The tiresome question of how to make a baby sleep peacefully through the night tops the charts for new parents.
Why so much focus on shut-eye? Let’s face it: parents need baby to sleep so they themselves can also get some shut-eye. Time drags on in the wee hours of the night as you’re woken up to cries every few hours or so—and that’s not even mentioning the sluggishness experienced throughout the following day or week.
You want to appreciate every awe-inspiring moment of parenthood and turn into the fun, high-energy parent you’ve always envisioned—not dozing off on the couch or struggling to keep your eyes open. Unfortunately, we don’t have superhuman strength, and we all need to get our rest.
First step? Learn how to get baby to sleep. Whether you’re looking for sleep tips for traveling with a baby or hoping to find techniques for putting baby to sleep at home (with the least stress possible for you and your little one!), we can help.
We’re here to break down the common challenges faced when putting baby to sleep, the best expert strategies on how to get baby to sleep through the night, and how to put your baby to sleep based on age, location, and bed type.
With this quick read—and a little practice on sleep training—you and your little one will be resting easy in no time.
Putting Baby to Sleep
Learning how to get baby to sleep can be challenging, but it’s simply a matter of understanding your little one’s needs. You have to realize the incredibly complex processes underway as your newborn struggles to grow and thrive in this new world outside of their mother’s womb.
A baby’s sleep is much different than adults’ sleep, and their sleep patterns revolve around their unique needs. Average total sleep time for a little one can vary significantly by age.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common sleep needs, from infancy to toddlerhood, and how it might explain some of your baby’s sleep struggles.
Young Babies’ Sleep Needs:
Babies need to feed frequently. Newborn babies need to feed approximately 8-12 times every 24 hours. This makes it difficult to learn how to get a newborn to sleep in more than 4-5 hour increments. The transition to longer, consolidated stretches of sleep is gradual, and will increase as nighttime feedings decrease.
Babies need to be changed. Infants’ stomachs and bladders are too small to hold the calories required for their rapid growth. As such, they relieve themselves overnight, and out of wet discomfort, begin to cry or fuss. Look for high-quality overnight diapers that can keep them more comfortable—and keep you both asleep for longer.
Babies need touch and motion. Newborns in particular enjoy being in a squished environment (as they were in the womb), which is why swaddling is so important. Not only is swaddling a source of comfort, but it can also minimize the startle reflex that may cause your baby to wake in the middle of the night. Infants are also accustomed to the constant motion and rocking of the womb; to help them sleep better, pick up a swing, cradle, or rocking bassinet that can mimic the same effect.
Babies need to develop hormones. Human circadian rhythms (our 24-hour internal clock) is driven by hormones. These generally don’t develop until around 12 weeks of age, meaning that up until this point, babies have little understanding of day or night, wake time or sleep time.
Now that we’ve covered your infant’s sleep needs, let’s take a look at the common challenges you may face when putting baby to sleep.
Common Challenges for Putting Baby to Sleep:
- Baby will only sleep when fed
- Baby will only sleep when rocked or in swing
- Baby will only sleep in sling or wrap
- Baby will only sleep in car seat
- Baby will only sleep next to you
- Baby will sleep at night, but not at naptime
- Baby wakes constantly all night
- Baby will not sleep without routine
- Baby sleeps well but wakes too early
This list only scratches the surface of the common sleep struggles parents must contend with, and is by no means exhaustive. Some of these problems will come and go, presenting themselves at different stages of baby’s development; even if you don’t experience one of these challenges now, it doesn’t mean that your child won’t develop it later.
It’s best to learn the best practices for putting your baby to sleep now, so if you begin to spot a sleepy-time challenge, you can nip it in the bud early.
How to Get Baby to Sleep through the Night
Every baby is unique, and learning how to make your baby sleep will depend on his or her special circumstances.
We’ve collected our top tips to help new parents learn how to put a baby to sleep—whether your little one is a relatively easy sleeper or struggles to go down.
Be realistic. Set yourself up for success and be realistic. If you think learning how to get a baby to sleep throughout the night means 8-9 hours, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Rebalance your expectations and aim for a doable 5-6 consecutive hours per night; you’ll feel like you’ve reached a goal and won’t be frustrated by your efforts to get baby to sleep “all night”. Sleep training takes time and patience—yours, not theirs.
Help them attune to day and night. If your baby doesn’t appreciate that nighttime is for sleep, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Instead of waiting for their internal clock to develop on their own, help them get in sync with a 24-hour day by supporting their tendency to wake at roughly the same time every morning.
Expose them to daylight during the day and into the afternoon, and use light strategically at night. Minimize exposure to artificial lights at night—especially blue light, which is known for blocking the brain’s production of melatonin (the hormone that promotes sleepiness). Alternatively, if you’re trying to delay your baby’s rest to keep them on schedule, a little exposure to blue light can be used to delay sleepiness for an hour or more.
Make them nap earlier. Babies who nap too late in the day may not have enough sleep pressure (the physiological urge to sleep) when it comes time to bedtime—especially when they’ve woken from a nap only a few hours earlier. If you think this is the source of your little one’s sleeping troubles, try putting them down for a nap earlier and extend their last waking period.
This doesn’t have to be accomplished all at once; adjust their schedule little by little until you’ve lengthened their wake time long enough to where they no longer experience sleep issues at night.
Readjust feeding times. If your little one only falls asleep when you feed them, you may need to schedule feeding earlier. Try gradually distancing the end of your feed from the beginning of their sleep. For example, change their diaper after their feeding versus before so that they’re still roused as they lay down.
