Ever heard the phrase “sleeping like a baby”? Well, this can feel like a cruel joke when it’s 3am and you’ve tried everything you can think of to get your little one off to the land of nod.
As many of us can testify, being a new parent is difficult enough, without having to work out how to get through the next day with what feels like just minutes of sleep from the night before.
In this article, we explore some useful tips for getting your baby to sleep in the short term plus how you can help to settle them into a long-term baby sleep routine, so that you can both get some much-needed shut eye.
How much sleep should a baby have each day?
Your baby’s sleep cycle changes as they grow and so what they need when they are first born can be very different to their habits as a toddler. Here’s a detailed breakdown of baby sleeping patterns by age to help you to know what to expect (1).
First two months
When your baby is first born, they usually sleep for between 14 and 18 hours in a 24 hour period, although it might not actually feel like it! At this stage, they are still adjusting to a regular sleeping pattern while they get used to the other aspects of their day such as feeding and being changed.
Babies at this stage will wake up often during the day and at night for feedings. This means that young babies don’t sleep for long at a time, waking up much more often simply because they need to eat.
3 – 11 months old
At this stage, a child reaches infancy. Here, baby sleep cycles can start to become a bit more regular, with total sleep time significantly reduced.
Between three and 11months old, if you are lucky, babies can sleep between nine and 12 hours each night as well as four hours nap time during the day, split into two or three naps.
9 months old
Around this time, as their stomachs grow, babies start to need feeding less during the night time and should start to sleep through until the morning, although they’ll probably still wake around 5am. Great news, you can finally get (almost) a full night’s sleep! In theory.
You can carry on feeding your baby during the night if you wish too, but you may not wish this to become a habit that continues long term. Keeping up the night feeds can mean that it takes longer for your baby to sleep through the night.
Baby nap schedules
Taking a nap during the day gives your baby the extra sleep they need to grow and develop new skills. Regular naps during the day can help them to make sense of the world around them and process all the new sights and sounds that they’ve just discovered.
The length of the naps and the number of naps needed during the day changes as your baby gets older. For the first three months, a newborn needs three to four naps per day, between 20 minutes and two hours in length.
From three to 11 months, this drops to two naps each day, lasting between 40 minutes and two hours each.
When you’re at home with your baby for naps, try to repeat a shortened version of your night time routine, to help them drift off more easily. You should also try getting some sleep during this time too, if you can. Easier said than done, when you look at the mountain of jobs that keep piling up around you.
Establishing a bedtime routine
Sleep training babies, by getting them into a good and regular routine, is a good way to help them get the rest that they need for healthy development and wellbeing. Setting good sleep habits now can save your baby (and you!) from more sleep problems further down the line.
The baby bedtime routine is not only soothing for the baby but it’s also a nice opportunity to spend some quality time together.
Your baby’s routine could include bath time, brushing their teeth, dimming the lights to create a calming atmosphere, putting them to bed, reading a bedtime story, a goodnight kiss and cuddle, and a lullaby as they drift off.
Why won’t my baby sleep?
There may be a number of reasons why your baby won’t sleep, and the harsh truth is that some babies sleep worse than others.
As any parent knows first-hand, a baby that doesn’t sleep can be a real nightmare for you, as you won’t be sleeping either. And so, we’ve put together some reasons why your newborn won’t sleep and what you can do to get them off:
Not all babies like sleeping on their back
The safest way for a baby to sleep is on their back(2) on their cot mattress, but some of them prefer to sleep on their tummy. Front sleeping has been linked to a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and so experts recommend that a baby should always be placed on their back to sleep.
To encourage them to go to sleep on their back (3), try giving them a dummy and swaddling them before bedtime. Hopefully this will help them to get used to it.
They won’t go back to sleep after night feeding
If your baby wakes up for a night feed and then continues to be restless after you’ve fed them, there are a few things you could try. First of all, it’s not always advisable to wake your baby up when it’s feeding time. Instead, let them develop their own sleep pattern and wake when they’re hungry.
Keep the baby’s bedroom quiet and dark and at a comfortable temperature during night time feeds. Bright lights will make their brains more alert (4).
Some babies suffer from a 4 or 5-month sleep regression. This coincides with the time when a baby is growing and developing. Babies at this time can be disturbed because they’re uncomfortable with stages such as teething.
Neurological developments, like learning how to roll and how to pull themselves up, can also distract them from sleep.
Stick with your baby’s bedtime routine and ensure that they’re getting enough sleep during the day. It can be even more difficult for a baby who is overtired to settle. Although it’s hard, try to remember that this is temporary, and they should go back to normal sleeping soon.
Changes in sleep routine
Day time naps get fewer and fewer as babies get older. This is no problem if they still sleep well at night, but some babies can struggle to settle at night time because they’re overtired during the day. Try to encourage nap times during the day to get your baby sleep schedule back on track.
They struggle to fall asleep without you
If your baby is very attached to you, you might be wondering how to get your baby to sleep without being held. Some babies love that contact and warmth that comes from being held up against you – and why wouldn’t they?
Try to mimic that feeling as you put them down to go to sleep. Put your baby down but keep an arm around their body and lay your other hand on their chest. As your baby drifts off to sleep, slowly remove your arm while still keeping your hand on their chest. Finally remove your hand.
This could help make the transition easier and eventually your baby should be comfortable and confident enough to drift off to sleep by themselves (5).
Teething pain can start at almost any time during your baby’s first year and can wake them up during the night.
Offer some soothing words or sing a lullaby and make sure your baby has a cool teething ring with them to help ease the discomfort. Your baby may eventually settle down on their own, but you might want to stay to relax them.
Mixing up day and night
Did you give birth to a baby or an owl?! If your baby seems to be nocturnal, staying up all night and sleeping all day, it can be a nightmare for you. As your baby gets older, they should start to adjust to a normal day and night pattern - but there are a couple of things you can do to help them on their way.
You need to make sure that there is a clear distinction between daytime and night time. Avoid any loud noise such as the TV or radio during night time feeds and make sure you keep the baby’s room as dark as possible. Blackout blinds can be useful while trying to achieve this.
If you are ever worried about your baby’s sleeping habits, or there is anything that doesn’t seem normal, you should seek advice from your GP.
How to dress a baby for sleep
It can be difficult to know what to dress your baby in for bedtime. You want them to be comfortable and the right temperature – not too hot and not too cold.
Sleeping bags for babies are great at ensuring they keep warm and it stops the loss of bed covers, which could otherwise make them cold during the night and cause them to wake.
As a general rule, you should dress your baby in one more layer than you would wear as an adult. On a warm night, you could put them in cotton PJs or a sleepsuit. If it’s really warm, then just a nappy will be suitable, and they may also need a fan to keep them cool (6).
Be sure to change your baby’s nappy just before bed too so that they’re fresh for night time. Dressing your baby for bed a part of their bedtime routine helps their brain starts to recognise that it’s sleep time.