|Gideon and his best friend playing in his sleep tent. G loves his bed!|
A final teaching of my sister is that any and all props are welcome, but you want to be careful how much you use, and save your biggest ammunition for emergencies.
Whitenoise - I use the heavy whitenoise machines when my babes are seriously over-tired. (Light whitenoise such as a bathroom fan is used pretty liberally.)
Dummies - I use pacifiers/dummies more liberally, but try to get by without them. (I'm seriously failing at this, however, in that Esther now refuses to go to sleep during the day without one - at night she knows somehow at three months that she can't have it. Any help out there for this problem?) My mother admits to using hair tape (really gentle tape) to tape in the pacifiers. They can still breath, cry, and spit up as necessary. The tape is gentle enough that if the baby wants to spit the pacifier out, they can.
Blankies/soft toys - My son has a muslin he has adopted as his ever-steady prop, which is fine because it is interchangeable and therefore washable and portable.
Darkness - I would like to use darkness less, but both of my children need it desperately. Gideon used to need pitch blackness, and Esther isn't far off. They are both easily over-stimulated, so they easily wake in their transitions if there is light and therefore discernible objects to look at. I blacked out the bathroom for Gideon using black felt around the door. We have shutters in our current flat, so it is easier to create the needed darkness for Esther, but I still black out the door to her sleeping area by covering the door windows with a towel. When out and in baby carriers, I have to put a breathable blanket over Esther. Gideon no longer sleeps on the go, unfortunately, making me homebound during his naps. A friend used tinfoil to black out her windows - something you need to be careful with because of its impact on temperature control - but the darker room helped her baby sleep better.
When one of my babies starts crying, before going in to rescue them, I listen. I've found there are different cries for different things. Gideon is capable of fake crying to manipulate me, bless his heart. These cries are ignored, and he's doing them less. Cries of pain are responded to immediately. Pain cries can mean there is trapped gas that needs to be released or, in Gideon's case, when he is sick and needs to be throw up (sorry to the non-parent readers - reality reigns supreme the moment a baby is born). Night frights, shrill, spontaneous crying, will die down quickly, and are easy to confuse with pain cries. I've found it best to wait these out a few minutes to distinguish the two - night frights will dissipate quickly, whereas pain cries will not. I now know with Gideon what is what, and will rush in with pain cries and not with the other.
More often than not, my children will cry a bit when they are in "transition." I have mentioned this before, but baby sleep cycles are 30-60 minutes long, during which they progress through Rapid Eye Movement and all levels of sleep that adults do in 90 minutes. In between cycles, they wake a little bit and will often squirm, cry a bit, and even open their eyes. If they are well-rested, they will have the energy (sounds funny, but it's true!) to put themselves back to sleep. If they are not well-rested enough, they will cry more - sometimes up to five minutes. If they are extremely overtired, they will need help going back to sleep. It is very important not to disturb babies in transition unless they keep crying after five minutes, as doing anything will wake them further and make them more overtired.
Gideon goes into light sleep between 5-7 a.m. and during the last 30 minutes of his long afternoon nap. Both times, he will cry a bit during transitions. If I wake him (thinking he is done sleeping) during this time, he will be terribly cross with me and with life. I have learned to just leave him a bit until I am sure he is done sleeping - wherein he usually has a "come and get me, I'm bored" cry rather than an angrier transition cry.
Sounds complicated, but it's really not!
12. Be respectful.
Finally, I had to learn when Gideon was little (again from my sister) to be respectful of my children's sleep needs. Especially for the afternoon nap and their night sleep. I'm much more casual with their morning naps (or Esther's final, short nap before the nighttime routine). When I am not respectful of their needs, they fall apart and are messes.
Respecting my children's needs means that I need to do everything I possibly can to get them to a place where they can sleep in the dark in their own bed--on time. They always sleep better (and longer) under these conditions and will therefore generally be happier.
Obviously, some flexibility is needed when traveling. When traveling, however, I still do everything I can to recreate good sleeping conditions - at the right time. I plan for travel by having my children sleep in portable beds on a regular basis (basket, hammock, and a tent thus far) that travel with us. My sister planned ahead for travel by sleeping her children in travel cots/port-a-cribs for their afternoon naps so they became accustomed to sleeping in their travel bed.
When I am not traveling, I can pretty much plan the rest of my life around afternoon naps and night sleep. It was a massive mental adjustment to live this way, but my children and I (and likely my husband!) are so much happier because of it.
What are your baby sleep secrets? What do you do to get little ones to sleep during the day or night? Do you do these things and they don't work?