Now that your baby is older, the times when your baby will become sleepy are more predictable. Another way of saying this is that the biological sleep-wake rhythms are more mature. This allows you to change your strategy to keep your child well rested. Previously, at 2 months of age, the focus was on brief intervals of wakefulness to avoid the overtired state; now you can begin to use clock-time as an aid to help your child sleep well. Stated simply, you can use your child’s natural sleep rhythms to help your child fall asleep. Let’s start in the morning and go around the clock.
Starting the Day: Most children will awake to start the day about 7 a.m., but there is a wide range (between 6 and 8 o’clock).
First Nap: The first nap occurs about 9 a.m. and may last about an hour or two. Sometimes you will stretch your child to get to this time, or you may wake your child at 7 a.m. in order for your child to be able to take this nap. Please remember that previously you focused on maintaining short intervals of wakefulness, but now you try to anticipate your children’s predictable best nap time. If your child takes this too early or too late, then it is difficult for your child to take the second nap on time. This morning nap disappears between 15-21 months.
Second Nap: the second nap occurs about 2 p.m. and it may last about an hour or two. The most common problem at this nap time is too long of an interval of wakefulness following the first nap. This causes your child to become overtired. This time-window for this second nap is between 12 noon and 2 p.m., but you may notice that your child’s own time-window during which it is easiest to fall asleep is much narrower. This afternoon nap commonly continues for about 4 years.
Third Nap: The third nap may or may not occur. If it does occur, it may vary between 3 and 5 p.m. Also, the duration of this nap may vary, but it is usually a very brief nap. Usually this nap disappears by about 8 months.
Bedtime: Because of the variability of the third nap, the bedtime may also vary. Most children are asleep between 6 and 8 p.m. The most common problem at bedtime is keeping your child up too late. If the child is put to sleep after his time or tiredness, he has more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. If you keep your child up past the time when he is drowsy, for example, because you return home from work, then you are depriving your child of sleep. Please try to avoid making your child overtired as you would not deliberately make your child go without food when he is hungry.
First Night Waking: this may occur 4-6 hours after your child’s last feeding. Some children do not get up at this time. Feeding your child differently, or giving cereal will not help your child sleep better. There is a shifting from deep sleep to light sleep throughout the night. Partial awakenings or light sleep stages called arousals occur every 1-2 hours when your child is asleep and sometimes, your child will call out or cry during these arousals. Loud crying during these arousals signifies an overtired chid. If your baby is not sleeping with you in your bed, going to your child at the time of these partial awakenings will eventually lead to a night-waking or a night-feeding habit. This is because your social stimulation, occurring when you pick up your baby, hold your baby and feed your baby will eventually cause your baby to force himself to a more alert state during these arousals. Consequently, he will learn to expect to be fed or enjoy the pleasure of playtime with his parents at every arousal. However, if you are sleeping with your baby and breast feeding, you might promptly nurse at all of these arousals while your baby is still in a somewhat deep sleep state and then sleeping through the night habit might develop. The most common problem regarding these naturally occurring arousals is to project psychological problems into our children such as saying that they must be lonely or afraid. However, 4-6 hours after the last feeding, many children are actually hungry, and you should promptly respond by feeding.
Second Night Waking: This may occur around 4 or 5 a.m. Some children do not get up at this time. Most children who do awaken at this time are wet, soiled, or hungry and a prompt response is appropriate. Maintain silence and darkness because your child should return to sleep. A common mistake is to play with your child and prevent the return to sleep. The return to sleep is important so that your child will be able to comfortably stay up to the time of his first nap. Although this pattern of getting up once in the middle of the night and/or in the early morning is common, some children will simply get up once around 2 or 3 a.m. or not get up at all. Some night waking is very common during the first 8 months.
Watch for the development of an earlier bedtime signaled by drowsy signs: around 6 pm. After soothing, try to put your baby down at night drowsy but awake. Consider moving the baby out of your bedroom for night sleep. Try to have fathers involved in soothing to sleep at bedtime and in the middle of the night.