If your baby is waking multiple times a night or having trouble with sleep transitions, rest assured that you are not alone. Over 14 years ago, Zoe Chu was in that same predicament when her new-born twin boys catnapped and woke every 30 minutes howling, leaving her exhausted and at her wit's end.
Today, Zoe is the proud mother of four children who are independent sleepers and is using her passion for sleeping well to help other parents realise the dream of sound sleep for their family.
As the sleep consultant behind the SG Supernanny website, Zoe says that a baby with interrupted sleep doesn't just negatively affect those around him but also affects the baby's mood, physical and emotional health.
Unfortunately, there are some common sleep misconceptions that keep babies waking up multiple times a night, a scenario that can go on for months or even years.
"Many parents still think that babies need to wake multiple times, feed often at night, and that rocking or nursing a baby is helpful to sleep," said Zoe.
"Instead, what happens is that the baby ends up with sleep associations that she needs to fall and stay asleep—such as being rocked, patted or nursed—which builds poor sleep habits."
The secret to helping your child catch those Zzz’s? It comes down to prioritising sleep in your family and creating a regular bedtime routine.
1. Put your baby down before she is overly tired
"It's not your job to help your child fall asleep. Place them in the crib when they show signs of being tired and ready to sleep, even if they fuss a bit," said Zoe. "Be observant and recognise the signs of sleep readiness—rubbing of eyes, yawning, or fussing.”
She explained that when babies are overtired, they may have an increase of adrenaline or cortisol, which keeps them awake and alert. Then they may get very cranky or hyperactive, and will fight sleep.
Depending on their age, babies require different amounts of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends as a rule of thumb that the sleep duration for newborns is between 14 to 17 hours, infants (4-11 months) between 12 to 15 hours, toddlers (1-2 years) between 11 to 14 hours, and preschoolers (3-5 years) between 10-13 hours.
It's a myth that babies who nap well in the day won't sleep well at night. "Sleep promotes sleep," said Zoe.
2. Choose a sleep training method
Sleep training can help babies to be independent sleepers—to fall asleep without any assistance and to fall back asleep when they wake up in the night. Consider the needs of the baby and your family when choosing a sleep training method. There's no need to let your baby cry her heart out to sleep train, as there are other gentle sleep training approaches, suggests Zoe.
Some popular options include:
- Fading method: Gradually decrease your presence in the baby's room when putting her down to sleep. For example, you could sit in a chair next to the crib until she nods off. Each night, move the chair farther away from the crib until you are out of the room.
- Pick-up/Put-down method: Put baby in the crib after going through the bedtime routine. Soothe only if the baby cries and put the baby back in the crib when she's calm.
3. Stick to a routine
Babies thrive on routines. Ensure regular wake and sleep times, and have a bedtime routine that has relaxing activities such as singing lullabies, a warm bath or reading a bedtime story.
Zoe suggests being consistent even in how and where you put the baby to sleep. Changing the sleep environment or using different ways to get the baby to bed—such as nursing, co-sleeping, or using a baby hammock—can be confusing for the baby.