Sleep Expectations and Sleep Training Techniques

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I’m sometimes consulted when both parents are exhausted and irritable. Consulting The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley, and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth offers some good suggestions. Both authors write extensively about the biological importance of sleep. Pantley explains that a baby’s biological clock begins maturing at 6-9 weeks and does not work smoothly until 4-5 months. Dr. Weissbluth asserts that when infants are 12-16 weeks, daytime sleep starts to regularize and bedtime is earlier. He finds that around 4 months of age, babies become interested in all sorts of things that can disturb their sleep.

Pantley and Weissbluth each underline the importance of establishing sleep cues and self-soothing techniques so that infants become accustomed to falling asleep on their own.

Both authors relate that the process of falling asleep is learned. If you want your babies to be able to fall asleep without your help, it is essential that you let them finish falling asleep without something in their mouths. Put the babies in bed when they are sleepy instead of when they are sleeping. The key is learning when you should pick them up for a feeding and when you can let them go back to sleep on their own. Watch for the development of the following signs of drowsiness:

  • Decreased activity
  • Slower motions
  • Less vocalization
  • Weaker or slower sucking
  • Quietness and calmness
  • Lack of interest in surroundings
  • Less visual focus or drooping eyelids

Weissbluth advocates putting both twins down when they are drowsy but awake. If they cry hard, pick them up for soothing and try again a bit later. His rule of thumb for twins is one down, both down. Most parents of twins synchronize eating schedules first, then they work on night sleep schedules, and then they iron out the naps. It is appropriate to try to enforce sleeping schedules when babies are as young as 6 weeks.

Pantley writes that by 6 months of age, babies take an average of two naps per day, totaling between 3 and 4 hours during midmorning and early afternoon. Since naptime sleep has a great impact on nighttime sleep, do everything that you can to get your babies to nap longer during the day. Pantley suggests the following:

About 10 minutes before the usual awakening time, sit outside the bedroom door and listen. You’ll find the baby in a sleepy, just-about-to-wake-up state. Use whatever techniques you have that will help the infant fall back to sleep. Take daytime naps in a lit room where the baby can hear noises of the day.

Both experts agree that the earlier you can help your babies fall asleep on their own, the better off everyone will be—the babies will be able to sleep longer and more deeply, and you will feel less sleep deprived. The authors also agree that the social cues imposed by parents become the primary factor in children’s sleep patterns. A nightly routine is recommended so that the babies associate nighttime sleep with a dark and quiet room. Pantley advocates using white noise to block out other sounds of the family.

Finally, parents need to appreciate that the phrase sleeping through the night must be realistically redefined. Weissbluth suggests that parents reframe their thinking to expect an “organized night sleep,” which occurs when your twins have a long block of uninterrupted sleep lasting 4-6 hours, usually occurring before midnight. Pantley writes that a baby “sleeps through the night” if he or she is sleeping 5 consecutive hours and adds that most babies awaken 2-3 times a night up to 6 months of age and once or twice a night up to a year old. Reorganizing your expectations and routines should help promote healthier sleep for your babies and for you.

What sleep training techniques have worked for you?

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