Foster their flexibility. Sometimes you’ll need to get your baby to sleep at a family member’s, friend’s, or unfamiliar hotel room, which can be especially jarring and lead to sleep disturbances. If you hope to occasionally travel, enjoy family holidays, or indulge in a date night, it’s wise to train your baby in advance. Alternate nap rooms and have them go down in their playpen sleeper to prevent them from becoming too dependent on a specific location or bed.
Improve your swaddling. Very young babies often just want to be held, whether that’s during a nap or at bedtime. When they’re held, they can feel your warmth, hear your heartbeat, and smell your scent—all things familiar from the womb. Swaddling gives them the sensation of being held, and improving your method might be what you need to get your newborn to sleep.
Lay a receiving blanket in a diamond shape; fold the top corner down and lay the baby on top; pull one side across chest and tuck beneath opposite arm; fold bottom end over baby’s feet and tuck behind shoulder; pull remaining side across chest and tuck beneath. The strategy is easier said than done with a squirmy little one, but don’t give up! With time, you’ll easily become a “Master Swaddler.”
Disassociate movement. Babies who can only sleep when rocked or in a car seat are too dependent on motion—and this habit is bound to wreak havoc on their sleep schedules. Gradually wean their dependency and disassociate movement from sleep by slowing their cradling or rocking until they can fall asleep still, then phase them out of their carrier into a bed.
Trade off with your spouse. If your baby seems to be particularly reliant on mom to fall asleep, try trading off with your partner, spouse, family member or caregiver and have them take on pre-sleep routines to break the association. When this isn’t possible, try a different sleep training method that can teach them to sleep without being held by you.
Have wind-down time. Sometimes it’s hard to put baby to sleep if life is a little too exciting before bedtime. Rambunctious play or animated interactions can rev up (and keep up) their sympathetic nerve systems, so try to begin winding down 2-3 hours before desired bedtime. Read, draw, or keep things calm and quiet; you may be surprised by the drastic difference it makes.
Putting Baby to Sleep in a Bassinet
If you’re learning how to make baby sleep in a bassinet, chances are they’re still in their infant newborn stage. These portable baby beds are easy to move from room to room, and they can be placed right next to Mom or Dad’s bed for nighttime feedings. While mastering how to get a newborn to sleep right next to you in bed is easy—and tempting—it’s not safe. Experts recommend babies be placed on their backs in a bassinet or crib for the safest sleep and least likelihood of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Start with a high-quality travel bassinet that can support an infant up to 18 pounds and can rest at bed level for better visibility.
- Your bassinet should be able to switch between rocking and stationary, so you can tailor their sleep environment to suit their young needs.
- After you’ve finished your nighttime feeding and changed baby’s diaper, place him in the bassinet on his back—not side or stomach—to reduce the risk of SIDS. It’s important to put the baby in the bassinet while he is drowsy, but still awake. This will help your little one learn to settle on their own.
- Swaddle your baby in a receiving blanket in order to make them feel snug, secure, and less likely to wake themselves with a jerking movement.
- Don’t rock the bassinet automatically. Instead, sing, speak, or read to your baby to first soothe them with your voice. They’ve heard your voice for months, and while they might not yet know separation anxiety, the stimulation of nighttime can still be rough; your voice can calm baby and let them know you’re still present. Reserve rocking the bassinet for when they need extra comfort and soothing instead of building a sleep habit that’s dependent on it.
Note: While some parents are proponents of the “cry it out” method, newborns are too young to self-sooth. They simply don’t have the ability to cry it out yet, so stay with them, rock them, and remain patient. Remember: these early days and months fly by quickly.
Putting Baby to Sleep in a Crib
Deciding where to put your young baby to sleep depends on a variety of factors, first and foremost being your own beliefs and values.
If you’ve decided it’s time to relocate them from sleeping in your room to the nursery, follow these steps for how to put a baby to sleep in a crib:
- Make sure he or she knows the new room is a safe place and transition into using their diapering and bedtime routines. You can also consider starting with the crib for naps at first and then eventually moving into it at night.
- If possible, place the crib near a window and have the curtains drawn open. The sunlight will help your little one wake up at approximately the same time each morning, develop a circadian rhythm, and start feeling tired around the same time each night.
- Similar to putting a newborn to sleep, it’s important for your baby’s eyes to be open when he or she enters the crib, so be sure to rouse them slightly if they fall asleep at your breast. Steel yourself; the first time they’re put into their crib while they’re awake will almost inevitably lead to crying. Do your best to stick it out and keep the end result in mind.
- Putting baby to sleep in a crib makes night feedings more difficult. At about 12 pounds (or 3-4 months) they should be about ready to give them up. You can cut them out with a younger infant, but you can keep them brief and quiet. Cuddle but don’t sing, keep the lights out even as you change your baby, and settle him or her into the crib as soon as you’re done.
- You’ll need to stay tough as you learn how to get baby to sleep through the night in their crib. Don’t expect fast miracles. Stay consistent; any inconsistency will teach your baby that if they hold out with their crying, they’ll eventually get what they want.
Whether you’re putting baby to sleep in a bassinet or crib, consistency is key. Find a bedtime routine that involves bathing, feeding, diaper changes, comfort, and laying down; this structure cues sleepiness and helps the child prepare for rest.
Even though a baby isn’t capable of maintaining a routine until they’re 4-6 months old, laying the groundwork now can pave them for sleeping success in the future.
The trials and tribulations that come with understanding how to put a baby to sleep is usually the biggest stressor faced by newborn parents. Learning how to get a baby to sleep through the night, let alone a few hours, may seem like an impossible task—but with a bit of perseverance, it’ll be your reality.
Finding rest for you and your little one can indeed be done; all it takes is an understanding of their needs and the challenges they face, and how these might change as they grow and develop. Keep these thoughts in mind so the whole family can see their way to a deep and peaceful sleep.