Getting your baby to sleep, and stay asleep, is one of the biggest challenges of early parenthood. Fortunately, we can help you avoid some of the most common mistakes made by parents and improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest.
1. Don’t set your expectations too high
Newborn babies tend to sleep a lot, around 18 hours in 24 for the first few weeks. However, they won’t sleep for more than three hours at a time, regardless of if it is day or night(1). As a result, you should expect some sleepless nights at first. But don’t worry this won’t last forever, it is just a phase that your baby needs to go through. Your baby’s sleep cycles are a lot shorter than yours are. They will spend more time in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, a light and easily disturbed sleep. This is necessary to facilitate the changes going on in their brain(2).
Around the eighth week mark your baby will probably sleep for shorter spells during the day and longer periods at night(3), but most are not able to sleep through the night without a feed until at least 4 months. It is worth remembering that all babies are different, and some may experience an uninterrupted night’s sleep as early as 8 weeks(1), however it is more than likely your nights will be interrupted for at least the first few months.
2. Set up bedtime routines
Your baby may not be able to tell the difference between night and day until they are around three months old, but this doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching them the difference. Once your baby is about two weeks old you can begin this process(4).
In the daytime:
• Change their clothes when they wake, to signal the start of a new day.
• Keep the house light and bright.
At night time:
• Change them into pyjamas, to show that is the end of the day.
• Keep lights and noises low.
This should help the baby understand that night time is for sleeping(4).
Once your baby is around three months old you can establish a full night time routine. A familiar bedtime routine can help to regulate your baby’s body clock, helping to establish a sleeping pattern. Moreover, your baby will be more relaxed if they know what is coming next, the more relaxed they are the more likely they will go to bed easily and quickly5.
Your bedtime routine could include:
• Giving your baby a bath.
• Reading a bedtime story.
• Singing a lullaby.
The aim of this is to calm the baby down and get them ready to sleep.
3. Be consistent
When sleep training your baby it is important to be consistent in how you handle night time wakings, and how your put them down to sleep each night. It may be tempting to return to feeding or rocking to sleep if nothing else is working but you have to be confident that your baby will eventually learn to self-settle. If they wake during the night go and reassure them, but then leave the room. You may have to do this several times when you first start sleep training(6,7). But keeping the same routine every night will help your baby understand it is bedtime.
Healthcare professionals may want to take a look at our article about colic, a distressing condition characterised by unprovoked crying, which can also impact their sleep.
- ISIS. 2013. Normal infant sleep. Infant Sleep Information Source. Information Sheet 1. www.isisonline.org.uk
- NSF. Nd. Children and sleep. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep topics. www.sleepfoundation.org
- Davis KF, Parker KP, Montgomery GL. 2004. Sleep in Infants and Young Children: Part One: Normal Sleep. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 18: 130-7.
- NHS. 2015. Helping your baby to sleep. NHS Choices, Health A-Z. Pregnancy and baby. www.nhs.uk
- NHS Wales. 2014. A psychological guide for families: sleep problems in children. Child and Family Psychological Service. www.wales.nhs.uk.
- Blunden S. 2011. Behavioural treatments to encourage solo sleeping in pre-school children: An alternative to controlled crying. J Child Health Care. 15 (2): 107-117
- Simon C, Everitt H, van Dorp F. 2010. Oxford handbook of general practice. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 910-11.