to put themselves to sleep. Some babies phase into this quite well on their own. Others seem to go into a panic.

Realizing this is, I think, key to young infant sleep issues. As a newborn, your baby will determine when he sleeps. There is really nothing you can do to change that. Have you ever tried to wake a sleeping newborn... ever tried to keep them awake... ever tried to feed a newborn who just couldn't stay awake? You can't determine their sleeping schedule. You can only let them sleep when they need their sleep.

You can however, start right away in assisting your baby to be prepared for the change that will soon descend upon them. More often than not, put him in bed when you notice he is drowsy, and if he falls asleep while eating, go ahead and lay him in bed. Let him get familiar with his room and bed. You will be doing him a favor.

I know I promised to talk about what a typical sleep schedule should look like for different ages, but I guess I sorta took a bunny trail. This post is long enough. So, I guess that will have to wait again.

Also coming up...
  • How to train your baby to put himself to sleep
  • Signs of a sleep deprived baby/child
  • How much sleep a baby/child needs
  • Various problems and stages that arise and how to deal with them

How Much Sleep and When - Baby Sleep Issues, Pt. 3

Many people think of sleep as a state of complete rest where the entire body all but shuts down in order to perform a recharge and restart operation. However, this is not true. The body and mind is very active during sleep. While your baby is sleeping, he is:

1) growing
2) processing information he encountered while awake
3) developing the brain power needed for motor skills

Under slept babies and toddlers are often underweight and petite. They may seem lethargic and uninterested in what takes place around them and often are trailing behind in their motor development (sitting, crawling, etc.). If they are not getting enough sleep, they are not getting that very important growing and processing time.*

Below is a chart from, stating approximately how many hours of sleep babies and toddlers need every day. This is, of course, a general reference as each child is different and will have different needs, but if your child's tendencies vary from this chart by more than an hour or two, your child is probably not getting the sleep they need.

As far as a typical schedule or routine, it will vary a little, by maybe an hour or twoish, but here's a general idea of a typical day and night. (This may vary on some days, but should be very similar to this on most days.)

1-3 Months

It's hard to nail one down when they sleep whenever they need it all on their own, but you will begin to notice them developing their own sleep schedule.

3-6 Months

6:30 am - Awake for the day

7:30- 8:00 am - First morning nap

8:30 am - Awake again

10:30 am - Second morning nap

12:30 pm - Awake just in time to interrupt lunch

2:30 pm - Afternoon nap

4:30 pm - Awake just in time to interrupt dinner prep

6:00 pm - Bedtime

12:00- 4:00 am - 1-2 short 15-30 minute feed times

6:00 am - Up with or before the sun - YAY! (Did you catch the sarcasm?)

6-12 months

6:30- 7:00 am - Awake for the day (Their morning wake time will gradually get a little later.)
8:30- 9:00 am - Morning nap

11:30 am - Awake

1:30 pm - Afternoon nap

4:30 pm - Awake just in time to interrupt dinner prep

6:00 pm - Bedtime (Right around 12 months, their bedtime may gradually start getting later, but should not be later than 8:00.)

12:00- 4:00 am - 1 short 15-30 minute feed times (Up to 9 months... by that time, you should really be down to no wakings at all on most nights.)

12-18 months

7:00- 8:00 am - Awake for the day

10:00 am - Morning nap (They will phase out of this somewhere around 14ish months.)

11:30 am - Awake

1:30 pm - Afternoon nap

4:30 pm - Awake

7:00- 8:00 pm - Bedtime

18 - 24 months
7:00- 8:00 am - Awake for the day

12:30 pm - Afternoon nap

3:30 pm - Awake

7:00- 8:00 pm - Bedtime

2 Years

7:00- 8:00 am - Awake for the day

1:00 - 2:00 pm - Afternoon nap (There will come a time when they just don't fall asleep for an early afternoon nap... time to make sure they are staying active during the day and make their nap a little later, but don't skip it all together.)

4:00 pm - Awake

7:00- 8:00 pm - Bedtime

This schedule will vary, of course, depending on your family's needs. Just make sure it's follows a similar pattern and includes enough hours of sleep for your child, and you should be good.

