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Whether you’re a first-time parent or you’re growing your family, there’s one thing that many parents struggle with – getting their baby to sleep.
As with adults, sleep is quite a personal thing for a baby and there are many things that could be keeping them up at night.
Their age, their usual routine, and even the time they ate before you settled them down into their crib are all factors that can either guarantee a peaceful sleep or a night of restlessness.
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If you’ve been struggling to get your baby to sleep, or if you’re simply trying to get ahead of the game before you give birth, you’ve come to the right place! Below, you’ll find the ultimate guide on how to get your baby to sleep.
We’ve put together a plethora of tips and tricks that will help your baby fall asleep and also help to guarantee that you’re getting the rest you need to recover from the demands of being a parent as well.
Understand Your Baby’s Sleeping Needs
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The first point we need to look at is understanding your baby’s sleeping needs. While an adult can get by on 6-8 hours of sleep a night, a baby needs a significantly greater amount of sleep.
This number of hours is split across daytime sleep and nighttime sleep.
Below, we’ll take a look at how much sleep a baby needs as they grow from newborn through to 2 years of age. But, for a quick summary, take a look at this chart below:
|Age||Average Number of Sleep Hours per Day||Nighttime Sleep||Daytime Sleep|
|Newborn||14-17 hours||8 – 9 hours||8 hours|
|1 month||15.5 hours||8 – 9 hours||7 hours|
|3 months||15 hours||8 – 9 hours||4 – 5 hours|
|6 months||14 hours||10 hours||4 hours|
|9 months||14 hours||11 hours||3 hours|
|1 year||12-14 hours||11 hours||3 hours|
|1.5 years||13.5 hours||11 hours||2.5 hours|
|2 years||13 hours||11 hours||2 hours|
From the moment they are born up until 3 months of age, a baby needs around 14-17 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period, and there are a few reasons for this.
Not only are they growing and developing quickly, but they also have a ton of sensory information to process.
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While sleeping will take up the majority of your baby’s day, they will actually only sleep in short bursts of a few hours at a time. This is because a newborn baby hasn’t developed their sleep pattern yet.
In fact, it can take between 6 weeks and 3 months for a sleep pattern to start establishing, as this is when your baby’s naturally produced melatonin will start to differentiate between night and day.
Up until they are three months old, a baby also needs to feed every 2-3 hours. Hunger will normally wake them but, if your baby sleeps for long stretches of time, they will need to be woken up every few hours so they can feed.
This is especially important during the first two weeks of their life, as they need to put on a good amount of weight
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As your baby continues to grow and they hit the 3-month milestone, the need to feed them throughout the night will be reduced.
As a result, they’ll sleep for longer as hunger won’t necessarily be waking them up and you also won’t have to wake them yourself.
There may still be the need for the occasional night feed, but it certainly won’t be anywhere near as many as you’ve been doing up until this point.
The amount of sleep they’ll need across a 24 hour period will also be reduced, dropping to 12-14 hours spread across the day and the night.
By the time your baby has reached 9-12 months of age, the need to feed during the night will go away and you may notice that they are starting to sleep through the night.
This can be for up to periods of 12 hours at a time.
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As well as this long stint of overnight sleep, a baby between the ages of 9-12 months will also take a couple of naps every day. The duration of these can vary but, on average, each nap will usually last between 1-2 hours at a time.
After your baby has celebrated their first birthday, you can expect them to sleep between 12-15 hours a day.
Again, this will usually be spread across a large amount of continuous overnight sleep (10-12 hours), and a couple of 2 hour naps throughout the day.
2 years old
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Two years might seem like quite a lot of time, but your baby is still growing and developing and, as such, they’ll still need a good amount of sleep.
However, they won’t need as much sleep as they’re used to having.
A 2 year old child will sleep for an average of 11 hours throughout the night, and the number of daytime naps needed will reduce to just a couple of hours in total as well.
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Set A Routine
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As your baby grows, it’s important to start setting a bedtime routine to help them understand that it’s time to go to sleep.
