Trouble getting your cranky bub to drift into dreamland? These tips might just do the trick.
WORDS REBECCA WONG
As we all know, a restless baby who refuses to sleep takes an undeniable toll on you as a parent. After all, you need your precious ZZZs just as much as your little one. “Most of the time babies are restless, crying and unable to sleep because they are simply too overtired,” observes Zoe Chu, baby and child sleep specialist at SG Supernanny. “When this happens, their bodies will release cortisol, a second wind of stimulating energy causing them to be hyper-alert and unable to fall asleep.” While broken sleep can trigger a nasty recurring cycle, there are ways to keep restlessness at bay and lull your baby into slumber. Here are a few helpful tips to get started.
Observe Cues and Take Action!
“Timing is everything – instead of waiting till your child gets restless, watch for cues and put your child down before he or she is overtired,” advises Chu. Sleepy cues include drowsiness, decreased activity, slower motions, drooping eyelids, the rubbing of eyes and them burying their face into your chest. Be observant, and once they exhibit possible signs of sleepiness, take advantage of this ‘sleep window’ and put them to bed.
Watch the Clock
Another helpful tip would be to watch the clock as a gauge for how long your baby should stay awake. “Generally, for newborns, their ‘wake time’ (ability to stay awake) is only around 45 minutes to one hour,” notes Chu. “For infants three to six months old, they’ve got a one-and-a-half to two hour wake time. As for babies six to 14 months of age, a two- to three-hour wake time is usually observed.” As such, if babies are kept awake for too long beyond these wake times, they’ll inevitably start to get restless or cranky.
Ultimately, Chu emphasises that the cure for a restless baby is sleep. “Your baby is overstimulated and her brain needs to rest,” she explains. “Get your baby to nap right away or give her an early bedtime to help reduce the accumulated sleep debts.”
Keep Things Quiet
Overstimulation plays a huge part in working up an already cranking baby, so be sure not to overload their senses if you want them to stay calm and relaxed. Avoid active play sessions, prolonged eye contact or having friends and relatives over right before their nap or bedtime. Make an extra effort to keep your environment quiet as well. Turn the TV down, keep conversations out of your baby’s earshot, and close the windows and blinds to keep out as much outdoor stimuli as possible.
Ditch the Sleep Props
Chu cites a baby’s reliance on external sleep props as a huge factor that contributes to his or her restlessness. By sleep props, we’re referring to actions or things that your child associates with sleeping. Examples of external sleep props include rocking, patting, feeding, bouncing, baby hammocks or even the pacifier. “When children who have been rocked to sleep wake up from a sleep cycle, they are not able to connect to the next sleep cycle because they need to be rocked again,” Chu explains. “Even if you do try rocking your baby back to sleep, they are so wide awake they just don’t want to nap or sleep anymore.”
As babies get older, they'll find it increasingly frustrating having to rely on someone else to aid them in falling asleep, Chu adds. The problem lies in them not knowing how to fall asleep on their own because they’ve never been taught or given the chance to do so.
Be Firm in Teaching the Art of Self-settling
Once you’ve let the sleep props go, it’s time to be firm in teaching your baby the art of self-settling. One method of doing so is letting her ‘cry-it-out’, a sleep-training method whose first proponent was paediatrician Richard Ferber in Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. If you’ve always been rushing to placate your little one the moment she starts crying, try letting her self-soothe back to sleep instead. Yes, it may sound harsh, but keep in mind the big picture of training an independent sleeper. “A baby who can fall asleep independently will have good solid naps and be able to sleep through the night once she is old enough,” assures Chu.
Be Aware of GER
On occasion, restlessness may also be caused by a common infant medical condition called Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), also known as acid reflux. According to Dr Sears, paediatrician and author of parenting books such as The Baby Sleep Book and Parenting the Fussy Baby, possible symptoms include sour breath, wet burps and spitting up. Soothe your little one by elevating the head of her crib about 30 degrees to reduce nighttime regurgitation, Dr Sears recommends. If your bub is unable to sleep on her back, try letting her sleep on her left side. This position sees the stomach inlet being higher than the outlet, helping food stay down. Of course, if GER becomes a recurring health issue, do consult your paediatrician for the best solution.
Seek Help from a Baby Sleep Coach
“If you are still unsure how and where to start, then it might not be a good idea to engage a baby sleep consultant,” recommends Chu. A sleep coach will usually work to create a sleep plan suitable for your family, and ensure you and your baby get enough rest. Going at it alone can be exhausting, so a sleep coach will motivate you whenever you hit speed bumps. “It’s like hiring a fitness trainer to get you on the right track and make sure you stick to the plan, “says Chu. “But in this case, you’ll have a sleep coach teaching you how to train your baby to sleep well.”