How to get kids to sleep

Our medical expert explains the nature of sleep problems and the simple solutions to solve them.

By Dr. Cathryn Tobin

Babies

New babies (birth to three months)
The problem: Frequent night awakenings. Although babies are born with PhD-level sleeping abilities, they lack falling asleep skills. The very strategies parents often rely on to encourage infants to doze off -- jiggling, suckling, car rides and lullabies -- soon become traps that cause them grief. If your baby doesn't learn how to self-start sleep at the "right" time, ineffective habits become etched in stone. If he falls asleep at the breast, for example, that's what he'll need. Sleep goes in cycles from light to deep sleep states approximately every 90 minutes, which means your baby is going to cry out repeatedly.

The most common mistake parents make: You assume Baby is waking up because he's hungry. This may be true for newborns, but it's usually not the case with older babies. When babies two months of age and older learn to doze off on their own, they sleep for longer stretches.

The solution: Many parents are reluctant to encourage their baby to pick up healthy sleep habits because they assume crying it out is involved. But when sleep coaching begins early and a baby is eased into good habits, no crying is involved. Starting around two months of age or older, encourage self-soothing skills, which are the tools a baby needs to nod off on her own. Put your baby in her crib sleepy, but still awake. If she fusses, comfort her, rub her tummy, talk to her, you can even pick her up and soothe her, as long as you put her back in the crib awake. Your baby will gradually learn to comfort herself to sleep.

Tricks of the Trade:
•A swaddled baby finds it easier to relax and fall asleep.
•A pacifier helps babies relax.
•White noise, such as a fan or humidifier, helps your baby block outside distractions, and this allows other calming techniques to kick in.
•Make sure your baby's tummy is full before you put her to bed for the night.
•Before you hit the sack, give her a "dream feed" or top up.
Bonus: Healthy babies who weigh more than 12 pounds can last nine hours without feeding.

Older babies(four to 12 months)
The problem: Your baby doesn't want the party to end. And most likely he hasn't discovered how to self-start sleep. Until he discovers his own self-soothing tools, he will continue to depend on you to help him fall asleep.

The most common mistake parents make: We wait for the problem to solve itself.

The solution:Your baby can learn to fall asleep independently. Here are three effective ways to sleep train him:
1. Stay in your baby's room and support him through the learning process without taking him out of his crib;
2. Step out of the room for increasing lengths of time until the little guy learns to doze off on his own; or
3. Stay out of the room and allow incrementally longer periods of crying until your baby dozes off on his own.

Tricks of the trade:
•Pick the sleep strategy that is best suited to your baby's needs. For instance, a sensitive baby may prefer to have you nearby, while a stubborn child may need you to step out of the room.
•Encourage him to use a transitional object such as a blanket or stuffed animal.
•Believe in your baby's ability to make positive changes.
•Be patient.
•Expect sleep habits to worsen before they improve.

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