We’ve all been there – after hours of rocking and lullabies, you baby is finally asleep, only to wake up seconds later when you crawl into bed. Babies are able to start developing a sleep routine as early as four weeks old, but what exactly does that routine entail? Continue reading to discover some of the many ways sleep experts have found successful in getting babies (and parents) on a regular sleep schedule.
Paula Mclaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be and to teach them about the trials and joys of parenting.
Tricks You Can Use
Firstly, it’s important to note that you and your baby probably won’t get eight hours of sleep through the night much before they are six months old. This is simply because they will require feeding and changing during the night until then.
But in order to help your baby sleep through the night, there are some tricks you can use from very early on to help establish healthy sleep associations. These include:
1. Establish a consistent and regular bedtime routine. After your baby is a month old, you can start to introduce a more consistent bedtime routine. Follow bath, book, bottle/breast, and bed every night.
2. Create a suitable sleep environment. This includes having a cozy, darkened room, that’s at the correct temperature and if you like, use a white noise machine. I am a big advocate of white noise machines as it helps to create a consistent background hum for your baby to sleep to, so they’re less likely to be woken by sudden noises at night.
3. Make a distinct difference between daytime and nighttime. During the day, have your baby sleep and feed around the house in bright and not always quiet places, such as a living room or kitchen. Then at nighttime, keep feeds low-key and quiet. Keep the atmosphere dark and quiet. This will help to teach your baby the difference between day and night.
4. Following on from the last tip, don’t let your baby fall asleep during a feed. This can cause discomfort for you, but it can also lead to your baby needing to be fed more frequently (which means less sleep!). Try to gently keep them awake by undressing them to cool them down, tickling their feet and legs, and chatting away together.
5. Sow the seeds for self-settling. This is NOT sleep training. This is the beginning of getting your baby used to you not being around 24/7 from day one. Start with getting your baby used to being alone for short periods of time whilst awake, such as lying in a crib looking at mobile for a minute or so.
Gradually build up this time so your baby knows that they’re safe when alone and that you will always return to them soon.
Then, when your baby shows signs of being tired, like rubbing their eyes, yawning, or pulling their ears, put them down in their crib before they’re fully asleep. Hopefully, they will drift off into sleep without you holding them. If they fuss, don’t rush back immediately, see if they will fall asleep on their own.
But, if they do begin a full-blown cry, then pick them up, cuddle them, calm them down and try again. This is a patient process, so take your time and repeat as often as necessary. This skill will be your lifesaver as your baby grows up.
6. Try swaddling. Many babies like to be swaddled as it helps them feel secure and warm. It will also stop the Moro Reflux (startle reflex) which can wake babies in the middle of the night. Over time, a swaddle can become a very strong sleep association for your baby, so give it a try.
7. Try baby massage. Baby massage can help with digestive issues like colic and reflux which can inhibit your baby’s ability to sleep properly. It has also been proven that regular baby massage sessions help babies fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for longer! So, this bonding experience might be something you’d like to introduce during your bedtime routine.
8. Sleep breeds sleep. An overtired or overstimulated baby will find it harder to sleep, so don’t underestimate the power of daytime naps. In the early months, try to maintain a nap schedule to avoid having a very tired baby at the end of the day and learn the baby’s sleep cues.
9. Be patient and accept setbacks. Life gets in the way. You will have nights that are not perfect. Whether it is caused by illness, a change in routine, or a long day, your baby will fluctuate with how much they sleep. Just remember to be patient and consistent with creating strong sleep associations and in time, your baby will be sleeping soundly through the night sooner than you think.
Routine, Routine, Routine
• Routine is everything when it comes to sleep, even for adults. Get into a rhythm and allow your baby to adjust to a consistent schedule as far as time, routine, and what to expect. They will morph into this routine quickly and will make things much easier in the long term.
• Plan for a cool-down period. A baby cannot go straight from playing, eating, or being wide awake to falling asleep. There needs to be a cool-down period where they can slowly grow drowsy, feel relaxed, and eventually (almost unknowingly) slip into sleep. The ‘cool down’ stage is very important!
• Create a calming environment. Ideally, your entire house will be a calm environment for the baby, but you should especially focus on where they sleep. This area should be dark, quiet, and peaceful, with no distractions on the site.
• A pacifier (or whatever they like). Certain babies will have that one item that they like to fidget or play with that will eventually lead to sleep. Find the item that your baby can’t get enough of – to the point where they fall asleep with it.