This can also help to relax your baby and, the more relaxed they are, the more likely it is that they will fall asleep quickly, easily, and peacefully.
Setting a bedtime routine is also a useful way of getting your baby to sleep in unfamiliar environments.
So, if you’re on vacation or visiting a family member, sticking to their usual routine will help them feel relaxed, show them that it’s time to start getting ready to fall asleep, and help to ensure they get the sleep they need.
It’s a good idea to start establishing a bedtime routine when your baby is around 6-8 weeks old.
As we’ve mentioned above, this is the time that your baby’s natural melatonin will start to differentiate between nighttime and daytime, and you can work with it to teach your baby that nighttime means sleepy time.
By establishing your baby’s bedtime routine from this young age, you’re also getting them accustomed to the consistency and predictability of going to sleep at night.
This will make it much easier for you to settle them down at nighttime as they grow through their young years and head towards the troublesome toddler phase!
More than this though, establishing a bedtime routine is a great way for you to be able to spend some quality time with your baby.
It is a great way to bond with them and establish a trusting relationship, and it also gives both you and your baby something to look forward to at the end of a busy day.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of the best things you can include in your baby’s bedtime routine.
Each of these will help them relax and unwind so that they will get a peaceful, undisturbed night of sleep, leaving both of you refreshed and ready to face the next day.
Expend Pent-Up Energy
Just like adults, if a baby isn’t given enough mental or physical stimulation throughout the day, they can have a lot of pent-up energy and this can stop them from being able to fall asleep as easily.
Take half an hour ahead of their bedtime routine to get any stored energy out of their system.
If they are still in their younger months, you could put them in their bouncer for a while. Or, if they are a little older, you can play a game or dance around with them.
Put simply, you’re looking for a way to make them feel tired at the end of the activity. The more tired they are once you’ve finished playing, the less energy they’ll have and the more likely they’ll be to fall asleep.
This is one of the most popular additions to a baby’s bedtime routine.
Bathing your baby in warm water can soothe and relax them and, as you bring them out of the bath, wrapping them in a warm towel gives them sleep-inducing comfort.
It is important to note, however, that a baby doesn’t need to be bathed more than once or twice a week. With this in mind, bathing them as part of their bedtime routine isn’t something that you need to do every night.
And, of course, if your baby doesn’t particularly enjoy bath time and gets quite distressed when they are in the water, it’s probably best to leave them out of their bedtime routine. We’re aiming for a relaxing experience, after all.
Some babies enjoy being carried around the house before settling into bed and saying “Goodnight” to their favorite toys and other people in the home.
Doing this signals that it’s time for them to start thinking about going to bed, lets them know where they are headed, and, ultimately, tells them that it’s time to go to sleep.
Read a Bedtime Story
Another way of letting your baby know that it’s time to sleep is by reading them a bedtime story.
They won’t necessarily be able to follow or enjoy the plot, particularly if they are very young, but the sound of your voice will comfort them as they slowly drift off.
There are also a host of other benefits that come from including a bedtime story as part of your baby’s nightly routine. These include vocabulary building, creativity and imagination development, and forming listening skills.
Play Some Classical Music
Classical music has been shown to improve sleep quality in young people, so it’s a fantastic way of encouraging a baby to go to sleep.
There are also lots of different classical pieces to choose from, but here are some of the best classical pieces for encouraging your baby to fall asleep:
- Brahms’ Lullaby ~ Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, Gute Nacht by Johannes Brahms
- The Sandman Lullaby ~ Sandmannchen by Johannes Brahms
- Berceuse in D Flat Major, Op. 57 by Frederic Chopin
- Berceuse sur le nom de Gabrielle Faure by Maurice Ravel
- Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy
- Angels Guard Thee by Benjamin Goddard
It isn’t just sleep that playing classical music can help with, though. Classical music also helps with cognitive development, so it’s ideal for playing at night as your baby grows their brain power.
