Everyone struggles to get to sleep sometimes, but if your newborn baby is having difficulties most nights, then there might be more than bad luck working against you.
If your baby can’t sleep, then neither can you, and you both need the chance to rest to feel well and happy the next day. We are going to explain why children might be struggling to drift off with the Sandman and how you can encourage them into a restful slumber.
Go through our newborn sleep tips until something works for you and your family; sometimes, more than one change is needed.
And if you love these newborn tips for sleeping, make sure you check out our guide on dressing a baby for sleep, best mini cribs and how many crib sheets do I need. Or even this guide on what should a baby wear under a swaddle!
Why Do Babies Struggle To Sleep At Night?
Although sleep is a normal part of the human experience, newborn babies are so fresh into this world that they often need more help than others to get to dreamland. Kids this young also need this rest to help them grow, which is why they can snooze for 16 to 18 hours throughout the day.
But what makes sleeping so hard at night?
Resisting Back Sleeping
When you put your baby to sleep at night and lie them on their back, does it seem like they fuss a lot or simply won’t settle in one place? Babies often feel more secure and comfortable when they sleep on their tummies, but this position is likely to cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This means that experts suggest laying your baby on their backs, despite their dislike of this position.
If your baby doesn’t settle on their back, they likely feel too exposed. Swaddle them to create a hugging feeling and offer them a pacifier. This should make them feel comforted and secure.
If this trick doesn’t work, take your baby to your pediatrician, just to make sure that there isn’t a physical reason for their discomfort.
Mixing Up Day And Night
Most kids have an innate biological clock that tells them to sleep at night more than they sleep in the day. However, not everyone does, and some children (just like adults) choose to ignore it. Sleeping all day means partying all night, which is never fun for the other roommates.
Because your newborn is used to constant nighttime in the womb, it will take a while for them to click into a “light” and “dark” clock. If your child is finding the adjustments hard, you can help them figure out the difference between night and day.
To do this, you need to limit the number of naps they take in the day. Ideally, take them down to 3 hours total. Then you should make “night” and “day” very clear in your routine. This might mean adding blackout blinds to the baby’s room, so no light comes in when they sleep. You may also need to reduce noise around their room. This might mean moving the television to a different place if your sitting room and baby room are too close together.
Frequent Late-Night Feedings
Although we want our newborns to be sleeping undisturbed throughout the night, we still need to keep them fed. The majority of 2 and 3-month-olds still need to eat during the night, sometimes even twice. If you are breastfeeding, this will be more likely to happen.
Waking up a sleeping baby might feel like a sin, but if they aren’t fed, you will hear their cries for food. Newborns might try to stay awake because they know they won’t be fed otherwise.
That being said, waking up your baby every 2 hours might not be necessary. Sometimes feeding your baby at night is an absolute hassle, as they aren’t hungry. The distress causes them to wake up fully, so it becomes nearly impossible to put them back down to sleep.
If you think that these midnight feasts aren’t necessary anymore, then talk to your pediatrician. If they agree, you can lower the nighttime feeding to match your baby’s appetite. You should still be feeling a couple of times a night, and you might need to feed your child more in the day to make up for the missing meals.
You can even try to stretch out the time between nighttime feedings to see how long they can spend between meals.
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Children who are around the 4 or 5 months mark should be lowering their sleep to 12 to 16 hours per day. These sleep patterns should be split between 2 or 3 daytime naps and 1 night time nap. In total, the newborns shouldn’t be sleeping for more than 6 hours in the day and no less than 9 hours at night.
Because the need for sleep is changing around this age group, it isn’t surprising if your child starts to avoid sleeping. Even babies who were once great at sleeping might start refusing to succumb to the Sandman.
This will happen along with multiple significant changes in their first year, most likely at the 4-month mark, the 6-month mark, the 9-month mark, and the 12-month mark. Although these times are the most likely, it can happen at any point. The reason for the change is because their bodies need less sleep, and they simply don’t know how to deal with the additional time they are given.
Sleep Regression is most common for 4 months old, as they are starting to view their world around them. Everything is so exciting and interesting that they simply want to keep playing. Sleeping is just a waste of time in their eyes.
So how do you deal with sleep regression? Stick with your bedtime routine, or if you haven’t got one (because you never needed it), then it’s time to create one. This should include a bath, a bedtime feed, a story, or a lullaby with sleepy cuddles. This type of routine will force your baby into feeling cozy (it even works on adults), making it easier for them to drift off.
