What exactly is baby sleep training? It sounds very technical and, well, complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. “Put simply, sleep training is teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently,” says Hadley Seward, a certified sleep consultant and founder of Bonne Nuit Baby based in New York City and France. Seward found this career path after her son’s sleep patterns went haywire at 13 months and she had to train him how to sleep. When she was able to get his schedule under control, she insists that she felt more confident as a parent.
Now, the founder of Bonne Nuit Baby meets with parents who suffer from the same baby sleep difficulties as she did with her son. “As a sleep consultant, I love the moment when a new mom—who hasn’t slept in months—tells me that her baby slept through the night for the first time,” Seward says. “That’s what makes this work worthwhile for me.” Below, we’ve rounded up Seward’s top six baby sleeping tips so you and your little one can wake up well rested.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE CLOCK
Babies under 6 months often find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time without becoming overtired, Seward says. There’s a scientific reason for this: Once they become tired, their body produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which make it harder for them to settle down. “To counteract this, use the timer on your phone to make sure you don’t lose track of time between naps,” Seward says. (Heads-up: Most newborns can’t go for more than 45 to 60 minutes without a nap.)
CREATE A SOOTHING SLEEP ROUTINE
Babies need consistency, Seward says. When your baby hits 3 months, start using a five- to 10-minute routine before nap and bedtime (aka changing into pj’s, reading a fun book, or listening to songs). “A short but consistent sleep routine will help your baby to understand that it’s time to unwind and that sleep time is approaching,” Seward says.
CONTROL THE LIGHT
“After a baby’s Circadian rhythm has matured, exposure to darkness triggers melatonin production, which encourages sleepiness,” says Seward. This means that after 4 months, your baby will be more alert and aware of their surroundings. Make sure to expose your baby to tons of natural light during awake hours and darkness during sleep times. Ensuring that the room is dark will allow them to fall asleep more easily and ensure a better rest.
PRIORITIZE NAPS AT HOME
After 4 months, it’s also important to have your child sleep at home. Remember that daytime sleep is just as important as nighttime sleep during this period of time. Why is this? “After 4 months, napping on the go is the equivalent of an adult sleeping on a plane—you may be able to fall asleep, but it’s not a deep, restorative sleep,” says Seward. Aim to have your baby home for the morning and afternoon nap, and if you need an outing, go on a walk or take a ride in the car for the afternoon nap.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF AN EARLY BEDTIME
From Seward’s experience, more often than not, parents put their children to bed too late. She says the goal is to put your child to bed before they become overtired (and their body begins to produce those pesky stress hormones we already mentioned). Until your child turns 3 or 4, make sure to give them an earlier bedtime if they skipped a nap or didn't sleep soundly during nap time.
LET YOUR BABY SETTLE THEMSELF
Although Seward doesn’t advocate sleep-training newborns, she does believe it’s okay to give your baby practice in self-soothing at any age. “French parents have mastered ‘le pause,’ which is simply giving their babies a minute or two before they go to them,” she says. “Even if your baby can’t yet fall asleep on her own, still give her the opportunity to practice being in her crib by herself for a few moments every day.”
Be sure to read about the trending baby names of 2017, and share your go-to tips for sleep training in the comments!