Babies have different sleep patterns right from the start, and parents handle interrupted nights differently. There are two main approaches to baby sleep after the initial months of needing night feedings: soothing the baby to sleep or not.
Many parents go back and forth between these two methods. Sleep experts and those who support sleep training believe that teaching babies to fall asleep on their own and soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake up at night helps them develop important skills for comfort and independence.
Two techniques for this are:
- Graduated extinction, in which babies are allowed to cry for short, prescribed intervals over the course of several nights.
- Bedtime fading, in which parents delay bedtime in 15-minute increments so the child becomes more and more tired.
And many parents report that these strategies improve their children’s sleep patterns, as well as their own. But there are also parents who find the idea of letting a baby cry at night unduly harsh. Whatever you try, remember some babies, no matter what you do, are not reliably good sleepers.
Parents need to be aware of what sleep deprivation may be doing to them, to their level of functioning, and to their relationships, and take their own sleep needs seriously as well. So, ask for help when you need it, from your pediatrician or a trusted friend or family member.
For older children, the rules around sleep are clearer: Turn off devices, read aloud at bedtime, and build rituals that help small children wind down and fall asleep. Establishing regular bedtime routines and consistent sleep patterns will be even more important as children grow older and are expected to be awake and alert during school hours; getting enough sleep on a regular basis and coming to school well-rested will help grade-school children’s academic performance and their social behavior as well.
Keeping screens out of the bedroom becomes more and more important as children grow — and it’s not a bad habit for adults, either. Even when education went remote during the pandemic, keeping children’s sleep schedules regular helped them stay on course. As your child hits adolescence, her body clock will shift so that she is “programmed” to stay up later and sleep later, often just as schools are demanding early starts.
Again, good family “sleep hygiene,” especially around screens at bedtime, in the bedroom, and even in the bed, can help teenagers disconnect and get the sleep they need. By taking sleep seriously, as a vital component of health and happiness, parents are sending an important message to children at every age.