Why won’t my baby sleep?
The phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ can feel like a cruel joke at 1am when you’ve tried everything to get your little one off. But it’s true what they say – everything really is a phase and it will pass. To speed up that process, try these tips on how to get your baby to sleep in the short term, and what you can do to help settle them into a longer-term baby sleep routine so you both some much-need rest.
How do I get my baby to sleep?
Baby not sleeping at night? When it comes to helping your little one drift off, there are two schools of thought on how to crack it. Every child and parent is different, so try both and see which works best for you and your baby.
The ‘settle and soothe’ method…
1. Give your baby a loving kiss and a cuddle, then place them in their cot and turn off the lights.
2. Sit a short distance away and use soft, soothing phrases like “mummy’s here, sleepy time” every 30-60 seconds.
3. Try white noise that reminds your baby of the safety of the womb to help them relax – there are a wide variety of apps, gadgets and soft toys available.
4. If your baby becomes distressed, place a hand on their chest or back or pick them up for a quick cuddle until they stop crying.
5. Place your child back in their cot and repeat the process until they drift off.
The ‘cry it out’ method…
1. Comfort crying with a loving kiss and a cuddle, then place your baby in their cot.
2. Switch off the lights and whisper a soothing phrase, like “it’s time for sleep now, goodnight” as you leave the room.
3. If your baby starts to cry, wait for two minutes before you go to comfort them.
4. As with the settle and soothe method, you can place a hand on your baby to gently reassure them and even pick them up for a cuddle – just make sure you keep the lights off and avoid speaking to or making eye contact with your baby during this comforting stage.
5. Say goodnight and leave the room again.
6. If your baby continues to cry, gradually extend the time that you leave them for to encourage them to settle by themselves (the holy grail of sleep training). Wait five minutes, then seven, then nine etc. until your baby drifts off.
It’s worth remembering that the NHS recommends your baby sleeps in the same room as you (both day and night), until they are around 6 months old.
Although it might feel difficult to leave your child to cry, doing it in a short, controlled way like this won’t do any harm.
Top tip: It can take up to an hour for your baby to fall asleep, so avoid feeding or rocking them in this time. While it might stop their crying, it won’t help them to learn to self-settle in the long term.
What’s a good bedtime routine for babies?
For babies who fight sleep, baby sleep training is a good way of helping them get the rest they need for healthy development and wellbeing. Set good sleeping habits now and you can save your baby (and yourself) from sleep problems in the future. Here’s how…
Active days and quiet nights
Make daytime wake ups and feeding times active for your baby, and night time feeds calm and quiet. Get them outside in the daylight and avoid bright light in the evening, to help them build the associations between light/awake and dark/sleep, that shape our days and nights as adults. Try to establish a link between your baby’s bedroom and night/nap time to help this, and enjoy playtime in your living space instead.
A warm temperature will help your baby drift off to sleep. Before bed or naptime, try using a sling; it’ll keep your hands free to do other tasks and the physical contact will help your baby relax and put them in the right frame of mind to enjoy some shut-eye.
Keep your child’s crib warm to help reduce the difference in temperature between leaving your arms and going into a cold cot. This will help if your baby will only sleep when held. A heating pad in their bed before you put them down to sleep works a treat – just make sure the crib doesn’t become too hot and take it out before you put baby in.
The wind down
Make sure you feed your baby before you begin their sleep wind-down routine. Although most tired babies fall asleep while feeding, this can make them reliant on milk to sleep and breaking this association can encourage your baby to self-settle.
Once feeding is over, start with a warm, calming bath – this should be around ten-minutes long and will act as a gentle sleep aid. Put your baby in their bedclothes and dim the lights to make this experience as relaxing as possible. Read a book or sing a lullaby to finish your wind-down. Aim for the whole routine to last around 30 minutes and keep to the same time and rooms each night to help hard-wire your baby’s sleep and wake cycle.
Top tip: While it’s great for working parents to see their children before bed, make sure late arrivals keep interactions calm and quiet, so as not to undo all the good work.
Prepare your baby for clock changes to minimise bedtime disruption. Put your baby to bed and get them up 20 minutes earlier or later (depending on whether the clocks are moving forwards or backwards) in the three days leading up to the change. Shift naps in the same way, keeping their frequency the same. Take your baby outside the morning after a clock change and let the sunlight reset both of your body clocks.
Top tip: Use blackout blinds to help keep the light/awake dark/sleep association consistent. They can make it easier for your baby to sleep in the summer months when it’s still light outside at bedtime.
How much sleep do babies need?
Your baby’s sleep cycle changes quickly as they grow, so it helps to know how long they should be sleeping and when.
Sleep usually takes up between 14 and 18 hours of your baby’s day during their first couple of months. During this time, days are a cycle of naps, feeds and changing.
When your child reaches infancy (three to 11 months), sleeping habits should start to become more regular, with shut-eye reduced to between nine and 12 hours (plus four hours for nap time).
At nine months, 75-80% of infants need fewer night feeds and will sleep through until morning (although they may still wake at 5am!) You can choose to carry on night feeds past nine months, but try not to let them become a long-term habit – doing so can mean it takes longer for your baby to reach a full night’s sleep.
Baby nap schedules
Napping during the day provides your baby with the extra sleep they need to grow and develop new skills.
With all the new sights and sounds they’re processing, regular naps throughout the day can help them make sense of the world rather than become overwhelmed by it and overtired – making it more difficult to drift off.
The length and number of naps needed changes with age. For the first three months, your newborn will need three to four naps per day, ranging from 20 minutes to two hours in length each time. For babies aged three to 11 months, this drops to two naps, lasting 40 minutes to two hours each.
Top tip: When you’re at home for naps, repeat the same wind-down process you use for bedtime.