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Keep it Simple: 3 Ways to Set your Newborn up for Sleep Success
By Kaylan Adams, Big Dreams Sleep Coaching
As a sleep educator and coach, I have talked to a LOT of tired moms and dads. And through our conversations, I am usually able to pretty quickly pick up on a few things that would help baby get better sleep.
Some parents are ready to make changes ASAP in order to help their babies – and themselves! – get the sleep they so desperately need. But some aren’t ready, even with the hopes of alleviating their exhaustion.
I have found that when families aren’t ready to make the changes needed, it mostly comes down to feeling overwhelmed by the info and afraid of what the changes will mean for their babies and their daily lives, i.e. “Will there be a lot of crying?” (answer: not if you start setting good habits early), or “Does this mean I have to stick to a strict schedule?” (answer: strict schedule, no – but predictable routine, yes).
And I totally get it. Change is hard.
So, what if instead of having to fix sleep problems, you were able to focus on preventing sleep problems?
And it’s easier than you might think. It’s just a matter of implementing a few simple habits in the first few months that build over time and yield significant rewards as baby gets older, especially when it comes time for any developmental leaps or potential sleep regressions.
1. Set an EASY rhythm for the day
You might have heard of the EASY acronym from other parents.
It stands for “Eat time, Awake time, Sleep time, Your time,” and it repeats as a cycle over and over again throughout the day: baby wakes up, eats, has play time, goes back to sleep, and then starts all over again.
Establishing and sticking to this rhythm helps babies organize their expectations for the day, and it helps you have organized expectations for the day, too.
The amount of time for the full cycle will vary a bit depending on the age of the infant, but should fall between 2-4 hours total, and no matter the age, the pieces remain.
And the inclusion of time for you as the caregiver during that sleep time should not be overlooked; it’s crucially important that you have time to decompress, take a shower, eat a meal, etc.
Some days will be EASY-ier than others – we all know that not every day looks like the ideal day for any of us, but the important thing is you use this as the baseline that you can return to over and over again.
2. Watch for Sleepy Cues
Many new parents don’t realize that newborns can only be comfortably awake for very short periods of time. I have heard parents say over and over again, “Well, they’ll fall asleep when they’re tired.”
While that’s technically true, it will be much more pleasant for you and for your baby if you can help them find safe sleep before they become overtired and have to succumb to sleep wherever they are.
The ideal sleep window for a newborn is usually only 1-2 (at the very most!) hours after they woke up from their last nap, and if you watch for it, they will make it obvious that they’re getting sleepy.
You’ll need to learn your baby’s individual cues, but some of those sleepy cues can include: appearing glassy-eyed, becoming fussy/irritable, becoming quiet/withdrawn, yawning, rubbing eyes, rubbing ears, or losing interest in people/toys.
And you’ll notice that some of these seem totally opposite – your tired baby might be fussy and loud one day and withdrawn and quiet a different day.
Even if the signal is different, the most important thing is to take notice and take action before they get overtired, because overtired babies have a much harder time falling asleep on their own.
3. Practice putting baby down awake but drowsy
If you can watch for the sleepy cues and get them down while they’re sleepy but not overtired, you will experience the golden window – one where there is no crying as they drift peacefully to sleep.
This might sound impossible, but it is absolutely achievable when you combine the powers of the EASY rhythm with watching for those sleepy cues and acting on them immediately.
Here’s how: be mindful of the clock and note when you expect the next sleep window to occur, watch for those sleepy cues, and at the first sign, immediately give your baby the opportunity to go to sleep by putting them down awake but drowsy.
And I know that at first, this might feel very strange.
You might be used to the sleepy snuggles of the first month where you just held baby during all naps, but once you get past that phase, it becomes more and more important that baby has the opportunity to go to sleep on their own, in their own safe sleep environment.
Plus, that’s the only way that you’re going to get that “Your time” of the EASY cycle!
So, trust your baby, yourself, and the process. Next time you know that baby is ready for a nap, put them down awake but drowsy, say you love them, and then leave the room, calmly and confidently.
Give them a few minutes and see what happens. And if this cycle doesn’t work out the way you hoped, there’s always the next one.
At the end of the day, the best way to establish good sleep habits is to help baby learn how to fall asleep on their own from a young age.
And it will be infinitely easier – and with much less crying than their older baby counterparts – if you help them organize their day into predictable routines with the EASY method, follow their sleepy cues, and then give them the opportunity to go to sleep in their own safe sleep environment immediately.
If you’d like additional tips for setting good sleep habits from Big Dreams Sleep Coaching, you can download our free “Unlock Baby Sleep-Love Timeline,” filled with simple habits that can be implemented each month to optimize sleep success.
Kaylan Adams lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband, Dan, and toddler daughter, Emerson. Kaylan loves hosting themed dinner parties, visiting local vineyards, and exploring all the native flora and fauna throughout the Willamette Valley – she and Emerson just had their first fox sighting! Related to her passion for infant sleep and postpartum health, Kaylan is also an activist in the efforts to provide paid family leave to all Oregonians, and all Americans.
If you are interested in learning more from Kaylan at Big Dreams Sleep Coaching, she has all sorts of services available to fit every budget!
To start with she has a free intro call! From there you can decide to view her upcoming online course, or even have 1 on 1 consultant services.
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