New parents quickly learn that “sleeping like a baby” isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s extremely usual for newborns to cry when they’re laid down to sleep and to wake up sobbing a few hours—or minutes—later. However, there are certain things you can do to help your baby sleep better.
How to Sleep Your Infant
If your infant tosses and turns or fusses all night, rearranging their sleep routine may help. “There is no such thing as a lousy sleeper; there are only bad sleep habits, and these are frequently changeable,” says Ingrid Prueher, a pediatric sleep specialist in Fairfield, Connecticut, and host of the Baby Sleep 911 video series.
Improve your child’s sleeping patterns, and you may find yourself sleeping more. Here are some pointers on how to make it happen:
- Establish a nighttime routine.
- Allow your infant to self-soothe.
- Don’t rely on food.
- Have a good night’s sleep.
- Encourage feedings during the day.
- Make naps a priority.
- Attempt to take naps in the cot.
- Make use of a “soothing ladder.”
- Don’t overthink things.
- Continue reading to see these techniques in action.
- Establish a Routine
Developing a nighttime routine is the first step in assisting your baby in sleeping. “Cues in the environment are one of the ways a newborn learns it’s time to sleep,” says Deborah Givan, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and former head of the Sleep Disorders Center at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Reduce the volume and lower the lighting 30 minutes before bedtime.
“The proper lighting is vital because it helps set a baby’s internal clock,” Dr. Given adds. “Light and dark are associated with being awake or sleeping in our brain. Turning down the lights at night and exposing your kid to bright light in the morning will facilitate this process.”
After you’ve reduced the stimulus, you may incorporate other relaxing routines such as a warm bath, lullabies, or softly told stories. Dr. Givan advises starting the bedtime routine as soon as possible, ideally within 6 to 8 weeks. Maintain consistency by doing the activities in the same order every night so your baby knows what to anticipate. (If you’re seeking a real sleep schedule, keep reading for a useful 3-step program you can start right away.)
- Avoid Relying on Soothing Methods
“If you put your kid in the crib while they’re already sleeping and they wake up in the night, as all people do,” Dr. Givan explains, “they won’t know their surroundings and will require your help getting back to sleep.” “Make an effort to put your baby down tired but alert.” This will assist children in learning to self-soothe, fall asleep, and, more crucially, return to sleep on their own, which is the primary purpose of sleep training.
Adrienne Porzio, a resident of Centerport, New York, can witness to this. She started driving her infant around at night to encourage her to sleep, and she was still doing so when her daughter was 5 months old. “The issue we receive the most calls about is parents reflexively repeating soothing routines to the point that the infant is addicted,” says Heather Turgeon, co-author of The Happy Sleeper and a sleep consultant in Los Angeles. Rocking, bouncing, and soothing to sleep are beneficial to newborns, but babies grow rapidly and do not require these activities indefinitely.
“By 5 months, most infants can go asleep on their own, and if we’re still doing it for them, we’re getting in their way,” Turgeon adds. “Start trying putting your baby down awake at least once a day in the early months—the first nap is generally the most effective.” Maintain your snuggle time, but gradually reduce the patting, shushing, and rocking to sleep.
- Do Not Eat to Sleep
“I don’t want anybody to be concerned about newborns falling asleep while feeding,” Turgeon says. However, if your baby frequently nods off during feeding, they will believe they need to eat in order to sleep again.
To address this issue, gradually shift the meal earlier until your child is able to complete it, then conclude the routine with a relaxing book and song and tuck them down tired but alert. You may still need to wake up in the middle of the night to feed, but it will be for hunger rather than comfort.
- Maintain an Early Bedtime
When it comes to putting a baby to sleep, timing is just as crucial as routine. “Around 8 weeks, newborns experience a surge in melatonin, a drowsy-making hormone the body produces when it’s time for sleep, indicating that they’re ready for an early bedtime corresponding with the sun setting,” Turgeon adds. “However, if you keep them up late, they become overstimulated and difficult to put down.”
Melatonin levels rise around dusk, but because sundown can vary from 4:30 in the winter to 8:30 in the summer, keep to the clock and put your kid down about 6:30 or 7 p.m. for the best results. Close the blinds if the sun is still shining.
