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So our 6-month-old boy still doesn't sleep through the night. He still wakes up at least once and wants to eat.

He takes 3 naps during the day, ranging from 30 minutes to 1.5 (sometimes 2) hours.

We usually put him down for the night at least 2 hours after his latest nap, but we haven't been able to get him down to 2 naps per day because he gets pretty cranky during the evenings. Depending on the duration and times of his naps, his bedtime ranges between 10 and midnight.

We have started feeding him a small amount (2 tablespoons dry) of rice cereal after his morning and evening naps in the hopes that he'll have a fuller stomach through the night, but he still wakes up hungry after sleeping between 3 and 6 hours. I can handle the 6 hours, since that means I get 6 hours of pretty much uninterrupted sleep, but it's usually more like 3-4.

Any suggestions?

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If he wakes up at night let him sleep less/not at all during the daytime. Send him to bed earlier. Kids should sleep for about 5 hours, have some food and sleep for another 5 hours. Sleeping like this while very hard isn't unnatural. –  Barfieldmv Mar 30 '11 at 6:57
    
If I could downvote a comment I would downvote this one. While it is possible for babies to sleep so much during the day that it interferes with night sleep having a 6 month old not nap would lead to a grossly overtired baby who has even more difficulty sleeping at night. –  justkt Jan 3 '13 at 14:05

12 Answers 12

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Establish a routine

Yes, it's a Supernanny favourite, but we've found that a consistent routine (even printed out and stuck to the wall in vibrant colours) helps children to understand the wake-play-eat-play-bedtime-sleep cycle.

The biggest challenge to introducing a routine is when the children rail against it. This requires a lot of patience and understanding - they don't want to be told what to do all the time and will try all sorts of antics to get around the routine, but stick to it rigidly and it'll pay dividends.

Some of the important ingredients of the routine:

  • Bedtime; at the same time every day, between 7 and 8pm.
  • Bathtime; about half an hour before bedtime and is bathroom, wash down, clean teeth, get into pyjamas.
  • Bedtime stories or sing-song, read/sing in the bedroom (ideally in bed), to calm the children and let them warm to their bed before lights-out.
  • Lights-out. If your child needs to have a background light, make sure it's very, very low as you'll disrupt their sleep pattern if it's too bright.
  • Wake up at the same time every day, not earlier. Try to resist going to them until it's time to wake up. Yes, they may cry a lot, but when you turn up at the same time each day, eventually they'll understand.
  • Get some fresh air - oxygen will help with the sleep cycle. Get outside in the open wherever possible.
  • Exercise; for a 6-month-old, this may be crawling around the lounge or bouncing on a elasticated door-frame bouncer.
  • Nutrition; healthy food provided at the same times each day. Get rid of the little snacks and sweetened drinks - fruit and water are ideal for managing energy levels and hydration.
  • Noise levels. It is not possible to stop all kinds of noise - there are noisy neighbours, unexpected phone calls, someone burns toast and sets the smoke detector off, etc, but it's reasonable to ask family/friends to try not to make a lot of noise when passing nearby a sleeping baby. Planning the activities of other/older children to leave the baby alone to sleep is crucial - can't have them playing drums in the same room and expect baby to sleep.
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I'm sorry to hear your frustrations. We followed this routine and both our children slept through the night from the age of 6 months. So it worked well for us. –  JBRWilkinson Mar 29 '11 at 22:06
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@Andra I'm curious - what is it about a routine that can drive parents mad? I find routine helps - whether or not you've got kids! ;-) –  Yuki Mar 29 '11 at 23:15
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@Andra If it works for 60%... That still seems like solid advice for a majority? This doesn't appear to be a question with a clear cut universal answer. You may be frustrated (as you may be on the end of the spectrum where this doesn't work at all), but a downvote seems completely unwarranted and I would even suggest destructive to the community. –  talon8 Mar 30 '11 at 1:53
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@talon - It looks Andra annoyed that someone doesn't give him a magic wand to solve problems, but instead suggests he actually needs to do something about it (in this case establish routine). JBRwilkinson advice worked for us and I believe with at least some effort would work for way more than 60% –  Liutauras Mar 30 '11 at 11:50
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Good general advice, but a lot of it is not particularly applicable for a 6 month old. I do have to disagree on the "quiet time", though. Establishing a rule of "don't make a sound otherwise you'll wake the baby" could simply lead to a child who is so used to sleeping in quiet that incidental sounds wake them (a self-fulfilling prophecy). Some children really do naturally need quieter environments to sleep, but some are simply trained that way. –  Beofett Apr 12 '11 at 12:37

