The Infant and Family Sleep System

There’s no doubt about it, parenting can be hard.  For all those new parents, one of the biggest challenges is helping your infant get to sleep.  The other challenge is to get enough sleep yourself.

Whenever a family talks with me about their infant’s sleep, I also look at the parents sleep.  With all that data about sleep deprivation causing mood and performance impairments, it’s clear that when parents are sleep deprived, they are going to have more difficulty parenting. 

When working with these young families, I encourage them to write down a sleep plan for the family.  The first section is to establish a sleep routine for the child that is consistent, regardless of which caregiver they are with each day.  Parts of this plan should include:

1.  Pre-bed routine that happens before each nap and night-time sleep.  Components can include feeding, rocking, a song or book, a clean diaper.  Doing these activities in a predictable order before each sleep period will help your infant know when to sleep.

2.  An approximate time for each nap and bedtime.  These times will become more established as the infant gets older.

The second section of the sleep plan should be about the parents.  Start by thinking about how much sleep you need to feel good and function well each day.  Segments of this plan can include:

1.  A ‘rest’ or ‘stop’ time about an hour before bed that you will stop doing tasks and switch into relaxing activities. 

2. A bedtime and waketime for each adult which allows enough sleep time.  This should take into account any night-time care that disturbs sleep.  Frequently one of the parents will do most of the night-time care for the children.  If possible,  plan for that care-giver to be “off-duty” at least one or two nights a week so that they can have uninterrupted sleep.  In our household, when we had an infant my husband took care of the baby on Friday nights while I slept in the guest bed, and that solid sleep was so valuable!

Coming up on January 26th I’ll be speaking about infant sleep at the Good Sheperd Center for PEPS (program for early parenting support).  More information at www.naturalsleepmedicine.net under Events.

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