Having baby sleep problems? Are you making one of these 20 mistakes that many parents do that can actually ruin their baby’s sleep?
It’s all too easy to make a parenting mistake. We all do it day after day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t educate ourselves to prevent future mistakes. If your little one doesn’t always “sleep like a baby,” you may need to learn from 20 sleepy-time mistakes that other parents make unknowingly.
Top 20 Parenting Mistakes that Cause Baby Sleep Problems
1. Waiting too long to put the baby down for a nap.
How many times have you heard a baby screaming in public only to hear the parent say, “Oh, she’s tired.” That is often the correct diagnosis, but you don’t have to wait until your baby is screaming for rest. In fact, they would probably appreciate you recognizing their exhaustion before they get that worked up. Pay enough attention, and you will learn your little one’s subtle cues that it’s time to find a quiet place, turn down the lights, and cuddle up in a safe, familiar environment.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for some of the most common ways babies say, “I’m sleepy,”
- Change in facial expression
- Rubbing eyes
- Staring into space
- Clenched fists
2. Underestimating the power of a bedtime routine. (This is a BIG ONE!)
There was a time when children of all ages were put to bed at the same time every night with a warm bath, story time and night light. Parents are much busier today, and women are more likely to have full-time jobs, businesses to run and other responsibilities that go beyond managing the home and tending to the kids. This means that more parents are doing away with simple parenting strategies like a consistent bedtime schedule.
This is always a mistake because babies need consistency and routine to sleep well (Gaylor 2005.) They naturally adapt to their schedule, and they start to feel tired around that time. This makes it much easier to get the little one to sleep, and it often means longer snooze periods so that parents get more rest as well. Do everyone a favor and develop a bedtime routine that is performed with consistency at the same time each day.
3. Skipping the bedtime routine (Even “Just this once.”)
Even when parents do understand the value of a routine for bedtime, there are times when they may find it convenient to keep the baby up later or try to get the little one to sleep a bit early. The end result is frustration as the baby grows tired and starts to throw a fit the later it gets. Many babies will simply refuse to sleep earlier because their body tells them that it’s still play time.
It’s usually easier to work social events around the baby’s schedule rather than throwing your baby’s schedule out the window. If you have to stay out later at times, make sure that you have a stroller, portable bed (our favorite one!), or another safe place where your little one can rest if needed. You should expect it to take a night or two for the baby to readjust to your bedtime routine once their schedule is disrupted.
Not only that studies indicate that babies and young children who lack regular bedtime routines have more behavior problems (Gaylor, 2005, (Komada 2010). In addition, toddlers who stick with regular bedtime routines may sleep longer at night (Molfese, 2016).
4. Letting the baby rely on one parent or caregiver.
This is a big one and can occur for many reasons. A stay-at-home parent may feel that they have to do it all because they don’t want to bother their spouse, who is already stressed out from work and other issues beyond the home. Other parents may simply feel that no one can take care of their baby better than they can. Regardless of the rationale, you have to let your spouse or another trustworthy adult step in and help when you’re overwhelmed or simply exhausted. If you don’t, you will end up making mistakes that interrupt your baby’s sleep or even lead to ongoing sleep problems that last days, weeks or even years.
5. Responding to EVERY little sound or stirring.
Babies naturally make sounds while they’re sleeping, and there is no reason to respond to most of them. It’s possible that your baby is dreaming or simply cycling through different stages of sleep that may leave them more alert at certain times during the night. If you rush into the room and scoop them up each time they make a sound, you will wake them up unintentionally. (Burham , 2005)
Try to relax and respond only when you’re certain that your baby is awake or there is another problem that you need to address. With time, you will learn to recognize the sounds that your baby makes while sleeping and awake. You may also find that your baby sometimes soothes him or herself back to sleep without your assistance. This is a healthy development that you want to encourage.
