Sleep can seem to be a mythical thing during the first couple months of a baby’s life. Parents who were used to getting their full nine hours have a rude awakening when bringing home their new baby. For both the happiness of their baby and their own sanity, they often wonder how to get a baby to sleep in a timely and efficient manner.
Before learning how to get your baby to sleep, it’s important that you know a few things about newborn babies. Remember that infants have spent their last nine months in a womb with no discernable night or day, meaning they slept whenever they felt like it. They won’t automatically have a natural circadian rhythm when they are born — unlike their parents, who will be used to sleeping when it’s dark outside.
It’s completely normal for there to be an adjustment period as a baby gets used to their new surroundings, although this period is a lot less welcome by sleepy parents getting used to the new responsibilities of being a parent. If you’re in this situation, you probably have a few big questions about your baby’s personal sleep routine. Find the answers to some of them below.
1. How to Get a Baby to Sleep?
Some babies fall asleep rather easily, while some are fussy every time you place them in your bed. No matter your baby’s situation, it’s important to know how to get babies to sleep early on in their lives. This will make it much easier when you get ready to sleep train your child to go to bed on their own (more on that below).
Here are a few tips to consider:
- Utilize light and darkness strategically. Dark surroundings will trigger the brain to release melatonin, which will make your baby sleepy. To help them establish their circadian rhythm, you’ll want to keep your baby’s nights dark and their days bright. That way, when you start turning down the lights at night, they will naturally become drowsy.
- Put your baby to sleep when they are drowsy, not asleep. It’s important that babies learn to self-soothe, meaning they can put themselves to sleep properly. To do this, try to time their placement into their bed when they are still awake but noticeably tired.
- Don’t make eye contact with a sleepy baby. Eye contact stimulates babies so, if your baby is tired, refrain from looking them in the eyes. Limit your interaction to soothing small touches and a gentle voice.
- Recognize that your baby will have their own schedule. As helpful as it would be for your baby to fall into a sleep habit early on, sleep training probably should not begin until they are at least 4 months old. Be patient and realize that it will take some time for a baby to learn how to fall asleep in rhythm with your own schedule.
- Stick to a baby sleep schedule. Even if your baby has their own mind about when they will sleep, make sure to create a schedule of activities when you want your child to sleep. This may involve feeding them, burping them, rocking them and other soothing activities to induce drowsiness. Your baby will start associating this routine with sleep and be more likely to sleep when you want them to.
2. When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?
At some points, most parents wonder how to get a baby to sleep longer — preferably, from dawn to dusk. If you’re asking, “When do babies start sleeping through the night?” keep in mind that every child is different, and yours will be, too.
In general, babies are able to start sleeping through the night at 6 months old. They will have developed their circadian rhythm by this time, and they will not need a nighttime feeding. While some babies will take longer to sleep through the night, 70 percent of babies do sleep through the night by the time they are 9 months old.
3. How to Get a Baby to Sleep at Night?
You may be thinking: That’s all well and good, but my baby isn’t there yet. I need to know how to get my baby to sleep through the night.
Getting a baby on a sleep schedule in which they stay asleep during the night uses many of the same tips mentioned above. In addition, you’ll want to:
- Wait before automatically going to your baby: If you hear your baby wake up, it’s tempting to directly go to them in an attempt to fix whatever’s wrong. However, you want to teach your baby independence. Give them a few minutes to settle down on their own. If they don’t, try to reach them before they start a full temper tantrum, at which point it will be near impossible for you to get them back to sleep.
- Make nighttime visits as soothing as possible: When you do go to your baby in the middle of the night, refrain from turning on harsh lights that can further awaken them. Be quiet and keep them as comfortable as possible so they can easily transition back to sleep.
- Don’t change their diaper every time: Babies don’t always need their diaper changed when they wake up, so don’t further wake them up by automatically doing this. If you must change a baby’s diaper, use wipes that have been warmed to keep your baby as drowsy as possible.
- Give your baby a late-night feed: Your baby may benefit from being woken up late at night (between 10 and midnight, for example) to receive one last feed to sleep through the night. He or she may not wake fully for this feeding, but you will be able to give your baby the nutrients they need to sleep through the night in a soothing, calm manner.
4. How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?
Babies sleep much more than adults do; they need it to support their rapid mental and physical developments. Odds are, your child needs more sleep than you think, as children tend to become hyper when they are overtired.
Within the first year of your baby’s life, they should sleep between 12 and 17 hours every day. Newborns (until 3 months old) should sleep between 14 and 17, while babies older than that may only need 12 to 15 hours. Each child is different, so always speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about how much sleep your baby needs at this point in their development.
5. When Should a Baby Sleep in Their Own Room?
Popular parenting advice today encourages parents to sleep in the same room as their child during his or her first few months of life. But, when should a baby sleep alone in their own room?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that baby sleep in a room with his or her parents for at least six months, ideally a whole year. This has been proven to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by as much as 50 percent. Every baby is different, so you’ll want to move your baby to their own room when it is best for everyone in the family.
Typically, if your baby can sleep for six hours or more at a time, they are ready for their own room. If he or she can roll from his or her belly to their back, that’s also a good sign that a move is possible. Try to move your baby into a room close enough to yours that you can easily access them, just in case.
Moving a baby to their own room is a process, so make sure to take it slow and steady, and be ready for the possibility of some sleep regressions.
Have more questions about how to get a baby to sleep and what kind of baby sleep schedule is best for your little one? We encourage you to contact your pediatrician for personalized guidance and advice moving forward.