*While sleep deprivation is not the only cause of these issues, it is a contributor in some cases

When to Put Your Child to Bed - Baby Sleep Issues, Pt. 4

I did not get a chance to post my normal Sleepy Critter stuffs last Friday, but here's a few tips for you on knowing when your baby, toddler, or preschooler needs a nap or needs to go to bed for the night. Sometimes it can be difficult to try to figure out what they need when they don't know how to communicate it in plain English. Hopefully, this list will help you decode some of the clues.

How to know when to put your baby to sleep:

  • He/She has been awake for two hours. An infant really cannot handle more than two hours of stimulation at a time. (Somewhere around 9-12 months, this may change and they may be able to last 3-4 hours.) Don't try to keep them awake past two hours in hopes they'll sleep longer when you want them to.
  • He/She has been awake for 1-2 hours in the morning. You may notice that he seems fussy within an hour or two of waking up for the day. Often times, babies will need to nap sooner than normal for that first morning nap.
  • He/She seems discontent during activities that normally make them happy. A lot of times you can keep a baby relatively happy by rotating his activity during his awake time (swing, then exersaucer, then the floor, etc.). If a change of scenery and activity does not make him happy (and they've been changed and fed), it is quite likely that he is sleepy.
  • He/She rubs his face, eyes, or ears.
  • He/She yawns.
  • He/She becomes extremely wiggly. A baby tends to panic when they get over tired. They are frustrated because they want to sleep but are not being given the atmosphere they need to calmly fall asleep. Think of it this way... when we adults get frustrated, we feel a lot of pent up energy. They are feeling the same thing and start to wiggle a lot (usually accompanied by fussing).
  • If he/she is three months or younger, his cry will have a distinctive "owh" sound. The back throat is hallow sounding, sorta like a yawn or an opera singer. Having different sounding cries to different needs is a newborn reflex or tendency, and they will grow out of it at around three months. (For more on this concept, visit
How to know when to put your toddler or preschooler to bed:
  • Life becomes overwhelming for them. If they can't seem to perform tasks that generally come easy to them, they are more than likely tired. They may become easily frustrated at toys or anything that doesn't quite go their way.
  • They begin to "go wild"... getting into things, pestering others, strangely defiant, can't sit still... by this time, they are overtired. They are past the "I feel sleepy" stage and their body has kicked in a huge dose of adrenalin (what we would call a second-wind).
  • They start waking up too early in the morning and/or wake up during the night. None of us sleep well when we are overtired or sleep deprived. Our bodies go into survival mode and assume that we need them to stay awake. If your child begins waking in the night or waking early in the morning, it will be easy to assume they just don't need much sleep or that we should put them to bed later, so they'll sleep longer. This will only compound the problem. they don't need less sleep. They need more. A few nights of early bedtime should put them back on schedule. (This process will take longer, if your child has been sleep deprived for a long time.)
I hope these lists will help you identify when your child needs sleep. A lot of times I can get so distracted by the whining and "bad behaviour" that I forget that my child just needs sleep.

Falling Asleep on Their Own - Baby Sleep Issues, Pt. 5

There were many nights with each of my babies that I got so tired of working for several hours to get my baby to go to sleep. I would nurse them and they would fall asleep. I'd lay them in bed and within five minutes, they were awake again, crying. I'd wait a few minutes and the crying would escalate. I'd go in, cuddle them a few minutes, and they would fall asleep. I'd lay them in bed, and the whole thing would repeat itself. I would try just about every trick several times over before they'd finally pass out in exhaustion.

Thankfully, this was not a nightly thing. But when it did/does happen, it's completely frustrating and exhausting... even maddening. I have no idea how parents deal with this on a nightly or nap time basis.

If your baby or toddler cannot fall asleep without you helping them in some way, that's striking evidence that they are the victim of sleep dependency. I make it sound so dramatic, but it can sure feel just that when you're having to deal with it.

So what to do about it?

