How to Get More Sleep: An Interview with Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant Liza Rohn
Sometimes I feel like every wellness article I read says "if you want to be healthy you must get more sleep. You must get lots and lots of sleep."
Reading these articles makes me want to cry.
After becoming a mother, it has felt impossible to get lots and lots of sleep. It felt especially so in the early months. My daughter slept through the night early on, but then went through a sleep regression that lasted 6 months (!!!). From month 4 to month 10, she was waking at 3am, 5am and 7am.
Needless to say, I did not feel rested. I also did not feel well.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can decrease cognitive performance, change mood, cause depression, increase symptoms of seizures, high blood pressure and migraines, compromise immunity, affect metabolism and more.
None of these things lend themselves to a mother's health and happiness.
My friend Liza, on the other hand, was able to get her daughter to start sleeping through the night consistently by 11-12 weeks. That means Liza had 7 more months of restful nights than I 😳. Liza is also a certified pediatric sleep consultant and the founder of In Your Dreams Sleep Consulting. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about getting your child to sleep through the night — she has an incredible wealth of information on the topic. I hope the below helps you as much as it helped me!
At what age is it possible for babies to sleep through the night? This depends on the weight of the baby, but most babies have the ability to sleep through the night when they reach about 13 lbs. This is often about 12 weeks or anytime soon after that. (Please be sure your pediatrician is comfortable with your baby’s weight gain).
Why is sleeping through the night important for mom’s well-being? Sleep is not only important for growing babies, it is important for mom's well-being. If you have a poor night’s sleep, you will feel it the next day- often being unable to focus on tasks. If this pattern continues for weeks and months, this turns into serious sleep deprivation. This can impact memory and attention, mood, blood pressure, and immunity, just to name a few. Sleep is imperative for our body’s physical and mental health. A bonus for the breastfeeding moms- our bodies make the most milk while we rest, so you will see a decline of milk if you are not getting enough solid sleep.
When would you recommend moving the baby to their own crib? Ideally, I say immediately! However, I know it is difficult to be separate from a newborn in those early days so one month is a good goal. In the first month, be sure the baby is sleeping safely in a flat crib or bassinet. Naps are a good time to use the crib in their own room from day one. Aim for at least one nap to be taken in their crib so they get comfortable with their room and learn to sleep without being held or rocked.
Will moving the baby to their own crib help mom sleep better? Why?Yes! Moving a baby to their own room will help you both sleep better. The baby can smell and sense you are close and when they wake between sleep cycles (about 40-50 minutes), they will sometimes fuss or cry out. If they sense you are close, they will often escalate until you respond. However, if they are in their own room and you give them 1-5 minutes of fussing, you will start to see them go back to sleep and connect the sleep cycles into a longer consolidated sleep period. Also, babies are very loud sleepers. They make noise all night long and even if they are asleep, it will wake you as a mom who is likely sleeping lightly- waiting and checking on the baby. Trust me, if the baby is hungry and needs you, you will know it and they will not go back to sleep. That is when you respond and feed the baby.
When can you start giving up night time feedings? Why is this important?
If a baby is gaining weight well and the pediatrician is comfortable with weight gain, you can anticipate giving up night feedings between 3-4 months. Prior to that, babies really do need to eat at night. They have small tummies and simply can’t take in enough food at a time to get the calories they need. However, by 3-4 months, they can begin to take larger meals during the day. This is important because babies need a long consolidated stretch of sleep for growth and development. Sleep is when babies brain functions mature, developing abilities like language, attention and impulse control. Sleep can have a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn and grow. Studies have also shown it can impact mood and developmental disorders. These brain connections are made with long stretches of consolidated sleep, rather than short sleep cycles.
A note on crying: Since people always ask me about whether my program involves “crying it out,” I think it’s something that deserves to be addressed here. Crying is your child’s way of protesting change, and you can expect that making changes to their sleep habits will result in some protest. That’s why I’m always sure to tell parents that my program will most likely involve at least some amount of protest on the child’s part. Please understand that I will never ask you to leave your child to cry alone, nor will I ask you to ignore their cries. The reason that The Sleep Sense™ Program is so effective is that is allows you develop a plan that you feel comfortable with, based on what you know about your child.
What about naps? Are consistent naps important for night time sleeping? Can you sleep train naps? Naps are important for a few reasons. Babies need naps to rest and recuperate, they simply do not have the stamina to be awake for long periods like children and adults. Naps are important for sleep training because an overtired baby will have a very difficult time going to sleep. Have you have had your baby skip a nap and then you end up rocking them to sleep for the next nap since they are so fussy? That is because they are overtired! A well-rested baby will go down for naps and bedtime much more smoothly than an overtired baby. So good naps will lead to good night sleep! You can sleep train naps as well as bedtime. Often, bedtime comes together before naps but with consistency, your baby will soon take predictable, long naps. Imagine being able to anticipate time to yourself to get work done, workout, or take a nap yourself!
What are some common mistakes that parents make when sleep training their children? Often, parents do not realize the importance of good sleep. They think babies will sleep when they are tired or can sleep on the go. Newborns (0-3 months) can often take restful naps on the go, however as they get past 3 months, naps on the go are not as restful. They turn into cat naps and you will find your baby taking 20 minute naps throughout the day. This leads to a fussy and unpredictable baby. Sleep needs to be a priority for babies to learn and grow! Another mistake parents make is the use of sleep props. Nursing/feeding to sleep and the use of pacifiers for babies past 3 months are common mistakes. A baby will want to be put back to sleep (even between sleep cycles) the same way they initially went to sleep. So, if you nursed your baby to sleep, when she wakes she will need you to come in and nurse her to sleep again. This is what leads to many feedings in a nighttime. A third mistake I often see is inconsistency. A parent may skip naps or nurse to sleep but change the routine the next day. A baby needs consistent routine for every nap and bedtime. It can be a short routine, but needs to be predictable for them to learn that it is time to sleep.
Can you sleep train toddlers? Absolutely! I would say half of my clients have been toddlers. Toddlers need consistent sleep as much as babies do to. The changes I often make with toddlers have to do with routine and consistency. Toddlers (and babies) thrive on routine and toddlers will push every boundary they can to test where the limits are. If you have a strict routine and structure to bedtime and naptime, they will begin to anticipate it and enjoy the routine.
What do sleep consultants do? When I work with clients, I create personalized sleep plans based on their childrens' health, sleep habits, routines as well as the parents' preferences. I will then support them through the execution of the plan.
How long does it take to sleep train a child? If you are consistent and follow the plan, you can expect changes in 3-4 days and solid sleep by the end of 2 weeks. (toddlers sometimes take 3 weeks before naps really click into place but expect night time to improve within a few days).