My daughter got to 5 months old and wasn't sleeping so I decided to let her cry it out one night! Yes she screamed for an hour and the second night was worse but third night was 20 mins and by the 4th night she slept. The reason I knew that she was not hungry at night but rather it being a habit was because in the morning she would play in her cot for half an hour with no tears! I figured if she was that hungry she'd be crying in the morning too! So is it really hunger that your baby is waking or habit?! If your strong enough to let your baby cry it out I'd try that! But make sure that your partner is willing to let this happen!

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We've tried various different methods for each of our three, and of course no child is the same.

Controlled Crying

For our eldest we resorted to controlled crying, leaving for one minute, then two, up to a maximum of five, soothing each time, with the idea being that he would learn to go to sleep by himself. This took about three days and did work, he now sleeps well. I actually regret this now, and would probably take a different approach.

Luck of the draw

Our 3 year old is very even tempered and just started managing it at about 9 months. No intervention required. If your baby is waking up hungry, it may just be a phase that you have to wait out.

Shush Pat

We did this for our youngest. We waited till she was on solids at 6 months, then in the night I would shush pat her back to sleep, without lifting her. Shush pat is a gentle pat on the bottom and a slow regular shushing sound. I think this works best if the man does it because there's no milk association. Also I need to make sure the bed isn't damp with drool. For some babies this works like a charm.

There are lots of methods that work, and everyone has their favourite. Also every child has their own temperament and only you know your child.

Good luck with it, it isn't forever, and keep in mind it will end soon.

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There is a HUGE variability to when children will sleep through the night, especially if you don't Ferberize or do any "cry it out" variant. Some babies sleep through the night on their own by 6 months (or even 4 months), and others don't get there until 2 years of age (as another poster has mentioned).

We've tried almost everything except letting our kid cry it out, and at nearly 1 year of age, he is still waking up a few times each night. They're generally minor wake-ups (and my wife, who is co-sleeping with him, can usually quickly soothe him back to sleep), but they do happen.

We did start late on working on a bedtime routine, and monitoring his naptimes during the day and such. I think this is what has sort of screwed us, and we'll definitely be smarter about that for our next kid.

At this point, the things that I can say with some confidence have improved his sleeping are:

  1. Cutting back on night feedings, switch from milk to a bottle of water if he's bottle feeding and absolutely demands a bottle

  2. Establish a consistent bedtime routine, e.g. dinner, bath, bedtime story, rocking in the glider, then into the bed.

  3. Be consistent about his naps during the day, and make sure he get him to nap as soon as he shows signs of tiredness

  4. Encourage him to put himself back to sleep, i.e. by shushing and soothing him while he is still in the bed, instead of picking him up

  5. Have soothing lullaby music playing at a low volume; only turn this on when it's time to put him to sleep (naps or bedtime)

  6. Darken the room (we used light-blocking curtains), quiet down the rest of the house.

I know that many parents are advocates of cry-it-out, and have had good success with that, and there seem to be no long-term negative effects of it on their children. I have also been a parent long enough to not judge other people's parenting. However, I personally could not bear to hear my child freaking out crying like that, especially at such a young age. I do understand that as they get older they learn to throw tantrums to manipulate parents, so that's something to take into account at that point. But to leave a child at 3-6 months of age, screaming/crying by themselves in the dark until they gag, choke, and sometimes vomit... that's just not something I can bring myself to do.

