7 Gentle Ways to Get Baby Sleeping Through the Night

Updated on September 6, 2018
Susana S profile image

Susana is a Mom to three girls and has worked extensively with parents and children under 5.

Help! My Baby Can't Sleep!

Updated for 2018

It's usually a few weeks after bringing our special little bundle home from the hospital that we start thinking about how to get our baby sleeping longer and more peacefully - and in time, through the night.

By this point everyone's exhausted and the need for sleep becomes essential, yet often elusive.

"How on earth do we get our baby sleeping?" parents cry.

"My baby just can't sleep!" we say through our red and bleary tired eyes.

Well take a deep breath and relax. We're going to get your baby sleeping through the night without resorting to techniques such as cry it out or controlled crying.

To begin helping your baby to sleep better it's essential to get a really good understanding of the things that both help and hinder restful sleep for your baby.

This is covered in the top baby sleep tips that you'll find throughout this article. If you follow these tips you will set your infant up for good sleep habits throughout infancy and into childhood.

Top Tip # 1 - Understand Baby Sleep Patterns & Avoid Over Tiredness

The followings baby sleep tip is extremely important to take on board because over-tired babies find it very hard to sleep.

It may look like your baby can't sleep but it's usually down to over-tiredness.

Babies can only stay awake happily for short periods of time.

A young newborn (up to six weeks old) may only be able to stay awake contentedly for 20 - 30 minutes, so if you've fed and changed your baby you can expect them to be ready for sleep within half an hour.

As your baby gets older this awake time will increase, but even at 3 months old they can normally only stay awake for an hour or so.

Knowing this about baby sleep patterns will really help you know what your baby needs when they start getting a little irritable.

They don't need to be played with, they don't need jiggling up and down - more than likely they need to sleep.

Once your baby is fed and has had a diaper change, have a little play with them and then start getting them ready for sleep.

This might mean getting them in their swaddle (we'll talk about swaddles later) and taking them somewhere fairly quiet and non-stimulating such as their crib or moses basket in a quiet room.

Catch the very early signs of tiredness in your baby and they will find it a whole lot easier to fall asleep and they will sleep for longer.

Good naps in the day will help ensure a good night's sleep as well because your baby will be far more relaxed.

Another aspect of baby sleep patterns to be aware of is that a sleep cycle takes around 45 minutes.

If your baby doesn't know how to get back to sleep on their own they'll often wake up at this point even though they haven't had enough sleep.

If this does happen, keep them in their crib and just give them a little pat or stroke and help them back to sleep.

Top Tip # 2 - If Baby Can't Sleep Avoid Over Stimulation

It's difficult for us as adults to imagine what it must be like for a new baby and how they perceive the world. For them everything is new and everything is stimulating.

Just looking around the room is stimulating!

So many colors, shapes, objects, people, sounds, and each one is something to learn about.

OK, so I get that, but how does that relates to a babies sleep?

It's this.

When babies get over stimulated they find it hard to settle down to sleep and if they do manage to get to sleep they often wake up within a short while.

So avoiding over stimulation is one of my top tips for helping your baby enjoy peaceful sleep.

When our baby is starting to get a bit irritable, we often reach for a toy to amuse them with or start cooing and playing with them mistaking their tired cues for bored cues.

If we do this, what we end up with is a very over stimulated baby who really can't sleep.

Their nervous system is going to be energized rather than relaxed and it's going to take them longer to settle down.

Top Tip # 3 - Babies That Can't Sleep Love to Be Swaddled

Most young babies loved to be swaddled and it makes perfect sense if you think about it. They've just come out of the safe environment of the womb where they were held tightly.

Swaddling can bring back that sense of safely being held, relax babies and help them feel secure.

Swaddling also has the added advantage of preventing babies waking themselves up with their flailing arms and legs.

Young babies have no control over their limbs and so often wake themselves by hitting themselves in the face.

If I could, I'd buy every new Mom a swaddle blanket - they really are a miracle and can drastically improve a babies sleeping instantly.

