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Establishing Healthy Sleep Routines For Your Kids

Written exclusively for bümo by Dr. Harvey Karp, Pediatrician, Children’s Environmental Health Advocate, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Establishing good sleeping routines is critical for not just your child’s development, but for the whole family.

0-12 months

I’ve got some news for you— a 9-month long gestation period just isn’t long enough! I know what you’re thinking— it feels like long enough to you when you’re the pregnant mother! But, what that 9-month baking and baby growing period doesn’t do is fully prepare newborns for life outside of the womb. Newborns need a virtual “4th trimester” of womb experience. Requiring things like frequent holding, rocking, and shushing to remain calm, sleep and grow. Could you imagine going from living in a cozy, comfy and warm environment where there are constant jiggling motion and food to a BIG, dark, cold outside?!

It might seem like a harsh transition to go from womb to room, but don’t worry babies are born with an inherent calming reflex. And this reflex allows even the fussiest of babies – colic babies, too – to be quickly soothed.

You can “activate” that inherent calming reflex with five activities done together.

The 5 S’s – that mimic the womb

1.) Swaddle – Wrapping a baby snuggly in a swaddle blanket or swaddling sack.

2.) Side Settling – Holding the baby in a side laying or stomach position (never placed down in bed this way).

3.) Shushing – or using low, rumbly white noise.

4.) Swinging – using a gentle swinging motion.

5.) Sucking – with a pacifier, bottle or breast.

When using the 5 S’s method I have found that most babies are quickly calmed and often even lulled to sleep. This approach can be super helpful up until 6 months of age…especially during the pesky 3-4 month sleep regression!

Something interesting thing about infant sleep is that there have been almost no innovations in baby beds until recently. In 2016, Happiest Baby released SNOO Smart Sleeper, the world’s first and only smart baby bed. Using advanced technology, SNOO is able to recognize a baby’s cries and gently soothe him back to sleep using increased motion and white noise. SNOO is much more than a bed, it’s a virtual 24/7 caregiver, nanny, or extra set of hands for new parents who want to get 1-2 more hours of precious sleep or take a shower or get a long enough break to fix a meal.

Happiest Baby has solved the centuries-old problem: how to help babies sleep longer…and safer. It has changed the parenting experience…forever! In addition to revolutionary technology, SNOO has a special swaddle that prevents falling out of the bed, hip problems – and most importantly – prevents rolling to the stomach…the leading cause of SIDS.

While SNOO boosts sleep for babies, it also boosts sleep for parents. Parental sleep deprivation is the number one complaint among new parents. And, preventing exhaustion reduces the temptation to fall asleep in bed with a baby (co-sleeping is associated with 70% of infant sleep deaths!). Better rested moms are more successful at breastfeeding and have fewer car accidents, overeating and reduced postpartum depression and anxiety, too.

SNOO also naturally sleep trains babies, eliminating the need to go through an exhaustive week or more of bouts of crying…and even avoiding the “Cry It Out” method entirely. Once a baby is 6 months old, she should be transitioned to a crib. Keep in mind, the AAP recommends that all babies 6 months and younger should sleep in the parents’ room. Continue the use of white noise in their own room for a seamless transition from bassinet to crib.


Photo Credit: Happiest Baby

Sleep for Toddlers (Ages 1- 5 years)

As your child passes her 1st birthday, sleep will continue to be the primary brain activity. By 2 years of age, the average child has spent almost ten thousand hours of her life asleep versus eight thousand hours awake. Between 2 and 5 years of age, the amounts of sleep and awake time will become about the same.

So, how much should sleep toddlers really be getting?

From 1-5 years of age, kids should sleep 12-14 hours a day, counting naps and nights. For example, a 2-year-old may take a 2-hour nap during the day, then sleep from 7 to 6—totaling 13 hours of sleep.

Night Waking in Toddlers

If you thought you were out of the woods with being awakened in the middle of the night with a toddler…think again. According to the 2004 Sleep in America poll, almost half of toddlers and one-third of preschoolers experienced night waking—5-10% were found to do it more than once a night. The study also found that most parents (around 60%) return to the bedroom to give reassurance lasting for around 15 minutes. Which means it’s cutting into your nighttime sleep.

This may lead you to wonder if you need to sleep train your toddler…

How to Sleep Train Your Toddler

There are primarily two methods for sleep training your toddler: the pickup / put down method and the longer and longer method (CIO).

In pickup/put down (or fading) I recommend you play a strong white noise in the room and sitting quietly next to the crib or bed. Then, when your toddler cries, respond to him by picking him up and cuddling—but only until he calms. Stay in the room until he falls deeply asleep. Then, over the course of several days, as he gradually cries less and less, move your chair farther from the crib or bed and closer to the door.

This method, also known as “Cry it Out” is the old Ferber-style graduated extinction but adapted for a toddler. You should be prepared for some resistance if you choose the cry it out method. That should come as no surprise— toddlers are very strong willed!

If you’re at your wit’s end—or your own health, well-being and perhaps even work or caring for your family is suffering due to lack of sleep—cry it out, or CIO, may be appropriate.

At the toddler stage, you can add a few twists for a gentler sleep training approach—like reviewing with your child her nighttime routine during the day, doing doll play, and practicing patience-stretching and magic breathing (both described in The Happiest Toddler on the Block) —but regardless of what you do, you should be prepared for extra friction from your tenacious little cave-kid if you choose the cry it out method.

To increase your odds of success, use all night white noise – starting 1 hour before bedtime – for a week beforehand. Then follow this drill…once you close the door, let your darling cry for 3 minutes and then pop your head in just to make sure she’s okay and let her see that you haven’t deserted the planet. Say “I love you, sweetie, but it’s time to sleep…so night-night, sleep tight.” Longer visits are more likely to give your child false hope that you’ll rescue her and may accidentally encourage more tears of frustration.

After you close the door again, wait 5 minutes and repeat the previous step. After that, wait 10 minutes and do it again. Then, if the crying continues, peek in every 15 minutes until she falls asleep.

The first night, tenacious little kids can cry for an hour or more—and the second night, they may go on even longer. But don’t lose your determination. If you give in after an hour of crying and pick your child up, you’ll end up teaching her exactly the wrong lesson: if you just yell long enough, you’ll get what you want.

So, if you can, hold out. Usually, the third night is much better…and by the fourth night, your toddler should be falling asleep fast and sleeping through the night.

There is a third method that, for many parents, works even better, we call it Twinkle Interruptus. It’s a bit intricate and is based on the idea of patience-stretching (a technique taught in the book Happiest Toddler on the Block). You can read more about it here.

Establishing good sleeping routines is critical for not just your child’s development, but for the whole family. For more advice on sleeping woes and infants and toddlers visit us at Happiest Baby. To learn more about SNOO click here.



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