7 Gentle Ways to Get Baby Sleeping Through the Night
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?
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