Don’t Rely on Soothing Methods
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While it’s important to establish a bedtime routine that includes soothing, relaxing experiences it’s important that, over time, your baby is able to self-soothe themselves to sleep as well.
If they are already asleep when you put them into their crib, they’ll wake in the night to unfamiliar surroundings and, ultimately, you’ll find yourself having to soothe them to sleep again.
If they rely on you too much at bedtime, the likelihood of them becoming impossible to get back to sleep without you as they grow into young children is also greatly increased.
This could mean that you’ll have to start sleep training all over again and, as you do, your own sleep quality is sacrificed.
It’s important to note here that newborn babies aren’t capable of self-soothing. This is because, although they need a lot of sleep, their sleep patterns are irregular and they need to eat frequently.
However, by the time they’ve reached 3-4 months of age, it is possible for a baby to self-soothe.
Below, we’ll take a look at some self-soothing techniques that will help to teach your baby how to drift off peacefully and send themselves back to sleep if they wake in the night quickly and easy,
Put Your Baby in Their Crib When They are Drowsy
Gently place your baby into their crib while they are still awake but drowsy from the relaxing techniques you’ve used throughout their bedtime routine.
Once you’ve laid them down, calmly walk out of the room and leave them to fall asleep by themselves. This is one of the best ways to teach your baby how to self-soothe.
There may be some crying, to begin with, but you need to leave your baby to cry for a set amount of time before stepping in to reassure them. This is also known as the Ferber method.
The amount of time you leave them to cry before you step in will be up to you, but don’t be tempted to go too early!
Eventually, your baby will learn that crying out for you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to come running straight away, and, ultimately, they will learn to put themselves to sleep.
Keep Your Baby’s Room Cool and Calm
An environment that feels comfortable and safe is essential when it comes to falling asleep and staying asleep.
If your baby is in an environment that is optimally designed for sleeping, they are more likely to fall asleep and there won’t be anything to trigger them into waking up.
A dark room also means that, if your baby does wake in the night, there will be nothing to signal to their brain that it’s daytime. This makes it much easier for them to fall straight back to sleep.
You need to keep your baby’s room at a cool temperature too, somewhere between 65ºF – 72ºF is ideal.
A cool room doesn’t only stop your baby from getting too hot and waking in the night, but it’s also essential for preventing SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Stick to a Strict Bedtime
Consistency is key when it comes to teaching your baby how to self-soothe, and this is mainly because babies learn through routine and repetition.
So, by sticking to a strict bedtime, your baby’s body rhythms will know what to expect and when. And, as they do this, your baby will start getting tired around their bedtime.
If you were to put your baby to bed at a different time each night, they will be less likely to fall asleep by themselves.
But, putting them into their crib at the same time each night lets them know it’s bedtime, they’ll feel more comforted, and, ultimately, they’ll be more capable of self-soothing in line with their circadian rhythm.
Provide a Comforting Object
Whether it’s their favorite soft toy or a blanket, giving immediate access to an object that your baby finds comforting is a great way to teach them how to self-soothe.
This is because they’ll have a familiarity of something that they associate with comfort when you’re not there.
However, it’s extremely important that you don’t practice this technique before your baby’s 1st birthday.
The American Society of Pediatrics does not recommend that a baby sleeps with any soft toys or blankets, as doing so could increase the risk of SSID.
One thing that’s important to remember here is that no two babies are the same. What might work for a friend with a baby of a similar age may not necessarily work for your baby.
It’s all about finding the best self-soothing technique for your baby’s own needs.
Devices to Help a Baby Sleep
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Sometimes, a relaxing bedtime routine and self-soothing techniques simply aren’t enough on their own to help send your baby off to a peaceful night’s sleep. But this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost!
Below, we’ll take a look at some devices that can help your baby fall asleep by themselves and increase the chances of them self-soothing if they do wake in the night.