Allana Wass, a Certified Sleep Science Coach, Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Comfybeddy.
Stick to the Schedule, Keep the Lights Dim, and Swaddle
The first little trick I always share with parents involves a consistent routine. Even though babies tend to wake up during the night, they require a certain schedule. And if you stick to it, chances are your little one will start sleeping better (and more soundly). So, make sure you control the daytime naps and don’t make them too long. Reserve the active games for the day and do something soothing and relaxing in the evenings (for instance, you can give your baby a bath, read a bedtime story, apply body oil, give them a gentle massage, etc.). And it’s important to follow your daily activities in the same order every day. This will help your baby get used to a certain schedule and fall asleep easier.
Next, I would also recommend keeping the lights dim for nighttime feedings. The human brain perceives artificial lights as daylight, so if you turn the lights on to feed your baby in the middle of the night, it will signal the brain to become more alert. As a result, it might be harder for your little one to fall asleep after that.
Swaddling is another great way to help your baby snooze all through the night. It can prevent nighttime awakenings caused by the startle reflex. It can also stop your baby from accidentally scratching their face. Plus, swaddling can mimic touch or the feeling of a hug, which may keep your little one calmer and safer (which, consequently, can help them sleep better).
Create a Soothing Environment
• Use soft background noise. You can play nature sounds or white noise in your baby’s room to create a calm ambiance. Additionally, some types of sounds (you can find plenty on YouTube and Spotify) can mimic the sound of the womb. Potentially, this may help your baby stay calm and sleep more soundly. Additionally, using background sounds in the room might help block the outside disturbances that can wake your baby up. This little trick may come in handy if you have noisy neighbors, other kids who won’t settle down, or live in a busy street.
• Teach your baby to self-soothe. Now, this process might be long (and potentially stressful), but if your baby learns how to fall asleep without your help, they will be more likely to sleep through the night. So, try not to rush to your little one as soon as they start fussing. Give your baby some time to settle down on their own. Then, you can check on them. If you can’t fight the urge to soothe your baby when they start fussing or crying, keep the interactions to a minimum. Instead of picking your little one up, talk to them softly and reassuringly to let them know they aren’t alone. Gentle pats and rubs on the belly should also suffice.
• Put your baby to bed at the right time. You need to pay attention to the main signs that can signal that your little one is ready for bed. If they are not interested in their surroundings, quiet, and still, it’s time to put them to bed. Don’t wait for your baby to become too tired or groggy. The very first signs of sleepiness should be your cue for bedtime.
Good Sleep Habits Enhance Your Baby’s Development and Health
Developing good sleep habits early is essential for your baby’s development and health. My tips for getting a baby to sleep consistently throughout the night include:
- Before putting your baby on a sleep routine, it’s important to first consult with your pediatrician to determine whether your baby is developmentally ready to sleep for longer periods at night.
- Parents should start planning a sleep routine for their baby around 4-6 weeks of age. Generally, babies from 6-8 weeks of age are developmentally ready to start sleeping for longer periods of time in between feedings. It’s important to remember that the sooner you instill good sleep habits in your child, the easier it will be to maintain healthy sleep throughout their childhood.
- Doctors agree that keeping your newborn in the same room is completely normal. Parents should, however, keep in mind that by the time a baby is 3 months old, they become more aware of their surroundings and more likely to be disturbed by noise or movement in the environment. Consider allowing your baby to sleep in a dark, quiet room by themselves so they are less exposed to noise.
- By the time baby is 4-6 weeks in age, you should continue to hold and feed your baby before bedtime. Once you notice your baby is getting sleepy, put your baby to bed in a quiet place and detach yourselves as much as possible while they sleep. Continuously interacting with your baby, even when they are asleep, can negatively impact sleep training.
- As your baby gets older, try to feed them half an hour or more before it’s time to put them down for sleep and ideally feed them in a different location so they do not associate their sleeping environment with activities that occur while awake.
- Keep a consistent bedtime routine for your baby. This includes repeating the same activities for an hour or more before the baby normally goes to bed. Make sure the baby’s bedtime is as consistent as possible to help them develop a sleep schedule.
- Make sure your baby’s sleeping environment is as dark and quiet as possible.
- It’s important to keep in mind that each child is different and that some techniques you used for one child may not be as effective for another. Once you do find a sleep routine that works for your baby, keep it as consistent as possible.
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