Personally, I recommend the SwaddleMe Original Swaddle Bag because it's lightweight so baby doesn't get overheated. It's also super simple to get on and off - even while baby is asleep.

There's no need to learn complicated swaddling techniques. It also washes well and the good quality material stays nice and soft.

Top Tip # 4 - Babies Learn By Association - Avoid Using Sleep Props

Understanding this aspect of baby psychology will really help you avoid the pitfalls of using sleep props. What is a sleep prop?

A sleep prop is anything you use on a regular basis to get your baby to sleep.

For instance, my first baby would always fall asleep if I fed her.

So every time she seemed tired I gave her the breast as it seemed like a good solution. I can tell you it wasn't!

She came to associate going to sleep with being fed, which meant every time she woke in the night that's what she wanted. She would wake 6-10 times a night and only the breast would get her back to sleep.

My solution was not a solution at all - I was absolutely shattered!

For many Mom's, feeding this frequently through the night isn't an issue at all but as a single Mom with PPD I just couldn't function with so little sleep.

It can be easier in the long run if we don't use sleep props to start with and it saves a great deal of problems later on.

The sleep props we most often use include rocking, jiggling, feeding, going for a drive and baby swings.

If we ensure that our baby is relaxed and not over-tired or over-stimulated, we should be able to put our baby down to sleep without using any sleep props and helping your baby learn to go to sleep naturally will really help them sleep through the night.

IMPORTANT **Do follow your individual baby's needs and adapt to them. If your baby is high needs or has a physical problem like reflux then you may not be able to lay them down so easily.

Top Tip # 5 - How to Calm Your Baby Before Sleep Time

This aspect of getting a baby to sleep both through the night or at nap times is related to the over-stimulation aspect that we spoke about previously.

Babies, just as adults, can't sleep without a period of settling down beforehand.

This is a good time to turn off the TV or music or go into another room that's quieter and have a settling down time for 10 or 15 minutes.

Cuddle your baby in a blanket or in their swaddle and if you want to talk or sing to your baby, do it quietly. Let her know it's time to relax and chill out.

Some babies like darkness to sleep because it blocks out all the stimulating things around them. If so pull the curtains.

Taking this time to calm your baby will really help them settle down for sleep and is part of getting a good sleep time routine in place. If it's bedtime for the night, it's well worth giving the last feed in a quiet and dark space.

Make sure you're relaxed too.

If you're stressed out make an effort to really relax your muscles because this will also help your baby relax and sleep through the night.

Top Tip # 6 - Get Baby into a Sleep Routine

Having a routine at nap times and at bedtime will really help your baby sleep through the night.

This is where we use the principle of learning by association to ours and our babies advantage.

If you follow the same process for every nap time and the same routine at every bedtime, your baby will learn that it's time to settle down and go to sleep.

Bedtime routines can be started early on and often involve a bath, change, feed and quiet time.

It's a good idea to stay in the room your baby sleeps in after the bath and avoid playing - make it cuddly time.

Top Tip # 7 - How to Handle Night Wakings

Babies will wake at night in the early days two or three times for feeds and diaper changes and this is to be expected - newborns need feeding around the clock.

It's a rare baby who sleeps through the night in the first few months.

The important things to remember with night wakings are to stay where you are, in a darkened room (don't go into your living space and turn the TV on as your baby will think it's time to get up) and avoid lots of interaction with your baby apart from doing the necessities.

You want to make nighttime as boring, quiet, dark and relaxed as you possibly can.

It's not the time for playing or chatting and you need to let your baby learn this if you want them to sleep through the night.

If you don't think you baby should be hungry or need changing and that they have just woken up, then try to keep them in their crib and pat or stroke them a little.

If your baby is crying and a pat or stroke is not helping to settle them, pick them up and settle them, but try to put them down before they are asleep.

This will help your baby learn that they are safe to go to sleep on their own.

