While many parents struggle with getting their kids to bed on time or making sure they sleep through the night, Dr. Richard Ferber, the co-founder of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston, says the problem may have nothing to do with the child, but rather, with parents overlooking a key factor: consistency.
“Regularity, predictability, consistency typically falls into place at around 3-months-old, and sort of progressively from that point on,” he tells PEOPLE. “When youngsters get sleepy enough, you can’t keep them awake. The drive to sleep is inherently strong.”
Below, Dr. Ferber outlines his top five tips for helping children sleep well, as seen in his book, Solve Your Children’s Sleep Problems:
Maintain a consistent schedule. “The internal clock is very precisely controlled,” Dr. Ferber says. “You can’t just sleep whenever you want to. You want your child on a schedule that our body can work with, and also a schedule that a family can work with. Ifsomebody is taking two, 4-hour naps during the day, and then is up all night, that’s obviously not an appropriate schedule.”
Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Your child should fall asleep under the same conditions that will be present at times of normal wakings later in the night. While it is commonly believed that people sleep through the night undisturbed, Dr. Ferber says that thinking is incorrect. “We actually wake up a number of times during the night, and so do babies,” he says. “If things change, then it is a change you respond to.” To that end, he recommends parents ensure the conditions under which their children feel asleep remain the same throughout the night.
Avoid unnecessary nighttime feedings. “The families that came in with some of the most severe sleep disturbances were in situations where the youngster was fed repeatedly in the night,” Dr. Ferber says. “Most children were giving up middle-of-the-night feedings by 5-months-old or so. Continuing lots of feedings after that was not based on nutritional need. As we started to taper the amount of feedings, we saw how rapidly sleep improved.”
|Courtesy Dr. Ferber|
Be honest with your child. Do not sneak out of the room after he/she is asleep; if you will be leaving, let him/her see you leave. “In most cases, the child will wake up during the night and find that you’re gone. That’s where the problem is,” Dr. Ferber says. “They could learn that if they want you to stay in the room, they have to actively fight going to sleep. You either stay or you don’t stay.”
Set enforceable rules and stick to them. Both parents should handle matters the same way. When it comes to nightly rituals, even something as simple as how many stories achild should be read before lights out needs to be agreed upon by parents. “The consistency is what’s important,” Dr. Ferber says. “Children have to know what to expect.”
– Kiran Hefa