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Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Updated on November 10, 2017
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Allen is a parent with two kids. He knows stuff. Lots of stuff. Parenting is hard.

Parenting is Hard

One of the most stressful, exasperating, frustrating, divorce-inducing aspects of having a new baby is figuring out how to get the damn thing to sleep.

Among the most sought-after advice among new parents is how to get a newborn to sleep. Even if you're aware of the fact that it can take anywhere from several months to several years to get a child sleeping through the night, many parents aren't ready for the sleepless nights and how it will affect them and usually how it affects them is that they start believing there's some miracle for getting their child to sleep through the night.

This article is intended to provide support for new parents and hopefully to shine some light at the end of the tunnel. My children are now ages two and four and both sleep through the night. Looking back, I remember how frustrating it was trying to figure out how to get them to sleep, but also how frustrating it was reading the advice of sleep experts and parents on what kinds of things worked for them because a lot of them didn't know what they were talking about.

I just want to share some perspective on sleep and urge new parents to take the long view when it comes to developing good sleep habits in their children.

A few years from now when you're child is sleeping through the night, you won't care much that you spent a few hours up in the middle of the night.

Sleeping baby
Sleeping baby

Develop Good Sleep Habits

The main goal of putting your baby to bed each night until he or she sleeps through the night is to develop good sleep habits. You are teaching your baby how to go to sleep and how to feel loved and supported in that endeavor. If you are doing anything else when it comes to developing your child's sleep habits, then you are doing the wrong thing. Try to remember that doing the wrong thing to get your baby to sleep in the short term will likely be something you regret doing in the long term. I realize that's a very hard thing to remember in the moment, but it's important to focus on it as much as possible because you will feel as though it will never happen.

A consistent bedtime is critical to getting me to sleep.
A consistent bedtime is critical to getting me to sleep.

I Feel Your Pain

Knowing what I do about other parents' experiences, I think mine probably falls in the middle, but I just want people reading this who are going through sleep struggles right now to know that I've been there. I know what you're feeling. Sometimes we gain a lot of relief by hearing the painful experiences of others.

Actually, I'll relate a few other stories first. I had one friend whose son slept through the night at nine weeks. The second child took five years. And while the first child slept through easily, he slept so soundly that he peed in his bed every night until he was about seven or so. So, sleeping through the night can have some drawbacks.

I had another friend whose daughter woke up every hour for the first three years of her life and I know that her parents were the most loving parents there could be. They looked tired a lot.

As for me, my second child has been a lot easier to deal with than the first and I like to credit the lessons we learned with the first for getting the second one to be comfortable going to sleep. Anyway, with our first child, we never quite figured out how to dump him in his crib and leave the room because he'd scream and cry the second he was left alone. So, for the first two years of his life, I rocked him to sleep. There'd be times I'd rock him for forty-five minutes, think he had fallen asleep, only to set him down ever-so-gently in his crib and have him wake up. There would be times I'd hold him for two hours in the middle of the night until I thought my arms would fall off. Those were the times I started looking for solutions and going on the internet hoping for a miracle answer.

Ignore Everyone Who Says Your Kids Should be Sleeping Through the Night at 4 Months

One of the most frustrating things about going through the process of getting your baby to sleep through the night is hearing all the stories about somebody else's baby who was born sleeping through the night or started sleeping through the night at 3 months or is the "easiest baby in the world to get to sleep". Yes, you will want to hunt those parents down and kill them. Also, keep in mind that a lot of parents lie or embellish the truth because they want you to think they're great parents. Parents are often embarrassed talking about the fact their little one doesn't go to sleep or wakes up five times during the night or that they sometimes lose their temper with their children. People avoid that embarrassment by lying.

Most parents will feel extremely frustrated as they witness and experience their child's sleep maturation, but don't let that cause you to give up or take the advice of people who don't know anything about good sleep habits or who aren't telling you the truth or who aren't willing to discuss their frustrations with parenting.

Because you're frustrated, you'll want to discuss sleeping with everyone from your mother to your neighbor to your fellow parents and everyone will give you different advice. Spend time with the people who will discuss their frustrations and your frustrations in an honest way and avoid people who seem to have easy answers. There are no easy answers in parenting. Parenting is a complex endeavor that requires a lot of trial and error, is fraught with frustration, and involves constant perceived failure. The highs are pretty damn high and the lows can be pretty damn low. Don't let some happy-go-lucky, greeting card writer try to convince you otherwise.