So let's recap on the main points of dealing with a baby who can't sleep and how to get your baby sleeping through the night as kindly as possible.

  • Young Babies Can Only Stay Awake for Short Periods
  • Don't Mistake Tired Cues for Bored Cues
  • Have a Quiet Time Before Sleep
  • Do Your Best Not to Use Sleep Props
  • Use A Swaddle Blanket
  • Start Bedtime and Nap-time Routines
  • Make Night Time as Boring as Possible

If you follow this advice the chances of your baby sleeping through the night are greatly increased and you can all start getting the sleep you need.

© 2010 Susana Serer

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    • Shrouds profile image

      Shrouds 

      5 years ago from Malaysia

      I had this problem too ,fortunately my baby start to sleep when mommy starts hugging him nicely on her shoulder,unfortunately his mom is having a shoulder pain every night.Thanks for sharing the useful tips

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      6 years ago from UK

      I wonder if she has any reflux/colic/digestive issues? Maybe sleeping in a more upright position prevents this? With my babies I always put some bricks or books under the legs of the top end of the cot so that it was at an angle - they both had severe colic and it helped a lot.

    • profile image

      grandma pat 

      6 years ago

      i have a 6 month granddaughter who refuses to sleep in her crib, she sleeps in her car seat, she naps in her seat and out of desperation my son and his wife put her to sleep at night in her car seat. the minute you lay her down flat in her crib she wakes up panic stricken and screaming. i have 8 grandchildren and this is a first

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      7 years ago from UK

      I found your hub because it came up as related to mine. What you’ve written here is interesting and useful I think. I think one of the most useful points you make is to avoid stimulation if your baby can’t sleep. It’s something many people don’t think about. My children are well past baby stage, but even now they need calm time at bedtime, and I noticed with both of them as babies that over-stimulation led to distress.

    • profile image

      Jose 

      7 years ago

      Nice article, however, for the first part, it's not being true in my case.

      My less than a month old stayed awake practically the hole day today, and we thought she would sleep the hole night, but so far she keeps awake (it's almost 2am), she's too alert today!

      She's a very healthy baby, very active that barely cries, and today she remained that way, but was practically sleepless!

      This hasn't happened any other day..

      She will probably have a deep sleep when she finally get asleep.

      Anyway, I guess it's unusual but it happens.

    • Kenziemom profile image

      Kenziemom 

      7 years ago from United States

      I found out very quickly that my new born did not like to be swaddled. As soon as I stopped trying to wrap her up tight so slept through the night no problem. Also i have noticed that swaddling to tight makes them overheat. My little girl will not sleep if she is to hot.

    • Greenbambinis profile image

      Greenbambinis 

      8 years ago from Chicago IL

      So true. my son would not sleep without being swaddled for the first 2 months after birth

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi jeanie - if it's hot where you are that might be disturbing her, but it depends whether she's ever learnt to get to sleep on her own. Does she know how to?

    • jeanie.stecher profile image

      jeanie.stecher 

      8 years ago from Seattle

      Thank you somuch. I am a first time mom with my 9months baby girl. And thanks for this hub, in discussing the best way to let my baby sleep at night since I could hardly let her sleep during the night, I really don't know what to do. Is it the way I carry her or just the environment that she seems cannot sleep due to a hot weather.

    • Lela Davidson profile image

      Lela Davidson 

      8 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

      I had the opposite problem, my baby fell asleep during feedings!

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks Wordscribe :) We are certainly "in training" with our first borns. I can remember walking her up and down the living room for hours every evening trying to get her to sleep. I was determined I wasn't going to do that again with my second child!

    • profile image

      wordscribe41 

      8 years ago

      Awesome hub, Susana. It is so true to avoid using sleep props. Once I stopped bouncing my daughter while walking around the house, she learned how to fall asleep on her own. Boy did I get lucky with my twins, they were great sleepers. But, I guess I learned a thing or two from my oldest daughter. Rated UP!