While you want to prevent any particularly bright lights from shining in your baby’s room when they’re sleeping, providing a softer, comforting night light can help offer some reassurance when they are falling asleep and if they wake.
They also give you the opportunity to see what is going on in your baby’s room without having to switch on a bright light.
So, if you want to see if your baby has fallen asleep by themselves, you’ll be able to check without any risk of waking them up.
One thing that you must make sure of when you’re looking for a nightlight, however, is that it is free of blue light.
Exposure to blue light can disrupt the production of melatonin which means it can be harder for your baby to fall asleep. With this in mind, choose a night light that shines dimly with a red or amber light.
Most mobiles are designed to stimulate your baby’s brain and aid in cognitive development.
However, a musical mobile that is designed for crib use can play soothing lullabies or white noise that can comfort and calm your baby as they fall asleep.
They are also a good choice for babies under the age of 12 months, as the characters dangling from the mobile can be comforting but don’t pose a suffocation risk.
So, if they were to wake in the night the first thing they would see would be the comforting figures, which will make them feel safe and make it much easier for them to fall asleep again.
You can also use a musical mobile as a final stage of your bedtime routine.
The music signals that it’s time to go to bed and, as you slowly leave the room before they fall asleep, the job of comforting them until they drift off is handled by the mobile.
Certain essential oils are really good for creating a relaxing atmosphere and inducing sleep, and one of the best ways of filling a room with a calming fragrance is by using an aromatherapy diffuser.
These often have timer switches on them, so you don’t have to worry about leaving it running all night either.
Simply add your oil to the diffuser, select how long you’d like to leave it running for, and the sleep-inducing fragrance will help your baby drift off.
If you’re not sure which essential oils are best for helping your baby fall asleep, here are some fantastic options:
- Lavender: The calming, aromatic scent of lavender has been used for centuries as a way of helping people fall asleep.
- Chamomile: Not only does chamomile have a super relaxing fragrance, but it also contains a compound called ‘Bisabolol’ which has been proven to calm and appease anxiety.
- Ylang Ylang: This essential oil has a citrus-like scent that has a sedative-like effect. This doesn’t only mean that it’s good for helping your baby fall asleep by themselves, but it will also help alleviate stress and anxiety, making it much easier for them to self-soothe.
- Cedarwood: Another essential oil with a sedative effect, cedarwood can help to induce a natural sleep and calm an anxious mind. Ideal for any parent trying to get their baby to fall asleep by themselves.
Vibrating Mattress Pad
Some babies like motion to fall asleep and a vibrating mattress pad is an ideal solution here. Simply slide it underneath the crib’s mattress and it will gently vibrate, sending your baby into a peaceful slumber.
You don’t have to worry about disturbing your baby and risking waking them up when you want to stop it from vibrating either, as the majority of vibrating mattress pads have built-in timers.
This means that it will switch itself off after a set amount of time.
What’s more, vibrating mattress pads are usually pretty lightweight and portable, so they can be taken with you when on vacation or visiting friends and family.
Don’t Feed Baby To Sleep
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Although newborn babies need to feed regularly, and may occasionally fall asleep in the middle of a feeding session, it’s important that you don’t use food as a way of getting your baby to go to sleep.
If you do, they’ll soon start thinking that they need to eat in order to get back to sleep and develop a feed-to-sleep association which makes it much harder for them to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Your best bet to prevent this from happening is to create a feeding schedule where you can almost guarantee that your baby will be able to finish their feed and still be awake for a while at the end of it.
This way they won’t think that food comes directly before bedtime.
For the final feed of the day, right before you settle them into their crib for the night, follow the feeding session with a calming bedtime story and gently place them into their crib while they are drowsy and not asleep.
This will also show them that food isn’t the last thing that comes before falling asleep.
Of course, you may still have to get up occasionally throughout the night to feed. But these feeds will be because your baby is hungry, not because they are seeking food as a comforter.
Taking the time and effort to make sure that you’re not feeding your baby to sleep will also reduce the risk of them developing emotional eating habits as they grow older.
