As an exhausted and perhaps confused parent, we might be saying to ourselves, “I need to know how to help my baby to sleep.” It’s important that we develop good sleep habits early in our little one’s lives for their overall health and well-being.
During my sleep research, I’ve discovered six scientifically-based strategies, listed below, which helps us understand our baby’s sleepy times, and provides us tips to help our babies adjust to their sleep role, and ultimately for them and ourselves to get better quality sleep.
Strategy #1 – Learn to Recognize Signs of Our Child’s Sleepiness
Like adults, our child has a sleep window of opportunity, a period of time when he is tired, but not too tired. Learning to recognize our babies’ own unique sleep cues is the first step to a more rested and more content baby.
If that window closes before we have a chance to tuck our child into bed, his body will start releasing a body hormone known as melatonin, to fight the fatigue, and it will be much more difficult for us to get him to go to sleep.
How Do I Know If My Baby’s Getting Sleepy?
Following are some signs that our babies are ready to start winding down for a nap or for bedtime:
- Our babies may be calmer and less active. This is the most obvious cue that our babies are tired.
- Our babies may be less tuned-in to their surroundings. Their eyes may be less focused and their eyelids may be drooping.
- Our babies may be quieter. If our babies tend to babble up a storm during their more social times of the day, we may notice that the chatter dwindles off as they start to get sleepy.
- Our babies may nurse more slowly. Instead of nursing vigorously, our babies will tend to nurse more slowly as they get sleepy. If they’re sleepy enough, they may even fall asleep during nursing.
- Our babies may start yawning. If our babies yawn, that’s definitely a sign that they’re sleepy.
When our babies are very young, we should start their wind-down routine within one to two hours of the time when they first wake up.
If we miss their initial sleep cues and start to notice signs of being over tired, such as fussiness, irritability, and eye-rubbing, notice how long our babies were up this time around and then plan to initiate the wind-down routine about 20 minutes earlier the next time they wake up.
The great thing about parenting a newborn, see Wikipedia’s definition of parenting, is that we get lots of opportunities to practice recognizing those sleep cues, which occur about six or seven times a day.
Babies tend to go through an extra-fussy period when they reach the six-week mark. The amount of crying babies do in a day tends to increase noticeably when babies are around six weeks of age.
If our babies become overtired, they are likely to behave in one or more of the following ways. Results may vary depending on their age and personality.
- Our children will get a sudden burst of energy at the time when we think they should be running on empty.
- We’ll start seeing “wired” and hyperactive behavior, even if this behavior is totally out of character for them at other times of the day.
- Our children will be whiny or clingy, or just generally fall apart because they simply can’t cope with the lack of sleep any longer.
- Our toddlers or preschoolers will become uncooperative or argumentative.
We will probably find that our children have their own unique response to being overtired. Some children start to look pale. Some young babies start rooting around for a breast and will latch on to anything within distance, including our faces or our arms.
When nothing seems to be wrong, and they are fed and clean, but they’re just whining about everything and want to be held all day, they’re overtired and need help to get to sleep. Read my article, “How Do Babies Sleep? 5 Fascinating Facts to Know“, to help us understand our babies’ sleep patterns and other helpful information.
Strategy #2 – Teach Our Babies to Distinguish between Night and Day
Because our circadian rhythm, known as our internal time clock, operates on a 24-hour and 10-minute to 24 hour and 20-minute cycle, we have to reset our internal clocks every day. Otherwise, we’d slowly stay up later and later, and sleep in later and later each day until we have our internal clock cycle way out of sync.
As adults, daylight is one of the mechanisms that regulates our biological cycles, as explained in my article, “Natural Cures For Insomnia”. Being exposed to darkness at night and daylight first thing in the morning keeps our bodies’ internal clock in sync, so we feel sleepy and alert at the proper times.
The same concept is important for our babies by exposing them to daylight shortly after they awaken in the morning. We’ll find that it works best to take advantage of sunlight as opposed to artificial light.
Keeping our little one’s environment brightly lit during their waking hours will help their circadian rhythm to cue them to feel sleepy at the right times. Also, they’ll start to associate darkness with sleep time and bright light with wake-up time.
Strategy #3 – Let Our Babies Practice Falling Asleep on Their Own
Sleep experts stress that the feeding-sleep association tends to be particularly powerful, so if we can encourage our babies to fall asleep without always needing to be fed in order to sleep, or without needing comforted in order to sleep, then our babies will have an easier time learning how to soothe themselves to sleep as they get a little older.
Some sleep experts recommend that we put our babies to bed in a sleepy-but-awake state whenever possible from the newborn stage onward, so that our babies can practice self-soothing, or self-comforting behaviors.
Other sleep experts say that the sleep-association clock starts ticking at around six weeks. They claim that this is the point when our babies begin to really tune into their environment as they’re falling asleep.
Still others say there’s no point even bothering to work on these skills until our babies reach that three-to-four-month mark when their sleep-wake rhythms begin to mature, and sleep learning can begin to take place.
