sleeping: thinking

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Newborn sleep.
Baby sleep and naps.
Transition: 2 naps to 1 nap.
Toddler sleep.
Transition: 1 nap to no nap.
Kid sleep.
Second child sleep and room sharing.

Newborn sleep.

Babies sleep a lot!  Sometimes they can sleep through amazing noise and sometimes you can wake them up by coughing, or dropping something.  Before they can roll you can put them to sleep in places that are safe but not necessarily sleeping places—my first child used to fall asleep nursing and I could put her down next to me on the couch while I read the paper.
How do you get your infant to sleep?
Some babies fall asleep after nursing— in an infant and baby this is fine, and natural.   (If your baby remains dependent upon nursing for sleep, you can address this later.)

Ways to help a newborn and baby fall asleep

  • Put the baby in a basinet or crib, whisper goodnight and leave the room (this does work for some children-- it’s worth a shot every once and a while)
  • Nursing
  • Rocking
  • swaddling
  • Making a vacuum cleaner like shushing noise
  • Humming one note, continuously
  • pushing baby in a stroller
  • rocking in a rhythm in a stroller

NOTE:  some babies have a lot of trouble sleeping.  If you are trying to get your child to sleep and having trouble, see you your doctor—some babies have obvious reflux issues (which might seem like normal spit-up), or silent reflux, which may interfere with sleep. 

Baby sleep and naps.

From the time your baby is 3-4 months old (and make sure to adjust for age if your baby was born early) you are ready to start organizing sleep into a full 12 hour night.  Early bedtimes are physiological needs for most children.  If you know your baby is always tired around 5 or 5:30, 6 or 6:30, put your baby to sleep for the night at that point.

Baby Naps-- 3-4 Months
The first nap of the day is usually just about 1 hour after wakeup.  After that, you are probably going to stick to the two hour rule—your baby should be back asleep within two hours of last wakeup.

Baby Naps-- 5-6 Months-- Transition From 3 Naps to 2 Naps

Around 5 or 6 months, once your child’s second nap of the day is ending around 3 or 3:30, you can start moving bedtime earlier, about 3 hours from the end of the last nap, and skip the 3rd nap.  To choose bedtime look at your child’s tired signs—is she yawning at 6:15?  Then try 6:15 as a bedtime (which means in bed by 6:15).

Baby Night Sleep-- 6-8 Months
By this time you are probably down to two naps, and maybe one or two night wakings.

Baby Naps-- 9-12 Months
Try for a nap 1 to start around 8:00-9:00 for two hours, and then nap 2 should begin three hours after nap 1 is over (ie. 8:00-10:00 and1:00-3:00 or 9:00-10:30 and 1:30-3:00/3:30)
Baby Night Sleep-- 9-12 Months
You’ve reached a magic number!  At 9 months most people believe that a baby (breastfed or formula fed) can sleep through the night (and that means, in this case, 11-12 hours). 

This is the time to be very thoughtful about choosing the bedtime your child needs, and to eliminate the third nap if there still is one. 

  • As long as your child is taking two naps, think about 3-3.5 hours past wakeup from the last nap as a possible good bedtime
  • Note when your child shows signs of being tired late in the day-- 5:45 can be bedtime, so can 6:00 or 6:15.  The time your child shows signs of being tired is the bedtime-- not the time to start your bedtime routine. 
  • Note the time your child usually wakes up-- 12 hours before that time may be the perfect bedtime.

"Early to bed" for a young child can mean "later to wake up".  Sometimes it doesn't. If your child is "early to rise" though, the earlier to bed usually means the most sleep.

Stick with any new bedtime routine for 3-4 days before trying something new.  If you are adjusting day and night sleep it can take this long.


  • Tugging on ears can be a sign of tired.
  • Yawning is usually a sign that your child should already be in bed.
  • If your baby seems “wide awake” -- acting hyper, busy, crazy, -- especially at time that could be bed time, this could be a sign of overtired.

True story:  we kept trying to put our daughter to bed at 6:30, but were having trouble, and noticed that she yawned around 6—so the next night we put her to bed at 6:00—actually walking out of her room at 5:59—and she was perfectly happy.  It was hard to imagine she wanted to go to bed that “early”—yet another time to push past what we think things should be like.  And trust me—I’ve endured years now, of teasing and incredulous looks from friends.  But that’s just the way she was.

