Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Baby Sleep Strategies

By Dyan Eybergen BA, RN © 2010

Due to temperament, some infants resist the interventions parents attempt to get them to sleep on their own. American psychiatrists Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas confronted the nature-nurture dichotomy and began looking at temperament traits in 1956. Collecting longitudinal data from over 100 children and following them from infancy through early adulthood, Chess and Thomas identified nine basic temperament traits that affect everything a child does, including learning how to sleep independently. These psychiatrists categorized these nine traits into three major temperamental types: easy, difficult and slow to adapt (keeping in mind these traits were named in the 1950’s: thus not so politically correct).

There have a been a number of methods touted to be the “best sleep solution”—The Ferber method, CIO (cry-it-out) and desensitization, to name a few—that guarantee your baby will sleep through the night in three to seven days. The difficulty with all of these sleep programs is that they do not take an individual child’s temperament into consideration. An “easy” child may sleep through the night in five days or less—just as the text book promised; but a “difficult” or “slow to adapt” infant may take a much longer time to adjust. Some babies may take more than two weeks before the new sleep routine takes effect and some may never be “trained” to sleep on their own as infants. Parents are challenged to find a strategy that will work with the personality of their child and within a reasonable amount of time. When choosing a sleep method it’s a good idea for parents to discuss how long they will stick with a particular program before deciding it’s not for them or their child.

Sleep scientists have identified a number of sleep strategies that are effective in encouraging healthy sleep habits in babies and young children. These tips won’t promise that your infant will sleep through the night in 10 days or less but they will help create a sense or order and routine around bedtime that all family members will benefit from.

1. Expose your baby to indirect sunlight (by sitting near a window or taking walks outdoors) to help reinforce your baby’s natural circadian rhythms (the body’s built in sleep/wake, day/night “clock”)—not to mention what a great source of Vitamin D sunlight is!

2. Establish a consistent, predictable, soothing bedtime routine during the newborn phase, and allow this routine to evolve as your child becomes an older baby, toddler, and a preschooler. Provide a sleep environment that is sleep-enhancing – a warm bath, a story, soothing music, darkened room and quiet after lights out, etc.

3. Let your newborn practice falling asleep on his own (instead of rocking him patting or rubbing his back, or nursing him to sleep). Learn to differentiate your baby’s sounds and cries to ensure consistency in the practice. A baby may just be making noise to soothe himself to sleep and parents need to distinguish what their baby’s cries mean—pick me up, feed me, change me, burp me, etc. How long a parent allows their child to try on her own is up to whether or not a parent believes they should let their child cry themselves to sleep. If it’s something a parent is not comfortable with, then they shouldn’t do it (see tip #7).

4. Don’t be so quick to respond the moment you hear your baby cry out. It just may be that he/she temporarily lost the soother, has a gut full of gas, or was startled from a dream. Waiting a few minutes may result in your baby going back to sleep on their own.

5. Recognize when your child no longer needs to be fed in the night (usually after 6 months) and use methods other than giving him food to soothe him back to sleep. This way your baby will not be conditioned to wake up for a “snack”.

6. Children who nap well during the day sleep better at nighttime so make taking a nap in the morning and or afternoon a priority for your infant. Again making sure to allow your baby to practice falling asleep on her own. Lay your baby down for a nap when he is awake so he can learn ways to soothe himself to sleep

7. Remain as calm and relaxed as possible when you’re dealing with your child’s sleep issues. When parents’ stress, children pick up on how their parent is feeling and their own feelings of anxiety will escalate making falling asleep on their own much more difficult.

Dyan Eybergen is an award winning author and nationally recognized Canadian speaker and CTV parenting expert. She lives in Alberta Canada with her husband and three sons. For more information visit



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