Any mom can agree that when your little one isn’t sleeping it can be one of the most frustrating things, especially when there isn’t an apparent reason for this interruption to sleep. It can be even more frustrating when you’re following a pretty good routine throughout the day to help them sleep and in fact it’s not helping at all.
Elyse was all over the place for a while. I had already done everything needed to get her eating every three hours during the day, and her nights and days were regulated, but for some reason we were still pretty inconsistent. One night she would sleep through the night, and then the next she would wake up multiple times throughout the night and I could not figure out what the reason was.
I am not a very rigid person with my child’s schedule at all, but I am also not a go with the flow let the baby lead everything kind of person either. I like to combine both methods into one and find a middle ground between the two. I like to guide my child into falling into a pattern, but I listen to their cues along the way. I don’t think every baby fits into the steps A, B, & C because every child is their own person. I do however believe that a lot of the main concepts in sleep training and implementing a normal routine can help any baby sleep through the night.
So when Elyse was still inconsistent with her night time sleep I decided to do what I like to call “sleep trouble shooting.” I posted on Instagram about how successful our round of sleep trouble shooting went and there were so many people asking for the details, so I wanted to put together a post to help other mamas in the middle of those sleepless nights. So, let’s talk sleep trouble shooting.
Sleep trouble shooting starts with a series of questions that you ask yourself to help determine why your baby isn’t sleeping:
1. Could he/she be hungry? This one is always really hard to know for sure. You don’t want to feed them every time they wake, because you want to encourage them to make it through the night without needing to eat. You also don’t want to start feeding them just because they are waking and end up creating a habit for them to need to wake and eat at that time either. If your child takes a pacifier, I recommend trying that first. If they take it and drift off to sleep, but end up waking up multiple times after that I would try feeding. Maybe they really are hungry! If they don’t take a pacifier see what you can do to soothe them back to sleep without picking them up before feeding. If there is just no soothing, and your child is giving you hunger cues go ahead and feed them! It’s not going to help you get any sleep if they are in fact hungry!
2. Is it habitual waking? Is your child consistently waking up at the same time every night? If they are it could be a habit. If they are waking and aren’t really interested in eating, they may just have gotten used to waking at this time and you’ll have to break them out of it. You may have to go in and try to soothe them by patting them, giving the pacifier, adjusting a swaddle, or whatever else you can do without picking them up. You just want to try and avoid picking them up so they can eventually learn to self soothe a little. Sometimes even letting them fuss and whimper for a minute or two can be all you need. Now, I am not a cry it out person so I completely understand if that’s hard on you. But I promise you sometimes two minutes of whimpering and they’re back out!
3. Could something be waking them? Is your child in your room? Is there an alarm that goes off around the time they are waking? Are they waking shortly after you have gone to bed? Is there something that could be disturbing their sleep? Try to go through your mind and see if there is anything that could potentially be waking them at night. It could even be something small!
When asking myself those three questions, I realized that Elyse was in fact hungry when she would wake at 5am. If I tried to pacify her she would wake up multiple times after that until I started her day, but if I would feed her at 5am she would sleep perfectly until it was time to start the day. She just needed a little something to help her make it that extra stretch. So for a couple weeks I fed her at this time.
I knew that Elyse wasn’t waking out of habit at the other times she woke, because she was waking so inconsistently. She was never waking at the same time every night, some nights she wouldn’t even wake at all. I started to wonder if something could be waking her. She was sleeping right next to me so maybe even my movement was bothering her. I know my husband can be a noisy sleeper so I thought maybe he was bothering her. So, even though I hated to move her this early, I tried her in her own room. She had been taking naps in her crib like a pro so I thought maybe it would make a difference at night.
The first night was AWFUL. She woke up every hour and I was exhausted. But I didn’t want to give up because of one night, so we tried again the next night and she slept through the night without waking once!
In addition to asking myself these three questions and determining if those could be the cause of some of our sleep issues, I made sure to do a few things. Now these things are probably the hardest to follow through with on a sleepless night AND with a toddler running around but this is what is going to help more than anything in encouraging your baby to sleep.
1. Start your day at 7am. I don’t know what it is, but 6/7am seems to be the magic number. Babywise, Baby Whisperer, Baby Sleep Site, anything that has been put out there to help your baby sleep always suggests starting the day at 7am. I am not sure the exact reason, but I know that it works. So, when Elyse was all over the place I started our day at 7am. Even that night that I was up every hour I started the day at 7am because I knew that even though I was absolutely exhausted, it would pay off. Starting the day at 7am means that immediately after feeding is wake time, no matter how tired her or I were from the night we were going to stay up for that wake time.
2. Consistent Schedule. When your baby is not sleeping well at night, the more consistent you can be during the day the better. You may think if your child gets no sleep during the day that they will sleep great at night, when in fact the opposite is true. Too little sleep can result in a very tired baby meaning no sleep at night. Stay as consistent as you can with your feedings to make sure they get everything they can, and keep them up at age appropriate lengths for their wake time and encourage those naps! And don’t forget that longer wake time at the end of the day.
3. Be Consistent. No matter how rough your night was, how fussy your baby is, how tired you are, or how much you just don’t want to deal with it…if you put in the work now, it will definitely pay off. I was exhausted for a good week while sleep trouble shooting with Elyse. It was hard to wake up at 7am when I was barely getting any sleep at night. But I can officially say it was worth it, because all it took was one solid week. She has been a great sleeper since! She definitely does have her random nights where she wakes and can’t put herself back to sleep right away, but they are few and far between and nothing like they used to be.
Sleep trouble shooting is definitely a trial and error type thing. I would say the entire process of figuring out what the problem was with Elyse took a couple weeks. In retrospect, if I would have consistently started the day at 7am and not gave into my sleepless self we might have progressed a little quicker. I also think if I would have switched her to her own room sooner it would have paid off. She must be an incredibly light sleeper! I remember thinking, why can she make it some nights but not every night? Then I realized, if something wakes me up, even if it’s as simple as needing to use the bathroom. Sometimes I can’t fall back asleep because once I woke up my body realized it was hungry, and unless I get a little snack or a glass of milk there is no way I can ignore the hunger pains and sleep again. Something was waking Elyse, and she was realizing she was actually too hungry to fall back asleep! So remember, it happens to us too! A little sleep trouble shooting and a lot of consistency can definitely help!
Find all the posts in Baby’s First Year Series here.