Make sure you have a new crib mattress.  Do I have to put my baby to sleep on her back?  So many people ask me this question.  The answer is that according to all SIDS research, yes, you do.  Did I?  Do a lot of my friends?  Not necessarily.  At times out of desperation (child not sleeping) I would let her sleep on her stomach, watching for a while, then checking often—most of the time.  One particularly sleepless morning I remember turning her over and she went back to sleep instantly.  Once she could turn herself, I would put her down on her back, but she would flip over immediately.

If you get home after 6:30, you have to choose between someone putting your child to sleep before you get home, or allowing your child to take a nap instead of going to bed, or not seeing your child in the evening.  If you can be up with your child in the morning, before that first nap, I would suggest trading night time for morning time:  children are much more alert and usually happier in the morning—evening time, if you child would rather be sleeping, can become cranky and difficult.  I think many bedtime issues can be solved with that early bedtime.  If you come home late and leave early, you have to figure out some way to see your child that doesn’t hinder her needs.

Transition: 2 naps to 1 nap.

Between 12 and 16 months, most children transition from two naps to one nap. (if this is your second child or more, read on at the end for more details)

Children do this in two ways—some drop the first nap, some drop the second. 

If your child is still taking his or her morning nap, and not taking a second nap, you will need to move bedtime earlier to prevent your child from being overtired.  Sometimes it means your child is up for 6 or 7 hours—which can be tough. You can also start to nudge the first nap later.

If your child won’t go down for the first nap, the transition will be a bit easier, because the second nap happens at a decent time.

It is always better to put your child to sleep early than to put him to bed when he is overtired.

I always suggest using the time your child wakes up as a guideline for bedtime—if your child always wakes at 6:00 a.m. try a 6:00 p.m. bedtime.  If your child wakes at 6:30 a.m., try a 6:30 p.m. bedtime. 

If you were having trouble putting your child to sleep early enough at night, the switch to one nap helps.  The early bedtime usually means a better night’s sleep, which sets your child up for a very successful day of sleep.

So you've moved to one nap-- what time should it be?
Once you are established with one nap, you can play with the time to see what’s best for your child. Sometimes that nap is earlyish—11-1, sometimes it’s 12-2.  A child switching to one nap might have a sleep schedule that looks like this:

  • Bedtime, 7
  • Wakeup  7
  • Nap  12-2
  • Meaning that child is up for 5 hour stretches during the day

Or, you could also have

  • Bedtime 6:30
  • Wakeup: 6:30
  • Nap 11:30-1:30

Toddler sleep.
12-16 Months- 3 years
While your toddler is still in a crib, he or she can be sleeping so well.  The transition to a bed means a child who can get out of bed, and probably will.  Enjoy this time when you can put your child into his crib, give him a kiss goodnight, and leave the room.

Kid sleep.

3-3 and a-half -9 years)
The good news, is that your child is generally exhausted at the end of a full day, and goes right to sleep.  If you have spend the past 4 or 5 years keeping sleep a positive thing, it will be easier for your child to get into bed every night.  It pays off to proactive!

Transition: 1 nap to no nap.

You’ll know your child is ready to phase out of the one nap at about age 3 – 3 and a half, when his or her bedtime starts to become difficult.  The biggest challenge here is that your child probably still wants that mid-day nap, and you have to work hard for a few weeks to make sure it doesn’t happen, because it makes bedtime impossible and cuts down on the number of hours of night-sleep, which are important to get in that night stretch.

True story:  Our first child, at 3 and 7 months,  all of a sudden stopped wanting to go to bed at night—we didn’t even realize what was happening because we were away and just thought she wanted to spend more time playing and being with family.  The other problem that developed is that she seemed tired in the morning and during the day, cranky tired-—and about 4 days into it we realized it might be the nap, and as soon as we worked hard to keep her up in the middle of the day, she had no problem going to bed and waking up refreshed.  She has always been one to need a good stretch of night sleep—even though she was making up the hours she needed with the nap, she needed the 12 in a row.

My other child had a harder longer transition starting about 2 months after she turned 3. She could sleep for hours in the afternoon which made it hard to put her to bed.  Waking her from nap never seems to help.  We had to suffer for about two months until she could skip her nap, though she definitely needs a very quiet period in the middle of the day.

