7 Tips for Better Baby and Toddler Sleep in 2013

Baby Sleep 2011Happy New Year, dear Baby Sleep Site™ readers! We’re thrilled to be ringing in 2013 with you today.

We know that, for some of you, 2012 was an exhausting year. You may have spent many nights up with your sleepless baby or wide-awake toddler, or you may have endured a number of longs days, wishing your little one would just nap already!

As we look ahead to 2013, we’re offering you you 7 tips for better baby and toddler sleep in the new year. We shared these at the beginning of 2012, but they’re so helpful, they bear repeating.


1. Be realistic

Having realistic expectations is key in working to improve your baby or toddler’s sleep. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a baby or toddler with bad sleep habits won’t improve 100% overnight.

Here’s what Nicole had to stay a year ago about being realistic:

All babies will not sleep through the night at the same age, weight, or other arbitrary quality. Your baby is unique and may be 6 months or 8 months or 13 months old when she finally sleeps through the night. Once you do start “working” on sleep, your baby may or may not respond as quickly as some of the lucky few who have success in one or two nights. I wish they all did, but frankly, if they did, I wouldn’t have this site because my own son would not have been as challenging as he was and I wouldn’t have had to obsess about his sleep as much as I did! Please have realistic expectations for your baby that while he may respond in a few days to a week, he might not or he will and then backslide. If you are realistic, you will have less frustration and more success, since you are less likely to give up before he has time to learn. This is especially true for slow-to-adapt babies. It’s easy to read through our testimonials and get very excited that we can help you overnight, but that will only be true for some of you. Our track record is good, but some parents send just one e-mail, receive a sleep plan, and away they go, while others consult with us for 30 days where we can touch base very frequently to tweak their plan. A family’s solution is as unique as their baby, sometimes.

2. Be consistent

As we frequently preach to our clients, consistency is key. Inconsistency is confusing to both babies and toddlers, and it undermines your sleep training efforts.

As Nicole pointed out,

Boring, I know. “Consistency is key” is something we all hear all too frequently, but I can’t emphasize this enough. When we read through family histories, certain things jump out at us and lack of consistency is a huge factor. Sometimes it’s not your fault. It’s hard to know when to feed, when not to feed, when it’s okay to rock them to sleep, when you should try to have them learn to fall asleep on their own, etc. If your toddler is playing with the trash can, if you sometimes let him and sometimes not, he won’t understand the rules and what’s expected from him. Look at it from their perspective to see how your inconsistency could be confusing your baby. This typically increases crying, rather than lessens it, and none of us want that.

3. Make smaller goals

Sometimes, a big problem can seem so overwhelming, you can’t even muster the energy or courage to start solving it. Inertia sets in. Sleep training may feel like that for you — maybe your baby’s or toddler’s sleep issues are so far gone, you don’t know where to begin.

It’s best to start by creating small, manageable goals. Nicole explains it like this:

One helpful step you can make is to set (realistic) goals for your baby’s sleep. Even better to choose baby steps in sleep training. If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s very hard to find a path there. And, you should be more specific than making “sleeping through the night” your goal. That is too broad and you may be disappointed. You might first decide “Go to sleep without breastfeeding.” Then, you might say “Wakes up for less than 4 night feedings.” And, so on. Make smaller goals to help yourself see progress and avoid giving up before you achieve your granddaddy goal.

4. Make a plan

We’re not urging you to carve your sleep training plan in stone — as parents, we all know from experience that our best-laid plans often go haywire, thanks to our little ones! Rather, it’s best to have a general overview of how you’re going to go about sleep training your baby or toddler, and then to build in room for flexibility.

Here’s Nicole’s advice about making your plans:

After you make your goals, decide on how you’ll achieve those smaller goals. If you’re going on a road trip across country, most people make some sort of plan. Some of us will plan it down to the finest details, including where we will eat a meal or go potty or what specific hotel to stay in. Some of us might make loose plans such as what city we’ll stay for the night, but if we are making good time, we might go further or, if we are tired, stop sooner. We see a lot of different personalities in our personal consultations. Some need to know every little detail about what they need to do and ask a lot of “What if?” questions (which is a big reason why we’re here!) while others don’t. Whether you are type A or type B or go where the wind blows you, success usually starts with a plan, even if it’s not super detailed.

