It seems that new parents are the most sleep-deprived people on the planet. As they say, babies don’t come with instruction manuals, and figuring out the best way to get them to sleep is not easy—each baby is so different.
Is it hard to get your baby to go down for the night? Once they do fall asleep, are they waking up constantly? There are plenty of tricks to get your baby to sleep and keep them asleep. Even dramatically different babies will most likely still respond to the same tried-and-true techniques. Follow these seven expert sleep tips and there is sure to be sweeter dreams for all.
1. Stick with a consistent bedtime routine.
Consistency with bedtime routines is the number one tool in your toolbox. And, studies show that following one may even improve your mood too. Engaging in a predictable order of bedtime rituals will, over time, condition a baby’s mind and body to prepare for sleep. This is an example bedtime routine that would work well: 1) dinner, 2) warm bath, 3) scented lotion (repeated exposure to a specific bedtime scent can help bring on sleep), 4) clean jammies, and 5) rock in a rocker or swaddle and lay down. The key to this is consistency—whatever order or steps you choose, you must do it every night.
For daytime naps, a modified or shorter version of your routine may be helpful. For instance, it’s just not practical to give a child a bath several times a day. But changing a diaper, feeding, and swaddling can be an appropriate and logical routine for their daytime naps.
2. Tune your baby in to helpful sounds.
Even when we sleep, our ears are picking up auditory stimulus. This means that the neighbor’s dog barking at 2 a.m. might just wake you—and your baby—up. Investing in a sound machine or playing a white noise app continuously through the night will help to drown out disturbing sounds. Even something like a whirring fan in your little one’s bedroom will help to muffle any sounds that might wake them. Using these sounds to help your baby sleep won’t create a dependency on them, but if you’re worried, you can choose to only use white noise at night, during their longest stretch of sleep.
3. Avoid devices two hours before bed.
These days even babies are using tablets. If part of your bedtime routine is to read a children’s book off of a tablet, think again. The blue light emanating from devices like phones and tablets can negatively impact our circadian rhythms—our sleep/wake cycles. “If you are going to watch a movie or use a tablet or a smartphone at night, it is best to refrain from using them for the two hours prior to bedtime. Blue light interferes with your circadian rhythm, giving you a false sense of night and day. Avoiding this misleading blue light lets your body accept that night has come and it is time for sleep,” says Gabriel Smith, community wellness expert from Sleep Train.
4. Choose their snack wisely.
Most babies aren’t drinking chamomile tea before bedtime—but there are other snack options that promote sleep. If it is your baby’s routine to have a bedtime snack, choose a dairy product or bananas. Dairy products contain calcium, and studies have shown calcium aids in the production of melatonin—a sleep-regulating hormone found naturally in the body. Bananas contain a lot of B6, which is also known to assist in melatonin production.
5. Make sure they’re sleeping on the correct mattress.
Crib mattresses are pretty basic—they tend to be very firm, and some claim to have added value when it comes to combatting new parents’ worst fear: SIDS. Due to the risk of SIDS, it’s important to keep everything but the baby out of the crib.
If you have a toddler who has transitioned to a twin mattress, it is important that their mattress be up to snuff. If the mattress is a hand-me-down, and possibly older than eight years, it may be time to replace it. If budget is a big concern (mattresses can be expensive), then the solution is to add a more moderately priced mattress topper. It will extend the life of your mattress for less money.
6. Swaddle your baby.
Babies, especially young ones, like to feel like they’re back in the womb. That warm, tight-fitting space is very nurturing to them. As part of your bedtime routine, swaddling fits in perfectly. The crucial key is to stay safe. Because putting extra blankets in your baby’s crib is not advised (again, they pose a risk for SIDS), you’ll want to use a commercially-made swaddle wrap—preferably one with velcro closures. This ensures that the wrap stay securely fastened around your infant and does not come loose in the middle of the night, creating a suffocation risk.
7. Time that diaper change strategically.
If your baby still wakes in the middle of the night to eat, it is best to change their diaper before they eat—not after. If you wait until after they eat, odds are you will wake them up from a deep slumber. Changing the baby before you feed them will assure that they can be placed down in the crib right after they fall asleep. This rule of thumb is applicable at any time of the day—whether it is bedtime or a mid-morning nap.
Following these simple suggestions may save not only your sleep but also your sanity. A lack of sleep is one of the chief complaints of the new parent. Many times, the reason that a parent isn’t sleeping is because their new baby isn’t sleeping well. Luckily for you, many of these tips are just as applicable to adults. Eating helpful snacks, avoiding digital devices before bedtime, and listening to white noise can all improve the whole family’s sleep—not just your baby’s. Although, it is true that a baby that sleeps well tends to have a very happy family. Sweet dreams, everyone!