The Fussy Baby Site

Sleep Tips for High Need Kids

By Rebecca Michi, Infant Sleep Consultant

When we have a baby we know we’ll be tired, we’ll be getting up a few times a night to feed. But having a high need infant is very different.

There can be hours and hours of not sleeping, followed by hours and hours of fussiness. Nothing you seem to do helps your child to relax enough to sleep and if you are successful at getting your little bundle to sleep you can’t actually move! No chance of getting them in the crib!

Chances are if you’re reading this, your child is a little higher needs than your friends’ babies and chances are you’re pretty exhausted.

I’m a children’s sleep specialist who works with families who have children under the age of six. I teach parents how to teach their children to sleep better (even through the night) without ever leaving them to cry-it-out.

I’m also the Mom of a high need child. My eldest daughter is nearly eight years old and has always been more intense and higher needs than her peers; she needed a LOT of help learning to fall asleep independently.

Most of the families I work with have a high need child. Studies show that a child who is more intense does need more help in learning to fall asleep independently. Those easy going, laid-back kiddos can fall asleep anywhere and it’s very rare that I get to work with children who have these temperaments.

Tips for Helping Your High Need Child Sleep

Here are some ideas to get you on the way to getting just a little more sleep.

If you suspect your baby is overtired, try this:

Children thrive on routine and higher needs children seem to like them more.

A daily routine will ensure that your child doesn’t become overtired (nap times are always at the same time); meal times should also be scheduled in the routine. You’ll avoid your child becoming overly hungry, which can shorten naps. Life is pretty predictable when you’re on a routine and easy to relax into.

Your child will probably have a very small ‘sleep window’, meaning when they show you those tired signs (yawning, pulling on ears, getting noisy) they are probably ready to be falling asleep there and then. By the time you’ve finished what you’re doing, got your child’s diaper changed and then started their nap routine they have already become overtired. (An overtired child struggles to fall asleep and remain asleep).

Having nap and nighttime routines will help your child relax making sleep just a little easier to come by. 10/15 minutes for a nap routine and between 30 minutes and an hour at night is ideal. You’ll need to be consistent with these routines, do the same thing in the same place at the same stage of the routine, every time. This will become very predictable for your child and they’ll begin to relax and unwind as soon as you start the routine.

If your child appears overstimulated before naptime, try this:

If your child is over stimulated before a nap (a nap which lasts between 20 and 30 minutes usually means your child is over-stimulated) then you’ll want to introduce what I call a walking wind down before you start the nap routine.

10/15 minutes before you start the nap routine take your child away from their toys and walk around with them. Look out of the windows, sing some songs quietly, and get them nice and relaxed. This will help your child’s brain to slow down before you get them down for their nap and therefor actually making it easier for them to fall asleep.

It’s worth putting the extra effort in before the nap starts, as your child is more likely to fall asleep easier and get a longer nap.

If your child loves to be held by you whist they sleep and you have a hard time getting them in the crib, try the following.

Wear the crib sheet and swaddling blanket! Stuff them up your shirt for a while, you want them both to smell of you.

Put the sheet on the crib mattress before you get them down for sleep and swaddle them in the ‘you’ smelling swaddle blanket. (I do advise swaddling all higher needs infants until they can roll over by themselves). Make sure the crib isn’t too cold when you pop them in. If you have rocked or held them to sleep and you try and get them down in a cool crib that can wake up.

Place a heating pad in the crib when you put the sheet back on. Remove the pad before you put your child in the crib and make sure the mattress is not too hot. I would then wait with your child until they are in a deep sleep. It’s very frustrating having to keep returning to your child to help them back to sleep. Wait with them for 20 minutes after they fall asleep, that way they have more of a chance of getting into a deeper sleep.

If your child has a pacifier and they are waking many times for you to pop it back in, try this:

When your child gets to around 6 months they can get their own pacifier back into their mouth.

Whenever you give your child their pacifier don’t put it in their mouth. Put it in their hand, and you can guide their hand to their mouth if you need to. You’re teaching your child that they can put the pacifier in their mouth by themselves.

Play a game of hide the paci. When your child is not tired or hungry pop them in the crib, hide some pacifiers under a stuffed toy or blanket and play hide the paci. Give praise when your child finds one. You’re teaching your child that there are pacifiers in the crib even if they can’t see them.

Place at least half a dozen pacifiers in the crib each sleep time; they’ll have more of a chance of finding one during sleep time if there are a lot of them.

If your child sleeps with their hands closed into fists you can place a pacifier in each hand once they are asleep, then they don’t even have to search for one when they fall asleep.

If you are having trouble getting your infant to sleep and remain asleep, try my advice above. I don’t think it will suddenly make them sleep through the night but it may make sleep a little easier for them and I know that as parents of high need, fussy babies we’ll take every extra minute we can get.

Rebecca Michi is a parenting consultant and children’s sleep specialist based in the Seattle area. To find out more about Rebecca’s service, visit her website.

Do you have a toddler or preschooler who wakes up too early? Help him learn healthy sleep patterns and get more sleep with the Zazoo photo clock. This multimedia clock displays a colourful sunshiny scene when it’s time to get up, and a moon when it’s sleep time. Great for kids who can’t yet read a regular clock!

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