6. Trying to get the baby on a schedule while the rest of the household follows a different tune.
Would you be able to sleep if there were a party happening right outside your door? Probably not, and your baby can’t either. If the rest of your household is active when you want your baby to sleep, make sure that the action is happening away from the baby’s bedroom. Using a sound machine or app to play white noise or another soothing sound in the nursery may help, but everyone in the family should be mindful of the baby’s need to rest. Once the baby hears something that says others are awake, they will naturally want to know what’s going on and cause baby sleep problems for the rest of the night!
7. Co-sleeping out of exhaustion rather than a mindful decision to do so.
Have you ever been so exhausted by a baby who just would not go or stay to sleep that you tucked them in next to you? Many fussy babies will calm down and go to sleep if they have the warmth and safety of a parent, but this can have a long-lasting impact on your baby’s sleep habits. They may get the message that fussing long enough gets them into your bed, and they want to be in your bed.
While we are BIG fans of co-sleeping, t’s best to remain consistent with your normal sleep routines even if it means you and your spouse must tag team throughout the night when the baby just doesn’t want to sleep. Giving in on a night of exhaustion could easily lead to a toddler who just won’t sleep on his or her own. The years tick by so quickly, and this habit is instilled so easily.
8. Allowing too much daytime sleep due to unstructured schedules.
Are you a freedom-loving parent who doesn’t care much for schedules and routines? You may naturally allow your baby to fall into that free lifestyle, but they may not always take to it as naturally. When you allow too much sleep during the day, you may mistakenly create a night owl (Nakagawa, 2016) who just doesn’t want to turn down when you’re tired. You may need to set some boundaries, wake a baby who is sleeping too long at the wrong times, and pick a consistent bedtime so that your baby has the structure that he or she needs to sleep well.
9. Not working hard enough to entertain the baby during wakeful hours.
How often does your baby receive mental and physical stimulation throughout the day? If they are left sitting without interaction with others for too long, they can get bored just like adults with nothing to do. Make sure that your baby has lots of time to talk to you, sing to great music, stretch their muscles with tummy time, read books, and get outdoors to learn about the bigger world. You will be rewarded with a more tired baby ready for nighttime.
10. Not letting baby learn to self-soothe.
Sleep-dependent babies are unable or unwilling to soothe themselves to sleep. They are so used to being rocked, bounced, swung, or massaged to sleep that they will not sleep without that comfort. In some cases, those loving behaviors become cues that tell the baby it’s time to sleep. In other cases, the baby simply associates that comfort with sleep because it is all that they have ever known.
You will naturally soothe your baby to sleep in the newborn stage because it’s comforting for you both, but make sure that you give your baby a chance to soothe him or herself to sleep at least part time. This doesn’t mean letting a baby scream and cry until they are too tired to continue. It simply means getting the baby comfortable and happy at their expected sleep time, and then allowing them to fall asleep in their own way. The earlier you start, the more accustomed to independent sleep your baby will become. (Burham , 2005)
11. Allowing conflicting sleep schedules when traveling between two homes.
Does your baby spend time with you, and then go to another parent’s house to spend time with them? Do they go to the sitter’s house or grandma’s house during the day and then come home with you in the evening and on weekends? If there is a split living situation or they spend a lot of time with a sitter, make sure that everyone involved is sticking to the same routine and time schedule. This will prevent your baby from feeling confused and restless when going through those frequent transitions. Consistency is key!!!
12. Not addressing the baby’s discomfort right away.
While you don’t want to rush to your baby’s side and start changing their diaper, clothing, booties, and sheets each time they make a sound, there are times when you need to check on the baby and take care of issues that may be causing discomfort. Perhaps a fussy baby has a full diaper or has grown too warm when bundled up for the night. Taking care of those discomforts will likely allow the baby to go right back to sleep.
Once you discover something that makes your baby uncomfortable, find ways to avoid that in the future. It can take time to learn how bundled up a baby needs to be in order to maintain a comfortable body temperature through the night, and every child is different in how they like to sleep.