“A good indicator of tiredness is when the infant calms down—they’re less active, have a bored expression, or just stare off,” Turgeon explains. Don’t mistake this conduct for enjoyment because you’re awake. Take advantage of the opportunity and begin your nighttime ritual. “You want to encourage the baby’s internal clock telling them when to be awake and when to be sleeping,” she says.
- Get Rid of Snacking
“Sleep and nourishment go hand in hand,” Prueher says. A baby should be fed on demand every 2 to 2.5 hours during the first 8 weeks. “If they want to eat every hour or so, they may not be getting enough nutrients at each session,” Prueher explains. Keep a 24-hour journal of how many ounces a bottle-fed infant consumes and when. Write down how long a breastfed infant spends nursing each session.
“If they eat for 20 minutes at night but just five or ten minutes during the day, they’re simply nibbling,” Prueher adds. “And they’re not filling their stomachs sufficiently to sleep through the night.”
If your baby is eating properly during the day, he or she should be able to sleep for a 4- to 6-hour stretch at night by 2.5 to 3 months. Work on spacing out your baby’s meals (distract them with a pacifier or some entertainment) so they’re truly hungry each time.
Don’t forget about burping. “Sometimes we misinterpret coming off the breast or bottle as completed when the infant actually needs to burp,” says Prueher. Distracting factors include bright lights and noise. Feed your baby in a darker, quieter environment, especially if they are becoming more interested in their surroundings.
- Make Naps a Priority
A well-rested youngster will sleep better than one who is overtired. It may sound contradictory, but missing a nap (or keeping a baby up late) in the hopes of getting them to sleep longer at night does not work. “When newborns get overtired, their stress chemicals surge,” Turgeon explains. “Then, once they do fall asleep, there’s a strong possibility they won’t sleep for long because those stress hormones wake them up while they’re in a lighter sleep stage.”
This is why taking naps throughout the day is so important for getting a baby to sleep at night. “At 2 months, a baby’s ideal span of awake time is just approximately 90 minutes between sleep, which passes by pretty rapidly,” Turgeon explains. “They don’t have the tolerance to remain awake for longer than that until they are 4 to 5 months old.” Keep an eye on the time because detecting your baby’s sleepy glance is difficult.
- Establish Napping Guidelines
It may be tempting to let your sweetheart sleep in their car seat or on your breast, but you should aim for at least one nap in their crib every day. They’ll receive the rest they need and become acclimated to their crib this way. “The first sleep is cognitively restorative for a child and will define how the rest of the day goes,” Prueher says. “Ideally, you want them to have that one in their crib at home.” “The second is physically restorative, so once your kid is big enough to move around a lot, they really need it to be of high quality.”
Your baby will have longer awake times by 3 to 4 months of age, and you may work toward a nap schedule: one in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and a brief late-afternoon nap if needed. Prueher says that naps are an excellent time to practise putting your baby down drowsily. It’s not the middle of the night, so you can think more clearly, establish a schedule, pick up on cues, and put them to bed awake.
8. Allow Your Baby to Work It Out
If you hurry in to assist your munchkin and go back to sleep at the first sound you hear, you may be starting a cycle that will be difficult to break. “You may stop before rushing in as long as you know they can’t be hungry,” adds Turgeon, who advocates starting a “soothing ladder” as early as day one. When you hear your baby fuss, take a moment to see whether they can figure it out on their own. “If they can’t, go in and do the least invasive thing possible—pat or shush but don’t pick them up,” Turgeon advises. If it doesn’t work, you progressively ascend the calming ladder until they fall asleep again.
“The aim of the soothing ladder isn’t to make a baby learn to self-soothe overnight,” explains Turgeon, “but to give them enough room to enable their self-soothing talents to blossom spontaneously, over time.” Furthermore, it may help you prevent a more traumatic cry-it-out situation in the future.
- Quit overthinking your sleep.
We understand: when you aren’t getting enough sleep, a good night’s sleep is all you can think about. But, if at all possible, avoid the impulse to Google “how to put a baby to sleep” every night. “Information overload drives parents to try a million different things, which does not foster stability or trust,” Prueher explains. “Children thrive on predictability.”
Trust your intuition and give your chosen strategies a chance to succeed. Your infant may require numerous attempts (or days or weeks) to develop excellent sleeping patterns, but if you persevere, they will. Finally, Prueher suggests allowing your infant to practice falling asleep and some room to demonstrate their ability.