If you’re having a tough time getting your little one to sleep at night, you can rest assured that you’re among the millions of parents around the world struggling with the same battle. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation found that more than two-thirds of children suffer from sleep problems.
While there is some consolation in this, it doesn’t stop the frustration and sheer tiredness that can last for many days while your child suffers from the inability to sleep. So, to offer you some relief, we’ve collected our top tips for baby insomnia to help equip you with a few tricks in your mission for better sleep.
A Word About Baby Insomnia
Before we jump in, it’s important for us to clarify what we mean when we say baby insomnia. Although many parents use this term to describe general sleep difficulties in newborns, baby insomnia is sometimes also used to refer to an actual medical issue caused by an underlying health problem, causing lack of sleep.
As there isn’t one single reason for this however, diagnosing baby sleep insomnia can be incredibly difficult. While newborns are still learning the basics about sleep and developing their regular sleep cycles, establishing whether your child’s sleep is abnormal isn’t easy to do.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll often use baby insomnia to refer to your little one’s difficulty sleeping as a result of normal sleep problems and common difficulties that all children face. And for more information on this topic, take a look at our blog: Baby Insomnia — What Every Parent Should Know About Baby Sleeping Problems.
However, if you’re concerned that your child’s sleep issues could be a result of an underlying health condition, we would recommend contacting your baby’s doctor who should be able to determine whether your child’s baby insomnia is a result of something more serious.
Potential Underlying Health Conditions Causing Baby Insomnia
- Uncontrolled nighttime asthma
- Muscle cramps
- Thyroid disease
- Neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism)
- Bipolar disorder
1. Swaddle and Swaddle Transition Products
One of the best ways you can help your baby sleep is to dress them in appropriate nighttime clothing. While each child is unique and will have their own preferences, parents around the globe have proven that the swaddle is one of the best options for helping babies sleep.
By offering restricted comfort and inducing relaxation, products like the Zippy Swaddle are said to recreate the womb environment and encourage sleep in children, up to the point that your baby starts rolling over or shows signs that they're not comfortable in the swaddle position anymore.
In these situations, you can explore swaddle transition products such as the Zipadee-Zip to help create the same relaxed sensation of the swaddle and encourage sleep, while offering additional movement flexibility. This also has the benefit of reducing the frequency of baby startling, further improving your baby’s chance of getting along, undisturbed night’s sleep.
2. Understand the Science of Baby Sleep
Having some all-important context about how baby sleep works can really help you to understand why things are so difficult in the early stages of your little one’s development. The most important thing to remember is that very young babies have not developed their circadian rhythm yet, which is roughly a 24-hour cycle that drives our sleep and wakefulness periods. You can think of this as your child’s internal biological clock.
When babies are born, their internal clocks aren't synchronized with our own patterns of waking up and sleeping. For your baby to achieve a normal, healthy sleeping pattern, you’ll need to help them adjust gradually with consistent sleep routines.
Very young babies have not developed their circadian rhythm yet, which is roughly a 24-hour cycle that drives our sleep and wakefulness periods.
3. Introduce a Dream Feed
The idea behind dream feeding is that a baby will sleep longer through the night on a full stomach. This requires rousing your baby ever so slightly in the night so that you can feed them — helping them to satisfy any hunger they might have before you let them drop back off to sleep.
The best time to introduce a dream feed is between 10 pm and midnight. The goal is to gently get your baby out of their crib and feed them from your breast or give them a bottle, all without waking them up. Good luck!
4. A Consistent Bedtime Routine
One of the best things you can do for your little one to help them sleep and avoid baby insomnia is to create the right routine and sleeping environment each evening so that your baby can gradually settle down and relax before sleep. This will encourage them to develop a consistent sleep pattern as a result of predictable evening ‘triggers’ that will signal that it’s time to rest.
Recommended Baby Nighttime Routine Activities
- A consistent bedtime routine
- Transition to the right environment (eliminate external stimulants)
- A relaxing bath and skincare routine
- A soothing massage
- Proper clothing for sleep
- Put your baby into the crib while still drowsy (not asleep)
- Introduce a dream feed
While these activities are great for promoting sleep, they’re not nearly as important as simply having a routine that your child can get used to. The main goal is to keep evening routines regular and consistent so that your baby adjusts to a set pattern that tells their bodies it is time to slow things down for the day.
To learn more about how to create the perfect evening routine, check out our blog: How to Help My Baby Sleep — The Perfect Evening Routine.
5. Reduce Noise Disruptions
External noise, however small or insignificant they may seem to the adult ear, can seriously mess with your child's ability to sleep. If you find your baby crying at night for some unknown reason, it may well be the result of a sudden sound that has unsettled them, causing their Moro reflex to kick in and breaking their sleep.
Ultimately, newborns and young babies are incredibly sensitive to noise and you should aim to reduce any unnecessary sources of sound from your baby’s room at night. Phones buzzing, TVs, and people talking in another room can all cause your baby to wake up at night disrupting their precious sleep cycle!
