How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Reinforcing Sleep Rhythms
On the flip side of scheduled awakenings is a preventive method advocated by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. The gist of it is that you never let your baby (of 4 months or older) become overtired, because being too fatigued is the root of all sleep problems, says Dr. Weissbluth. Instead, you anticipate your infant's natural sleepiness and put him down -- at nap time and at bedtime -- accordingly. The approach works as follows:
1. Keep intervals of wakefulness brief when a baby's about 4 months old; every one to two hours, put him down for a nap. Infants who are older than that can handle longer wakeful periods -- put them down for naps two or three times a day. Any soothing bedtime ritual can be used, says Dr. Weissbluth, but avoid letting your baby nap on the run, such as in the car or stroller.
2. Anticipate when your baby will be sleepy. This, says Dr. Weissbluth, may take a while: "It's like surfboarding -- you have to catch the wave of drowsiness as it begins to surface before it crashes into an overtired state."
3. Dr. Weissbluth's motto is: Never wake a sleeping baby. Most babies (between 5 and 12 months) will take two or three naps of one to two hours a day, but he claims that longer naps will have no negative effect on nighttime sleep. "Sleep begets sleep," he says. "It's not logical, but it's biological. The better a child sleeps during the day, the easier it is for him to fall asleep at night."
4. Set an early bedtime. Babies need to go to bed between 6 and 8 PM, says Dr. Weissbluth, depending on their nap schedule. "Children who are kept up too late have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep," he says. "And they have trouble napping during the day. Early bedtimes prevent night wakings."
PROS: Dr. Weissbluth argues that with his approach, sleep problems won't develop and you'll never need to resort to Ferberizing or other techniques; all you'll need to do is predict when your baby will get tired and then let him sleep.
CONS: Never letting a baby become overtired and never waking him up can be harder than it sounds. While this approach may be less wrenching than some of the others, it's not a short-term quick fix: In order to work, you have to stick with it. And Dr. Weissbluth acknowledges that if your infant is waking in the middle of the night, this method will only bring about slow, gradual change.