The Best Baby Sleep Tips Ever
Sleep experts share their top tricks for putting your little one to bed. Get ready: You're about to take back your nights.
So you've stepped past delirium and are about to completely lose your mind from lack of sleep. Don't worry, all new parents have been there. Here are our top expert-approved baby sleep tips.
1. Spring into action at the first sign of sleepiness.
"Timing is critical. Tuning into your baby's natural biological rhythms—by reading her telltale drowsy signs—ensures that when she's placed in her crib, melatonin (the powerful sleep hormone) is elevated in her system, and her brain and body will be primed to drift off with little fuss. If you wait too long, however, your infant can become overtired, so not only will she have lower melatonin levels, but her brain begins to release wakefulness hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This makes it difficult for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep and can lead to early wake-ups. So don't miss these cues: When your little one is still, quiet, disinterested in her surroundings, and staring off into space, melatonin is peaking in her system and it's time to go to bed." – Jenni June, a sleep consultant in Los Angeles
2. Drown out sound...with sound.
"Blackout shades and a white-noise machine transform a nursery into a womb-like environment—and muffle the noise and light from outside. Half of a baby's sleep is REM, or rapid eye movement. This is the light-sleep stage in which dreams occur, so it can seem as if almost anything will wake him: Your phone rings in the living room, you laugh too loudly at your Netflix show, you pull a tissue out of the box. But that is less likely to happen with a white-noise machine running because the background noise covers it all. Some have timers, but I prefer the ones that plug in so they stay on all night. The Marpec Dohm is my favorite. I tell parents to test the volume by having one person stand outside the doors and talk. The white machine should muffle the voice but not drown it own completely." – Brooke Nalle, a sleep consultant and founder of Sleepy on Hudson in Dobbs Ferry, New York
3. Don't give up on swaddling.
"It's the first piece of advice I give to new parents, and they often say, 'I tried swaddling, and my baby hated it.' But sleep changes so rapidly in those early weeks and that what she hates at 4 days might work at 4 weeks. And you'll get better with practice too. It's common to swaddle to loosely the first few times or feel flustered if your baby is wailing. Believe me, it's worth another shot, as long as she is still too young to roll over. Try different styles of swaddles, like the Miracle Blanket, which wraps snugly around, or the Swaddle Up, which lets your baby keep her hands up by her face–and maybe make it a little tighter to leave one of her arms out." – Linda Szmulewitz, a licensed social worker and founder of The Chicago New Moms Group and Sleep Tight Consultants
4. Drop the temp.
"We all sleep best in a cool room, including babies. Aim to keep your thermostat between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit to give your baby the most comfortable sleep. If her fingers feel chilly, that's normal.To reassure yourself, put your hand on her chest. If it's warm, she's warm enough." – Nalle
5. Prepare for quick changes.
"Hunting for a fresh crib sheet after your baby soaks his diaper or spits up is miserable in the middle of the night, and turning on the lights can wake him up more fully, meaning getting him back to sleep can take an eternity. Instead, double layer ahead of time: Use a regular crib sheet, then a disposable waterproof pad, then another sheet on top. That way, you can just peel away the top layer and pad, throw the sheet in the hamper, and toss the waterproof pad. Also be sure to keep a one-piece, a swaddle, or a sleep sack nearby–whatever it is your baby needs to continue the night comfortably–so you're not hunting through drawers every time your baby's diaper leaks." – Aimi Palmer, a sleep consultant and cofounder of AB Child Solutions, in London
- RELATED: When Can Baby Sleep with a Blanket?
6. Take turns.
"If you have a partner, there's no reason both of you need to be awake every time the baby is. Maybe you go to bed at 10 p.m. and sleep until 2 a.m., and your partner sleeps the early-morning shift. Even if you wake to nurse, let your partner handle the diaper change before and soothe the baby after. This way you'll both get four or five hours of uninterrupted sleep–which makes all the difference." – Nalle
7. Send an early riser to a new time zone.
"Waking at 5 a.m. is rough, and it's one of the hardest things to fix. Parents often try making their baby's bedtime later, but what you really need to do is shift his circadian rhythm, as if he's flying to Bermuda and needs to function in a new time zone. That means everything (lunch, the afternoon nap, bathtime) needs to move to a later time. If you shift by 15 minutes each day, you can adjust his body clock in about a week." – Nalle
- RELATED: How to Get Your Newborn to Sleep
8. Help her find her pacifier.
"If your baby cries because she's hungry or wet, that's understandable, but waking up in the middle of the night because she can't find her pacifier is frustrating for all. You can teach her to find it on her own: Put a couple of pacifiers in one corner of the crib, and every time she loses one in the night, go in and help her reach for it herself by bringing to hand to that corner. This shows her where the pacifiers are, so if one goes missing, she can find another and get back to sleep. She should figure it out in about a week." – Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a Parents advisor, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and author of Sleeping Through the Night
9. Don't worry if naps are a hot mess.
"Yes, consistency is key, and the safest place for your baby to sleep is on her back in a crib. But many babies under 6 months don't nap best there, so don't beat yourself up if she falls asleep on your chest or in a carrier or a car seat (as long as you are alert and watching her), or if you wind up pushing a stroller around the block for 40 minutes so she'll get some shut-eye. You're not wrecking night sleep by letting naps be a little more haphazard in the first six months. Most babies don't start developing a real nap schedule until 5 or 6 months, and even then, some nappers will put up a fight and others will be way more flexible about napping on the go." – Szmulewitz
10. Master the four B's: bath, book, bed, bottle.
"A consistent bedtime routine can work wonders. The order is up to you, but it usually involves a soothing bath, a story, and one last feeding. I also like to add a quick massage with lotion, gently squeezing and releasing the baby's knees, wrist, elbows, and shoulders, wherever there's a joint. Then you might do a final 'closing up' of the nursery: Now we turn out the light, now we start the white-noise machine, now we sway beside the crib, now I lay you down–and that's the signal that it's time to sleep." – Nalle
11. Give yourself a break.
"If you listen to your best friend, a cousin, or a neighbor talk about how their baby was sleeping through the night at 2 months, you'll just get stressed. Tune out the unhelpful comparisons as much as you can. To solve your own baby's sleep issues, you'll need a bit of observation, a bit of trial and error, and a lot of flexibility. It's so easy to feel as if sleep will never get better, but it does constantly change. Just because you have a terrible sleeper at 2 months does not mean you're fated to have a terrible sleeper at 2 years." – Palmer