The final set of recommendations for sleep-training methods that I'll summarize in this series of posts about specific techniques is kind of hard to paraphrase in some pithy heading. It's not really a method per se, but a general philosophy or approach, I guess you'd call it. What I've labeled here as "sleep routines and scheduling" encompasses a bunch of general pointers for making kids more amenable to sleeping longer and better. This approach to sleep training involves creating good sleep habits from a very young age. It generally focuses on putting babies on sleeping and feeding schedules that promote children’s capacity to sleep through the night and nap regularly. Perhaps the best-known manual for this approach is Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. But in truth, most grandmothers with lots of experience child rearing have given the same advice for decades, probably centuries.
The rationale for this approach is that babies and toddlers have natural, neurologically-based sleep rhythms that should be respected. It is the parents’ job to structure the child’s day and night such that sleep is optimized. The goal is to get babies and toddlers to sleep for age-appropriate durations throughout the day and night by watching the baby’s cues and following a handful of tips. There are about five main tips that can help children fall into healthy sleep habits. Some may be counterintuitive, but they are generally all “tried and true” techniques.
(1) Sleep begets sleep. The more a child naps during the day, the more likely it is that she will sleep longer and wake less frequently during the night.
(2) If a child is waking up frequently during the night or waking up far too early, put the child to sleep earlier in the night (rather than the more intuitive later bedtime).
(3) Do not allow babies younger than 4 months or so to stay awake for more than 1-2 hours at a time during the day.
(4) Watch for tell-tale signs of fatigue and put your baby down for a nap or for bedtime as soon as you see these signs. The sleepy signs include the baby rubbing her eyes, yawning, batting her ears, whining or fussing, and so on.
(5) Use the same bedtime routine every night (often including bath, bottle, breastfeeding, stories, rocking, and so on).
Another tip comes from a number of online sources, the origins of which are difficult to pinpoint. I came upon it on the parenting advice blog, AskMoxie. It’s called the 2-3-4 nap rule and an astonishing number of babies between the ages of about 6 and 18 months end up conforming to this rule eventually. Keeping it in mind was enormously helpful for scheduling our boys’ naps. The idea is that 2 hours after the baby wakes up in the morning, put him down for his first nap (whether you see the signs of fatigue or not). Then, 3 hours after he wakes from that first nap, put him down for his second nap. Then, 4 hours after he wakes from that second nap, put him down for the night. So, for babies who sleep during the night from approximately 7 PM until 7 AM (hahahahahahah! Most of you wouln't be reading this silly blog if your kids were sleeping through on that schedule, but let's dare to dream, shall we?) the sleep and wake periods fall out roughly as follows:
7:00 AM – Wake for the day
9:00 AM – First nap
10:00 AM – Wake from first nap
1:00 PM – Second nap
3:00 PM – Wake from second nap
7:00 PM – Bedtime
Generally, after the child is around 12-18 months, she drops the first morning nap and the afternoon nap can get a little longer and perhaps start a little earlier.
There are a whole lot more tips and tricks for maximizing children's nap times and helping them sleep better during the night that can be categorized under this general rubric of sleep routines and schedules. What are/were your favourite tips? What seemed to work for EVERYONE else's kids but never worked for your little one? What do you wish you were told about children's sleep schedules and routines that you know now?