If you’re struggling to remove external noises such as road traffic or noisy neighbors, consider using white noise, also known as ambient noise, to block out these sounds. A number of studies and parents have also claimed that this is a great way to help children who struggle to nod off peacefully at night. For instance, in a study of 20 newborns between 2 and 7 days old, 80% fell asleep within five minutes in response to white noise, compared with only 25% who fell asleep spontaneously without white noise.
Newborns and young babies are incredibly sensitive to noise and you should aim to reduce any unnecessary sources of sound from your baby’s room at night.
6. Adjust Room Temperature to Reduce Baby Insomnia
Being too hot or too cold may be preventing your little one from sleeping, leading to baby insomnia and many restless nights for both of you. If you’re bundling up your child with loads of pillows and blankets to keep them extra warm, the first thing you should try is stopping this.
Despite the urge to keep your baby snug and cozy, this can actually lead to overheating and discomfort, as well as an increased chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occurring.
In most situations, babies will be comfortable in temperatures that adults also prefer. A room temperature of between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, (18 to 21 degrees Celsius) should normally be fine. However, a good tip is to add an additional layer in case of any drops in temperature at night while your little one is sleeping.
7. Create a Dark Baby Bedroom
Despite what you might think, babies love the dark. Nightlights and soft lamps are a great addition to your evening routine, but when it comes to actual bedtime, embrace the darkness to help your baby completely switch off at night.
When your baby is exposed to light, their brain registers this reaction by releasing a hormone called cortisol, which helps them to feel awake. Similarly, the absence of light triggers an opposite reaction where the hormone melatonin is released, which causes your little one to feel sleepy. Protect your baby’s melatonin levels by cutting out unnecessary light sources at night!
Protect your baby’s melatonin levels by cutting out unnecessary light sources at night!
8. Get to Know Your Baby’s Sleep Preferences
To reduce baby insomnia, understanding the way your baby sleeps can be a huge help. You can read all the blogs and online guides you like, but the easiest way to better understand the normal sleep habits of your baby is to monitor their sleep preferences and patterns, then build a sleep strategy around this.
Before creating your strategy for reducing baby insomnia, consider the following aspects:
- You baby’s preferred nap times
- When your baby gets hungry and how much food they need to feel “full”
- Which activities are the most relaxing during their evening routine
- How they react to white noise (ambient noise)
- Which temperatures they are too hot or cold in
Finally, another really important thing to take note of is which items of clothing your little one is the most comfortable in. All babies are different, but certain baby clothing options have been specially designed to cater to both the practicality and comfort preferences of babies around the world.
9. Encourage Sleep Independence to Reduce Baby Insomnia
Establishing your little one's independent sleep skills is one of the best things you can do to set them up for life with strong sleeping abilities. In short, independent sleep is when babies can sleep for about 6-8 hours without your support and can also settle back to sleep without crying and needing a parent’s help to resettle.
During their first 3-4 months, your newborn’s sleep patterns and rhythms develop rapidly, making it a good time to introduce important strategies to help promote sleep independence and reduce baby insomnia:
- Create a strong distinction between night and day
- Put your baby to bed drowsy, but not asleep
- Establish a predictable feed, play, and sleep routine
Another way to promote sleep independence is by stopping yourself from rushing in whenever you hear them stirring or crying. Whether you adhere to more strict parenting methods where you let your child ‘cry it out’ is largely down to your personal approach to parenting, but regardless of this, waiting a short time before you offer your child assistance can help them to build their own resourcefulness when it comes to sleeping.
10. Manage Daytime Sleeping Habits
Napping is a normal part of every newborn’s life. Because infants get tired easily after around 30 minutes of playing or interaction, they’ll start their lives taking regular naps during the day to boost their energy. This will usually be signaled by your baby showing signs of tiredness and fatigue, prompting you to lay them down in their crib for a rest.
While this is completely natural, to get your baby in the habit of having a long sleep at night, parents should gradually avoid letting their baby’s sleep for more than four hours at a time during the day. Equally, if you cut out their nap time too soon, you’ll find that your baby will be overtired, also making it harder for them to fall asleep at night and leading to baby insomnia.
It might sound tricky, but there is a sweet spot you should be aiming for to make sure your child has the right amount of sleep before you lay them down to rest at night.
Final Tips and Advice for Reducing Baby Insomnia
As we’ve mentioned, every child is different and their ability to sleep can depend on many different factors during their development. We recommend paying close attention to their sleeping preferences and building a flexible strategy for promoting sleep. And if this isn’t working, don’t be disheartened, as baby sleep problems are simply one of those hurdles all parents face.
If none of our tips and solutions work for you and you feel your child’s baby insomnia is a result of something more serious, such as an underlying health condition, then consult your baby’s doctor for support and professional advice.
As many studies and surveys have shown, sleep is a complex process affected by numerous contributing factors from lifestyle and environmental factors to psychosocial issues. Despite the known importance of sleep, up to 70 million people in the US and 45 million people in Europe have chronic sleep disorders.
Establishing a strong sleep routine and regular cycles for your child early will help set them up well for life and avoid both short and long-term health consequences.