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-1 Your description of "cry-it-out" (again, that is the name given to it primarily by its detractors, and is not an accurate description) as "leaving a child at 3-6 months of age, screaming/crying by themselves in the dark until they gag, choke, and sometimes vomit" is some horrible misinformation. For one, the Ferber method is not intended for children under the age of 6 months. For another, you don't just walk away and leave the child crying until they "gag, choke, or vomit". That's just ridiculous. –  Beofett Apr 26 '11 at 15:15
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If you read the varied descriptions of Cry It Out on the web, you will find people describing both the new Ferber method (which you describe) as well as the "leave them until morning, regardless of what happens". Yes, people actually do the latter, and advocate that approach to others. It is clear to anyone who does some searching on this stuff that there is a spectrum of crying options. My final paragraph, mostly a parenthetical after the actual substance of my response, was addressed to that one end of the spectrum. –  Peter Wang May 1 '11 at 21:56
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If you think I'm exaggerating, just google for "cry it out gag vomit": google.com/… –  Peter Wang May 1 '11 at 21:57
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Here is a parent's description of their attempt to Ferberize, from the Berkeley Parents Network (parents.berkeley.edu/advice/sleep/cry.html): "The crying was horrible... My husband and I sat on the stairs with clock in hand, ready to time the intervals before going in to soothe her... On the third and fourth nights, our baby vomited. This was extremely traumatic for us. We spoke to our pediatrician who said that this happens sometimes, but that if we ever wanted to sleep again, we needed to follow through." This is some of the motivation behind my comment. –  Peter Wang May 1 '11 at 21:58
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1. You may chose to apply the "No True Scotsman" approach towards folks who use terminology you disagree with, but a huge number of people use the term "cry-it-out", and without disparaging overtones. Call them idiots, call them amateurs at parenting and novices at Feberizing, do what you need to do to make yourself feel an expert on the subject, but the fact of the matter is that not everyone who uses the term CIO is a detractor. –  Peter Wang May 2 '11 at 5:19

Have you started weaning yet? My son suddenly started sleeping through when he got sufficient calories. Also, I wholeheartedly agree with routines and early bedtimes too (~7pm).

Hang on in there - it does get better.

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The book "12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old" worked absolutely fantastically with our daughter. Right at 12 weeks, she started sleeping 12 hours straight every night, and 2.5 years later, nothing's changed.

The only times she hasn't slept through the night have been when she was sick, and a few times during teething.

We've got a second kid on the way in four weeks, and we'll definitely be following the same strategy.

That said: We've recommended it to a few friends of ours, and they all failed at it. The main reason is that it requires some incredible consistency during weeks 6-12, and can be very difficult on the parents. None of them had the will power to keep going with it.

The key aspect of the book is getting the kid on a fixed feeding schedule. I don't know why that's so vital (the author never gives a "why", just "what"), but it really is. At about week 6 you start slowing increasing the times between feedings, until you get to four feedings per day, four hours apart. So by the end we were feeding our daughter at 8am, 12pm, 4pm and 8pm. This is where all of our friends fell apart. When your kid is screaming to eat, and you "can't let them" for another 10 minutes, it's INCREDIBLY difficult. But trust me, you'll be fine, the kid will be fine, and the end result of 12 hours sleep is priceless.

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You might try a little "cry it out".

At about nine months, we figured it was time for baby to learn how to sleep through the night. So rather than rushing in to comfort baby immediately, we'd wait 5 minutes after our baby began crying, then go in and comfort baby and let baby know Mom and Dad are there, then leave. Next time it happens, wait 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, and keep regularly incrementing the time you are away between comfort visits.

It is tough hearing your baby cry, and that first "cry it out" cycle can be excruciating. But it's also very important for baby (and parents...) to learn that he can put himself back to sleep just fine!

We did this for our baby at about nine months and within two days he went from waking up 3-4 times a night, to sleeping through the night all by himself (mostly).

It was a big difference!

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This approach often works well in my experience. "Cry it out" is unfortunately often understood as "let the baby cry for six hours straight" and that's definitely traumatizing. Little by little is a totally different story. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 7:36
    
Our pediatrician recommended this, but my wife isn't a big fan yet. After the semester is over I think we're going to try it, though because I'm a lighter sleeper than she is and when he starts to get fussy I hear him first. –  alesplin Apr 1 '11 at 20:44
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This approach (which we also found very effective) is also commonly known as 'Controlled Crying'. –  Jon Hadley Apr 1 '11 at 21:23
    
This has worked effectively for all three of my kids. Getting "over the hump" is really tough, but better for everybody after just a few days. –  schellack Apr 10 '11 at 4:17
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This approach is actually called the Ferber method. "Cry it out" is the name typically applied to it by opponents of the method (particularly Dr. Sears). It is a good method that is frequently demonized by people who have been convinced that any amount of crying will somehow permanently traumatize a child. One important thing to note... if you try this method, when you go in to comfort the child, do not pick them up. Comfort them while leaving the child in the crib. –  Beofett Apr 12 '11 at 12:31

Here's what my boss (with two kids aged >3 who both sleep through the night) advocates; I'm going to try it with my kid and see what happens.

