My son has always had motor skill development interfering with his sleep - he’s trying to crawl like crazy. He used to go down on his own for sleeps, but for the past two weeks it’s been a huge struggle! As soon as we get him in his crib he practices like crazy and crosses into overtired zone, every time. We’re giving him lots of day practice time, it doesn’t seem to matter. We have been intervening at this point and doing whatever we can to get him to sleep... nursing until very drowsy, rocking, etc. We try to still place him down somewhat awake, but it isn’t always the case. Obviously I’m worried about creating new sleep associations (if we haven’t already) but i also am obviously wanting to keep him well rested... any advice? Do I just let him do his thing until he collapses?
Short answer – yes. Let him do his thing.
Exploring physical capacities is a natural, exciting part of growing up. Aside from giving him plenty of daytime opportunity to flex his skills, there's not much you can do other than to ride it out.
But before you just keep doing what you're doing, ask yourself – are you certain motor skill development is the only thing making falling asleep difficult?
Children need strong sleep foundations in order to konk out consistently at bedtime. So ask yourself a few questions...
Is your baby on an age-appropriate (and individual-appropriate) schedule? This means finding the sweet spot between how long he should be able to stay awake and the tired cues he might be giving off.
Here's a handy guide:
Wake Windows – after which point a baby should be encouraged to sleep
(note: these are approximate and vary by individual)
Newborns 40 - 80min
Young Infant 60 - 100min
Older Infant 2 - 4½hr
Toddler 4 - 5½hr
Tired Signs – at which point caregiver should begin transition rituals
(this is not an exhaustive list; babies may exhibit some or none of these signs)
Start your baby's sleep routine as soon as he shows signs of tiredness, as long as it's within 15 minutes of the wake window. Babies will sometimes be consistent with their tired cues. They will frequently change them, suddenly. And sometimes they will show no signs of tiredness anyways. Use your best judgement.
With younger babies, err on the side of tired signs. With older babies, wake windows. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule.
Do you have a predictable, appropriate bedtime routine for your baby that you use for all sleeps? Bedtime routines can include reading, bathtime, massages, cuddles. As a rule, they should be calming, connecting, and consistent.
Are you ensuring he is exposed to dimness in the evening, about an hour before bedtime? This allows his brain to produce melatonin – the sleep hormone. Don't overlook this!
Are you ensuring his diet is healthy and well-rounded? Or that your diet is, if you are breastfeeding? Diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates can cause restlessness at bedtime. It goes without saying that caffeine should not be given to young children.
Is he eating at more-or-less the same times every day? A strong circadian rhythm is supported not only with sleep times, but with meal times too.
Why are you nursing and rocking him to sleep? Presumably it is because you're concerned he's not getting enough sleep, spending the first hour or so of bedtime partying his face off.
You can keep doing it, if you wish. But you're right to be concerned about sleep associations. If your baby starts to expect to be put to sleep this way, then you've got yourself in a little pickle.
Consider your goals, which I'm going to presume are...
My advice is let him party it out. As long as he's not in distress, there is no harm in letting him work his beans out on his own in the evening. In fact, it's probably good for him.
After you put him down to bed, it's his "me time." Let him have it.
If you're concerned about overall tiredness levels, do what you can to increase his sleep.
Increase his desire to sleep by...
But if you're already doing all that, you might have to resolve yourself to another week or two of bedtime parties. \m/
Susannah Ritchie is a family educator specializing in infant & toddler sleep. She works with tired parents to find sleep solutions for the whole family.