Dr. Marc Weissbluth takes a long-term approach to sleep training. He believes healthy sleep affects a child's overall health, including his ability to learn. He says parents can help children avoid long-term sleep problems by paying attention to infant sleep needs. The plan requires parents to watch for baby's natural sleep cycles and then help him get the rest of the way there. Dr. Weissbluth is an advocate for consistent naps and early bedtimes, saying that babies who are kept awake late to accommodate parent schedules end up paying a price in long-term sleep deprivation. Dr. Weissbluth's five components of healthy sleep include duration, consolidation (uninterrupted sleep), naps, timing and regularity.
What you have to do
- Look for that drowsy state where your baby shows less movement and his eyes are not as alert and sparkly, or your older baby smiles less and is less engaged. If you miss it (a window within a one-to-two-hour wakeful time), baby may become overtired, and it will become more difficult to help her sleep.
- Reduce stimulation, light, noise and activity.
- Soothe baby to sleep: Swaddle, nurse, rock, sing, massage or otherwise calm your baby. Most babies need only one of these, and too many at once may be overstimulating. However, a colicky baby may require longer effort and more techniques.
- If your 0-to-4-month-old baby continues crying, don't ignore the cries. Continue soothing him.
- It's okay to put baby in bed during the drowsy-but-awake state. But if he falls asleep during the soothing, do not wake him before placing him in the crib. (Weissbluth seems particularly irritated by books that suggest otherwise.)
- Do not rush in at the first sound baby makes. Often baby will fall back to sleep on his own.
- Other key components: Be consistent with nap times and bedtime routines. Don't interrupt sleep to feed or play with baby, and don't keep him up late to adapt to your schedule.
Note: The above methods are intended to prevent sleep problems. Dr. Weissbluth suggests that 27 percent of babies still have difficulty sleeping at four months of age and require treatment in order to become healthy sleepers. If your baby falls into this category, Dr. Weissbluth's book offers a myriad of "no cry," "maybe cry" and "let cry" solutions, depending on your circumstances.