You might be tempted to allow your children to wear themselves out, however, a lost night’s sleep will result in an overtired baby, which is even harder to deal with, making everyone feel anxious and frustrated.
Eventually, your baby will become used to their new cognitive abilities and will return to their simple sleeping stage.
Not Falling Asleep Independently
If your child is 6 months or older, you should be expecting a small level of independence. Your baby will be so different compared to just a couple of months ago, and they will also have stronger cognitive abilities.
At this point, they should be sleeping for around 10 or 11 hours at night with just a couple of naps in the day to help them get through. By the end of the year, your children shouldn’t need more than one nap, as most of their sleep will be at night.
This should be great news, but if your children still need you to get to sleep, then both of you will become restricted. It is normal for people to wake up at night; you probably find yourself waking up randomly too. The problem lies when your children cannot get themselves back to sleep by themselves, thereby forcing you to wake up and rock them to sleep.
Getting to sleep independently is an important skill they need to learn as it will impact how they sleep as an adult.
Solving this problem can be more complicated than the previous issues we have talked about. The first port of call should be changing up your routine. If the reason for waking is because they are hungry, try giving them a bottle or breast milk around 30 minutes before their usual bedtime. Then regardless of whether they seem tired, take them to their crib.
The first time you try this, your baby will likely make a fuss. They aren’t used to this method and probably aren’t sleepy yet, however, your child will soon learn how to soothe themselves. They might need a pacifier to help them on their way.
Learning how to soothe yourself is an essential skill for both adults and children. Soon your child will drift off to sleep. When they wake up in the night and ask for you, it’s okay to go and say hello, but don’t feed them or pick them up. Your voice and your touch should be enough comfort for them and help them soothe themselves and get back to sleep.
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The Baby Is Waking Up Early
Being an early riser isn’t a bad thing, but waking up at the crack of dawn doesn’t fit with most of our adult lives.
Blackout blinds can help stop the morning light coming into your child’s room, waking them up for the day. Like we said before, most people have a biological clock for night and day, and light can trigger that response.
Sound-proofing is another way to stop your children from waking up. However, it could be that your child can self-soothe until their appropriate uptime.
Teething babies often mean grumpy babies. If you have grown your wisdom teeth in adulthood, you’ll remember the dull pain that spikes through your gums. It’s no wonder that this painful event is disrupting your baby’s sleeping patterns.
Babies often get their first teeth when they are 6 months old, but some start as early as 3 months, and others won’t develop teeth until they are one. There are even some babies that are born with teeth.
If you aren’t sure if your baby is teething, the things to look out for are excess drooling, biting, and irritability when they feed. The irritability comes from their tender gums.
To help your baby sleep, you should avoid picking them up when they cry at night. Instead, offer them a teething ring, along with some soothing words like a lullaby. Hearing your voice will tell them they are safe, and the teething ring will give them something to bite on, to dull the pain.
If the pain seems to be affecting your baby more than a couple of nights in a row, talk to your pediatrician about using baby ibuprofen. With their permission, the medication will help dull the pain.
Disruptions In The Routine
Anything can spoil you and your baby’s nighttime routine. Usually, a nasty cold, which is common in infants, is all it takes to ruin all your hard work. Other disruptions might be less expected, like when your child learns to crawl and is suddenly trying to maneuver around their crib and out of their room.
Understandably, children with strict sleep routines can become a little fussy when something changes. So when something causes a new path for you to follow, you should give your children a little slack to understand their new schedule.
In the meantime, give your children something to comfort them during the changing rules. A pacifier or teddy might do the trick. As soon as you are able to go back to your old routine or create a new one, put the plans in motion so your children can settle into a sense of comfort.
Sleep Problems Due Illness
Most people find it hard to sleep if they have a scratchy throat or a banging headache, and babies are just the same. Baby-approved medication can be found at most pharmacies to help your baby’s dull the pain and get the night’s rest they need. But if your children have been going through a tough spell for a while, they will get used to your midnight cuddles and soothing feeds.
When they get better, they will still expect this level of care which means they continue to cry through the night. If your child is super smart, they might exaggerate their medical symptoms, knowing that this will bring them more affection.
The only way to get through this issue is to reinstall your nighttime routine and persist with it. The stronger you are at keeping to your schedule, the quicker your child will get a settled sleep.
