How To Get A Baby To Sleep Safely And Successfully

Last updated: March 27, 2019

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

There’s a lot of difference between the sleeping needs of a newborn and a one-year-old, but what they have in common is that they both require a dark and quiet room to sleep, a good bed and a safe environment. A general rule is to make a bedtime routine and a plan of how you’ll react in case of nightly awakenings. Sticking to these predetermined activities can make your life incomparably easier as your baby will know what to expect and thus feel safe.

Here we give useful advice on how to get your baby to sleep well, what you need to watch out for, and we debunk some of the most common myths surrounding baby sleep.

Bedtime routine and sleep environment

Having a sleep routine works well with adults – and even more so with children. As sleep time approaches, dim the lights, turn off the music and technology (computers, TV) to allow your baby some quiet wind-down time.

Routine

Most parents follow the rule – bath, book, bed. You can make your own routine, but it’s important to stick to the same order every day, so that the baby can learn that it’s time to relax and sleep. It’s easy for the baby to fall asleep when he/she knows what to expect. Even if your baby is too small, talk to him or her, and tell them sleep time has come.

If you read or sing songs, don’t be loud or expressive – rather speak in a low voice that will let your child become sleepy. You can try walking around with the baby in your hands, making rocking movements, or playing some quiet music.

Other important parts of sleep routine are feeding, so your baby doesn’t wake up too soon to eat, diaper change, and snuggling. Some babies like to get a gentle massage on limbs, tummy, back and face. Parental touch is very important for them.

As babies’ sleep needs change as they get older, you need to adjust the scheduled sleep time to their needs. It can be 6 pm, 7 pm, or 7.30 pm for example. Your baby will need less sleep as months go by, so you will probably be changing these times – just make sure you don’t change them all of a sudden, and keep the same routine.

Environment

It’s important lights are low prior to bedtime, and the room in which the baby sleeps is dark. If it’s a daytime nap, you don’t have to block out all the light. This will help your baby faster distinguish between daytime and nighttime, as their circadian rhythm is forming.

Sounds should be low, and you might want to keep the windows closed to block out the traffic noise. Some parents find the white noise machine an absolute must to help their baby fall asleep tight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies share a room with parents, but sleep in a crib for at least 6 months, or even better, until one year of age. This is how you’ll ensure safe sleep for your baby and by keeping his or her bed close to yours, you’ll be able to react quickly if you notice something unusual.

Your baby should sleep on a good mattress, with any blankets, toys, or pillows out. This reduces the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

How to put a baby to sleep

It’s a good idea to put a baby in the crib while she is still awake. Like this, your baby won’t get used to falling asleep while you’re holding her and will slowly become able to self-soothe. Watch for signs of sleepiness – you baby might be yawning, become cranky, or rub eyes. Try not to make eye contact as you put her to bed in order to avoid arousing her.

A general advice is to put your baby to sleep on back, unless he or she is comfortable with rolling on tummy. Still, try to turn your baby over on back as a precaution against SIDS. While the baby is lying in bed, make physical contact. A lot of babies quickly fall asleep when a parent’s hand is on their tummy. You can use this only as a relaxation technique if you want your baby to learn how to self-soothe faster.

Keeping baby asleep and dealing with nightly wakings

A swaddle is a great solution for many babies because it prevents baby to wake up after jerking his limbs. It’s also a safe solution for keeping warm. Bear in mind that once the baby begins to roll over, it’s time to stop swaddling because it can be dangerous.

Once the baby is sleeping, you don’t have to keep each noise away. If you need to walk around the room, do it freely, especially during the naps. This way the baby gets used to all the sounds and learns to sleep through them. If there aren’t any sounds at sleep time, the baby might become a very light sleeper.

Keep the crib clear of any items and make sure there are no pets, TV, strong perfumes, or cigarette smoke in the room where the baby is sleeping.

If the baby wakes up

Don’t react to any sound your baby makes. He or she might just be dreaming and if not, he or she could self-soothe back to sleep. If the baby stays awake, leave the lights low and don’t make much noise. Refrain from unnecessary diaper changes. All these things could completely arouse your baby and then it will be difficult to go back to sleep.

Touch the baby on the head or belly and see if that helps. If not, speak softly or sing a lullaby. Offer milk to the baby, as it’s most likely hunger woke her up.

Use a pacifier to calm the baby and help her go back to sleep.

Popular sleep training techniques

Although not every parent will want to sleep train their baby, many see it as a great long-term solution for the baby sleep.

Wake and sleep technique

This technique means you are there for the baby all the time, rocking, touching and feeding him until he falls asleep. However, before you leave, gently rouse the baby, so that he learns that sleep time is alone time. You can also return if the baby crying.

Cry it out (CIO)

This technique means you leave the drowsy child in a crib, and exit the room. The baby will surely cry out of protest, but will eventually learn to go to sleep. You can also enter the room every several minutes to reassure the baby you are there and you love her, but that it is time for bed. Repeat this until the baby falls asleep.

No tears

This is the complete opposite of the CIO. After finishing with all the sleep preparations and feeding the baby, hold him, rock him, or sing until he falls asleep. Then place the baby in the crib without wakign him up. If the baby starts crying at any time, try with more rocking or singing until the baby is asleep again.

Common myths about baby sleep

You should know what’s good for your baby, but you should also be wary of myths that some sources might spread. Here are some bad ideas and misinformations about babies and their sleep.

  • Make naps extra short so the baby will sleep through the night. An exhausted baby becomes hyperactive – this shouldn’t trick you into thinking it’s alright to keep the baby awake for too long. An overtired baby is cranky, cries a lot, and can’t sleep well. Healthy sleep leads to more healthy sleep, and this is the rule for all children.
  • Babies should go to bed late in order to sleep longer in the morning. This is another myth which might lead you into sleep depriving your baby. When you notice signs of tiredness, like yawning or heavy eyes, you should use this opportunity to put the baby to sleep.
  • Babies should sleep through the night. Their stomachs are small and they can’t hold a lot of food, so they have to wake up every 2-3 hours to eat. As they get older and as their circadian rhythm is getting formed, they will sleep longer at night and have shorter daytime naps.
  • Crying it out is not good for the baby. Although emotionally difficult for parents and the child, it’s not bad for the baby. If the baby is well cared for during the day, crying at night will not be emotionally damaging.

Remember that every baby and every parent is different

Some pieces of advice from this article might work perfectly for you, but some might turn out to be a disaster. Remember that every baby has his own likes and dislikes – one may enjoy books and the other not, one may dislike bath and water whereas another could be relaxed by it.

Same goes for parents – if you really don’t like singing, you could try playing music, or talking softly to your baby. Find something that suits you both and make it a routine.

Additional resources

  1. How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained. Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx Accessed March 26, 2019.
  2. Healthy Sleep Habits – A Guide For Parents.  Sleep Kid. https://www.sleepkid.com/parents-guide-healthy-sleep/ Accessed March 26, 2019.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.