1) Being overtired. Sleep begets sleep with babies. When a baby is overtired, their cortisol levels are increased, which causes them to feel stressed stay awake despite being tired.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone that exists in both adults and babies. It helps regulate your stress levels and controls your sleep and wake cycles. When babies are overtired, they essentially are experiencing stress, which releases more cortisol in their bodies, which makes it even harder to calm down and ultimately sleep. Elevated cortisol levels keeps babies from being able to fall asleep naturally (or at all), and stay asleep for extended periods of time. This is why keeping your baby up past their bedtime will not help them sleep later in the morning?
How can you help a baby who is experiencing too much cortisol in their bodies?
It has been shown that affectionate touch has a calming effect on babies, and can switch off the production of cortisol. So when a caregiver holds, rocks, and shushes a crying baby, it can help the baby calm down and inch towards sleep. In other instances a baby may feel overstimulated and touch may make the crying worse. It is important to read your baby’s cues.
During a time when you have a tired, inconsolable baby, it’s okay to table establishing good sleep habits and do what you can to get one good nap or good night’s sleep for your baby. Resetting and allowing a baby to regulate and maintain their cortisol and melatonin levels will allow them to start fresh. If your baby is overtired, inconsolable and miserable, do what you know works and worry about good sleep habits later.
2. Not calming down at bedtime. If you want your baby to transition to sleep peacefully, do not rile them up right before you put them down for the night, or for a nap. Screen time, fun games before bedtime or transitioning straight from dinner to bed with no routine in the middle will leave your baby wondering why you extracted them from the fun to isolate them while everyone is on the other side of their door, having a great time. And remember, exposure to light is extremely important for helping babies and children regulate their own sleep schedules. Dimming lights and turning off the television or iPad will greatly reduce your chances of your little ones resisting bedtime.
Winding down for the night or for naps helps to signal to your baby that it is time to rest. By providing a peaceful transition from playtime, a movie, or just a busy end of the day is the best way to prepare them for a peaceful night.
In my household, we struggle with this. We have a 10 month old whose bedtime is earlier than our 3 year old’s. Our 3 year old is energetic and it is hard to find time for a bedtime routine for our younger child amidst the chaos of a toddler. We have found that halting playtime to help our 10 month old relax has helped her sleep longer and fall asleep more efficiently.
3. Not being consistent. It may take some time for you to figure out when helps your baby sleep. Changing bedtimes (even by 15 minutes), drastically changing bedtime routines, not having your baby sleep in the same place, and not being consistent to sleep training techniques can all have a negative effect on your baby’s sleep habits. Consistency in babies and children also help them feel safe and security. Establishing this at bedtime will help them understand bedtime is a good thing.
Sleep training is often the hardest to stay consistent with - especially if you commit to the Cry It Out method. There are a lot of people out there who will not be shy in telling you why or why not you should let your baby Cry It Out, and if you don’t have support from the people around you, listening to your baby cry 2 nights in a row is enough to make you want to give up.
Not giving your baby proper time to figure things out for themselves will not help them in the long run. If you’ve decided to let your baby Cry It Out, give them a considerable amount of time before you try a different method. It may take longer for some babies than others, and that doesn’t mean you should give up, that you’re doing something wrong, or that something is wrong with your baby. Stay confident, stay the course, and don’t make a decision too quickly (as long as you have the support from your pediatrician).
Regarding other times it’s hard to be consistent is bedtime routines. It’s important that you teach your baby the signals that it’s time to calm down and prepare for sleep. If for 2 day you decide to do a bath, bedtime story, swaddle and song, and then the next 2 days you don’t do those things, your didn’t give your baby enough time to internalize those actions as sleep signals. If you decide bath time is a part of your bedtime routine, you need to stay consistent with that action because it helps your baby understand that sleep time is coming.
While it can be so hard to stay consistent, especially when you’re sleep deprived or you have other kids, it is incredibly important for your baby and children in the long run.