One of the first things expecting parents hear is “Don’t expect to sleep for a long time!” All experienced parents have gone through the seemingly endless amount of sleepless nights and put up with the sleep deprivation that comes with sleep training your baby. And all expecting parents have that looming stress of the many sleepless nights to come. But trust me, it’s worth it! Your baby is one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive and your sleep deprived time will be paid back tenfold with years full of smiles, laughs, and so much love.
In the beginning of your baby’s life, he or she will sleep 16 to 18 hours a day on average. This sounds great, except there is no typical sleeping pattern for newborns. All these hours of sleep are accomplished throughout the day and each moment of rest varies from a few minutes, to a couple hours. As adults, your sleep schedule is based on day/night patterns, so this is difficult to deal with. It’s usually not until a baby is six weeks old before you start to see sleep patterns being more concentrated during the night and less during the day. Six months is about the time to start official sleep-training, and by one year, babies should be sleeping through the night. In order to help get your through those first few months, here’s ten tips to help you when your baby refuses to sleep through the night:
1. Establish a Bed Time Routine
In a study of 405 mothers with an infant or toddler aged between 7 and 36 months old, researchers found that having a consistent bedtime routine “resulted in significant reductions in problematic sleep behaviors for infants and toddlers.” The study accounted for multiple aspects of sleep behaviors and they found improvements for wakefulness after sleep onset, sleep continuity, and maternal mood. What kind of mom’s mood wouldn’t improve with more sleep?! In all seriousness, establishing a specific bedtime routine that can be repeated each night has been shown to be very beneficial. Some recommend starting with a warm, soothing bath and straight into pajamas to get the ball rolling. You can start this process as early as 6-8 weeks old.
Consistency is key.
2. Be Active During the Day and Relaxed at Night
This type of approach is similar to establishing a bedtime routine, but extends throughout the entire day and night. In the evening, focus on quieter games and activities; this keeps your baby from getting too excited right before bed. During the daytime, stay active and enjoy louder, more excitable games. This will help tire your baby out from daytime activities and associate day time with being awake and active.
3. Play White Noise
A study found that a significant amount of babies fall asleep within five minutes in response to white noise. In fact, 80% of those exposed to white noise fell asleep within five minutes compared to only 25% of the control group who fell asleep spontaneously. That’s quite a difference! Plus, the gentle hum of white noise can block out other sounds, such as the clicking of a lamp turning off. The noise can also be a part of your bed time routine: scheduled use can help associate the sounds with it being time for sleep.
4. Use a Cool Mist Humidifer
Some pediatricians recommend having a cool mist humidifier in your baby’s nursery to help add moisture to the air. This helps creates optimal breathing conditions, which in turn helps loosens mucus and allows your baby to sleep more comfortably. Humidifies can also help relieve dry, irritated skin such as red patches and chapped lips by helping the skin retain its natural moisture. There’s lots of products out there on the market, but we’ve tried to help you out by putting together a list of the top cool mist humidifiers available. And keep your eye out: some even have the ability to play MP3’s, making them a great two-in-one for a white noise machine and a cool mist humidifier.
5. Decide If You Want to Use a Pacifier (or not)
In the first few months of life, you’ll find yourself waking up to a crying baby who has spit out his/her pacifier. You stick it back in and go back to bed, only to wake up ten minutes later to do the same thing. According to the American Society of Pediatrics, there’s some evidence that pacifier use while sleeping could possibly help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Even though the rate of SIDS has significantly decreased over the past few decades, much more research is needed in order to really declare that pacifiers can possibly be a preventative method for SIDS. Around eight months, babies have enough motor control to put the pacifier back themselves. However, until then decide which route you want to take.
6. Use a Night Light
Using a night light in your nursery has two main benefits:
- Having a soft light can be great for sneaking in to see what your baby is doing. Turning on a bright light risks waking up your baby in the middle of the night and you definitely don’t want that. Having no light makes it too difficult to see, so a nightlight is a nice compromise.
