I wish I could go back in time and talk to the younger version of myself. I’d tell her to value her sleep soooo much more than she did! I’d tell the younger me to take more naps, go to bed earlier and sleep-in more often! Because once you have children, sleep becomes a luxury!
Getting your baby to sleep through the night is like the Holy Grail of parenting. You will do pretty much anything to achieve it!
I have 3 kids, they aren’t babies anymore (8, 10 and 12 years old!), but the memories of the sleepless nights are still very fresh. Although I can’t really complain as they were all very good sleepers, however, we had a fair few sleepless nights!
My sister told me I got “lucky” with my kids because they all slept through the night (and I mean 12 hour nights!) by 3 months old. But I think it was a little bit more than luck!
While I was pregnant with my first child I read every parenting book I could find and paid particular attention to the parts about sleep!
Of course, a lot of these books contradicted each other, so it was a matter of piecing together the information that would work best for me.
Table of Contents
Now, I will add a disclaimer in here. After reading all these parenting books, I decided I was going to follow one that recommended a VERY strict routine. This fit my life and personality (I’m ALL about routines!), but I know that it’s not right for everyone.
So that is why you will NEVER see me write a post talking about the “one true” method to get a baby to sleep through the night. Every baby is different and every mom is different. What worked perfectly for me and my babies, didn’t work at all for my twin sister!
I wish there was a one-size fit all solution, but sadly there isn’t. A couple of important things to remember are:
- If you try something new to help baby sleep, give it time to work. I’ve had friends that would try something for just a night or 2 and then declare it a failure! You need to give it more time!
- Keep tweaking. What works this month, may not work in 2 months time. As your little one gets older, their sleep needs and responses change, so your sleep solutions need to change too.
Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
The list below contains common elements in most “how to get baby to sleep” books. These are all things that I personally did and helped get all my babies to sleep through the night by 3 months old and continue to have 2+ hour naps well into their preschool years.
Tip 1 – Swaddle
Tightly swaddling your baby (especially newborns) seems to be one piece of advice that all the parenting authors agree on!
I still remember my first swaddling lesson for my first son. He was a tiny 4 lb premature baby and we were ready to take him home after 2 weeks in the NICU. The nurse patiently showed us again and again how she had been swaddling him. She made it look so easy, but when I tried he looked more like a baby taco than a baby burrito!
We struggled to swaddle him with large receiving blankets for a few weeks and I could tell that he needed to be swaddled tighter, but I just couldn’t get it tight enough. Then I found the Miracle Blanket! It really was a miracle!
Suddenly my fussy tiny baby started sleeping for longer periods of time. He wouldn’t suddenly wake up screaming anymore. That blanket saved my sanity!
The first couple of times you use it, it might seem confusing. But just read the instructions and trust me, you’ll be a Miracle Blanket Pro in no time!
When my first son was born (12 years ago), there wasn’t a choice in swaddlers like there is now, so I haven’t personally tried any of the more modern (and probably easier to use) swaddle blankets. But my friend swears by the Love to Dream Swaddle UP Blanket. This looks so much easier to use, as you just zipper baby in!
The Love to Dream Swaddle UP Blanket also comes in different sizes (4.5 lbs up to 18.5 lbs) which would definitely have been useful for my tiny boy.
Swaddling really is the first thing you should try to help your baby sleep better at night!
Tip 2 – Darkness
Making sure my nursery was completely dark was something that I became a little obsessive about when my kids were babies.
I swear, having them sleep in complete darkness is one of my BABY SLEEP SECRETS!
I’m sure there is science behind why babies sleep better in darkness, something to do with melatonin I think! All I know is that it works!
You want the nursery (or wherever your baby is sleeping) to be pitch black. And I mean PITCH BLACK – can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark!
My theory with the darkness is that when baby wakes up in the night (we all wake briefly numerous times a night) they open their eyes and can’t see anything at all, so they will just close their eyes again and go back to sleep.
To achieve this level of darkness you will want to have blackout blinds on the windows, PLUS blackout curtains over the blinds (to block the light from around the edges). You also want to make sure there’s no digital clock or other electronic that has a display or light on it. For instance, your baby monitor might have a small red light. If it does, you can always use a small piece of duct tape to cover the light!