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi pmccray - Thanks and Happy Mother's Day to you too! That's a different approach to getting a baby sleeping through the night. It's kind of the opposite of what I'm suggesting, but hey if it worked for you then cool :)

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi ellinor - co-sleeping is a choice some families make and that's cool. Though in my experince it can pose it's own problems when you decide you do want your child to sleep in their own bed such as the child waking every night to come and get in with you. Co-sleeping certainly works for some and I'm glad it worked for you :)

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 

      8 years ago from Utah

      You've delived some excellent advice and products for expecting or new moms.

      My mother advised me to start the baby's sleeping habits before he/she was born. If I was tired during the day I would force myself to stay awake, and not go to sleep until a normal bedtime.

      Also after the birth of my son I made sure he stayed awake during the day playing with him excercising his legs and arms accompanied with cooing, baby talk and singing. At 6:00 pm he was out like a light, slept through the night rising at 6:00 a.m. the next day.

      It seem to work. I may have been awakened maybe a handful of times.

      Very needed hub for those with little ones or expecting.

      Happy Mother's Day to you and all new and expecting Moms!!!

    • profile image

      ellinor 

      8 years ago

      I have simply slept with my girls till they were around 4 years old.I think we are to focused ,on they have to sleep alone, and in my household ,it worked wonders to be close to the little people at night too.

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi ediggity - Oh yes, I've researched it - from personal experience! And then reading a lot of books trying to solve the problems I'd created!

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Jen - thanks :)

      Hi Hello Hello - lots of parents struggle with babies that can't sleep or who sleep fitfully. You are lucky if your babies slept well - or maybe you just have the knack!

      Hi Vision - you're absolutely right. EVERYONE suffers when a baby sleeps poorly!

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi rprcarz - of course there are variations in babies on what amount of sleep is normal for them, but there are few reasons that prevent a baby 3 or 4 months being able to sleep through the night unless there is a physical problem. Most babies who aren't sleeping for a stretch of 6 hours plus at this point have made poor sleep associations.

    • ediggity profile image

      ediggity 

      8 years ago

      Wow, this was a really well thought out and researched Hub. I could have used this info a few years ago. Maybe again in the future.

    • profile image

      Vision14410 

      8 years ago

      When babies don't sleep,it's not only their mothers that stay awake,fathers don't get to sleep either! I am a father to a beautiful daughter!Thanks for this fabulous hub!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      I was very lucky but I have heard many other women saying that their baby won't sleep. My own brother.was crying the night through until he was one year old and then he stopped. Make that out.

    • JenDobson27 profile image

      JenDobson27 

      8 years ago

      Wow...that was a great hub, packed full of all kinds of great information! Thanks for sharing.

    • rprcarz50 profile image

      rprcarz50 

      8 years ago

      Hi Susana S ,

      I think part of the issue is that there can not be a generic answer since each child has unique genes that will make them act different . But certainly can try to see what might help .

      Wonderful information

      Great Hub !

      Thank you for your time

      Ron

      as always Also a2z50

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      I'll check your hub out :) I can understand where you are coming from when you say it changed your lives. Going from a sleep deprived to rested household makes a massive difference!

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 

      8 years ago from A Coast

      I wrote a hub about it .... if you're interested. I had never heard about it and read a short article in a parenting magazine one day about one woman's success with it and it was perfect timing for me because I was struggling with sleep issues and that book ended up changing our lives!

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Journey and Congratulations! The swaddling blankets are a great invention and it's grat that you've decided to use them to help your baby sleep already :)

    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 

      8 years ago from USA

      I'm expecting my first baby and this is great information. I plan to use the swaddling blankets. Thanks!

    • Susana S profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Serer 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Lily - I haven't heard of the book you mention but I will check it out! My favorite of the ones I've read is the Baby Whisperer and it really helped me get my youngest sleeping well. Thanks for visiting :)

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 

      8 years ago from A Coast

      Great info for the new, tired parent! My favorite and only sleep book I now recommend is Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West - worked miracles for me and my girls!

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