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July 2007
Good Luck and Goodnight
Coaching Your Child to Better Sleep Habits

by Julie Kirtz Garrett

What is a good night’s sleep worth to a busy, sleep-deprived mom? Rockville mother, Elaine Sigman, paid $600, and she considers it a bargain. For that amount she could have supplied herself with a daily café latte for six months straight – enough caffeine to keep her perky all morning. Instead, Sigman hired a sleep coach to get her 2-year-old son to sleep through the night. "We didn’t know how to get him out of our bed," says Sigman. "My husband and I were ready to kill each other."

Hired Sleep Help

Sigman was worn out, cranky and six months pregnant with her second child when she called Chevy Chase, D.C., sleep coach, Annika Brindley. After an office consultation, Brindley gave Sigman a personalized action plan. For the first three nights, Sigman or her husband sat in a chair next to their son’s bed until he fell asleep. On the fourth night, they moved the chair out of his room. They told their son that if he got out of bed, they would have to close his bedroom door. They kept it open if he stayed in his bed. When he threw a fit, Mom or Dad calmly reassured him they were close and would check on him later. Brindley called Sigman each morning to see if the plan was working.

I was skeptical at first. But it took 21 days, and now we, the parents, have control back at night," says Sigman. "He’s much happier, too, because he knows what to expect." Brindley and most sleep experts believe sleep is a learned skill. "The goal is to teach your child to soothe herself to sleep," she says. Brindley works with parents all over the country. Although hiring a sleep coach can certainly pay off, it isn’t always necessary. Learning how much sleep babies and children need at each stage of development can help you establish, and stick to, a healthy sleep routine. Here is age-by-age information to get you started.

The First Weeks

When you first bring your baby home, go with the flow. Most experts say babies from one to four weeks need 15 _ to 16 _ hours of sleep each day. Your baby will wake up to feed every few hours all day and night. Her biological clock will kick in gradually as she begins to sleep more at night. While some babies are restless from the start, most will sleep from feeding to feeding if they are getting enough to eat. Try different soothing techniques on your baby, such as rubbing her back or singing a lullaby. Discovering what helps her sleep will pay off in the months ahead.

2 to 4 Months

A baby at this stage typically sleeps 14 to 15 hours a day. Her sleep patterns become a little more regular, and she will start to sleep for longer periods of time, perhaps four to six hours. Learn to recognize when your baby is getting tired. Start to introduce a soothing bedtime routine before she gets cranky. Get her used to sleeping alone by putting her back in her crib after she is fed and before she falls asleep.

Avoid long and elaborate bedtime rituals because your baby will learn to rely on them. Sabrina Detlef, of Alexandria, learned the hard way with her second child. "We took to driving him down George Washington Parkway and just hoped he wouldn’t wake up when he was placed back in his bed," says Detlef. With her second baby she discovered, "Keeping it simple makes it easier on everyone."

4 to 9 Months

By four months or so, babies will start to get most of their sleep at night. Thirteen to 14 hours of sleep is typical, including three daytime naps. A nap routine will help you establish a healthy nightly sleep pattern. A little fussing or crying is okay as your baby settles in and falls asleep. She may wake up at 5 a.m. and go back to sleep. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to let babies cry it out a little," says Judy Lyons, Arlington mom of two. "I got up at night for far too long with our second child, and it really disrupted our lives."

If you work outside the home, encourage your baby’s caregiver to be consistent with naps. Try to avoid late afternoon naps, which may push back bedtime.

One Year and Beyond

Unless she is not thriving, your baby no longer needs to be fed at night when she reaches a year. Break out the champagne (for you, not her). This is a perfect excuse for an adults-only dinner party. But don’t let your guard down. Just when you think you’ve nailed down a solid sleep routine, be prepared to make adjustments. Your child may want only two naps now, so you may need to make her nightly bedtime earlier. This is a good thing. A bedtime story can help both parent and child relax at the end of the day, but avoid climbing into her bed. The nightly snuggle will be difficult to cut off later. Just ask Sigman, who ended up hiring the sleep coach. "It used to take two of us to put our son to bed, and he would still wake up at night," she says. "He was grumpy and grouchy the next day, and so were we."

Whether you hire a professional or come up with your own plan, developing healthy sleep habits will help everyone in the family get the sleep they need and deserve.

Julie Kirtz Garrett is a writer in Washington.
Tips From the National Sleep Foundation:

1. Set a firm bedtime and wake-up time. Try not to change the time much on the weekends.

2. Establish a routine. A warm bath and a bedtime story really do work.

3. Shhhhh. Turn off the television and lower the noise in the house after dinner.

4. Control what your child eats and drinks. Avoid feeding your older child too close to bedtime.

5. Relax. Stick to calm, low-key activities to prevent your baby from getting over-stimulated before bedtime.

More Sleep Help:


www.littlesleepers.com: Sleep coach Annika Brindley’s website

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

Helping Your Child Sleep Through the Night by Joanne Cuthbertson and Susanna Schevill

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley

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