I told you I was obsessed with darkness! I even traveled with sheets of blackout fabric, that I would clip over the windows or curtains in hotels when we went on vacation!
If your baby is older and used to a nightlight, then it might be harder to transition them to darkness, but if you get a dimmable light and slowly lower the light level every few days, then you should be OK.
Tip 3 – Overtired
I have very clear memories of my mother telling me that I was overtired when I was a child and would get upset about something. At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant by “overtired” but now I do!
We’ve all been there, it’s that feeling of being so utterly exhausted that even the tiniest problem seems like the end of the world. You are also so tired that you can’t fall asleep!
It’s a horrible irony, that the one thing that will help is sleeping, but it’s the one thing that you can’t do!
Babies suffer from overtiredness as much as anyone and it will affect how well baby sleeps. So as parents, we need to be prepared and make sure our baby doesn’t reach that point.
It can be hard to figure out, and every child is different, so you have to learn over time, how much stimulation is too much for your little one.
One key aspect is to make sure the late afternoon/evening is as calm and quiet as possible. This isn’t always possible as it’s when the rest of the family get home and want to play with and love on baby! But do the best you can to keep the fun and games low-key!
A Note on Colic
Many years ago I read an interesting theory about colic, I wish I could remember where I read, but alas, my memory is lacking!
The basic theory says that a baby is born with an underdeveloped nervous system and once they are out in the big-wide world, their senses are bombarded with stimulation. Baby is just not used to this level of stimulation and their immature nervous system gets overwhelmed. This causes the baby to cry uncontrollably.
We try to comfort baby with music, toys, rocking and in fact, we are only making it worse and stimulating their overloaded nervous system further!
The advice that I read said to prevent colic by having a calmer, quieter and darker hour or 2 before your babies normal “crying time”. It’s worth a try!
Again, I believe that is advice that will work for some babies and not for others.
Tip 4 – Monitor
This is something that I didn’t have when my children were babies and I really wish I did! A baby monitor with a camera!
I remember so many nights sneaking into the nursery to check on my sleeping baby and waking them up! It was the ultimate dilemma. You want to check on them, but you know that by opening the nursery door, you might wake up a perfectly peaceful baby!
That’s where a good quality baby monitor with a camera comes in!
You will be able to check on your baby, without having to disturb them!
It is also great for those times in the night when your baby might start to make a few little sounds. As I mentioned above, everyone wakes up a few times every night, and that is when your baby might make a few little noises.
It’s vitally important that you wait to see if baby will settle back to sleep on their own. You can’t go to the “rescue” every time they make a few noises (see Tip 9 below).
With a camera monitor, if baby starts to make noises, you can check on them with the camera. That way you can reassure yourself that your little one is fine (not caught up on the bars of their crib or anything), without going into the room.
A good monitor with a camera, really is a MUST HAVE baby item in my opinion!
There’s a lot of different options, but my friend has the Babysense Video Baby Monitor and I really like it because it’s packed full of useful features like night vision (for your dark nursery!) and temperature monitoring.
Tip 5 – Cut Back Naps
This is a tricky one, but it’s the one “quick fix” that I found always worked. When my babies were getting restless at night I would cut back their naps.
I already mentioned that my babies were all good sleepers and I believe part of that was the very structured nap times I had. Without going into massive detail, they basically had 2 or 3 naps a day as babies.
This was our basic nap schedule:
- 0 – 3 Months:
- Medium length morning nap (1 hour)
- Long lunchtime nap (2 hours)
- Short afternoon nap (30-45 minutes)
- 3 – 6 Months:
- Medium length morning nap (45 minutes)
- Long lunchtime nap (2 hours)
- Very short afternoon nap if needed (0-20 minutes)
- 6 – 12 Months:
- Short morning nap (0-30 minutes)
- Long lunchtime nap (2 hours)
Now, when I say cut back their naps I do NOT mean their long midday nap, but cutting back the short morning or afternoon naps.
Waking a Sleeping Baby
I used to do the unimaginable and WAKE A SLEEPING BABY! Yes, I would wake my babies up from their morning nap. If I didn’t wake them from their morning nap, then they would sleep for 2+ hours in the morning, then not sleep as well at lunchtime, and need a longer afternoon nap, which meant they wouldn’t be tired at bedtime!
