As you prepare for parenthood, one of the first things you learn is that your quality and duration of sleep is going to drastically decrease. Your friends and loved ones remind you daily to get all the sleep you can now before the baby comes because you’re going to be exhausted from the lack of sleep as soon as the little one arrives. It’s quite terrifying, especially when you start conducting research and find out that studies show that for every child you have in your house, you are 50% less likely to get a good night’s rest1Richter, D., Krämer, M. D., Tang, N., Montgomery-Downs, H. E., & Lemola, S. (2019). Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers. Sleep, 42(4), zsz015. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz015. That means if you have more than one child, your chances of getting sufficient sleep is pretty darn close to impossible. But there is a glimmer of hope because there are parents that are able to get their baby to sleep quickly and for the entire night, and many sleep experts say that this can be achieved by any parent and with any child. And it all starts with learning scientifically-proven sleep strategies and tried-and-true sleep methods that those well-rested parents swear by.
First Things First, Start a Routine
Before anything else, aim to establish a sleep routine, so the baby can learn cues in their environment and your behavior that let them know it’s time for sleep. This can be as simple as turning the noise down and dimming the lights approximately 30 minutes prior to putting them down… every night. The brain associates light and dark with being awake and being asleep, so these simple little tricks can help them identify when it’s time for shut-eye2Suni, E. (2022). Light & Sleep: Effects on Sleep Quality | Sleep Foundation. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/light-and-sleep. You may choose to add in some other calming elements to further reduce the stimuli, such as running a warm bath, singing some lullabies, reading a book, or giving them a baby massage. Some parents swear by the “4 B’s Bedtime Method”, which consists of: bath, book, bottle (or breast) and bed3Jana, D. (2020). Use the 4 B’s of Bedtime to Help Your Child Sleep Well. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.sleep.com/sleep-health/use-the-4-bs-of-bedtime-to-help-your-child-sleep-well. See what works for you (and baby) and stick with that.
Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Have you ever tried to fall asleep in a bright room with excitement happening in the room next to you? It probably didn’t work out so well. In fact, one of the top tips for improving sleep quality, regardless of one’s age, is to ensure the environment is sleep-friendly4What’s the Ideal Sleep Environment?. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/sleep/experts-whats-the-ideal-sleep-environment.aspx. This can mean a variety of things, depending on what you or the baby prefers. However, as a rule of thumb, a sleep-friendly environment consists of:
- Dark room (blackout curtains are great!)
- Comfortable, clean linens
- Quiet or soothing sounds
- Calming scents, such as lavender essential oil
- No distractions (turn off your phone to avoid the baby hearing it ding or ring, turn down the volume on your TV in the other room, etc.)
- Comfortable jammies
- Maintain the right temperature (between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit)
These simple adjustments can make all of the difference when it comes to getting your baby to sleep quickly and for the entire night (or at least long enough for you to also get the rest you need). Blackout curtains and a white-noise machine create a womb-like environment while also muffling out the light and noise from surrounding areas. If you aren’t sure how noisy your household can be without it disrupting your baby, have someone stand outside of the room or walking around while making noise to see how much of it gets into the baby’s sleep environment.
Put Your Baby Down When They’re Still Awake
This one is top secret 101. Many parents put their baby down in their crib once they’re already sleeping. It’s a habit that continues, especially if it works for the most part. However, you’re likely then left wondering why your baby won’t soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake up. Well, it’s actually quite simple. Since the baby was put in the crib once they were already asleep, they wake up to unfamiliar surroundings and have difficulty falling back to sleep. If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night and had no idea where you were for a couple of seconds, the feeling is quite similar for your little one.
To avoid this and to work towards the main goal of sleep training – teaching your baby how to fall back to sleep on their own, put them down in their crib when they’re drowsy but awake. This allows them to become sleep-independent over time.
Skip the Nighttime Snack
Newborn babies fall asleep often while eating and this is nothing to worry about. However, you also don’t want your baby to create this subconscious idea that, in order to fall asleep, they must be feeding. You can combat this potential issue by gradually moving your feeding times earlier in the evening so your baby has time to feed and then, fall asleep. Of course, you may still be waking up to feed them in the middle of the night but it will be a result of hunger and not the need for soothing.
Keep Up With Nap Time
Oh, nap times. They’re such a lovely thing, aren’t they? You may even be wondering why anyone would willingly give these midday breaks up. Well, life gets busy sometimes and naps can get messy. However, it’s important to continue to take naps seriously. Skipping a nap or keeping your baby up later in hopes that they will sleep in longer simply doesn’t work. Not only that but an overtired child causes their stress hormones to increase, which can make it more difficult for them to get into the deep, REM sleep that allows them to sleep longer5Dasgupta, MD, R. (2020). Cortisol and Sleep: Can It Cause Insomnia? What Else?. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cortisol-and-sleep. So, keep an eye on that clock and make sure your baby is taking their naps.
Now, this can sometimes be easier said than done and if naps are a hot mess, don’t worry. It happens to every parent. Just remember that consistency is key. Try to get your baby to sleep in their crib but if your newborn insists on only falling asleep on your chest, in their car seat or in their swing, that’s okay. Babies won’t typically develop a real nap schedule until their 5 or 6 months. Use this time to practice!
Learn How to Spot Sleep Signs
When trying to develop a sleep schedule that allows baby to get the rest they need (and you the break you deserve), learning how to spot signs of sleepiness is key. This will help you accomplish many of the steps and tips mentioned in this article, as it allows you to tune into our baby’s sleep-wake rhythms, so you can get them in the crib while they’re awake but drowsy, so they fall asleep quickly. If you wait too long and miss the signs, this can result in an overtired, stressed out baby that refuses to nap or be put down due to the rush of adrenaline and stress hormones. So, tune in to those cues and spot the signs that sleepiness has arrived.
Remember that babies’ sleep changes so rapidly during those first few weeks. If these sleep training tips don’t work on the fourth day, it doesn’t mean that they won’t work on the 4th week. Keep trying. Stay consistent and be kind with yourself. These early stages are tough but once you have the sleeping down pat, you’ll be golden.
- 1Richter, D., Krämer, M. D., Tang, N., Montgomery-Downs, H. E., & Lemola, S. (2019). Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers. Sleep, 42(4), zsz015. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz015
- 2Suni, E. (2022). Light & Sleep: Effects on Sleep Quality | Sleep Foundation. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/light-and-sleep
- 3Jana, D. (2020). Use the 4 B’s of Bedtime to Help Your Child Sleep Well. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.sleep.com/sleep-health/use-the-4-bs-of-bedtime-to-help-your-child-sleep-well
- 4What’s the Ideal Sleep Environment?. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/sleep/experts-whats-the-ideal-sleep-environment.aspx
- 5Dasgupta, MD, R. (2020). Cortisol and Sleep: Can It Cause Insomnia? What Else?. Retrieved 15 March 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cortisol-and-sleep