If you read my “How We Got Our 2-Month Old to Sleep Through the Night” blog post, then you know with the help of the Ferber Method (crying + timed check-ins) we were able to get Chloe to sleep through the night at two months old. The problem is it stopped working once Chloe went through the 4-5 month sleep regression; the stage when babies’ sleep cycles begin to resemble adult sleep cycles and they stop drifting directly into deep sleep, but actually shift from light sleep to deep sleep like adults do.
She’s now 10 months old and up until last month we had been dealing with multiple night wakings and short 20-30 minute naps. After the sleep regression, we never seemed to get her sleep back on track no matter what we tried. Cue the dark circles and crazy-eyed look. But thankfully a few weeks ago, we made a HUGE breakthrough and realized two big mistakes we were making that I wanted to write about here on the blog.
Once we realized our mistakes and tweaked them, we got Chloe quickly back to her 7pm -7am schedule with one feeding at 4am, and two daytime naps ranging from 45min – 2hours. So far, the tweaks we’ve made are working, but they aren’t foolproof. There are some days and nights where she regresses due to mental leaps, teething, etc.
I have been working on this sleep training part II post for a few weeks. I was holding off on posting because I wanted to wait until I had things completely “figured out.” But then I realized – we will never have things “figured out” probably ever. I’m accepting that this is parenthood; progress, stumbles, regressions, backtracks, progress, again. It’s never ending. So if you’re reading this post at your wits end with your baby’s disrupted sleep, know that this is not a silver bullet solution, or even an exact solution for us. It’s just a blog post on two mistakes we were making, what we learned and what we changed to improve Chloe’s sleep.
Basically what I’m saying is take this article with a large, gigantic grain of salt. This is what is working for us right now in this exact moment, but who knows if it’ll continue working in a few months from now and it may not be applicable for others, but it may help some, which I’m hopeful it will.
So, with that being said, what finally worked for us (so far…):
- Adjusting the temperature in her room to a cooler, borderline cold, temperature
- Moving her feeding (milk) time to right before sleep (naps and bedtime) instead of upon waking (but not nursing her to sleep, just drowsy – I explain below) AND ALWAYS feeding her in the nursery in the dark
That’s it. It sounds so simple, but I explain below how cold affects babies’ sleep and what we were getting wrong with her room temperature; why nursing Chloe in her nursery in the dark before sleep was a game changer; and how I use temperature to get Chloe to fall asleep quickly in the car or settle after a crying fit.
How temperature affects babies’ sleep
Babies’ basal temperature, like adults’, begins to lower in the evenings, according to the Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. This allows for the powerful sleep hormone, melatonin, to rise in the body bringing on feelings of sleepiness and eventually sleep.
*Signs of sleepiness in babies: yawning, staring off, rubbing eyes and pulling on ears.
But unlike adults babies have a hard time regulating their body temperature (thebump.com). So, they need help cooling down to bring on and stay in deep sleep, which is why experts recommend keeping a baby’s room temperature anywhere between 65-72 degrees. A temperature that may feel cool, even chilly, to us adults.
As morning time nears a baby’s body temperature will begin to rise bringing them into a lighter sleep stage and ultimately awake.
What we were doing wrong
- Not keeping her room cold enough at night
- Assuming what worked for night worked for daytime naps
From reading various mommy blogs and mommy websites, I knew early on the ideal room temperature for babies. I set our thermostat to 70 degrees, which kept Chloe’s room at/or around 72 degrees and didn’t give it much thought thereafter. When she began having trouble sleeping at night, I assumed the temperature was fine and her wakings were due to hunger, loud noises (especially, since she would stir almost immediately when a pot would bang or our dog would bark), dirty diaper, or general fussiness. But what I didn’t realize is that she was able to get into light sleep at that temperature, but not necessarily deep sleep.
As luck would have it, we had a mini heat-wave here in Los Angeles in February. The temperature outside rose to 70 degrees. I turned off the heat during the day and forgot to turn it back on later that night. We put Chloe to bed. The evening progressed and I noticed the house was extremely chilly. I checked Chloe’s room temperature and saw it read 69 degrees. I panicked. She was sleeping peacefully, but I worried it was too cold. My own hands and feet were ice cold. I turned the heat back on. She continued to sleep fine for the next few hours, but as the house warmed up and her room hit 73 degrees, she cried out and woke up.
I started to wonder if perhaps the temperature in her room was too warm hovering around 72 degrees. This baffled me. Wasn’t 72 degrees supposed to be the right temperature?
The following evening, I decided to do an experiment and kept her room precisely at 70 degrees. It took diligent monitoring and thermostat on/off adjusting since her room heats quicker than the rest of the house often reading 2-3 degrees warmer than the main rooms. The experiment proved 72 degrees was too warm for her. By keeping her room just a few degrees lower, she went back to sleeping a long 9hr stretch before waking for an early morning feeding!
The next night I decided to set the thermostat even lower so I wouldn’t need to continually adjust it. I set it to 66 degrees. My husband and I were freezing. We both wore socks, long pants and sweatshirts to bed. The house felt like a walk-in freezer. Chloe’s room stayed between 68-69 degrees all night and again, she slept through the night only waking at 4am to feed before promptly going back to sleep until 7am.
