I have one piece of advice that may have the biggest impact on improving your own sleep, and your baby’s sleep. TURN OFF YOUR BABY MONITOR!
Baby monitors are great, don’t get me wrong. When you have a newborn, a monitor will let you move about, sit on your front porch, or take a nap knowing that you will hear your precious one when she wakes. The monitor can help rouse you when it’s time for those night feeds. However, once your baby is three to four months, I think it’s time to turn off the monitor at night.
By four months, babies are learning to cycle between deep and light sleep. This is the age when babies may start sleeping through the night…hurray! During the night, your four-month old will pass through two to three complete sleep cycles. Every 90 minutes, babies cycle to a state of light sleep called REM. Every three to four hours, they cycle to a more active, almost awake state. Each time they come to that light sleep, they will likely make noise, move about, cry out, and may even wake themselves.
At these intervals (often around 11pm, 2am, and 5am), we often want to go to our babies – maybe feed them, or hold them until they quiet down so they don’t wake the rest of the household. But by going in to comfort our babies when we hear cries during the night, we risk two things:
Waking the baby by going to him when he’s just cycling through a light sleep and isn’t really awake
Conditioning the baby to need a parent to settle him down between sleep cycles, and not allowing him to learn and practice self-soothing techniques he will need throughout his life to get back to sleep when he wakes
Of course, I don’t want you to ignore your baby’s cry. I just want you to ignore all the other sounds your baby makes at night. And I want you to get a good night sleep when you can!
I do know that no matter where I am in my house, when one of my kids cries a real cry, I hear it. It will wake me from a deep sleep, and my bedroom is on a different floor from my kids’ room. I don’t need the monitor to hear them crying. But by turning the monitor off at night, I can sleep through those whimpers, grunts, and fleeting protests as my kids move through their sleep cycles.
Some of the newer monitors have a myriad of bells and whistles. One client told me that their machine had noise canceling so it only transmits real cries. If that works, then great – leave that machine on at night if you need it. I have also seen machines with lights, noises, and more. While white noise is great for helping babies and adults sleep, any other kind of noise or visual stimulation will prevent your brain from resting, so steer clear!
Reclaim your nights. If your kids are older than four months, turn off your monitor one night and give it a try. I’m betting you will sleep better and you’ll give your little one a chance to practice valuable self-soothing skills during the night.