10 Tips To Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep
Knowing why your baby is struggling to sleep is one thing, but getting them back into a routine is another. Sometimes the routine isn’t even the problem, and there is another method you should be trying.
We have created an easy-to-follow list to help you cross off which tip is helpful and which one is not. Every child is different, and no person can be controlled like a machine. We need to find our own methods to get a healthy sleep pattern, but these 10 tips below are a great starting point to help your baby get the “Z”’s they need.
1. Develop A Routine
Developing a routine is a simple way for your baby to understand what they are meant to do at night. It creates a slow downtime feeling and will help their body feel sleepy as it realizes that bedtime is near.
Your routine should be consistent and calming. The best way to set their body into a relaxed state is by starting off with a bath. Just like with adults, baths feel like blissful cuddles and will allow your child’s body to feel safe and restful while their mind is still active. Starting off in this way will let their mind follow suit.
After the bath, you should feed your child, so they are full and won’t need to be disturbed in the night. Imagine Thanksgiving, when you are stuffed with turkey and require a power nap to regain some energy. This same phenomenon will be set in your child. Coupled with the bath, they should be starting to feel snoozy.
While you are feeding your child, you might want to read a story. This will distract their mind. If you pick a children’s book filled with soothing rhythms and soft pictures, it will help them keep on this “slow down” trajectory.
When the feeding is done, you should take your child to bed. At first, they might cry out for you, but soon they will succumb to sleep. Give them the time they need to settle down and trust in the routine.
2. Have The Baby Sleep In Your Room
For the first 6 months after your child is born, you should ideally keep the baby in the same room with you while they sleep. This is to help avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), as you will be close to the baby when you are both in a lower state of awareness.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this method too, but they also add that you shouldn’t allow your baby to sleep in the same bed as you. This is because adult beds aren’t safe for infants. They can cause your baby to suffocate between the sheets, get stuck in the headboards or gaps between the mattress and the bed frame, or you can even crush your baby without realizing it as you turn over in your sleep.
This idea isn’t just to help you avoid harming your baby. It will also help them sleep. Seeing you calmly snoozing will give them comfort when they are meant to be dreaming too. Being in sight creates a sense of safety.
A bassinet or mini crib are a great option that allows you to have your baby sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed.
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3. Take Time To Understand Your Baby’s Habits
If your baby normally sleeps well but is suddenly finding it difficult, then you should try to figure out what the cause of this problem is. Everyone is a creature of habit, and if you take the time to understand how your baby’s body is keeping time, you might find an unexpected solution to the problem.
It could be that your baby is expecting a certain part of your normal routine to continue before they are put to bed, and for some reason, that part of the routine has slipped. Maybe a specific bedtime story is what they are after, or perhaps their favorite dummy has been misplaced.
At this young age, children will create fond attachments to specific items, so keep an eye out for any new attachments being formed.
4. Invest In Blackout Curtains
Blackout curtains are an amazingly simple fix to getting your children to sleep. They help to trigger a “night” response in your baby’s senses. Everyone has a biological clock that helps us regulate time and allows us to figure out how long of the day we have left. Babies are often confused by their clock after spending all of their life in the womb.
To help trigger this response, adding blackout curtains for nursery or the room they will be sleeping in will help them recognize a visual aid for nighttime.
If you cannot afford a blackout curtain, adding any kind of dark and thick material to the windows in your child’s room will help create the same effect. All you are doing is shutting out the light, so your baby correlates night time with sleep time.
After a while, the darkening sky will be enough to trigger a sleepy response.
5. Change Your Baby’s Diaper Before The Nighttime Feed
The idea behind this strategy is to be stealthy when changing your baby. If you change your baby’s diaper after feeding them in the middle of the night, then you will be creating too much commotion, and they will begin to wake up fully.
Instead, as gently as you can, change your baby’s diaper, swaddle them back into their defensive position, and then begin to feed them. This should create a low distraction while getting the job done.
Unfortunately, super newborns (we are talking weeks old) will not be able to regulate their bowels yet, and so you might not be able to change their diaper without mopping up the wet remains. That being said, some babies will only poop after eating, which means changing their diaper before a feed doesn’t make sense.
Either way, your child will grow out of these processes as their gut matures. Once they have, you should try this stealthy method.
A crib with a change table attached can also be beneficial to help minimize the amount of movement you need to make getting them from their change table back to sleep.