Don't let yourself get depressed by people who seem to have all of your answers. They don't.

Make sure your baby gets regular naps.
Make sure your baby gets regular naps.

What are Good Sleep Habits?

Good sleep habits are consistent sleep habits. Parents who don't keep a consistent bedtime, consistent bath time, and generally establish patterns and expectations for their children early in life, will end up with kids who have sleep problems. To establish good sleep habits, have dinner at the same time every night. Go up and take a bath at the same time every night. Put your kids to be at the same time every night. At some point every night, try to encourage quiet and quiet behaviors so that when your little one actually lays down, they're not hyper. These things all encourage good sleep habits.

Also, make sure your baby is getting regular naps. Babies who don't get good naps don't generally sleep well at night either.

Do you approve of the "cry it out" method?

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Does the "cry it out" Method Work?

During your time helping your children develop good sleep habits, you will probably be tempted, particularly when they are not sleeping, to try the "cry it out method", which basically involves leaving your baby in his or her crib or bed and letting the baby cry until it falls asleep. There are certainly degrees of the "cry it out method" that don't involve simply leaving the child to scream until it wears itself out, but that's the basic idea.

Many parents swear by the cry-it-out method citing anecdotal evidence such as "it only took three days of crying and then my baby started sleeping on her own." I think I've read studies that have shown that it actually does work for many. I'm sure I could provide articles one way or the other, so I'm not. I'll just provide some anecdotal evidence myself because you can read whatever you want, for or against, on this subject.

Babies usually cry for a specific reason: hungry, wet, scared; etc. When you drop a baby in a dark room and walk out the door and the baby starts crying, it's a pretty good bet that it's scared. Not responding to a scared child seems like a bad parenting technique to me.

That being said, teaching your baby to sleep has to involve leaving the room at some point, so there's likely to be a certain amount of crying in that process. You just want your child to know that we he or she cries for you, you will come. In helping our children to learn how to go to sleep, there was some of this. It's one thing if the child calls for you. It's another thing if your child screams bloody murder. I guess it's up to each parent what they can tolerate.

Celebrate the Small Victories

Celebrate the little victories helping your baby learn how to sleep, like the first time she sleeps two hours straight or four hours straight. Celebrate when he falls asleep on his own for the first time.

Also, remember that, technically-speaking, sleeping through the night is defined as sleeping five hours straight, so celebrate that when it happens.

Celebrate every little step forward because you're likely to be taking a few steps back each time. Remember, sleep maturation is a real thing and you'll be able to see it and a lot of it is dependent on the personality of your child.

What is the earliest you've gotten a baby to sleep through the night consistently?

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What Did We Do With Our Second Child That We Didn't With the First?

Here's what I remember:

The first thing my wife and I were committed to doing was getting our second child in his own room and in a crib as fast as possible. Ultimately, I think that doing this got my son adjusted to the idea he was expected to sleep in his own bed and in his own room faster than with my first child. Like any new parents, I think we coddled my first child too much with regard to sleep, mostly because we weren't confident in what we were doing. The more your child gets used to the idea that you're going to be near them while they're sleeping, the more upset they're going to be when you're not. Babies like routines. I think our first son got very used to the routine of sleeping with us and then of me rocking him to sleep. Our second child got used to being in his crib early and adapted more easily.

The other thing we did with our second child was leave the room more quickly and on a more regular basis. Interestingly, he'll cry sometimes, but it's more like he's trying to see if we'll come back. If he's clearly upset, I'll go back. If he's not, I'll wait. If I wait, he usually gives up and just kind of talks to himself until he falls asleep.

With both, we're consistent and firm about the routine and demanding that they stay in their beds and such. It all seems to work pretty well.

Avoid Screen Time

It's incredibly hard to avoid screen time as a parent today. Screens are everywhere and kids gravitate toward them like moths to a fire. However, too much screen time is bad for children. Some will argue that any screen time is bad for children.

Certainly, infants should not be given any screen time and parents who are trying to figure out why their babies won't sleep should look at too much screen time as a possible cause.

Television and other types of screen time can cause all kinds of problems, not the least of which is disrupted sleep.

If your child is having problems sleeping, try drastically reducing the amount of screen time you're giving your child.

© 2013 Allen Donald


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