Are you struggling with how to put a baby to sleep? You're not alone. When I had a newborn in my arms, the idea of him sleeping through the night felt like a daydream. I honestly believed that he was just a bad sleeper until my friend who has five kids taught me how to put a baby to sleep.
In her words, "There’s no such thing as a bad sleeper, only bad sleeping habits." Fortunately, this can be reversed. To get your little one well on her path to more restful nights, you have to understand how much sleep your tot needs. Then, you can take active steps to make sure she gets her sleep patterns right.
Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Needs
Adult sleep and baby sleep is different in many ways. That's why it's important to understand the developmental timeline of a baby’s sleep pattern.
How much sleep do babies need?
Newborns need around 16 hours of sleep and their sleep cycle consists of sleep-wake periods throughout the day.
By 3 months old, your baby may sleep from 14 to 16 hours with 10 hours of that sleep reserved for the night. The rest of this sleep time will be divided between three naps within the day.
When she turns 6 months old, your baby requires 14 hours of sleep and may sleep for as long as 5 hours. She can be able to settle herself back to sleep when she wakes briefly.
At 9 to 12 months old, your baby can sleep between 11 and 12 hours a night. Daytime naps can take place twice a day for over an hour. However, it’s worth noting that sleep patterns vary from one infant to another and change over time.
When do babies begin sleeping through the night?
Wouldn’t it be great if your baby slept soundly all night? A baby’s sleep cycle consists of quiet and active sleep. When she first falls asleep, he goes into active sleep where she’s more likely to wake up.
Halfway through a sleep cycle, she falls into quiet sleep that comes with slow rhythmic breathing and zero movements. Babies spend so much time sleeping light (active sleep) and there’s a good reason behind it.
Active sleep helps protect your little one from oxygen deprivation. Long bouts of quiet sleep can be hazardous as it puts your baby at risk for SIDS.
Understandably, you want your baby to sleep through the night but short sleep cycles help to keep her safe. A reasonable goal is for your baby to sleep for at least five hours straight. This helps them fall back to sleep easily after night wakings.
How to Put a Baby to Sleep: Baby Sleep vs. Adult Sleep
To compare the sleep cycles of babies and adults, let’s start by taking a look at our sleep cycle. When adults fall asleep, they go through light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM).
REM or active sleep usually occurs at intervals and it’s characterized by rapid eye movements, faster breathing, and dreaming. Here the brain is almost as active as it is when we are awake. This whole sequence takes 90 minutes then you can either wake up or repeat the cycle.
A baby’s sleep cycle is shorter as it takes 50 minutes. Babies under 3 months old follow a different sleep pattern than adults. It starts with REM then progresses into transitional sleep to the quiet sleep.
Babies have more REM than adults. Adults spend 20 percent in REM while newborns spend over 50 percent of total sleep in REM.
We don’t move in REM but babies will stretch, wiggle, and twitch in this stage of sleep. They may also frown, smile or get into sucking movements.
In the transitional sleep state, they can vocalize or even open their eyes. You may end up mistaking these cues and think your baby is awake. That’s why you have to be patient before responding to your little one at night.
A Word About SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected death of healthy children under 1-year-old during sleep. Prematurity or low birth weight contributes to the risk of SIDS. In addition, putting infants to sleep on their stomach, cosleeping, and exposure to cigarette smoke also increase the risk of SIDS.
Even though there’s no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS, you can still take some safety measures. Placing your baby to sleep on her back is one way to go about it. If it's possible, strive to breastfeed your little one for at least 6 months. Lastly, allow your baby to sleep in your room but on a different bed such as a cot.
How to Put a Baby to Sleep
Despite all these differences about how babies are wired for sleep, sleep is still crucial for brain development. It helps the brain form key connections between reasoning, language, and relationships.
There are several ways to encourage your bundle of joy to form healthy sleeping habits. The following tips are a good place to start and help you discover how to put a baby to sleep.
Time for bed
At about 4 months old, most babies nap an hour or 2 in the morning and in the afternoon. Some babies may add a late afternoon nap that often disappears by the time they are 9 months old.
Even though there’s no magic formula for naps, you can look for the signs. Eye rubbing ad nodding off are clear signs of a drowsy baby. Establish a regular nap and bedtime schedule using these cues. Be careful with late afternoon naps as this can interfere with the night’s sleep.
When learning how to put a baby to sleep, establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial. Develop a bedtime routine that includes the following activities:
- Brushing teeth
- Reading a bedtime story
- Wearing onesies and pajamas
- Dimming the lights in their bedroom
- Giving them a goodnight
- Singing a lullaby
- Tucking her in and kissing her goodnight
- Giving her a gentle massage
Even though you can’t eliminate night wakings you can make them less disruptive. As we mentioned earlier, babies can resettle themselves back to sleep. Self-soothing helps train your child to avoid associating sleep with parental intervention.
Learning to self soothe takes time so choose a sleep training method that you’ll be able to follow through. One approach encourages that it’s okay to let your baby cry when you put her to bed and walk out of the room.
Another way to do this is through the fading approach where parents gradually diminish their involvement in the baby’s sleep. Instead of leaving the room completely, you check on her every five minutes without picking her up until she falls asleep. This way, you act as her coach instead of being her crutch.
Your baby’s circadian rhythm has not yet developed so it’s helpful to teach your baby to tell the difference between night and day.
Expose her to natural light during the day by opening curtains and playing active games.
At night, avoid nighttime light by using blue-light filters and night bulbs designed to block blue wavelengths.
Hush, little baby
You can introduce white noise to help soothe your little one and block out other sounds from the house. The muffled and rhythmic sounds let the brain adopt a slower pace and create rhythmic brain waves that encourage sleep.
Take It One Day at a Time
Fact is, babies and toddlers experience minor sleep regressions during major developmental milestones such as teething or routine changes.
For instance, it’s possible to notice sleep problems from 4 months old as they become mobile and sleep patterns change. This can also happen at about 9 months old when separation anxiety increases.
Be patient and remember that you got this! Stick to a predictable and consistent bedtime routine. No single solution works for every baby. If you feel that a sleeping strategy isn’t working for your little one, reassess and try a different approach.
Have you tried out any of the above sleeping strategies? Do you have any recommendations for how to put a baby to sleep? We’d love to see them in the comments!
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