Getting Baby to Sleep Through the Night
If our children don't get the right amount of sleep at the right time when they need to sleep, they accumulate a sleep debt. The body fights for survival and tries to stay alert and awake despite this sleep debt by producing stimulating chemicals and this "turbocharging" ratchets up the level of neurological arousal. This is what we call a "second wind." Now it becomes harder to fall asleep unassisted or stay asleep overnight or both. Sometimes this sleep debt slowly sneaks up and the resulting cumulative sleepiness does not much affect our child's behavior except for sleep problems.
After 6 weeks of age, all infants began to need an earlier bedtime. This is the circadian rhythm for night sleep. Instead of falling asleep between 9 and 11 PM, he needed to fall asleep between 6 and 8 PM. The bedtime may not be the same every night but it tends to drift to an earlier hour.
Your son was headed in the direction of sleeping through the night around 4 months but got off schedule and got sick and accumulated a sleep debt. So during naturally occurring arousals at night, he has more complete arousals instead of partial arousals because he is in a more alert/wakeful state 24/7. This makes it more difficult for him to return to sleep unassisted (self-soothing) in the middle of the night.
Other common situations causing a bedtime to be too late include:
1. An older sibling distracts the parents and they do not notice the baby getting drowsy at an earlier hour.
2. Day care when the naps might be too brief or occurring at the wrong times so the child gets drowsy at an earlier hour.
3. Parents who both work outside the house and do not see drowsiness develop at an earlier hour and when they return home from work their enthusiastic play masks the child's drowsiness.
The solution is to experimentally, by trial and error, move the bedtime earlier. My research proved that simply changing the time when the baby sleeps can reduce or eliminate night time awakenings.
Additionally, if possible, consider moving him to his own room and feed him once or twice (no more than twice) if you feel he is truly hungry.
More from Dr. Weissbluth:
- Twin sleep issues
- Sleep for colicky babies
- Getting babies to fall asleep earlier
- When toddlers climb out of their cribs
- Getting kids to stay in bed
- Crying at bedtime
- Keeping kids in their own rooms
- Teaching kids to fall asleep on their own
- Naps for fussy babies
- Crying it out
- Putting kids back to bed