READER SLEEP QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Shhh! Baby's sleeping.

Sleeping Oliver, one week old.

A couple of weeks ago, I put out the call for baby sleep questions from readers. I received five excellent questions, all of which have been answered below.

How do I know when my babe is ready to move from two naps a day to one nap?
~Gillian

The transition from two naps to one usually occurs between the ages of 12 and 18 months, with the average child being 14 to 15 months old. Very few children are truly ready to drop the morning nap before one year of age, though it can occur as early as nine months and as late as 21 months while still remaining in the realm of “normal.” Some signs that a child might be ready to drop the morning nap include: shortening of night sleep (taking longer to fall asleep in the evening and/or waking earlier in the morning), newly-emerged crying/resistance at either or both nap times, and shortening of the afternoon nap. If the transition is done at the correct time, moving from two naps to one should not result in a decrease of total (day plus night) sleep time. Instead, the night sleep and the early afternoon nap should lengthen to compensate for the loss of the morning nap.

In some cases, the transition to one nap might need to be accelerated due to external factors, such as a parent’s return to work, the needs of older siblings (to attend scheduled programming in the morning), or daycare requirements.

This recent post gives a day-by-day account of my experience transitioning Oliver from two naps to one over the course of eight days.

When do you stop going in to nurse at night, and start letting them sleep through the night? My son just turned a year old, and we still nurse pretty often. I’d love to be able to go the whole 10-12 hours without nursing, but I’m not sure at what age that is appropriate to force on them. Every once in a while he sleeps 12 hours straight, so I know he’s capable of it.
~Christy

The age at which a child is capable of sleeping 10 to 12 hours without any night feeds varies from one baby to the next. Most babies can drop the final night feed — the parent-led “dream feed” that occurs between 10:00 and 11:00 PM — by six to seven months of age, providing there are no developmental concerns and that the baby is taking in adequate calories during the day (we personally waited until closer to nine months to drop Oliver’s dream feed). By a year, unless there is a medical concern, it is both safe and reasonable to expect a baby to consume all of their required calories during the day, and to get proper, uninterrupted sleep at night.

For a one-year-old, it is merely a matter of changing expectations. He’s already shown that he can do it, and I suspect that it won’t take more than a couple of nights for him to make the transition to only feeding during waking hours. It will probably be easier for all concerned if your husband is the one to respond to any night wakings during the transition period, as it can be confusing and difficult for a baby to see and smell Mom, but not be allowed to nurse (as they have always been allowed for the previous 12 months). Having Dad be the one to provide comfort tends to remove the feeding expectation much more quickly and easily.

I don’t see any need to cut back on daytime nursing in order to accomplish this, as long as frequent nursing is not adversely affecting his consumption of solids, and as long as you personally are okay with it.

My 4.5 month old daughter wakes prematurely from naps only because of a dirty diaper. Any suggestions to help her sleep longer?
~Christina

If she is consistently having a bowel movement at the same time every day, try to adjust her schedule so that her nap commences after the time that she usually goes. If it’s more a case that she consistently poops during a nap, regardless of what time the nap occurs, the only thing you can do right now is to go in and change her as quickly and quietly as possible (try to maintain the dark sleeping environment), and try to help her settle back to sleep by patting or “shushing” her. Sometimes you might succeed at getting her to nap for another 45 to 60 minutes, and sometimes you won’t. Take heart knowing that this won’t last forever. As she gets older and starts to take in solids, the timing of her bowel movements will change, and the problem should disappear on its own :).

What do you do if your child seems to get more upset if you go to settle them, than if you leave them to go back to sleep?
~Quinn

It is not uncommon for some children to become more stimulated by the presence of a parent — especially the mother. If the child is not hysterical, if the intensity of his crying seems to be decreasing overall, and if it seems that he might be capable of falling back to sleep without help, definitely allow him the opportunity to try to do so, for as long as you are comfortable. When settling is necessary, it is almost always easier if the non-breastfeeding partner is the one to do it. If you are doing a “check and console” method, you might have more success with longer windows between checks (every 10 to 15 minutes, instead of every five), and with keeping the checks very brief — one to two minutes at most. Often, the child will initially get more upset when the parent comes in, but settle quite quickly after the parent leaves (usually after the second check). The good news is that children who become more stimulated by the presence of their parents often turn out to be excellent self-soothers :).

How do you suggest helping my son sleep in later? He is sometimes up for the morning at 4:30 to 5:30 AM. He usually goes to bed around 7:30 PM, and has been sleeping through until then (some mornings, until 6:00 or 7:00, or later). He’s been getting one nap for awhile, but when it happens depends on the day — sometimes it starts at 10:00 and other days starts at 3:00 PM, but it’s usually at least 1.5 to two hours.
~Hilary

Biologically (according to circadian rhythms), 6:00 AM represents the cut-off between night and day. It is common for a child to have an arousal around 5:00 AM, after which, if they go back to sleep, they experience an additional period of deep sleep. It can be quite difficult for children to fall back asleep after this 5:00 AM waking, as they have had many hours of good sleep behind them, and therefore don’t feel as sleepy as they would upon waking in the middle of the night. This last period of deep sleep is thought to be very important, so it is well worth persisting in getting a child to push through the early morning waking and go back to sleep.

