Learn how to help your baby sleep—so you can, too.
Oh, the irony of life with a newborn: Somehow the baby manages to sleep a ton, while Mom and Dad barely (or don't!) get enough. Never fear, there are ways you can ease your little one into a healthy sleep routine. Here's the bonus: Doing so means you'll get more sleep, too.
Raising a healthy sleeper starts with a consistent bedtime routine. You can start enforcing this when your baby is roughly six weeks old. At the same time every night, read a book together, sing songs, and feed your baby before putting him or her into the crib. It may also help to get your child up at the same time every morning and put him down for naps at regular times.
Between four and six months, your baby may be ready for sleep training. While all babies are different, most babies at this age are capable of sleeping through the night (for about eight to 12 hours). But there are a variety of different ways to sleep train. Whatever you choose, consistency is key.
Sleep training strategies tend to fall on a spectrum from “cry it out” to “no tears.”
- Cry It Out: This method involves putting your baby into the crib drowsy, but awake. The goal is for your child to learn to fall asleep without your help, so that when your baby inevitably wakes up in the middle of the night, he or she will be able to go back to sleep on his or her own. You say goodnight and leave the room—even if your baby cries. Then, you go back in at increasingly long intervals to briefly reassure your baby. It can be difficult to listen to your baby cry, but parents who have been successful with the technique report that it results in fewer tears overall and more sleep for everyone.
- "No Tears" Techniques: Just as some parents and experts believe that it is harmless to allow an older baby to cry for set periods of time, others prefer sleep-training methods that gradually teach the baby to fall asleep without Mom or Dad’s help. For example, one "no tears" method involves sitting in a chair next to the crib while the baby falls asleep, and then, each night, moving the chair farther from the crib until it's in the doorway—and then, finally, outside the room.
- The Hybrid: It’s normal to fall somewhere in the spectrum between the “Cry it Out” and “No Tears” methods – do whatever works for you and your child.
Extra Tips for Sounder Sleep
If you’re not sure you’re ready for full-fledged sleep training, but you do want to help instill good sleep habits in your baby, there are other things you can do.
- Feed Him or Her During the Day. Encourage your child to fill his or her belly during the day, so he or she learns that daytime is for eating and nighttime is for sleeping.
- Don’t Respond To Every Peep. It’s natural for a baby or infant to wake up periodically during the night—grownups do it, too, but they fall back asleep without even realizing it. So wait a minute outside the door before going in to make sure your child is truly crying and not just whimpering in his sleep.
- Schedule an Early Bedtime. Even though it may seem counterintuitive, an earlier bedtime—like 6:30pm or 7:00pm—may actually help your baby sleep longer. That’s because becoming overtired can make it harder for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to nighttime wakeups and early mornings.
- Let the Light Shine. Help your baby learn the difference between night and day by opening the blinds in the morning and going outside during the day. Then keep his nighttime environment quiet and dark. You might also try using sound conditioner, sometimes called a white noise machine, to lull him to sleep.