Navigating your baby and toddler's sleep can be really confusing in the first few years. Sleep habits never seem to be fully set in stone. We will constantly deal with transitions, milestones and other factors that can cause our child's sleep to regress. But, we can work toward clearing up the confusion about sleep and its relationship to developmental milestones.
Month 3 - 4
Circadian Rhythm starts to develop in babies between three and four months. Circadian rhythm is our body's internal clock that differentiates night from day and when we are asleep versus when we are awake. Melatonin, the hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness, also starts to develop at this time. This is why it's recommended to wait closer to four months to teach the skill of independent sleep.
Month 4 - 5
Big milestones like rolling and sitting begin around these months. When babies are in the midst of learning a new milestone, they become laser focused and are borderline obsessed with mastering that milestone. When your child reaches a milestone and her sleep regresses, know that this phase will be short-lived. Practice, practice, practice that new skill during the day so that it has less of an effect on their nighttime sleep.
Month 6 - 7
Around this stage, nap time transitions from three naps per day to two naps per day. Nap times need to be pushed down by 30 to 45 minutes to bridge the gap in daytime hours. So, if nap time was at 8:30, 12:30 and 3:30, the new schedule would be 9:15-9:45 and 1:15-1:45. This may instantly improve nap length, but it may also decrease nap length due to slight overtiredness. If nap lengths become worse, then a third nap in the car or stroller is a good solution. Babies can benefit from a bit of a cat nap to take the edge off before bedtime. These more regular nap times make it easier to schedule daytime activities as your baby can better handle longer periods of awake time.
Night sleep also consolidates during this stage. The need for a night feed is more than likely not needed if your baby is gaining weight at a healthy rate. Check in with your doctor or pediatrician if you are unsure if your baby is ready to go through the night with without feeding sessions.
Month 10 - 13
Learning to walk is a major milestone in your baby's life! You are likely practicing this skill all throughout the day trying to perfect your little mover's new stride. When it comes to sleep, on average it can take five to 14 days for a child to transition through this period of disrupted nights. Even when toddlers begin speaking, it is common for sleep to go out the window for a short time. If you stay consistent with how you handle night-waking, you will right get back on track in no time.
Months 14 - 18
Developmental milestones may be one of the biggest culprits for missed naps during this stage. Give it a good two weeks after a milestone before you decide to make a nap transition. Start by pushing the morning nap forward by 30-45 minutes every three days. As the nap time gets closer to noon, the afternoon nap will be short, or it may not happen at all. During this transition, it's important to implement an early bedtime as a strategy to not let your toddler get overtired. This transition should take two to three weeks.
Making sure your child is developmentally ready to understand the house sleep rules is a major key to a successful crib to bed transition. A structured bedtime routine is helpful to cue your child's body that nighttime sleep is right around the corner. Having consistent sleep rules and boundaries will ensure your child understands the expectations around sleep and bedtime.
Make sleep a priority for everyone and be good role models when it comes to healthy sleep for your family. A well-rested family is a happy family!