Summary of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”

selective focus photography of sleeping baby

Here is a summary of “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. It is an extremely long book, but here are the general principles:

General Principles

The basic premise revolves around getting your child to be well-rested instead of over-tired. When we are well-rested, it is easier to go to sleep. Sleep begets sleep. In contrast, when we get really tired, it is harder to fall asleep. We often get a second wind and are even more alert than before. (I have found that this general principle can apply to adults as well.)

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An over-tired child:

  • fights going to sleep
  • often wakes up crying and angry
  • falls asleep in strollers or on car rides.

A well-rested child:

  • goes to sleep easily and sleeps for a long time
  • doesn’t fall asleep easily in strollers or on car rides
  • wakes up happy and calm (and is generally happy throughout the day).

Now some people think that the only way to get a well-rested child is to let them cry it out (this process is called extinction). However, this author says that if you start out in the beginning with good self-soothing habits and prioritize their naps, there often isn’t a need to cry it out. However, you do need to establish the understanding that you won’t be coming in to check on them for every little whimper. The baby needs to know that when they go to their crib, they are there to sleep.

One of the key ways to get your child to sleep well is to teach the child to self-soothe.

Self soothing: teaching your child to go to sleep without your help or on their own. You teach them to soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake up. You do this by putting them in the crib drowsy but still awake. That way their last memories are of the crib, not of you! That teaches them that they can fall asleep on their own; they don’t need you close by.

Developing self soothing skills is crucial because it prevents the child from needing the parent in the middle of the night. Self soothing teaches them that when they wake up in the middle of the night, they know that they can just go back to sleep on their own. They know that they don’t need YOU to help them go back to sleep. (Note: for babies and young children, a pacifier can greatly help them self-soothe. If your baby isn’t wanting to take a pacifier, keep trying!)

Now, this book has different chapters for different months of the baby’s life.

Month 1:

  • Babies take many naps, with brief intervals of wakefulness (1-2 hours)
  • Bedtimes are late (around 9-11pm)

Month 2:

  • At around 6 weeks, consider moving the baby to their own room.
  • At 6 weeks, you can also move the bedtime earlier to prevent the child from getting a second wind (around 6-8pm).

Months 3-4:

  • Start trying to develop the midmorning nap around 9am. Have intervals of wakefulness between 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • You can tell your baby is drowsy and ready for a nap if they start getting red around the eyes, rub their eyes, yawn, or are less energetic.
  • Use the free huckleberry app to help you know when your baby should nap.
  • At 4 months, babies can sleep 10-12 hours without needing to eat (unless they are severely underweight).
  • Bedtime between 6-8pm.
baby in gray onesie lying on bed

Months 4-12:

  • A baby should start to develop more of a rhythm to naps.
  • Midmorning nap around 9am
  • Midday nap starting between 12-2pm
  • Afternoon nap starting at 3pm (this nap is optional depending on when your child had a midday nap). The afternoon nap often disappears around 9 months old.

Of course there is variation with each child. Watch your child for drowsy signs to see when they should take a nap. A good rule is to not let your child sleep past 4pm, so that they can have a bedtime between 6-8pm.

Dr. Weissbluth adamantly proclaims that teething does not affect sleeping habits. So he does not believe that teething is a good excuse for poor sleeping. He believes that late bedtimes are the real culprits.

Ages 1 to 3:

  • Around 15-21 months, the midmorning nap disappears.
  • The midday nap can be rather early – around 11am for 18 month old babies and gradually gets later.
  • To solve almost all problems (like transitioning to less naps), Dr. Weissbluth usually recommends an extra early bedtime for a day or two.
  • Consider using a crib tent or a peapod tent to help toddler sleep who try to climb out of cribs but aren’t ready for a normal bed.

Ages 3 to 5:

  • The midday nap gradually disappears around 3 years old.
  • Sometimes you have to re-teach your child to self-soothe around 3 years old. Try to help them calm down and almost get to sleep, but leave the room before they are fully asleep.

Hopefully that review helps you! If you want to buy the book on Amazon, click here: “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”

Some Sage Advice about getting kids to sleep

When you are trying to get your child to sleep better, be very aware of your thoughts. What thoughts are helping you and which thoughts are preventing you from helping them sleep better?

For example, maybe your primary thought about getting your child to sleep is: “This is so hard!! I can’t do this!”

How does this make you feel? for me, it makes me feel frustrated and hopeless.

How do you act when you are frustrated and hopeless? I usually lash out at my husband, my kids, and lose my temper.

What is the result of these actions? I am really frustrated about bedtime. I hate bedtime. Do you see how your thoughts can affect your results?

Brooke Castillo summarized this in a sincinct model:


trigger THOUGHTS…

which create FEELINGS…

which drive our ACTIONS…

which create our RESULTS.

the self coaching model by brooke castillo

So instead of thinking “This is so hard! I can’t do this!”, try replacing the thought with “I’m so sorry this is hard. I am sure I will figure this bedtime thing out.”‘

How does that new thought make you feel? For me, it makes me feel compassionate and confident.

And when I feel confident, what actions do I take? I try to research bedtime helps, I keep trying new things until I find something that works. When I feel compassionate, I am nice to myself when things don’t go as I want them to.

And what is the results of those actions? I’ll probably figure out this bedtime thing. Awesome.

So be observant of the thoughts you are thinking around bedtime. It makes a difference. To learn more about creating healthy relationships in all areas of life, check out my instagram: @sage_relationship_advice

Also, if you are feeling tired all the time, check out this article about how to beat fatigue: 5 Ways to beat fatigue

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