Parenthood and sleep deprivation seem to go hand-in-hand. Because newborns frequently wake during the night and require regular feedings and diaper changes, caring for an infant can be exhausting and overwhelming. That’s to say nothing of the baby who catches onto sleeping through the night, only to derail several months later due to teething or some other reason. Thankfully, there are ways to help your baby sleep more. Keep reading for advice from people who have been there—or who have helped others along this journey.
Dr. Sarah Mitchell
Dr. Sarah Mitchell, Chiropractor by training but found passion empowering parents to teach their little ones to sleep and parent confidently day and night. She sought after sleep consultant in silicon valley and author of The Helping Babies Sleep Method: The Art and Science of Teaching Your Baby to Sleep. Find her at Helpingbabiessleep.com
Five pillars of the Helping Babies Sleep Method
1. Understand that while the drive to sleep is biological, the way we sleep is a learned habit. If your baby needs to be rocked or fed to sleep at night, she’ll likely expect that same offering to fall back asleep. Think about yourself. You find your favorite sleeping position and relax into sleep. If tonight I told you that you couldn’t sleep in that position, and I’m taking away your pillow, that would be uncomfortable for you. You would have to learn a new way of falling asleep. The same thing goes for our babies. Sleep is a learned behavior.
2. Timing of sleep is critical. If you put your baby down to sleep too late, when they are overtired, you will increase their risk of waking up more in the night or at 5 am. Sleep begets sleep. The more well-rested your baby is, the easier it is to fall asleep and stay asleep.
3. Feeding is critical. You want to be an intentional feeder during the day and night – regular intervals for daytime feedings. Help your baby stack up on calories during the day, so they don’t need to eat, or need to eat less at night. Most formula-fed babies can sleep through the night, 11+ hours, around four months, and breastfed babies around eight to nine months, if they have good sleep skills. If they don’t get enough calories during the day, they will wake in the night to eat.
4. Self-soothing skills. All humans wake in the night, but not all humans need to be fed or rocked back to sleep. To have a baby who can sleep long, age-appropriate stretches of [time], your baby needs to have independent sleep skills. [They need] the ability to relax themselves and get to sleep from completely awake, not drowsy. If you make them drowsy, you are doing the work of relaxing them, which is the skill they need to be able to return to sleep at night.
5. Minimize distractions. Adults have a hard time falling asleep when they are distracted. This might be [because of] temperature, the texture of materials against the skin, light, sound, or thoughts. Our babies are the same. Minimizing distractions for naps and daytime sleep can help your baby avoid unnecessary arousals.
While people think getting long stretches of sleep is about the night and the moment, it’s really a system of steps that parents can take proactively to set their baby up for success. Timing and feeding are crucial to teaching your baby to sleep and to develop independent sleep skills that they can repeat on their own in the night without needing to call for mom or dad to rock them back to sleep.
The right sleep environment
Babies, especially newborns, are notorious for waking up as soon as you want to grab a quick shower or just as you’ve fallen asleep at bedtime, but there are a few things you can do to help your baby sleep longer.
Ensure your baby goes down to sleep before becoming overtired. When your baby is overtired, they get a surge of stress hormones, causing your little one to fight to fall asleep, sleep more restlessly, and wake up sooner. The best time to get your baby to sleep is just before those common tired signs appear. It will go a long way to helping your baby sleep longer.
Babies often wake up from a nap predictably after 35-40 minutes. It doesn’t mean that they don’t need to sleep longer. It typically means they’ve slept for one sleep cycle, woken up naturally, and struggle to fall back to sleep and start a new sleep cycle. If that sounds familiar, there are a few things you can do to help. Many babies break that habit once they learn to fall asleep independently, as it’s easier for them to fall back to sleep the same way they fell asleep in the first place.
The right sleep environment can make a big difference in helping babies sleep longer. There’s nothing more frustrating than an ill-timed doorbell ring, a horn honking, loud siblings, or even normal household sounds to wake a baby. Playing white noise for the duration of sleep is a brilliant way to block out unwanted sounds that could disturb your baby’s peaceful slumber.
Mary Foster is the founder of Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consulting, the Sleepy Lambs Sleep Academy, and the Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consultant Training Program. She has supported families worldwide with a strong focus on sleep science and emotional wellness. She leads a global team of Certified Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consultants.