Some parents decide that it makes sense to take a middle-of-the-road approach to sleep associations during the early weeks and months of their babies’ lives. They decide to make sleep a priority for themselves – see my article, “How Much Sleep Do We Need?”, and for their babies, and take advantage of opportunities to start helping their babies develop healthy sleep habits. Refer to my article, to help us make sleep a priority.
At some point, we will want to consider whether our babies could be starting to associate any of the following ‘bad’ habits or behaviors with the process of falling asleep. We can reduce the strength of any particular sleep association by making sure it is only present some of the time, and not all of the time
Habits We Don’t Want To Start
- Falling asleep during bottle-feeding
- Being rocked to sleep
- Having to rub or pat their back, or singing a lullaby, or in some way, playing an active role in helping our babies fall asleep
- Staying in the room until our babies fall asleep
- Relying on a pacifier to fall asleep
For example, if we nurse our babies to sleep some of the time, rock our babies to sleep some of the time, and try to put our babies to bed some of the time when they’re not asleep but awake, they’ll have a harder time getting hooked on any sleep association that may hinder them from developing good sleep habits.
Strategy #4 – Make Daytime Naps a Priority: Children Who Nap Sleep Better
Scientific research has shown that babies who nap during the day sleep better and longer at nighttime.
While we might think that skipping our babies’ daytime naps might make it easier to get them off to bed in the evening, babies typically end up being so overtired that they have a very difficult time settling down at bedtime, and they won’t sleep particularly well at night.
Rather than sleeping in so that they can catch up on the sleep they didn’t get the day before, they tend to start the next day too early, and have a difficult time settling down for their naps, as well.
In addition, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers who nap are generally in a better mood and have an improved attention span compared to children their own age who don’t nap during the day.
It’s key to make our babies’ daytime naps a priority just as we make a point of ensuring that they receive nutritious meals and snacks on a regular basis. For further information about our babies’ daytime naps, see my article, “How Do Babies Sleep? 5 Fascinating Facts to Know“.
Strategy #5 – Know When Our Babies No Longer Need To Be Fed At Night
Our babies may continue to wake up in the night out of habit even when they’ve outgrown the need for a middle-of-the-night feeding.
If our babies are going without that nighttime feeding some of the time, or don’t seem particularly interested in nursing once they get up in the night, it might be time to eliminate that nighttime feeding and use non-food methods to soothe them back to sleep.
Eventually, we’ll want to encourage our little ones to assume responsibility for soothing themselves to sleep, but the first hurdle is to work on breaking that powerful food-sleep association. With some children, it happens quickly, and with others, it’s a much slower process.
Once you break that association, they may stop waking as often in the night, and may be ready to start working on acquiring some self-comforting skills. Check out my recommended resource for learning techniques to help our babies sleep, “Baby Sleep Techniques Review“.
Strategy #6 – Remain as Calm and Relaxed as Possible about Sleep Issues
Scientific studies have shown that parents who have realistic expectations about parenthood and who feel confident in their own abilities to handle parenting difficulties, will find it easier to cope with middle-of-the-night sleep interruptions.
If we are frustrated and angry when we deal with our children in the night, they will inevitably pick up on our feelings even if we try to hide them.
Good Job Moms and Dads
As we grow in our response to our babies’ sleep challenges, and as we feel more confident with our coping and training skills, we can feel assured that our babies are getting the best care possible.
We can be proud of ourselves. We’ve committed to this loving task of developing our babies’ sleep regime. What an incredible bond we have with our babies with the rewards of getting more sleep ourselves.
Let’s refresh our minds with what we’ve just learned about the 6 Scientifically-Based Strategies in how to help our babies sleep:
- Strategy #1 – Learn to Recognize Signs of Our Child’s Sleepiness
- Strategy #2 – Teach Our Babies to Distinguish between Night and Day
- Strategy #3 – Let Our Babies Practice Falling Asleep on Their Own
- Strategy #4 – Make Daytime Naps a Priority: Children Who Nap Sleep Better
- Strategy #5 – Know When Our Babies No Longer Need To Be Fed At Night
- Strategy #6 – Remain as Calm and Relaxed as Possible about Sleep Issues
Two Additional Baby-Sleep Articles To Read
- “How Do Babies Sleep? 5 Fascinating Facts to Know”
- “Baby Sleep Techniques Review”, about the Baby Sleep Miracle guide, a wonderful resource for learning from an expert
From The Heart
I enjoyed doing the research for this special article. I’m reminded that during the busyness of our daily lives, it can be difficult to step back and look at the problems we’re dealing with, and then finding the knowledge and the energy to actually ‘fix’ them.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed because we at least recognize that we have baby sleep problems, and that’s the first step that leads us to success. These six strategies I’ve shared are practical and common-sense fixes that don’t require medications, but rather our loving and patient interaction.
I hope you enjoyed your reading, and most of all, that you find these strategies to be just what you needed. May you be encouraged.
I would love it if you would share with our readers about a baby sleep tip that works for you in the comment area below. Also, feel free to leave a question.
For you and your baby, ‘Happy Deep Sleep’, and bye for now.