First, create a distinction between day and night. TV, music, lights are all on during the day. It's a time of excitement and activity. At night, dim the lights, no music or TV on, and no play. They'll learn that nighttime is for sleep.

The typical routine for a baby on waking seems to be "wake, play, feed, sleep." You need to turn this inside out a little bit: "wake, feed, play, sleep." The problem is that kids get used to feeding, getting tired and falling asleep in your arms. Then you put them into their cot half-asleep - they don't get used to falling asleep on their own; i.e. they never learn how to sleep.

Instead, you feed them first, then play with them (essentially keeping them up) until they're tired, and once they seem like they really want to nod off (but can't yet, because you're there playing with them), you put them to sleep (awake), say "Good night!", and let them fall asleep on their own.

The other thing he suggested that works for him; say your baby's feeding at 11pm, sleeping, waking at 2am. You do the above little routine at 2am. Then, one night, he manages to sleep through to 3am before waking. You never feed them at 2am again - because they've shown they can manage 'til 3. If they wake at 2 the next day, you wait until 3 (because they most certainly can do it - they're just crying because they don't want to!). Maybe a week later they accidentally sleep through 'til 4am - repeat. Soon, they'll be sleeping through the night.

HTH!

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I'd say at 6 months you're going to still see swings in their natural body cycles at that age. In a few months, it should be a different story, though. It IS very hard to tell when they are hungry and when it's just habit on the night time feeding, and at 6 months you ARE going through a typical tough spot for that. (It's probably in that "Expecting" book - those stages are pretty much spot on, although the timing varies)

In fact we've typically seen the kids be unstable at 6 months and then stable at a year in a number of behaviors from sleep to play to relationships. They seem to find a comfortable spot, then break out and find another one.

FWIW, at the older ages, consistent bedtime rituals have worked very well for us - from evening meal/movie time to bath to books to bed. Kids have also adapted well in last year to exceptional cases when out late beyond their bedtime.

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I am affraid there is not much you can do. Our twin daughters of age two only started sleeping through the night 2 months ago. We have tried various good intended advice, none worked. In the end my wife and I just switched turn in sleeping in the guestroom so that ze both get a good night sleep every two days.

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One thing that helped us a lot with our first kid is treating night-time like it's night-time. At first when she needed to wake up to eat, we would turn on the lights and sometimes even talk to her. Soon, though, we figured if she's ever going to learn to sleep through the night, we have to treat night-time different than daytime. We stopped turning on the light when she needed her night time feedings and we were very quiet. It seems obvious now, but at the time it was a lifesaver.

Also, having a consistent routine did wonders for our first baby.

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This is a great tip. How did you deal with differences in sunrise/sunset times through the year? –  JBRWilkinson Mar 29 '11 at 22:08
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@JBRWilkinson Try black-out blinds / lined curtains. –  Jon Hadley Mar 29 '11 at 22:12
    
@JBR: also, accept that there are seasonal differences. We have good blinds but you can still tell if there's some light outside. It's bedtime anyway; routine trumps daylight. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 6:59

Cut back to two naps a day and move up the bedtime. Bedtime at 10 and midnight is NOT good for a child of that age; or anyone for that matter. You are fighting the natural circadian cycle. Move the bedtime up to 8 and follow a defined structure for bedtime.

In addition they are not hungry at that age; it has simply become habit.

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I agree with dropping a nap and moving up the bed time - 10pm is just too late outside "special occasions" at that age. But do you have some information to backup the "they are not hungry at that age" statement? –  Saiboogu Mar 29 '11 at 22:19
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@Saiboogu A child at 6 months can sustain lengthy periods (7+ hours) without food from a metabolic stance. This actually occurs around 4 months of age and is generally once the child reaches the 11 lb mark. –  Aaron McIver Mar 30 '11 at 3:58
    
His pediatrician actually suggested this, as well as moving him into his own room so we don't hear him until he's good and mad. Once the semester is over I think we'll try it. –  alesplin Mar 30 '11 at 18:36
    
"Good and mad" sounds harsh. But it's valid; we don't go to him at the first sound, but it does alert us to get ready. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 7:02

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