Do your best to prevent it, in the first place.
  1. When your newborn falls asleep, lay him in bed. There's nothing more snuggy than holding a sleeping baby. But your little one needs to become familiar with their bed. They need to learn to connect their bed with sleep. Try to get in a lot of snuggle time during their awake hours when they're staring at you as if they had to memorize your every feature. It's certainly fine to hold them while they are sleeping occasionally, but don't make it a habit.
  2. When they begin to grow out of the fall-asleep-anytime stage, lay them in bed when they are very drowsy, but not quite asleep. Let them get used to drifting off to sleep in their bed. If your baby is in the habit of falling asleep while nursing or taking a bottle, change their feeding schedule. Feed them after they have been awake for about an hour. Then put them to bed again, once it hits two hours from the time they got up. This way, they are not going down hungry, but they are not "milking" themselves to sleep. (I would still nurse them right before sleeping for nighttime sleep.)
  3. Create a consistent bed time routine. I've found with my babies that including a bath in the bedtime routine was a huge trigger to them that it was time to go to sleep for the night. The evening goes like this... supper of solids (if 6 mo. or older), bath, get jammied up, nursing session, put in bed. They most generally fell right to sleep without crying, or with very minimal crying. If I skipped the bath, they would either wake up in a couple hours or have a very hard time falling asleep. It's like they needed their evening to be predictable.
If dependency is already an issue, the solution is going to depend on the age of the child and how long they have been dependent.
  1. Work on fixing nap time sleep first. It is far easier on our sanity to handle the extra stress during the day.
  2. If your child is still nursing or bottle feeding, change daytime feeding time so that it does not hit your baby's sleepy time. You want to put them down for a nap without nursing or bottle feeding them to sleep. They may cry, because this is new to them. It's not typical routine. I realize that everyone has their own opinion on "crying it out", but the truth is, there will most likely be some crying. (More on that in a bit.)
  3. Establish and stick to a peaceful bedtime routine. Make sure your child's evening is predictable to them. They do not understand time as dictated by a clock. They perceive it as dictated by circumstance. (Routine will vary depending on age and your family's schedule.)
  4. To deal with excessive night time wakings, it may be easier to wean them off of it, than to go cold turkey. If all they want to do is nurse, decrease the nursing time by a few minutes every night for a few nights, so that eventually, they're hardly nursing at all. If your child is older and just wanting you to come in, decrease your cuddle time every night for a few nights, then don't pick them up at all, then don't go in at all.

- A note on crying. I generally let them cry for a few minutes, then go in to them, cuddle them for a minute, then lay them down again. You can generally tell a difference in their cry, whether it's a "disappointed" I'm awake" cry (more like a moaning, whining that is willed to existence) or a very worked up cry (involuntary and more than likely very hard for them to get over on their own).

These are only a few ideas. Every circumstance and child is different, so these may or may not work for you. If you have a particular situation or question, feel free to email me and I can try to help you out.

I have also found some great advice from Dana Obleman. She has a free sleep assessment option. It's computer generated, just so you know. And it also signs you up for way more emails than you may want, so you may want to either use a junky email address or unsubscribe later. If you scroll down to the bottom of her page, there are several links to specific sleep issues. Her blog has many videos where she personally answers questions.

Sleep good tonight... I should start thinking about getting there.

How to Get Your Child to Go to Sleep Without You - Baby Sleep Issues, Pt. 6

It's pretty common. In fact, we probably have all dealt with it in some degree or another. A baby or toddler who cannot and will not go to sleep unless you help them in some way. And often, frequent night wakings go hand in hand with this issue.

This is extremely frustrating. Not only does it take 20-30 minutes or more every night to get your child to go to sleep, but you are stuck having to go in several times during the night to help them get back to sleep when they wake up.

You start to feel stuck. If you don't help them, they will cry. And no one likes having a crying child. Yet, you're so tired, and you just don't have the energy or emotional stamina to handle the stresses of the day. To top all this off, your child is also overtired and may often be grumpy or out of sorts.

So after a long and tiring, stressful day, the last thing you want to do is put up a fight with your child over sleep. But of course, continuing to choose the "easy" route every night changes nothing, and life continues on in its foggy brained, energy drained way.

Whether this has been going on for a week or for months or even longer, the key is to just jump in and stop the cycle. You will never reach a night where you feel energized enough to tackle it. Just do it.

If this describes the going ons in your home, you will find this article by Dana Obleman very helpful.