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New parents are often frustrated when their baby won’t sleep at bedtime or wakes and doesn’t go back to sleep easily. Sleep-deprived parents are often at their wit’s end on how to get baby back to sleep and get more sleep themselves. Every baby has a different personality. What works well for one baby may have no impact on another. What’s important is to find a nighttime routine and parenting style that works for your baby. If something isn’t working, then try something else. Be aware that what does work for a while, may suddenly not work later as babies change their sleep patterns as they enter into other stages of their life. Try some of the tips we list below to help your baby get to sleep!
Sometimes babies fall asleep in someone’s arms and wake up as soon as they are put down. This causes a lot of frustration to parents who are trying to get their baby to sleep, only to start all over again. Newborns fall asleep in light sleep and after about 20 or 30 minutes, they go into deep sleep. They spent about half their time in light sleep and the other half in deep sleep in 50 to 60 minute cycles. Wait until you see signs of deep sleep (baby stops moving or twitching) before putting your baby down. The good news is, after 3-4 months babies start to produce their own melatonin and sleep in deep sleep more and wake less often.
Give your baby playtime so they get physical activity during the day to help them sleep better at night. For busy parents, set aside time in the day to play with your baby, and even give a little tummy time. This is especially true if both parents work during the day or if a stay-at-home parent also looks after older siblings. It’s easy to get caught up in daily activities and forget to take play time with your baby.
Have lighting that can be turned down to low light levels before bedtime to signal to your baby that it’s bedtime. Go for warm glowing yellow lighting that creates a cozy feeling. The low lights also help you care for the baby in the middle of the night without disturbing the nighttime mood. Install window shades that block out daylight to keep the room dark during the early evening hours. This is especially helpful during the long days in summer months. The TV should be off or even better, no TV in the room where the baby sleeps. An audio device with speakers can be put in the room to provide background music or white noise at a low volume to set the mood. Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold. A temperature around 70 degrees with about 50% humidity is ideal for sleep.
Have a parent sleep near the baby so that he/she can attend to the baby if he wakes. This could be in a room next to the baby, or in the same room as the baby. Being nearby helps comfort the baby before they get overly upset. It also makes it easier for nighttime feedings and diaper changes. If you are a mom who needs to pump milk for your baby at night, keep your pumping setup nearby and ready for use. Pump breastmilk in containers that can close up and be put away easily. You may want to have a cooler with an ice pack next to you to store breastmilk to avoid needing to go to the kitchen to put the milk away so you can get back to sleep sooner.
Parents should try to get their rest when baby sleeps. This may mean needing to adjust their schedule if their baby is an early riser or a night owl. Try to have each parent get at least 90 minutes of sleep at one time, this is the length of one adult sleep cycle. This may help parents feel more refreshed than feeling groggy after a short nap. Have a consistent bedtime routine for the baby. Give time for your baby and the household to settle down and transition into a nighttime environment.
All babies are different so there’s no one approach that works for all babies. Babies have different temperaments and families have different lifestyles so it’s often a combination of different sleep tips and parenting styles that work best. You may find you need to change your routine and style as baby develops. It’s helpful to talk to other parents to see what sleep routines work for them. At our Healthy Horizons Breastfeeding Support Group, sleep is a common topic of discussion for parents of babies of different ages. Sign up or drop by one of our sessions!
Healthy Sleep For Babies [PDF]. (n.d.). Washington State Department of Health.