Nature or Nurture: Which Determines How Well Your Baby Sleeps?

Certain sleep tendencies are hereditary, but environment also plays an important role. Discover the factors that influence your baby’s sleep habits.

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

The nature vs. nurture debate has long fascinated researchers when it comes to how babies develop. Are certain behaviors the result of how a child is raised (the “nurture” part of the equation) or are they determined purely by genetics (the “nature” side)? Usually, the answer is not one or the other but a combination of both. Sleep, one of the earliest and most instinctive infant behaviors, is no exception.

Experts have found that genetics play a role in the duration of nighttime shut-eye, how long babies nap during the day, and how often a child wakes up during the night. In other words, babies come hardwired with certain sleep preferences. On the other hand, successful sleep training is largely the result of nurturing (think rocking your baby, singing quiet lullabies, and setting the nursery’s thermostat so that the temperature is comfortable for sleeping). While you can’t change the biologically determined aspects of sleep, you can counterbalance them with some sleep-positive actions of your own. The following tips can help set your baby up for better sleep.

Get into a Routine
Following a regular, calm routine nightly can help settle a baby and set the stage for sleep. Warm baths, picture books, and quiet cuddling are all nurturing activities that can be part of a routine indicating it’s time for sleep.

Time It Right
Putting your baby to bed before sleep sets in is an important step in encouraging good sleep skills. You want your baby to be fading—but still awake—when placed into a basinet or crib, as this will allow your little one to associate going to bed with falling asleep.

Quiet the Senses
Keep the lights dim and your voice low to reduce stimulation that makes sleep difficult. If your baby wakes up during the night or needs to be fed, maintain a subdued atmosphere that indicates it’s still sleep time, not playtime. Dark, cool, quiet rooms are the ideal environment to encourage babies to sleep.