This is because they won’t turn to food as a way to alleviate stress, deal with frustration, or generally use it to manage their emotions.
Instead, they have a better chance of developing a healthy relationship with food, which will be extremely beneficial to their physical and mental health.
Make Day vs Night Clear
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A baby isn’t born with a clear way of telling the difference between day and night. In fact, up until they are around 12 weeks old, it’s a case of “feed, sleep, repeat”, regardless of the time of day.
However, as your baby grows and develops, they’ll need to learn that nighttime is for sleeping and that daytime is for staying awake, aside from the odd nap here and there!
But just how are you supposed to teach a baby the difference between night and day?
Thankfully, it’s not actually that hard. It’s really all about making night and day different experiences.
If they become familiar with the notion that the day is bright and filled with noise and busyness, while nighttime is darker, quieter, and generally calmer, it won’t take long for them to tell the difference between them at all.
Of course, life can get in the way and, between regular feeds, changes, and soothing, it can be easy to put teaching your baby the difference between night and day to the back of your mind.
However, it’s something that is incredibly important if you want to make sure your baby is capable of falling asleep by themselves and, ultimately, sleeping through the night.
To make things a little easier, we’ll take a look at some of the best techniques for teaching a baby how to tell day and night apart.
- Go Outside: Adults need exposure to natural light every day to regulate our circadian rhythms and to help us get to sleep at night. Babies aren’t any different, and taking them outdoors during the day won’t only help them learn the difference between daytime and nighttime, but will also help them sleep better. In fact, a study conducted at Liverpool John Moores University found that babies that were exposed to daylight between 12 pm and 4 pm got a better night’s sleep than those who weren’t.
If it’s wintertime and the weather isn’t particularly tempting you out for a stroll, make sure you’ve got your drapes or blinds open to allow as much natural daylight into your home as possible.
- Noisy By Day, Quiet By Night: We’re not talking about having a rave at 11 am in your kitchen here! Simply keeping your radio or your television on throughout the day will add a good level of noise to your home that your baby will notice. Don’t be tempted to reduce the volume of your home or any conversations going on around you while your baby is napping, either. And, when they are awake, make a conscious effort to play and engage with them.
As the night falls, close your drapes to block out light and bring the noise down to a quieter level. When speaking to your baby, your partner, and anybody else in the home, use a calm, soothing voice.
By acting differently during the day and at night time, it will soon become clear to your baby that there is a difference between the two.
- Initiate Your Bedtime Routine: We’ve spoken about this previously, but by putting certain procedures in place in the build-up to bedtime, you’ll be teaching your baby that nighttime is here. You’ll also be teaching them that this happens at the same time every night, which will help to develop their circadian rhythm.
Take Naps Seriously
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While it may sound counterintuitive to make sure that your baby is taking regular naps to help them sleep better at night, it is essential that they are getting enough sleep during the day.
This is simply because a baby that has had enough rest in the day won’t be overtired by the time bedtime comes around. And, as we all know, it can be extremely difficult to put an overtired child to sleep.
The main reason it’s so hard to get an overtired baby to go to sleep is that a lack of sleep increases their cortisol levels.
Cortisol is also known as the ‘stress hormone’ and the more stressed we are, the harder we find it to fall asleep. The same principle applies to babies.
That’s not all, though. A high cortisol level is also capable of waking us up throughout the night. So, even after a long struggle of trying to get your baby to fall asleep, there’s a good chance they won’t stay sleeping for very long!
Don’t be tempted to keep them awake throughout the day in a hope that your baby will sleep better at night if you do. In actual fact, you’ll potentially only be making the situation worse.
As we’ve explained earlier, a baby needs many hours of sleep across a 24 hour period to help with growth and development.
For a newborn, this can be as much as 17 hours per day and, even up until the age of 2 years old, a daily nap is still required. So, not only are naps crucial for helping your baby sleep through the night, they are essential for their health.
To make sure you never miss a napping opportunity, you need to look out for their sleep cues.