By waking them from their morning nap, they would then sleep well at lunchtimes, only need a quick power nap in the afternoon and then be tired (but not overtired!) at bedtime!
Whenever one of my children started to get restless at night, I would always look at their morning nap first. Normally it meant it was time for me to cut it back by 15 minutes or so.
It’s strange to think that something so early in the day, can have such a big effect on the evening, but it really does. If your baby is not settling well at night, or waking (and not going back to sleep) after only an hour or 2, then definitely take a look at their nap schedule.
Tip 6 – Aromatherapy
This is a great tip to help you and your baby sleep… Aromatherapy.
Over the last few years the use of essential oils has become very popular. They are great for all kinds of issues and can really help your little one sleep better.
It’s very easy to add aromatherapy into your bedtime routine. The easiest way is to use an oil diffuser. There’s a lot of different options for diffusers, but a simple one is all you really need. I have the Urpower Essential Oil Diffuser and I’ve been very impressed with it. I use it almost every night and it’s lasting well.
You want to look for a cool-mist diffuser, instead of one that heats the oil – it’s just safer with little ones around!
The Urpower Diffuser also has 7 different light colors to pick from, which gives really pretty mood lighting. Of course, you will want to turn this feature off if you are using it in the nursery at night (darkness is key remember!).
There are lots of great essential oils and oil blends you can use to calm and help baby sleep. Probably the most popular is Lavender oil. I buy a large bottle of the Radha Beauty Lavender Oil, as I use it most nights. The large bottle is excellent value for money too!
My favorite blend of oils is the Healing Solutions Blend Set. They have 6 amazing blends to help with all kinds of problems: Breathe, Good Sleep, Head Relief, Muscle Relief, Stress Relief, and Health Shield. They are such useful blends and I get a lot of use out of them.
If you don’t want to use a diffuser, you can also add one or two drops to a small amount of coconut oil (or other base oil) and massage your little one before they go to bed. The combination of oils and massage are sure to make any baby sleep! If you don’t want to have to mix your own oils together (have to be careful of allergies), you can buy a massage oil for babies – like California Baby Calming Oil.
If you suspect that your baby has gas or tummy pain that is keeping them awake then the wonderful doTERRA DigestZen Oil Blend is the one for you! This stuff is amazing! However, please be careful as it is a strong oil blend. I recommend mixing it with coconut oil and then massaging it onto baby’s belly. One or 2 drops will be more than enough.
Tip 7 – Noise
We all go through sleep cycles at night, where we go through lighter and deeper sleep. For babies, one sleep cycle lasts approximately 45 minutes. This means that 45 minutes after your baby has fallen asleep, they will be in a light phase of sleep and more likely to wake up.
Sounds are one thing that can not only stop them falling back to sleep but also startle them awake. We all know how horrible it is to be suddenly woken from a deep sleep, and how it can then ruin the rest of the night. Babies are no different.
When my children were babies, they would sleep in silence. Their bedrooms were the opposite side of the house to the living room, so we could watch TV, cook etc without disturbing them. If your baby’s bedroom is closer to your living space, or you just generally have a noisier house (older siblings!), then you might want to consider a white-noise machine to drown out sounds from the rest of the house.
There are lots of white-noise machines available, or you can even find something on YouTube and play it on your phone or tablet (just make sure your notifications are silenced!). But I just LOVE the Hatch Baby Rest Night Light and Sound Machine.
This little device is so much more than just a sound machine. It is also a programmable light. It means you can set it to change color or come on in the morning when it’s OK for your little one to get out of bed! No more 4 am visits from your toddler asking if it’s time to wake up yet! Genius!
As you know I don’t recommend night lights for babies’ bedrooms (darkness rules!), but for older children the nightlight feature on the Hatch Baby Rest light is awesome!
I do like having a soft light to be able to turn on in the nursery in the middle of the night for fast diaper changes etc. So this would be perfect for that too.
Tip 8 – Bedtime Routine
Having a structured bedtime routine is so important for everyone, but especially young children and babies.
I talk a lot about my love of routines because I strongly believe they can make the difference between a fulfilled life and a stressed, crazy life! Check out my post about finding your perfect morning and evening routine to simplify your life!
A consistent bedtime routine signals your brain that it’s about to go to sleep and it will help you (and baby!) relax quicker and fall asleep faster.