Kathleen Butler is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Certified Holistic Sleep Consultant, and Master Newborn Care Specialist. She has been providing evidence-based, non-judgmental care for families both Virtually and at home in the Washington, D.C. metro area for over 10 years. Find her at Yourbabybutler.com
Enjoying a walk
One of my best tips for helping families to maximize their baby’s sleep is to enjoy a walk with your baby at dusk. This can be done [with your baby] in a stroller, baby carrier, or even in arms. The timing of the walk should coincide with the sun setting and will help to [regulate] your baby’s circadian rhythm. Most babies will take about 12 weeks to develop more mature cycles related to the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep/wake cycles.
Keeping artificial lights dim in the evening is also helpful. Consider the use of red light in the nursery. This helps with minimizing the stimulation to the brain caused by blue-light waves. Using red light for middle of the night diaper changes can help your baby to remain in a more relaxed state, promoting a return to sleep.
Finally, if you [are nursing your baby], the milk produced at night is higher in the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by the body to manufacture melatonin. [A bedtime feeding] will promote deeper sleep for your baby. If you use pumped milk, consider labeling the time of day the milk was pumped and use the evening milk at bedtime.
Place your baby to sleep on their back
Babies are wired to wake up every couple of hours when they are first born, but there are things you can do to help your baby start sleeping in longer and longer stretches. First, make sure your baby knows the difference between day and night. From 7 am to 7 pm, turn on lights, be noisy, be cheerful and engaging with your baby. From 7 pm to 7 am, keep the lights low, interact briefly and quietly with your baby. Your baby will start consolidating their sleep into a long stretch right at bedtime. This is a great opportunity for you to go to bed early and get some extra rest, too.
Once a baby is four months old, they are neurologically ready to learn to sleep independently. Parents can use the Mindful Sleep Method (or whichever sleep learning method works for the family) to help their baby sleep through the night.
A word of caution to new parents – resist the urge to buy products that claim to help your baby sleep longer. These products can often be unsafe and put your baby at risk. Products that place a baby on an incline or that have soft, squishy sides should also be avoided for sleep. Always place your baby to sleep on their back. Families sleep best when everyone is sleeping safely.
Pranali Patel is a science researcher and a mom blogger at empiricalmama, where she writes about all stuff motherhood. Information that she shares is purely based on observation or experience rather than pure logic. She likes to read and spend time with her two boys.
The best way to get newborns to sleep longer at night is to dream feed them. The dream feed is the feeding given to a baby before mom goes to bed. It will prevent the baby from waking up right after mom falls asleep. With this method, I was able to get my babies to sleep 3-4 hours stretches during the night in the first three months, which is pretty good.
Also, Swaddling babies is very important to keep them from waking up frequently because of the startle reflex in the first few months. Babies do not like bright light. So, keep the room dark and use white noise for household noise cancellation.
Another important tip to get the baby to sleep longer at night is to feed the baby as many times as they want during the day, as more daytime feeding leads to less nighttime feeding.
Keeping him awake throughout the day
Babies love to sleep just as soon as they know how to do it. The most effective steps parents can take to help their baby sleep longer and more easily is to help their child learn how to fall asleep in his own bed. This [skill] is something even a newborn can master.
Another fundamental way to help your baby [sleep longer] is by keeping him awake for an age-appropriate amount of time throughout the day. The average awake times for babies under six months change frequently, and for older babies, the ideal awake times change more slowly. Parents can find a chart of ideal average awake times for babies online.
Sierra Dante is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant giving parents simple, loving sleep guidance from pregnancy through childhood. She is the founder of the Sweet Sleep Parenting Community and believes that every baby can be a good sleeper.
Balint Horvath is the founder of Projectfather. He’s a first-time father and when his daughter doesn’t occupy him, he is a productivity coach. He started the site to share his lessons learned, research he has made along his journey. His Mission Is to help Dads in A-Z of Fatherhood.
Know your baby sleep cycle
For parents suffering from the consequences of a baby not sleeping long enough, my main tip is to know that babies typically sleep in cycles 45 minutes long. If you can slightly readjust your child close to the end of a cycle, you have a chance of resetting the cycle.
With my fiancée, we suffered from a lack of sleep in the first year after my daughter was born. After about six months, I read several books on this topic. I realized that there are several factors that play a role: cycle times, light conditions, and nourishment. Besides readjusting her at the end of a cycle, we bought blackout curtains, and we made sure that she was well-fed before putting her to sleep.
If you would like one-on-one help for cultivating healthy sleeping habits in your infant or toddler, contact us at Tiny Transitions. We’ve helped thousands of families create sustainable sleep solutions and can do the same for you.
This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors are not necessarily affiliated with this website and their statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.