5. Take the first step

The first step in any new endeavor is usually the hardest. But once you’ve taken that first step, you gain momentum, and the rest of the journey (usually) seems easier:

Once you have your plan, taking that first step is often the hardest. Very often we build up how terrible sleep training will be in our head and, often, it’s worse in our head than in reality (unfortunately, not always). We’re afraid we’ll be sleep training a tortoise and we’ll feel guilty because our baby won’t sleep because it’s our fault and how guilty we feel that we’re changing the “rules.” The first step in solving any problem is usually the most difficult (usually admitting there is a problem or that you need help), but one of the most important.

6. Gather Your Support

Once you’ve started sleep training, it’ll probably be easier for you to manage if you have a good support network in place:

Whether it’s another friend going through a similar situation, your partner/spouse, a friend on Facebook, your parent helping you through, or us, one thing that helps you succeed in making a big change in your life is your support network. Holding yourself accountable by “checking in” with someone also helps you succeed. So, try to get your support lined up before you start. Someone who is non-judging if you make mistakes and someone who can empathize.

7. Expect backsliding

When your baby or toddler starts to shown signs of progress, by all means, celebrate! But don’t count yourself done too quickly. Some backsliding is perfectly normal during the course of sleep training:

No doubt that just when you figure out the first thing, a second thing pops up: “She was sleeping great and then learned to roll! AAAHHH!” When we potty train, we are not surprised by accidents, so I’m not sure why parents sometimes expect perfect sleep after sleep training. Your sleep training progress might look more like a roller coaster than climbing to the top of a mountain.

Was 2012 a sleepless year for your family? Are you making any plans to sleep train in 2013?

Adding sleep training to your list of new year’s resolutions? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

Exclusive Wake-Time Formula – Your Missing Link For Great Baby Sleep

A guest article by Angela Braden. Angela blogs at www.sciencemommy.weebly.com

Nap times go array when we miss the “sleep window”—that magic snippet of time in which baby is primed for la la land and will drift off peacefully (in the right environment). Perhaps you’ve seen your baby’s sleep window open—a glazed look, a yawn, or some agitated movements (depending on age)—but by the time you finished that bite of food, changed the diaper, and swaddled, that window had slammed shut on you! One missed window can set in motion a vicious cycle of overtired, short naps and more disturbed night sleep. Going by a strict schedule can be problematic too, because every night and every nap is different, (particularly in the first six months). You usually end up with a baby who’s overtired or under tired at the “scheduled” sleep time.

So should you watch the baby (for signs of sleepiness) or watch the clock in order to put baby to sleep during her sleep window? The answer is “both”, but here’s how: The heart of consistently successful “sleep window synchrony” (my term) is staying within an optimum “wake time” zone. (Wake time is the duration of wakefulness between sleep times, counting the time it takes to soothe your baby to sleep.)

Simply put, wake time is the single most powerful determinant of when your baby will need to sleep again! Knowing the best wake time will help you stay ahead of overtired like nothing else, because you’ll be ahead of those tricky sleepy cues too (some babies are just hard to read!).

Below, exclusively for The Baby Sleep Site, I’ve outlined my secret formulas for knowing when baby’s “wake time” is going to expire. The formulas vary by age, so look for your baby’s age range to know which number to start with, then “tweak it” with the factors that follow and you’ll have a nearly exact predictor of when your baby next needs to snooze. (You should still keep logs to optimize for individual differences, until you’ve got it down.)

Here’s why these formulas have proven to be golden in terms of avoiding healthy sleep enemy #1, overtired: They factor in the second most powerful determinant (in my opinion) of when baby needs sleep—duration of the last sleep time (age of baby is the first factor). Since babies through at least six or seven months normally have erratic sleep durations—some naps last 20 minutes, some 2 hours—we have to factor in duration or we’re shooting in the dark for that critical sleep window.

I discovered with my little one, and later through consulting for other mommies, that for young babies (particularly zero to four months), the duration of the previous sleep time, predicts the next wake time! After around six months, baby should be taking the full, one-hour-minimum, naps anyway (most of the time), so we can look more to the age-determined wake times, though duration can still be a factor.

The Wake Time Formulas

0 to 1 month – Wake time = Duration of the last sleep time, up to 40 minutes max.