I love reading to my children before bed. When they were babies and toddlers it was one of my favorite things to do with them. The four of us would all pile in the big armchair (they were much smaller then!), and read book after book together. Happy memories! Check out my post about the importance of reading to your baby and toddler for ideas to include reading in your daily routines.
Finding Your Routine
Your bedtime routine will be very personal to you. Everyone’s is different, depending on their time, needs and family situation. Here are some ideas of things to include in your routine:
- Quietly tidy away toys
- Bath (with nighttime bubble bath – like Honest Calming Bubble Bath)
- Massage (using aromatherapy oils of course!)
- Read together
- Chat about your day
- Kid-friendly yoga or meditation
- Listen to music
Don’t pick too many things, as you want to make sure you can be consistent with it. A two-hour long bedtime routine won’t help anyone!
Tip 9 – Minimal Stimulation
Most of my tips so far have been about getting baby to sleep easily, but of course, there are those times when baby will wake in the night.
If your baby starts to fuss a little in the night, it might be worth waiting a minute or 2 before checking on them, to see if they will fall back to sleep on their own.
We actually have to teach our babies how to “self-smoothe”. Basically, that means we have to teach them how to calm themselves down and fall back to sleep without help. I have friends with 7 and 8-year-old children who can only fall asleep if mom is petting their hair or stroking their back. It is not fun to have YEARS of disturbed nights!
So letting your baby try to settle back to sleep without you coming to the rescue straight away will only benefit you both in the future.
If my babies stirred in the night, I used to watch the clock and allow 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, if my baby was still only making soft little noises, I would leave them for another 3 minutes. If they were getting upset, then I would quietly go and check on them.
When checked on them I would make sure I kept all stimulation to an absolute minimum. I would not turn on a light, I wouldn’t speak or even make eye contact with my baby!
I know this sounds a bit extreme, but you don’t want to “reward” night waking with more one-on-one mommy or daddy time!
If you do need a light for something like a diaper change, then turning on a very soft nightlight should be all you need to do.
Night feeds should be exactly that – night feeds. A fast feed in darkness with as little fuss as possible!
Over time your baby will learn that waking in the night is no fun, and they won’t keep doing it! Save all the kisses, cuddles and hugs for the daytime when you can both enjoy them!
Tip 10 – Stroking
When I was a child my best friend’s cat had a litter of kittens. I used to love going to her house to play with the kittens and one thing that used to amaze me was how we could get them to fall asleep by stroking down their noses! No, seriously – if you have kittens you should try it!
When my older sister had babies I would babysit a lot and loved snuggling with my little niece and nephew. One day when my niece was sick I was rocking her to sleep and I realized that I had started stroking her nose, just like I used to do with the kittens! And sure enough, she closed her eyes and fell asleep!
Once I had my own children, I used this trick to get them to sleep. It was especially useful in unfamiliar situations, like on flight or at Grandma’s house.
Literally, all you need to do is gently stroke down the length of your baby’s nose with your index finger. Get a steady rhythm going and make sure to use a light touch.
I have a few theories on why this works so well. I think it’s mainly the reassuring touch, but also a hand in front of your eyes makes you close your eyes. Often with an overtired baby, the biggest problem is just getting them to close their eyes. Once their eyes are closed they fall asleep very quickly! Nose stroking helps with this!
When I decided I was going to write about the “stroking” trick, I thought I would Google it to see if anyone else had done the same thing. I didn’t find anything interesting about nose stroking… but I did find this AWESOME video of a mother putting her baby to sleep in under a minute with a gentle head massage! Just watching it makes me sleepy!
So next time your little one is restless, you just need to sit down somewhere dark and quiet and gently stroke their nose or massage their head and face! How easy is that?? (OK, it might not solve all sleep problems, but it’s worth a try!)
Bonus Tip – Sleep When Baby Sleeps
Probably the one piece of advice that you will hear most often when you talk about baby sleep, but that’s because it’s true. SLEEP WHEN BABY SLEEPS!
I truly hope that these baby sleep tips are useful to you. Sleepless nights are one of the most difficult aspects of babyhood. It not only affects you but also your baby. A normally happy and content baby can be a grumpy monster if they don’t get a full night’s sleep… and so can mom!
Which of these tips do you like the most? Do you have any tips to share that might help other parents? Please share in the comments section below.