If you’re a new parent, the words ‘baby’ and ‘sleep’ are probably enough to evoke strong emotions! It’s likely that your newborn constantly wakes up unless they’re being rocked. It could be that your previously reliable six-month-old baby won’t go to sleep unless you hold them. Or maybe your little one just. refuses. to. drop. off (even though it’s clear they’re absolutely exhausted).
You’re tired. You’re stressed because you’re tired. And you’re worried you’re the only parents in the world whose baby doesn’t sleep through. (Let’s just bust a myth here: very few babies consistently sleep through the night). But before you reach for another turbo-charged coffee or google ‘how to get baby to nap longer’ for the millionth time today, read this article.
What we’re about to explain will help you understand your infant’s sleep, reframe your expectations of what you think is normal and give you some practical guidance and solutions on how to get your baby to sleep.
Why Does It Feel Like My Baby Never Sleeps?
Coping with the way babies sleep can be difficult. It’s not that they don’t sleep. Believe it or not, they do – in fact, more than at any other stage of life. The issue is WHEN they sleep – in short snatches, alternately snoozing and waking all day and night long. This is hard for parents, for whom waking repeatedly at night and not getting enough shut-eye during the day can feel as bad as not sleeping at all.
Understanding why your baby has such short naps and needs you to help them sleep is key to working out what is normal and therefore what you don’t need to worry about.
For example, you may think it’s normal for babies to sleep through the night. But did you know that this commonly held belief is based on studies from the 1950s and 1960s when babies routinely slept in another room? Parents were actually unaware of whether they woke up or not.
We now know it’s normal for your baby to wake and feed through the night for at least the first year (and maybe longer if you’re breastfeeding). Given that today’s advice is to sleep in the same room as your child for the first six months, it’s likely that you’re going to be at the mercy of your baby’s sleep patterns.
Once you know what you’re dealing with and how long for, you can make a plan, try different strategies and feel empowered about the decisions you’re making. This alone can help you cope better, even when you know you’re going to be exhausted for the foreseeable.
Why Does My Baby Wake At Night?
Two processes govern the way we sleep. One is homeostatic. This means that the longer we have been awake, the more sleepy we are going to feel. For adults, it takes a whole day until we feel tired enough to go to sleep (unless you live with a baby, of course 😉. For babies, it may only take an hour or so of being awake before they feel the urge to drift off again.
The second process is circadian, which means we feel awake in the morning and sleepy at night. Babies are yet to develop their circadian rhythms, which means their sleep happens at any point during the 24-hour cycle.
This developmental immaturity means babies are programmed to wake at night. They’re born with a tiny tummy that empties very quickly. It needs to be filled regularly so they can gain strength and stay hydrated. So by waking round the clock, they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to do! Therefore, as hard as those baby-short naps are for you, it’s good to know that a wakeful baby is a healthy baby. Try a co-sleeper to make those night wakings easier.
How To Get Baby To Nap Longer
You know those circadian rhythms we talked about? One of your jobs as a parent in the first weeks and months is to get your baby used to the difference between night and day. This regulates their system and will help them learn to fall asleep for longer, and at the right time.
How to get baby to nap longer? Make sure they are exposed to daylight and stimulation during the day. This looks like waking them up at the same time, taking them out for a morning stroll and ensuring they get lots of loving interaction and play during their wakeful hours. At nap time or night, create a dim, quiet and calm space to signal that it’s time for sleep.
Be warned: circadian development is not instant. It will happen over the course of about six months.
Why Do Babies Fight Sleep?
Sometimes, life gets in the way and your baby will fight sleep. This could be because of separation anxiety, overtiredness, overstimulation, teething, hitting a developmental milestone, traveling and discomfort or illness.
The best course of action is not to change their sleep routine – the familiarity will make for a better environment for self-coping. Know that the regression will eventually right itself. Here are some tips on how to cope when life throws you a curveball.
How To Help A Teething Baby Sleep
Offer a cold washcloth for them to chew on to numb their gums, or give them a teether to ease the pressure. We love Sophie The Giraffe. Pop some moisturizer on their cheeks to prevent uncomfortable rashes, such as Mustela’s Organic Hydrating Cream With Olive Oil And Aloe.
What If My Baby Rolls Onto Stomach While Sleeping But Can’t Roll Back?
Simply soothe your baby and pop them back onto their back. It may take until they’re five or six months old to roll confidently from front to back again.
What’s The Best Sleeping Position For Gassy Baby?
It may be tempting to lay your gassy baby on their tummy or side, but it’s always best to put them down to sleep on their backs to prevent the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Try to burp your baby before sleep or speak to your pediatrician if the discomfort continues.
What’s The Best Sleeping Position For Colic Baby?
Again, putting your baby down on their back is the safest option. Inconsolable crying due to colic can be soothed using the five Ss before you lay them down to sleep:
- Swaddle: we like the pretty Little Unicorn range.
- Side: hold your baby on the side of their body to calm them.
- Shush: you can murmur ‘shush’ to your baby (they find it incredibly soothing) or use a white noise machine. The Crane Drop Top is a humidifier and sound machine in one.
- Swing: rock your baby from side to side.
- Suck: offer them a pacifier to comfort and relax.
How To Get Your Baby To Sleep Without Being Held
You may be wondering, is it bad to rock baby to sleep? Or, do babies grow out of being rocked to sleep? Well, there’s no real schedule on when to stop rocking baby to sleep. After all, babies need us to soothe and comfort them. Being rocked and held for a few minutes before you put them down reduces their heart rate and promotes sleep.
At some point, however, if your baby only sleeps when held, you’ll need to put them down when they’re still awake so they can learn to settle on their own. It all starts with a consistent routine, which creates strong behavioral cues. Here’s how to do it:
Establish A Routine
Wake your baby up at the same time each morning. At bedtime, follow the same relaxing pattern of a warm bath, pajamas, story and kiss goodnight. This predictability helps children to power down. It should take no longer than 30-45 minutes from start to finish.
Create A Sleep Haven
Keep your baby’s room cool. Give them comfy, cozy bedding, such as a wearable blanket, add blackout blinds to make it dark and use low lighting to help them wind down. Put them down in a gorgeous, safe and secure crib or bassinet. Shop the collection.
Time It Right
Look out for rubbing eyes and yawning – try to start your routine before your baby gets overtired or overstimulated!
Even if it’s the last thing you feel, comfort and cuddle your baby until they’re calm. They’ll pick up on your stress and won’t settle until you make them feel safe and secure.
Give Them A Chance To Self-soothe
Once they’re down, give them a few minutes to settle by themselves. Once they don’t need you at the start of the night, they’ll need you less in the middle of the night, too!
Don’t give up! Stick with your plan.
How long might this continue? Night wakings typically become less frequent as an infant ages. It’s wise to remember that old parenting mantra: this too shall pass.