Doing this will help you get them down into their crib before they fall asleep, which makes it much easier to teach self-soothing from a younger age, and reduces the chances of them getting overtired.
But what exactly are a baby’s sleep cues? They can’t verbally tell you that they are tired, so you’ll need to know what to look out for.
The first sleep cue that a baby will show is acting quiet and still following a period of being awake and active.
This is the best opportunity to take your baby to their crib, lay them down before they are asleep, and allow them to drift off by themselves.
If you miss this cue, you may notice your baby yawning or rubbing their eyes. Again, this is an ideal opportunity to settle them into their crib and leave them to fall asleep by themselves.
If they have started crying or getting aggravated, there is a chance you’ve missed their sleep cues and it will be much harder to get them to take a nap as their cortisol levels will increase the more fractious they become.
Swaddling Or No Swaddling?
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Swaddling is one of the most debated topics surrounding babies and sleep.
Some people swear by swaddling as a way of comforting their baby and helping them get a good night’s sleep, while others are more cautious and fear overheating or suffocation.
So, should you swaddle or not? Ultimately, it’s really a matter of personal preference.
But, to help you decide whether or not it’s a good choice for your baby, we’ll take a look at why swaddling can help a baby sleep better and, if you do choose to swaddle your baby, we’ll demonstrate how to do it properly.
We’ll also look at some of the dangers associated with swaddling if the process isn’t executed properly.
Benefits of Swaddling
- Keeps Your Baby Warm: Babies can’t regulate their core temperature very well, and swaddling can help to keep them warm and cozy on a cold night or when you’re out and about during the winter months.
- Recreates The Womb Environment: Keeping your baby cozily swaddled up can help them relax and the warmth can be reminiscent of being back in the womb, meaning that they’ll feel safe and protected.
- Better Sleep: The womb-like warmth of a properly executed swaddle can help a baby fall asleep faster and keep them asleep longer. As the arms are tucked in, the Moro Reflex (also known as the startle reflex) is inhibited and they are less likely to startle themselves awake.
Risks of Swaddling
- Hip Problems: If a swaddle isn’t executed correctly, a baby’s legs may be forced into an unnatural position. This can loosen the hip joints, cause damage to the soft cartilage surrounding the hip socket, or, in some extreme cases, even force the hip joint out of the socket.
- Suffocation: If a swaddle is too loose, a baby may be able to wriggle out of it as they squirm during the night and accidentally end up with the blanket over their face. This can lead to suffocation. Also, while it’s quite difficult for a baby to roll over in a swaddle, it isn’t impossible. And, if their limbs are restricted inside the blanket, they could end up in a face-down position that they are unable to get out of, which can also restrict airflow.
- Overheating: While a swaddle is a good way of keeping your baby warm, restricting their arms and legs means that they aren’t able to cool themselves off when needed. This can lead to overheating which can create abnormal breathing which is one of the factors associated with SIDS.
How to Swaddle Correctly
If you’re certain that you’d like to swaddle your baby to help them get to sleep, you’ll need to know how to do it correctly. Below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to swaddle a baby safely and properly.
- Begin by spreading a thin blanket out flat, with one corner folded down.
- Gently lay your baby face-up on the blanket, with their head placed above the folded corner.
- Carefully straighten their left arm and wrap the left corner of the blanket across their body. Tuck it between their right arm and the right side of their body.
- Next, tuck their right arm down. fold the right corner of the blanket across their body and under their left side.
- Loosely fold the bottom of the blanket and tuck it under one side of your baby.
- Check that they are still able to move their hips and that the blanket is not too tight. The aim is to be able to easily slide three fingers between your baby’s chest and the blanket.
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From the advice we’ve listed above, you can see that there are many different ways to get your baby to sleep.
From creating a relaxing bedtime routine to making sure you’re feeding them at the right time, a little planning and patience are all that’s needed to give your baby the best opportunity to sleep as peacefully as possible.