The first thing I would do is to have him nap at a consistent time every day, ideally right after lunch. This alone might be enough to solve the problem, without any other interventions. Too early of a nap can cause earlier wakings because the nap actually becomes a replacement for that last period of deep sleep. It essentially becomes an extension of the night sleep, with a break in between. Too late of a nap causes early wakings for a similar reason — the nap becomes a front-end extension of the night sleep, and by the 5:00 AM waking, he has had all of his nighttime sleep hours plus those of the nap, in a relatively short period of time. In any case, moving the nap to mid-day gives him two properly-spaced “awake windows” of roughly five hours each, which will prevent episodes of over-tiredness and probably result in a natural lengthening of both the nap and his night sleep.

If you still have early wakings a couple of weeks after the naps have been stabilized, the quickest and easiest method is to just leave him in his crib until 6:00 — or later, if he falls back to sleep and remains asleep past 6:00. Whether or not you use this approach might depend on how early he’s woken, whether he is upset or is just awake and babbling, and how much crying you are comfortable with. Another method you can use is the “check and console” approach, where you go in at set intervals and comfort him for a minute or two. Beware that while this method is quite effective during middle of the night wakings, it can be more stimulating than helpful in the morning, due to the fact that he will not feel as tired after having had the majority of his night’s sleep. But it allows you to set and enforce an appropriate limit without leaving him alone to cry for a potentially long period of time.

Once you have stabilized the nap schedule and addressed the too-early wakings (i.e. once he is consistently sleeping to 6:00 AM or later), you can try to gradually delay his wake-up time by about 15 minutes every two to three days, until you reach the point where he won’t sleep any later. Beware that because 6:00 is the normal biological wakeup time, your success at this endeavour will vary, depending on your child. As well, while it can be tempting to move bedtime later in order to produce a later waking time, this rarely works and almost always backfires, resulting in even earlier wakings!

Do you have any sleep questions or dilemmas? Share them in the comments below (or email me), and I will choose a few more to address in the coming weeks.

8 responses to “READER SLEEP QUESTIONS ANSWERED

  1. Actually, I decided to read your post because I saw that picture of Oliver sleeping and thought it too precious for words! What a beautiful boy. 🙂

  2. Great advice, Carli!

    If I may offer one more suggestion to Hilary, she might also experiment to see if an earlier bedtime results in a later waking hour in the morning. In my experience and many others’, a later-than-optimal bedtime can actually backfire and result in a too-early wake up. Might be worth a try! And I definitely agree that standardizing the nap time is critical.

  3. It is a very informative post. I hope a series of similar posts will follow. My son is 5.5 month old. We have difficulties with naps. He usually has two naps a day, sometimes three. After 10-15 minutes of soothing (singing, walking) I put him in his crib, and he usually falls asleep on his own. But he wakes up after 40 minutes. I try modified wake to sleep method with him, which sometimes works sometimes not. Do you have any suggestion to prolong his naps ? With the 40 minute naps he becomes crancky very sonn.

  4. Thanks for your post, I really enjoy your blog! My son is 6 months old tomorrow! He usually wakes at 6am – no matter what! I try for a 7pm bedtime, depending on his last nap. Should I try for an earlier bedtime? I’ve tried a little later (8pm at the latest) and he still wakes at 6am! For the last couple months he was waking just once for a feed between 2-5am, but now is waking twice, what is up with that? Haha. Thanks for your help, I appreciate it!

  5. Hello and thanks so much for all of your insightful, candid and interesting posts! My baby is just over three months old and still feeding regularly through the night. My husband and I have never and still don’t have much of a routine in our lives (he works in the evening/night and my schedule is unusual) so we have no problem being flexible in going along with the hours our son wishes to keep. This means that depending on what we’re doing, he might sleep for long periods during the day and less so at night or vice versa. We have been keeping a bed-time routine (bath, change, story etc) at a fairly consistent time every night but his ability to fall asleep at that time has been inconsistent, which we’ve just been rolling with. We don’t leave him to cry or fuss, if he isn’t sleeping we hang out with him while keeping things quiet and lights dim. Once he does get to sleep he can go for up to five hours at a time (usually three though) and I’ve recently been trying to make sure we get up at the same(ish) time every day. I guess my question is, is this inconsistency OK for our son at this stage in his life and development? Sure, my husband and I aren’t always getting a great night’s sleep but that’s not my main concern, I’m just not sure that we’re setting our son up for success with his future relationship with sleep and I’m aware of how important that is. Or could this easy-going, stress-free attitude be a good way for him to develop the ability to feel allowed to just sleep when he feel like he needs to? Also, any tips for developing good sleep habits specifically for bed-sharing families? Thanks again!

  6. Hi! I love that you’re doing the baby sleep business, and I’ve really enjoyed reading as you’ve transitioned from talking about fitness and pregnancy to parenting!
    If you do another reader sleep questions post I have one for you that I’d love your help with.
    We sleep trained my boy at 6 months old and struggled with too many night wakeups for a couple months due to 6 teeth coming in and constipation and sickness, but now at almost 9 months he is FINALLY sleeping well through the night. We put him to bed around 7 and he is up for the day between 7 and 7:30, but I am still doing one feeding when he wakes around 5 am. Would you suggest adding in a dream feed to slowly wean him from the one feeding, or letting him CIO in the morning? He’s a big 25 lb baby so I’m not worried about his intake of milk at this point. I am worried that the dream feed wouldn’t prevent the 5 am wake-up, and that CIO at 5 am would be rough and we would end up starting the day then. Would love your advice!
    Thanks!!!

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