The first thing to understand about babies and sleep is that ‘sleeping through the night’ means a straight six hours of sleep. That’s right, your days of over eight hours of sleep and lazy Sunday mornings are over. Your new goal is six hours and if your new bundle of love and joy is anything like 99.9% of other babies, it will take you a while to get there.
The good news is that every new parent is in the same boat – and you will survive it. Of course, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to try to help baby sleep for as long as possible, and as well as possible. Babies who get enough sleep are happier, and have parents who are happier, too. After all, if baby isn’t sleeping, neither are Mom and Dad.
So, with that in mind, here are a few tried and tested sleep secrets that will help you achieve more Z’s with less stress.
- Be easy on yourself
Getting your new baby to sleep longer stretches at night is not a perfect process. Some nights will be better than others. Some weeks will be amazing and suddenly it feel like you are right back where you started. Don’t panic. This is perfectly normal and your baby will find his or her routine again.
- Day naps are important
Have you ever heard someone offer the advice that you shouldn’t let baby sleep too long during the day or they won’t sleep well at night? If you have, ignore it! Babies who nap well during the day will sleep well during the night because well rested babies sleep better. Babies who are overtired are cranky and they fight sleep.
Babies cannot handle missing naps. Their bodies experience stress and the increased energy of this stress makes it even more difficult to fall asleep. As exhaustion grows, stress hormones keep them more and more alert, which ultimately results in a cycle of over-tiredness.
So, to keep baby rested, create a daytime nap schedule and stick to it! Remember, babies need to sleep a lot. Newborns sleep most of the time and even a four-month old can barely stay awake for two hours without needing their next nap.
- If baby is sleepy, it’s time for bed
There is a fine balance between putting baby in their crib and gently helping them fall asleep with a song and a story and overstimulating them. If they stay awake too long, adrenaline and stress hormones could just keep them awake. Instead, look for signs of sleepiness, such as your little one being still, quiet, disinterested in their surroundings, and staring off into space, and immediately put baby to sleep.
- Don’t be afraid to swaddle baby snuggling
Many new parents try swaddling their new baby once and give up when baby wiggles and cries. Realistically, not every baby will love being swaddled, however, if you can persevere, the benefits of swaddling are enormous. Many babies don’t react well to swaddling if it’s too loose, so practicing will also help you perfect your swaddling technique.
The most important reason for swaddling is that babies innately possess a startle reflex from birth to about four or five months old. When they feel like they are falling, they jerk their bodies, which wakes them up.
A tight swaddle prevents babies from startling themselves awake, which means baby will sleep better and longer.
- Sound drowns out sound
We often think that babies need absolute silence to sleep. This isn’t true. However, sudden noises, people having fun in the house (babies also suffer from serious FOMO), dogs barking and other random noises can wake baby up. The solution? White noise – any steady noise that drowns out other sounds. This can be the sound of waves or even static. The key is for the noise to be steady and constant. Remember, baby spent nine months experiencing the world through a womb – and white noise is a lovely reminder of that time.
- Black out the light
White noise creates a womb-like environment, but so do black-out curtains. Half of a baby’s sleep cycle is taken up by REM, or rapid eye movement, which is the light-sleep stage when dreams occur. During this phase, almost anything will wake baby up. White noise can keep any sudden noises at bay and a nice, dark room stimulates melatonin production, which helps regulate sleep. Your baby will also start recognising that a dark room means it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.
- If baby has a dummy, double up your chances
There are many reasons why your baby will wake up crying, but the most common are hunger, a wet nappy or a lost dummy. If your baby loves their dummy, minimise wake-ups by placing additional dummies in the corners of the crib and then showing baby how to find them. If your little bundle can find and replace their own dummy at night, you’re guaranteed a bit more sleep (and it all adds up!).
- Master the four B’s: bath, book, bed, bottle
Consistent bedtime routines can really help baby get ready for bed and a relaxed baby sleeps well. Create a routine that includes a bath, a book, bed and a bottle. The order is up to you. The important thing is that the same things happen each night in the same order and at the same time. Baby will soon recognise the routine and will learn the signal when it’s time to sleep.
- Put baby in their crib sleepy, but not asleep
The best sleepers learn to fall asleep independently, instead of being rocked to sleep by you. Remember, babies wake up naturally at night (just like you do), and unless they can put themselves back to sleep, you will always be woken up to help them fall back asleep.
You can start by settling your baby into a drowsy state with your night-time routine, then lay your baby down in their safe sleep space. If needed, place a gentle but firm hand over your babies chest while he or she drifts off.