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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 11:25 pm | Fair 53º

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Dr. Dan Brennan: Sleepless in Santa Barbara? Tips to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Bedtime stories. Teddy bears. Snuggly blankets. Sounds like a dream scenario.

For parents training their infants to sleep through the night, the reality is often anything but sweet dreams. Understanding the basics of infant sleep patterns may help put an end to those sleepless nights.

Angie is a 6-month-old infant who has slept with her parents until recently. Mom is returning to work, and her parents have been trying desperately to transition her to a crib. Angie nurses until she falls asleep and then is quietly placed in her crib. Three hours later, Angie is crying and wants to eat again.

Her parents have been trying to let her “cry it out” to the point of crying themselves. Needing to get up for work the next morning and thinking that Angie may indeed be hungry, she nurses and falls asleep until the crying resumes an hour later. Could she be hungry again?

After weeks of unsuccessfully letting her “cry it out,” Angie’s parents start to receive plenty of advice from friends, relatives and neighbors. Which advice should they follow?

As these parents have found out, training your infant to sleep through the night can be a nightmare.

Reasonable Expectations

Many healthy infants start to sleep through the night after 4 months of age. While some younger babies may sleep through the night, this is generally the exception to the rule. If you are looking to train your baby to sleep through the night, 4 to 6 months of age seems to be the ideal time.

Normal Sleep — Wake Cycle

Your infant is not the only one who wakes up through the night. Regardless of age, we all have brief awakenings throughout the night when we roll over, fluff the pillow or pull the covers back up. The difference is that most of us have learned to fall back asleep on our own.

Sleep Associations

We all have activities that we associate with bedtime, such as putting on jammies, reading a good book, enjoying a cup of tea or catching up on Noozhawk. Babies have sleep associations, too — nursing with mom, rocking in dad’s arms, sucking on a pacifier or driving around the block in the family minivan.

If your baby is used to one of these sleep associations to fall asleep, chances are your baby may require the same intervention to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night.

Develop a New Bedtime Routine

Creating a new bedtime routine can help develop new sleep associations. The routine can be as simple as a bath, feeding and then reading a book.

The goal of the bedtime routine is to establish new sleep associations, ultimately allowing your child to fall asleep on her own and in her own bed without an intervention, such as nursing, rocking or cruising State Street at 2 a.m.

Put Your Baby to Bed in the Place Where You Want Her to Sleep

Think about it. If you fell asleep in your own bed, but woke up in the middle of the living room floor, you’d be a bit startled and disoriented when you woke up. It might be hard for you to fall back asleep right away.

This is no different for the infant who falls asleep within the comfort and security of her parent’s arms, only to awaken in a different room, with her parents nowhere in sight.

The infant that learns to fall asleep in her own bed will be less scared and more likely to sooth herself back to sleep.

Give Her Some Time to Figure It Out

How will the bedtime routine and new sleep associations help your baby sleep through the night? Allowing your child to learn to fall asleep on her own at the start of the night is much of the challenge. Fortunately, once your child has learned to fall asleep on her own, she has a better chance of soothing herself back to sleep when she wakes up later during the night.

Be Consistent

The good news is that sleep training can usually be accomplished within one to two weeks with consistency and a little luck.

After 4 months of age, most healthy babies no longer require overnight feedings. When your infant wakes in the middle of night, she is probably not hungry, even though she would probably eat if food is offered. It is OK to go into her room to reassure her, but try not to pick her up, rock or feed her. Often times, she will fall back to sleep on her own after 10 to 15 minutes of wakefulness.


It does not take much to disrupt the sleep training process. Teething, traveling, house guests or catching a cold may have a subtle but dramatic effect on the bedtime routine.

Some babies are not ready to sleep through the night at 6 months of age. Every baby has a different personality and her own needs. It is never too late to start sleep training. If you or your baby are not ready, it is OK to wait and try again a few weeks later.

Angie Revisited

We return to our 6-month-old, Angie. Her parents went to the pediatrician’s office and were reassured that she was thriving and no longer required overnight feeds. With their doc’s guidance, they evaluated Angie’s sleep associations and constructed a new bedtime routine.

Within two weeks, Angie was able to fall asleep on her own, in her own crib and eventually sleep through the night with little intervention from her parents. Mom and dad slept happily ever after.

Empowering your baby to learn how to fall asleep on her own is a lifelong gift, for your child and for yourself. Understanding the basics of sleep and creating a new bedtime routine for your child may allow you to once again curl up under the blankets and return to those sweet dreams.

Dr. Dan Brennan is a board-certified pediatrician at Sansum Clinic who is much better rested now that his three boys sleep through the night. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 805.563.6211, or click here for more information about Santa Barbara Pediatrics. The opinions expressed are his own.

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