There’s no contest: Sleep is the topic that new parents stress over the most, both their babies’ and their own. Being deprived of sleep is tough enough; yet not knowing when you might get a good eight hours of sleep again, so you can function at full capacity during the day, can feel like torture.

There are many different approaches to helping children sleep through the night, and it’s not a one size fits all. Some parents use what is referred to as ‘The Ferber Method’ where you allow your children to cry for lengthening intervals of time until they fall asleep, beginning as early as three to four months old. Other parents stay with their children in the nursery as they drift off and return to their baby’s bedroom if they awaken during the night. Some use what is referred to as ‘total extinction’ where they choose a reasonable bedtime and just let their children cry until they fall back to sleep should they wake up before morning. Some rock their babies to sleep and then rock them again whenever they awaken, hoping for a spontaneous transition to a full night sleep. Whatever method you choose, all caregivers should be on the same page, otherwise your children will get mixed messages and the process will take even longer.

Typically I find that between four and six months of age, most children are capable of a six-hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep. It may not be during the interval of your choosing, but that will come with time.

Below are a few principles you can try to help your child sleep through the night:
  • Be consistent. Don’t pat your child to sleep one night and not the next. He will expect it.
  • Use the same technique at bedtime that you use if your child awakens in the middle of the night. If she falls asleep in your arms at 8:00 pm, she is going to want your arms again at 2:00 am should she wake up.
  • Establish a bedtime routine so your baby knows what to expect. This may be a bath, a story, and a quick kiss before heading into the crib.
  • Put your child in the crib awake. This will help him learn how to fall asleep on his own and get back to sleep if he awakens.
  • Don’t run for every whimper. Many times a child can get herself back to sleep in a few short minutes.
  • Make sure you can hear if your child is upset when in the crib. You can leave the bedroom door open or use a baby monitor.
  • Don’t miss your window of opportunity. Watch for sleepy clues like eye rubbing and yawning and put your child to sleep promptly.
  • Avoid keeping a child awake or out after bedtime. Once your child becomes over-tired it will be hard to put him to sleep.
  • If your child is sick, all bets are off. You can return to your normal routine once your child feels better.
  • If you stick to a routine, it will help make recovering from vacation and lapses in the normal schedule easier.

As a pediatrician I would be remiss if I didn’t say a word about safety. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in her own crib (which can be in the parents’ room), with nothing in the crib except a mattress and a tight fitting sheet.

Good Luck and Sweet Dreams!