13. Not coordinating meal times and bed times.
If there is one simple thing that you can do to help your baby adjust to a normal sleeping habit, it’s to sync up feedings and naptimes. Babies naturally get tired as their bellies fill, so it’s easier to get them to sleep right after a feeding. (You may even wake to breastfeed your baby to sleep if that works for you!) The problem is that many parents don’t stick to routine feeding times, and that throws off the sleep schedule as well. Consistency is key to all aspects of your baby’s schedule. (Rinne, 1990)
14. Assuming that late nights will equal late mornings.
So you want to keep your baby up late so YOU can sleep in tomorrow? Guess what? It doesn’t usually work like that until they are teenagers! Some parents wrongfully assume that they can keep their babies up late at night so that they will sleep in later in the morning. It just isn’t reality for many babies. It’s especially likely to backfire if your baby is otherwise accustomed to a consistent sleep schedule. They will likely wake up around the same time despite the late night, but they will be especially cranky due to the lack of sleep. Again, working around your baby’s sleep schedule is always easier than trying to manipulate it.
15. Not understanding how much sleep a baby actually needs at each age.
Many parents worry that their babies are sleeping too much or too little, but they don’t actually know what is normal for their baby’s age group. You can always ask your pediatrician about this at each checkup, but it’s worth doing some research of your own to learn the general guidelines. Just keep in mind that every baby is different, so your little one may just need a little less or a bit more than other babies. If you’re concerned that your baby has a deeper issue that is interrupting their sleep or causing them to sleep too much, see your doctor immediately.
16. Blocking out the sunlight or noise.
Some parents try to make it perfectly quiet and dark each time baby sleeps. Guess what? That is not ideal and will teach the baby to wake up at any little sound they hear or any time there is a little bit of light. We would even suggest a little white noise in baby’s room so they do NOT get used to silence to sleep. (We LOVE this white noise machine….cute AND useful for baby’s room!)
17. Giving up before the baby has time to adjust to new routines or expectations.
Have you ever heard that most people give up just when they are due for a big success? This concept applies to training a baby to sleep well. If you need to make an adjustment to the baby’s schedule or want to instill healthy habits that you didn’t acknowledge earlier in the baby’s life, it can take some time for the baby to get on board. If you remain consistent, it will eventually work, so don’t give up.
18. Switching from the crib to the daybed or toddler bed too early.
Many parents are eager for those big milestones, and this transition to a bed is one of them. In some cases, parents want to move the older child to a bigger bed so that the crib is ready for a new baby. Unfortunately, you will be rewarded with a confused, uncomfortable, or distressed tot if you try to make the move too soon. Wait until your baby is crawling out of the crib, is two years old, or is showing other signs of maturity that tell you they are ready. Don’t rush the milestones because they’re sweeter when they come in their own time.
19. Bringing in the toddler bed without warning.
Most children don’t respond well to sudden change. As ready as you may feel for the toddler bed to come into play, your child may need some time to understand what is happening and why. Start by discussing what a big boy or girl bed is, what it’s like to sleep in one, and how exciting it is to move out of the crib to a bed that allows more freedom. When you feel that your child is ready, introduce the new bed. It’s up to you whether you gradually wean him or her away from the crib or if you go cold turkey.
20. Listening to others rather than YOUR intuition, common sense and reputable sources.
Most parents find that they are in sync with their babies and can take impressively accurate guesses at what they need most of the time. Unfortunately, new parents often assume that others with more experience know better. Even parents with years of experience often second guess their intuitive beliefs. This is why so many parents try what they hear from other people even though it doesn’t usually work for their babies.
Most parents eventually learn to listen to their gut instinct or find a reputable source while tuning out the crowd, but you can save yourself some time by deciding right now to give your parental intuition more value. That doesn’t mean that you never ask other parents for advice or try what has worked for a friend. It just means that you listen to your instincts and educate yourself so that you’re not just following others blindly.
If you want the term “sleep like a baby” or to mean hours of uninterrupted snooze time, tweaking your bedtime routines with some of these tips may help to get your baby to sleep through the night. Just remember that every parent must find what works for their baby, and no two babies are the same!