Newborns are rarely awake longer than it takes them to feed and have a diaper change. If they don’t doze back quickly, they need our help to make sleep happen in time! Of course, if baby goes to sleep sooner, don’t try to keep a newborn awake for the full 40 minutes.

*Note: During what is often called, “the witching hour” (or in my case, full blown colic time) many newborns simply will not sleep for hours on end, despite your best soothing efforts. This doesn’t mean they don’t need to! This is the time to really take Nicole’s sleep-inducing tips to heart. Diligence pays and every bit of extra sleep you get out of baby during this time will help in the big picture, even in the long run, after colic has passed.

1 to 2 months – Wake time = Duration of the last sleep time up to max, 40 to 60 minutes.
During these months, the best rule of thumb is the duration of the last nap, since nap length is biologically a work in progress for babies at this stage. Plan to put back to sleep within one hour of wakefulness (or less if last sleep period was less). Lean closer to 40 minutes for colicky/sensitive babies, especially during the morning hours. (Also see “witching hour” note above.)

2 to 3 months – Wake time = Duration of the last sleep time up to max, 60 to 80 minutes.
At this age, if baby sleeps less than 45 minutes, you should immediately try to continue the nap (by rocking, soothing, etc.) to equal at least 45 minutes, but if your attempts are unsuccessful (as they often will be), simply calculate wake time by the sleep duration, instead of max time.

3 to 4 months – Wake time = Duration of the last sleep time up to max, 60 to 90 minutes.
Yawn or no yawn …cranky or not…. At 50 minutes or so (depending on tweaking factors below), begin your nap time wind down routine, aiming to have baby asleep within this range.

4 to 6 months: Wake time = Duration of the last sleep time up to max, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Baby usually has developed three somewhat predictable naps, but the wake time is still a more important indicator of the sleep window, than the “scheduled” nap.

6-8 months: Look for wakeful periods to begin to stretch to 2.5 hours without becoming overtired, provided that the naps are not too short. Nap duration is less of a factor now. The first nap of the day will still need to occur a bit earlier (within 2 hours).

*Note: Activity level now becomes a factor, because many babies are mobile. If your little one has had a very active wake time, you may need to tweak in the earlier direction 10 minutes or so.

8-10 months: Wake time – 2 to 3.5 hours. For the first two naps, wake time should be between 2 and 2.5 hours, so you’re starting with just one three hour period of wakefulness per day (the one before bedtime).This range depends greatly on whether baby has dropped the third nap (usually at 9 months). Generally, thereafter, the 3.5 hour wake time works (from the time baby drops the third nap) until baby drops the second nap between 14 and 18 months (approximately).

Tweak It Factors

Now that you know the range to shoot for, here’s how you can hone in on a more precise prediction of the infamous closing sleep window.

  • Time of day: As noted above, the morning nap (from the morning wake up) usually will still need to happen at the early end of the given range. The later time given applies to the longer period of wakefulness in the late afternoon/early evening.
  • Temperament/Colic or post-Colic: With colicky babies, always go with the shorter wake time and keep a log to pinpoint even further. Once colic has passed, at around 3 months for most babies, these sensitive little ones still need this shorter wake time, especially in the morning. The same applies to babies who are sensitive to over-stimulation (but may not be considered “colicky).
  • Quality and quantity of night sleep: Usually, if baby has a bad night, he will close his sleep deficient with the length of his nap, but it’s worth checking out Nicole’s night sleep totals and if your baby gets less night sleep and takes a short nap, move that wake time back to the shorter end.

Every baby is different, but the vast majority will fall within these ranges. (Most babies are also chronically overtired!)

This “Wake time formula” is the clock-watching part of knowing when to facilitate baby’s next nap, but it’s the antithesis of rigid scheduling. It gives you a starting point from which to log what works best for your baby, as regular naps develop.

Please let me know how these formulas are working for you!

Angela Braden is mother of Kian, 5 and Gianna, 17 months. She has researched and reported on wellness and lifestyle for a decade and a half and been published hundreds of times in national and international magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Women’s Health and Fitness, and Lucire (New Zealand). Angela served as a columnist and healthy lifestyle expert on TBS for 2 years. She swears her two babies are angels…but only when they’ve had optimum sleep.

©2012 by Angela Braden. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Angela Braden.