I was shocked. But happily so. I knew we had a very sensitive baby (sounds, light, etc), but I was stunned to realize that just a few degrees was impacting her sleep.
*Temperament: Once we understood Chloe’s temperament – super sensitive – we became fiercely aware of her environment since sensitive babies react strongly to sounds, light, smells, noise etc. We covered any blue lights in her room (smoke detector light, the little light on the baby monitor) and added a second white noise machine.
Temperament is genetic, which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised Chloe is so sensitive when it comes to her sleep environment. She is after-all, my daughter. I too am very sensitive and require a specific sleep environment: all the lights have to be off, I can’t have the tv on in the background, I need to be in my bed with my specific pillow, etc, etc.
But each babies’ temperament can be different and while some are super sensitive, others can be more relaxed. My mother-in-law always likes to tell me that as a baby my husband could sleep through the radio playing and at any time of day, and was sleeping through the night at three months old. Which is not surprising seeing as to this day my husband can fall asleep with the tv blaring, both legs hanging off the couch, no pillow, and bright sunshine beaming down on his face.
Everyone is different and so are babies. So it’s really helpful to know your baby’s temperament when trying to assess what’s going on with their disrupted sleep – or just in general. Here’s a great article on the various baby temperaments.
*TEMPERATURE TIPS: I now wield temperature as a deft weapon!
In the car: When I need Chloe to fall asleep quickly in the car because we only have a 30minute drive somewhere, I blast the AC in the car the second we get in. This helps to settle her after being stimulated out and about and bring her body temperature down preparing her for a nap. She falls asleep much quicker when I do this.
Crying in her crib: Putting Chloe down for naps can be difficult in the late afternoon. She’s stimulated. Her body is warm from crawling around. Even if the temperature in her room reads ideal (68-70 degrees), if she’s struggling to fall asleep and is crying, which heats up her body, I blast the AC in the house and cool her room down further. This helps to settle her within a few minutes. Once she’s settled and asleep, I turn off the AC.
Nursing Chloe before naps in the dark
When Chloe was younger, I followed the EASY method (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You). This method, made famous by the book, The Baby Whisperer, instructs parents to feed their babies upon waking. It worked really well when Chloe fed frequently throughout the day, but now that she is older and the amount of time between feedings has stretched out, I wondered if perhaps she was struggling to stay asleep because her belly wasn’t completely full when I would lay her down for a nap.
The EASY schedule recommends doing a final milk feeding right before bed to help with sleep and I wondered – if it helps with sleep, why not do it before naps, too? So I decided to rearrange her feeding schedule so that her milk feedings would happen right before naps and bedtime. It worked like a charm, I think for two reasons:
- Consistency. Now her sleep routine is the same before naps and bedtime: (1) I take her into the nursery and turn the lights off just keeping the door halfway open for light, (2) change her diaper, (3) nurse her in the rocking chair, (4) give her lovey while I burp her, (5) lean her into my chest and rock her while I sing a bedtime song. When she starts to go slightly limp in my arms, but isn’t asleep, (6) I place her in her crib and say, “Go nigh, nigh, bean, bean” and kiss her on the cheek. I do this exact routine before every nap and bedtime.This sleep routine takes about 15-20 minutes, and by doing it in the dark, it gives ample time for Chloe to wind down. Her eyes sense the absence of light and send a signal to the body to release melatonin, sleep hormone, (National Sleep Foundation) making it the transition to sleep easier for her and me.
- Soothed & Full. Milk is soothing to babies, so nursing Chloe right before sleep helps to calm her system down. Plus I’ve found that when she has a full belly, it keeps her asleep for longer.
Below is her current morning schedule:
- 7:00 am: Wake up, change diaper, change clothes
- 7:30 am: Calming Activity (reading, singing songs)
- 8:00 am: Eat Solids – Meal 1
- 8:30 am: Activity (walk, play, playground, errands, etc)
- 9:30 am: Nurse + sleep routine
- 10:00am: 1st Nap
Once she wakes up, I repeat this routine which takes us to her afternoon nap and then once more which takes us to bedtime.
- 11:30 am: Wake up, change diaper
- 12:00 pm: Eat Solids – Meal 2
- 1:00 pm: Activity (walk, play, playground, errands, etc)
- 2:30 pm: Nurse + sleep routine
- 3:00 pm: 2nd Nap
- 4:00 pm: Wake up, change diaper
- 4:30 pm: Activity (walk, play, playground, errands, etc)
- 5:30 pm: Eat Solids – Meal 3
- 6:15 pm: Bathtime
- 6:30 pm: Nurse + sleep routine
- 7:00 pm: Bedtime
- 4:00 am: Wake up, nurse
- 4:30 am: Sleep
Becoming a mother has been exceptionally humbling. Every time I think I have it all figured out and I’m feeling myself, as in when we got Chloe to sleep through the night at two months old, she decides to change. I have to start all over again and figure out what she needs. She’s constantly changing and the best thing I’ve done to get through late nights and rough times is to stay observant and remember that this too shall pass.
So, I’ll see you guys back here in five months with another post on sleep training once we go through the next sleep regression and things fall apart, right? Lol.
Written by Amy Chang; main image photographed by Wing Ta for BOND EN AVANT