- When you have to breast feed or change a diaper in the middle of the night (I’m sure you will have to enough times!) there’s no need to turn on the overhead light or a bright lamp. The bright light can wake up your baby even more, making it more difficult to go back to asleep. Use the night light and it will be that much easier to get you and your baby to sleep again.
To aid in your search, we’ve assembled a list of the best nightlights for baby.
7. Make Sure Your Baby has a Safe Sleeping Environment
Every couple of years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) comes out with new recommendations for methods of preventing/decreasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is unexplained, unexpected infant death, most of which is sleep related. While there’s still no certain answer on causes, there’s lots of research on factors contributing to the risk of SIDS. Here are the top recommendations:
- Put your baby to sleep on his back every time. This means every nap, every night, and with every caregiver (babysitters, grandparents, etc.).
- Use a firm sleeping surface with a tight-fitting sheet.
- Room-sharing without co-sharing. The AAP actually recommends keeping your baby’s crib in your room for at least the first six months. See #8 below.
- Avoid the use of soft bedding such as crib bumpers, pillows, soft toys, and blankets. The crib should be bare.
- Prevent exposure to alcohol, tobacco smoke, and illicit drugs.
8. Move the Crib into Your Bedroom
This move may seem frowned upon, but it’s actually recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Currently, the AAP states that infants should sleep on a separate sleep surface (no co-bedding) in the parents’ bedroom during the first year of life. This recommendation was released in 2016 and has received much criticism from doctors. Consult with your pediatrician about the pros and cons of doing this.
If you find yourself co-bedding occasionally, know that you’re not alone. A 2003 study found that at least 65% of breast-feeding mothers found themselves co-bedding at some point in the first year of their infant’s life. Just make sure you research safe sleeping habits: here’s a good article to get you started.
9. Put Her to Sleep When She’s Drowsy
Think of your baby’s awake/sleep levels as a scale from 1 to 10: 1 being wide awake, 10 being knocked out. Put your baby in her crib when she’s about an 8 and quieting down, but not asleep. This is a process though – it takes time and a consistent bedtime routine. It’s also important to play on natural sleep windows when your child is ready to fall asleep. If you miss this natural opportunity, the second-wind could result in a more difficult time getting him/her to sleep later. You can start this process when your baby is about 6-8 weeks old, but not all babies respond to this method. Every baby is different developmentally and has different sleep characteristics (some sleep great and others battle it every time!). If it works for you, then great. If not, time to try something else and maybe revisit in a couple months.
10. Know that it’s Normal
Despite all the current research and all the things you’ve heard or read, night-waking is normal for newborns. This is a fact that, to a certain extent, new parents just have to accept. Newborns sleep lots throughout the day, but usually only get a few hours of sleep at a time maximum. Each baby has his/her own developmental pace, but in the long-run, babies learn to sleep through the night. Look to your pediatrician for guidance throughout the process. Especially if you’re getting toward the one year birthday and still having difficulties.
Before you know it, your baby will be a master of sleeping through the night! In the meantime, keep your head up and keep chugging along. You will get there. Make sure you are keeping your pediatrician updated with progress so you can make sure you’re still heading in the right direction. Babies need to get used to healthy sleep habits early so they can establish a good sleep cycle when they’re ready. It can leave you overtired when you are forced to wake up whenever your baby wakes, especially when they start crying; but hopefully our sleep tips will help you put your drowsy, fussy baby to bed and make parenting just that little bit easier. Good night!
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics; 138; 1-5. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/e1341.full
Ball, H. (2003). Breastfeeding, bed-sharing, and infant sleep. Birth; 30:181-188.
Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, Lorena S. Telofski, BA, Benjamin Wiegand, PhD, Ellen S. Kurtz, PhD; A Nightly Bedtime Routine: Impact on Sleep in Young Children and Maternal Mood, Sleep, Volume 32, Issue 5, 1 May 2009, Pages 599–606, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/32.5.599