Needless to say, a baby’s sleep schedule can burden any new parent. But while not much can be controlled about your little one’s sleep cycles, there are some tactics that can help create a somewhat normal schedule so that you get a little shut-eye when you need it. The next time you put your baby down for the night, try any or all of the following tricks.
1. A bed Goldilocks will love
Create a comfortable and cozy oasis that no baby can resist falling asleep in. Be sure baby’s co-sleeper or bed isn’t placed in a direct path of air vents. Add extra plush layers under baby’s sheets, or invest in a soft night-light. Whatever drifts them off to dreamland. Of course, this excludes putting an overabundant amount of blankets and toys in the crib with your baby, as this could increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
2. Just the right angle.
If your baby’s co-sleeper is capable, try to prop up one side so that they’re sleeping at a 45-degree angle. This can help to replicate the feeling of being held in your arms and give them a sense of security.
3. Make some noise.
When your baby was in the womb, he or she was constantly soothed to sleep with sounds of your heartbeat and blood pulses, and even by your voice during the day. Outside the womb and at night, the absence of these sounds is the startling removal of a very familiar comfort. So fill the void with some noise. You can purchase a range of white noise machines with natural sounds or coupled with a night light feature, or you can even download a plethora of free apps on your phone for a much more inexpensive option. Keep in mind that any late night texts or phone calls may cause an unpleasant surprise for baby.
4. Fill ‘em up.
Newborn babies need to eat every two to three hours, so to ensure a little extra shut-eye in the middle of the night, try to fill up your baby on more calories during his or her last feeding before bedtime. You can encourage sucking by rubbing the cheek and jawline and brushing the bottom of the chin while eating.
5. Cuddle up.
Don’t be afraid to snuggle your newborn! Holding a newborn and rocking him for 10 to 20 to a solid sleep state is less time consuming than listening to him fuss and cry as he eventually soothes himself to sleep for over an hour. And don’t worry about spoiling your baby: there’s plenty of research out there that supports the benefits of cuddling your baby far outweighing the repercussions.
6. Don’t rock-a-bye-baby.
Resist the urge to engage with your little one to sleep, including lullabies and soothing shushes. Instead, keep the room calm and quite with dim lighting. Even avoid eye contact if needed. But whatever you do, don’t interact with baby at all and let the silence do all the talking, sending the signal that it’s time to sleep for the night and not just for a midday nap. This may seem vastly contrary to tip number five, but a combination of holding your baby while ignoring them may just do the trick.
7. Swaddle. Or, don’t.
Some newborns find their sudden escape from your space-restricted womb a little too unnerving and find solace in the comfort of familiar restrictions. While some enjoy their newfound freedom. So figure out which preference yours has, and don’t feel obligated to do one or the other. If it’s working for baby, then it’s working.
8. Night and day difference.
While it’s an instinct to keep your newborn’s environment sleep friendly so that you can squeeze a meal in between feedings, don’t blend baby’s nights and days together. Keep the blinds open and noises up during the day, then tiptoe and whisper when putting your little one down at night. This will help baby know the difference between daytime naps versus nighttime slumber. Of course, don’t be surprised if this approach isn’t full-proof; babies will sleep whenever they sleep.
9. Wait it out.
Let’s face it: Newborns just simply don’t sleep through the night. Their frequent eating schedule means they’re eating every two to three hours, no matter what time of day (or night).
Newborns one to four weeks old typically sleep 16 to 20 hours a day, with wakeful periods lasting one to three hours. One to four month olds will still sleep as much, but with a more regular night and day cycle. Babies aged four months to one year will need 14 to 15 hours of sleep each day, but will sleep longer during the night for some much needed relief for mom and dad. It won’t be until this age group where “sleep through the night” means sleeping six to eight hours. Though don’t set your clocks for even six months – some infants still won’t sleep more until much later.
Try a combination of these tactics, or all nine if need be – whatever helps your baby (and you) get some good shut-eye. Whatever you find out works for your own little one, do keep in mind that to avoid the risks of SIDS, experts recommend that babies sleep on their back and have little to no blankets and toys in their crib.
Having a ceiling fan can also help decrease the chances, as the oscillating blades circulate poor air quality away and keep baby just conscious enough to continue breathing. A pacifier has a similar effect, and provides the same soothing comfort that feeding does without keeping mom up. You can try to swaddle baby tightly while slightly covering their mouth to help keep the pacifier from falling out, but definitely don’t do so if their airways are blocked.
To encourage sleep independence, pediatricians also encourage laying baby down when they’re drowsy but not fully asleep, then letting them fall asleep on their own. This way, they associate sleep with independence and not relying on specific conditions that can be hard to break once they’re older.
But of course, while all children may not be role-model sleepers, there is a difference between little sleep and sleep disorders that parents should look for, like snoring and frequent nightmares. Our blog “7 Signs Your Child Might Have a Sleep Disorder” delves deeper into these warning signs, while our specialist at Alaska Sleep Clinic can provide an accurate diagnosis. If you live in the Anchorage, Alaska area, you can call for a free 10-minute consultation or schedule a sleep study today.