I used to get very worked up and make plans for daylight savings time-- we’ll move bedtime this way or that way, etc. etc.  I finally just started to put them to bed about about 10 minutes later or earlier each day until we were back on the time-on-the-clock schedule depending upon which way we moved the clocks, and made sure that we were outside in daylight as much as possible.

Second child sleep and room sharing.

Second child?

If this is your second child, your schedule may influence the naps—for example, after I would take my first child to school, my little one would fall asleep because I was carrying her or pushing her in the stroller, in the morning, even when she was 15 months old.  She would take a 45 minute nap at 9:15, and then take a regular nap at the same time as her sister, after school. 
One of the first things people ask me (and many others) when they are expecting a second child is: When did you move the kids to the same room? 

The bedroom math is particularly important in Manhattan when most don't have that many bedrooms to spare.  Families with more space still need to think about where the rooms are in relationship to each other and their child's sleep needs.

The simple answer is, once you put young children in a room together you may compromise their sleep.  Usually kids go back to sleep in the middle of the night, it's the morning that's more challenging.  If one child wakes at 5:30, makes some noise, and goes back to sleep, the other child may not be able to fall back asleep.  After a few days of that, the accumulated time adds up.  Keep in mind, if your children are all sound sleepers you may be able to put them in a room together with no issues!

Things that may help

  • a noise machine in the room-- this helps even out regular sleeping noises within the room
  • blackout shades
  • a clock for the older child so she knows to try to try to go back to sleep until a certain time

Going to sleep is easier for many kids when they share a room, as long as you are there to make sure they don't give each other a stimulating case of the giggles before bed.  I love watching my children bond uproariously at any other time but bedtime-- watching them snuggle together before getting into their own bed is a lovely end to the day.

Some apartments have thin walls or walls that conduct sound, so putting children in separate rooms doesn't solve the children waking each other issue.

A lot of people have fond memories of sharing a bedroom with a young sibling-- in our house I hope it will be nice for them to have a shared space that is more theirs than ours.  Each girl has a shelf or two for their special things.  So far, so good!

Sometimes children ask to sleep in the same bed.  This is not advised for children under 3 and never in a crib.

Another way to solve the morning wake-up issue was presented when each of our daughters was about 3 and 3/4-- they each went through a phase (one is still in it) where they wanted to come in to our bed in the middle of the night.  I know this is a hot button issue-- again, this whole website is my experience. 

At first we kept walking her back to bed, simply.  She knows her room is safe, she likes it, but something was up and she wanted to sleep with us.  It wasn't great-- she cried, screamed at times, but would always go back to sleep.  She stopped trying to come in after about 3 nights.  A week later, she started again, and after a night or two of trying to put her back, Jake and I talked.  We noticed that her behavior during the day wasn't so great.  Her sister had been waking up earlier in the morning shaving 1/2 hour off our older daughter's already broken sleep, and we thought, enough. 

At that point we had a talk.  We said, "It seems like you want to sleep with us in the middle of the night."  (Yes, she said, she did.)  "It seems like it's very important to you now."  (Nodding, yes.)  "If you wake up in the middle of the night, and want to come in, and you see the lights in the hallway are off, that means we are sleeping and you can come in."  (Which got a big, "Thank you Mommy!!!)  Later that day we bought a king sized bed.

And she came in.  Almost every night.  It solved our morning wake-up problem because she would sleep until she wanted to wake up in our room, rather than wake up because her sister did.  And then, maybe 9 months later, she stopped.  Right in time for our younger one to start.

People who know me know that I am into sleep-- I'm into our children get the sleep they need.  At some points in their childhood, my children got the best sleep they could in their own rooms, alone.  Each child slept with us as a newborn, in co-sleepers (or next to them).  We practiced safe co-sleeping methods.  We moved them to their own rooms when they started to wake up and not get good enough sleep with us--one child at 5 months, the younger at 3 (though I spent part of the night with my younger one when she was that little).

The children didn't come between us, their parents.  We still found lots of time to be intimate.    Waking up with my daughters curls on the pillow near me is delightful.  It's part of all the love we have for each other as parents and our children-- it shifts around, month to month, year to year.  It deepens and changes and challenges us to think and re-think.  That, to me, is parenting.


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