My son sleeps roughly 12 hours at night. That is, he sleeps straight through the night people. And, he’s been doing this since he was 5 months old. To add to your jealousy, S was a 12-hour sleeper as a baby. I can hear you asking how I got so lucky. “How the h***?”
It’s not luck or coincidence. At least, that’s not how I see it.
It’s serious work and determination to get baby to sleep through the night, especially a high-needs baby. I had to make some tough decisions and do things that most people judged us for. Now, my purpose here isn’t to brag. Nor do I want to make you pea green with envy (please tell me I’m not the only one thinking about Gone with the Wind right now). I want to share my secrets with you to help you get your baby to sleep better, too.
You should begin healthy sleep habits for your baby as early as possible. Did you know newborn babies require up to 16 hours of sleep per day? Generally, this occurs between nighttime sleep and two or three daytime naps. When my daughter was very young (and finally learning to sleep through the night around 8 or 9 months) her Pediatrician was surprised to find that she was sleeping 12 hours at night and taking consistent naps during the day totaling about 14 hours of sleep, which was appropriate for her age. The Pediatrician had remarked at how under-slept babies are today.
My daughter, who is nearly 6 years old, is still a really good sleeper. I estimate she gets about 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. I learned these techniques with my daughter and employed them with my son very shortly after we brought him home.
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How to Get Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Contrary to what most people seem to believe, keeping our daughter awake later did NOT help to get these babies to sleep. When she was about 8 months old, I realized that she was extra fussy and would often pass out in her swing around 6:30. I began using the 30-45 minutes before that time to work on a bedtime routine and put her to bed by 6:30. When I did this, almost immediately, she began to sleep in larger chunks.
By doing this, I was teaching her to follow her body’s sleepy cues. Plus, I was almost completely eradicating “the witching hour” by not allowing her to become overtired. If you’re not sure about this, just think about the times you were so overtired that your body didn’t know how to wind down and made it more difficult to fall asleep. It’s like that for babies, only worse because they don’t quite have their healthy sleep habits down yet.
While many people suggest a bath before bed, you really should take special care to watch your baby’s reaction to bath time. I began to realize that a bath energized, rather than soothed, my daughter and became counter-productive in the search for a good night’s sleep. Conduct bedtime routines that include reading, singing, and snuggling in a dimly lit and semi-quiet room.
I don’t bathe either of my babies before bed. And, with my son, I use only a single small lamp to change his diaper, get him dressed in PJs, and read a short book. Then, I nurse, sing, and rock him without the use of artificial light.
Use the low light concept during middle of the night wakings, too. I used the flashlight on my phone to change diapers then turned it off immediately and nursed quietly in the dark.
Set thermostat temperature conducive to sleep.
A cool room allows your body temperature to drop which will naturally signal that it’s time to sleep. It is recommended to have the temperature set to about 70 degrees. We find that to be too cold for our liking. I recommend setting the thermostat as low as you can handle somewhat comfortably.
Dress your baby in a lightweight one piece or onsie and swaddle. If you’re not good at swaddling, cheat! I recommend the Summer Infant SwaddleMe, which has made swaddling idiot-proof.
Baby sleep schedule.
Finding baby sleep schedules online isn’t difficult, but I recommend following these as guidelines to finding an appropriate sleep schedule for your baby. Check out these baby sleep schedules and guidelines from Parents.com. The American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which says infants should sleep between 12 – 16 hours in a 24 hour period.
If you find your baby is falling asleep at certain times of day, allow him to sleep. You’ll find that, by following your baby’s sleepy cues, you’ll have a schedule dictated for you and it will be what YOUR baby needs.
It’s a good idea to let your baby sleep as long as he or she needs. If you can, resist the urge to wake your baby to fit a schedule you wish to set. When a baby is allowed to wake up on his own, he learns to trust his body and will sleep as much (or as little) as he needs.
When a baby is tired, let them sleep. They need much more shut-eye than children and adults. If you’re keeping them awake in hopes of getting them to sleep “better” at night, you’re being counter-productive. Go back to read the Early Bedtime section where I talk about being overtired.
Make Night Wakings Boring
One of the most important things you can do is to remember to keep things very dark for night time wakings. As much as possible, to get your baby to sleep through the night, it’s important to train their brains and bodies to understand that night is dark.
Turn on only as much light as you need for feedings and diaper changes. For me, this meant turning on my phone’s built-in flashlight to change diapers and then I’d turn it off and feed in a completely dark room.
Make as little noise as possible, too! I’ve found with both my babies that more singing or talking (and more lights) indicated that this was an appropriate time to wake up.
By keeping things dark and quiet, both babies were much easier to settle back into bed and began sleeping through those times they were only waking up for play.
Extra Tips to Get Baby to Sleep
Let’s call these bonus tips. Why? Because they’re probably less commonly discussed. Heck, at least one is something you may not be ready to consider. That’s okay. When you’re desperate, you’ll consider anything.
- Diaper one size up. I use Pampers Baby Dry diapers at night and use the next size larger for even more absorbency.
- Sleep Training. Consider some form of sleep training. No matter what I tried, both my babies needed me to use cry it out and extinction. The more I tried to help, the more worked up they got. So, I stopped trying (within reason). They learned to put themselves to sleep, which made settling back in after night wakings easier too.
- Black out curtains. When baby is wanting to party every morning at 4 a.m., black out curtains are going to be your best friends. I found them helpful in getting baby to sleep better at nap time too.
- White Noise. Help drown out background noises. This helped both my babies and allowed us to continue on with life as usual. Bring on the house noises! You can use a white noise app if you have a spare device or buy a white noise machine.
- Tummy sleeping. Okay, I’m not a doctor or scientist, so this is strictly coming from personal experience. I bucked the system and decided to let my babies sleep on their tummies (NOT if they were in a swaddle). They slept better that way. I watched to make sure they had good head and neck control before deciding on this option. This was a personal family decision that helped get baby to sleep (both times). It worked for us, but I can’t tell you with any degree of certainty that’s it’s safe or effective for your family.
If you’d like a few more baby sleep tips …
Check out this short video from HealthyChildren.org. It’s gives some great advice, especially what to do when your baby wakes in the middle of the night.
In this episode, Little Laura shows parents how to create a safe sleep environment and goes through the top ways to get a baby to go to sleep.
Do you have any other advice to help get baby to sleep? Or, do you need more help?