6. A Swaddle
If you don’t already swaddle your baby, this is your sign to start doing so. When your babies are born, and for the first 5 months after, they will have an innate response called a startle reflex. It will make them feel as if they are falling. Imagine tipping your chair back and your stomach rising in knowing fear. This is the experience your children will feel to call you asking for help.
The innate reaction is to stop your children from falling in their sleep, forcing them to wake up and catch themselves. It is a survival instinct.
However, we have created amazing cribs that stop children from needing to protect themselves. As parents, we are there to protect them instead. Our babies don’t know that, though, and will continue to awaken in the night from any little jolt.
To stop this, all you need to do is swaddle your child in a tight wrap. Your baby shouldn’t be uncomfortable in this wrap as it will make them feel like they are back in the womb. It will give them a sense of familiarity and security while allowing them to sleep for more extended periods of time.
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7. Limit The Length Of Naps During The Day
When your baby’s family falls asleep, all you want to do is let them rest (and let yourself rest too), but if your baby isn’t sleeping at night, it could be because they have to spend too much time resting in the day.
Ideally, your babies shouldn’t be sleeping for longer than 2 hours per daytime nap. If they are sleeping for longer than this, you should wake them up with a feed so they aren’t groggy. Try to keep them awake, too, with games and colorful lights.
Breaking up their daytime naps like this will make nighttime sleeping easier, and they will be able to rest for longer.
If your child is overtired, then they might need a longer nap in the day to recover, however, you should be cautious of accidentally creating a routine of longer day naps, as it can be a slippery slope back to lousy night sleeping.
8. Consider Introducing Dream Feeding
Dream feeding is when you give your baby a bottle or breast milk right before you go to bed. When we say “you” here, we mean the parent, not the baby. The idea is that your baby won’t wake you up after you finally get yourself to sleep. This should also help your baby sleep for longer, as you will not wake up from their first movements in bed. Essentially, you both sleep for longer.
You shouldn’t dream feed when your child is over 5 months old, as this could cause the opposite effect and teach your child to wake up in their sleep ready for food. Instead, we recommend following this loose sleeping schedule for the first 3 to 12 weeks until your child needs less milk at night.
- 7 am – Wake, feed, play
- 8 am – Nap, no longer than 1.5 hours
- 9:30 am – Wake, feed, play
- 10:30 am – Nap, no longer than 1.5 hours
- Noon – Wake, feed, play
- 1 pm – Nap, no longer than 1.5 hours
- 2:30 pm – Wake, feed, play
- 3:30 pm – Short nap, no longer than 1 hour
- 4:30 pm – Wake, feed, play
- 5:30 pm – Quick nap, no longer than 30 minutes (if needed at all)
- 6 pm – Wake, feed, play
- 7:30 pm – Cluster feed, put in the crib for nighttime sleep
- 9:30 pm until 7 am – Dream feed as needed.
This schedule can be easily adapted to better fit your own routines, but use it as a guide to help your children sleep through the night.
And if you choose to dream feed, you may want to invest in a night light for baby room to help provide enough light to see without waking your baby and a nursery glider for a comfortable place to feed your baby.
9. Lay The Baby Down Awake, But Drowsy
In the long run, the best way to encourage your baby to sleep is to teach them how to do so independently. This is a skill that children and adults need alike, as without a good rest being part of our healthy lifestyle, we often become more stressed and depressed.
Ideally, your baby should be put in their bed and left to sleep when they are ready. They should be able to sit or lay and have “me” time before they finally walk off with the Sandman.
When your child is still a newborn, you can start laying down these practices but start off easily. When you sense that your child is awake but becoming drowsy, lay them in their crib and watch them drift to sleep. This will teach them that their bed is a safe sleeping space, and you are nearby to protect them.
Eventually, you will be able to put them in their bed at bedtime, and their body will clock on that it’s time to catch some “Z”s.
10. Avoid Overstimulating Your Baby
It may seem obvious to avoid stimulation before going to bed, but remember that your baby finds everything entertaining. For you, a quick read or an easy-watch show is the best kind of entertainment before heading off to bed, but your baby will see your screen as filled with detail and light.
Reading can be a great way to keep them entertained without having their brain work too hard, but you need to pick the right book. Aim for one which also talks about sleeping, as they will likely have dull colors which won’t create overwhelming interest in your baby.
There are loads of ways to help you and your baby create a routine that fits you both. Try out everything we have shown here, and soon you will pick up a couple of tricks that your baby enjoys. Everyone is different, but we all have similarities, so mix and match these tips to find your happy medium.
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