Newborns are adorable but with the amount of energy they take to care for and protect, we won’t blame you if you breathe a heavy sigh of relief when you finally get them to nod off and you can tend to your own needs for an hour or so (if you’re lucky).
However, despite what you might have thought in your pre-parent days, there are several different and equally important aspects of baby sleep. And each one will need some kind of strategy for improving the chances of your little one sleeping well.
We explore what these several factors are, but if you want to skip to something most relevant to you then by all means, go ahead:
- Finding the Right Place for Your Baby to Sleep
- The Importance of Timing and Sleep Cycles
- Keep their Bellies Full
- The Parent’s Role
1. Finding the Right Place for Your Baby to Sleep
The CDC and other organizations recommend that you keep your baby’s sleep area in the same room where you sleep until your baby is at least 6 months old, or ideally until your baby is one year old. This is said to make breastfeeding less disruptive and lets you keep an eye on your little one when you hear them stirring ur fussing.
Some babies might not be able to sleep at all unless their parents are directly next to them, so having the crib just by your bed can save you time when you need to get some much-needed rest after your baby finally drops off.
Having said this, it is not advised that you let your baby sleep inside your own bed, due to the increased chance of suffocation. You might choose to let them sleep in one of the following:
- A cot
- A bedside cot or side-sleeper
- A Moses basket
- A travel cot
- A sling or baby carrier
You must also make sure that the room your baby sleeps in is optimized for good sleep. You might find it a completely calming and relaxing place to be, but babies are far more sensitive to small things so you may need to make an adjustment.
Obviously, changes would be to reduce light and noise levels at night, but you can also consider whether the color of your walls might be too stimulating for your newborn. Other things like the volume you speak at, the way you move and the kind of activities that go on around your baby call influence the overall environment and its suitability for baby sleep.
If your other children are playing in the same room is too high-energy, or the sound of people talking outside is too loud it can be much harder for your child to wind-down.
We’ve created a complete list of consideration of baby atmosphere factors in our blog: How to Create the Perfect Sleep Environment for Your Baby.
New parents must fight the urge to fill their baby's cribs with blankets, cuddly toys and other cute baby accessories. A good baby space for your baby to sleep in should be bare, firm and protected. This means a good mattress that doesn't give much; no sheets or additional baby items, and a high rail or baby wall that perfectly lines up with the mattress (gaps and crevices are unsafe for sleeping babies).
As well as being safe, this position is a tried and tested position for health and consistent baby sleep. It makes it easier for them to breathe and lets parents easily see whether their children are breathing peacefully when they peer into the crib.
The Importance of Timing and Sleep Cycles
Your baby’s sleep cycle is very different from yours. Adults require around seven to eight hours of sleep each day (which is usually taken at night), while babies will sleep for up to 17 hours. That’s a lot of sleep.
Rather than using up their sleep tokens all in one go like though, they’ll generally cash them in through a 24-hour cycle in intermittent bouts of napping. It won’t be until your child is more developed that they’ll actually be able to sleep for long stretches of the night (when that happens it will feel amazing!).
How Much Sleep Does My Newborn Need?
Sleep capacity and needs evolve with age, but we’ve included some general patterns for newborn sleep that can give you an idea of what is “normal” and what’s not. Some babies will need more or less sleep than others so take this with a pinch of salt.
Total Sleep Time
Circadian Rhythms and Baby Sleep Cycles
During your child’s first year, they won’t have the same circadian rhythm as you. This means the concept of “daytime” and “nighttime” is a bit abstract to them. And while you may be boggled by the fact your little one is awake at 3.30 a.m. this is normal for your baby’s sleep cycle which has not yet matured yet.
Newborn sleep cycles are shorter (around 50-55 minutes for the average infant) but eventually, they will come to align their sleep sessions with the same pattern of daytime and nighttime as you. So while it’s not really necessary or even possible to start sleep training before the age of 6 months according to the Sleep Foundation, it’s vital that you lay some good groundwork from an early age when it comes to daytime and nighttime behavior.
We recommend giving your child plenty of exposure to natural daylight and keeping indoor lights very low or completely out as soon as the sun goes down. This will start to train their circadian rhythm to match up with yours and eventually give way to full nights of sleep.
Using artificial lights too late in the evening or exposing your baby to blue light from electronics can mess with their circadian rhythm.
To preserve and strengthen your baby’s circadian rhythm we recommend giving your child plenty of exposure to natural daylight and keeping indoor lights very low or completely out as soon as the sun goes down.
What Type of Sleep Do Babies Experience?
A newborn baby’s sleep cycle involves 1) REM/active and 2) NREM/quiet. In the first few months of life, their sleep will be split evenly between these two categories, but as your baby grows, their sleep cycles progress and they begin to spend less time in REM sleep.
During the REM sleep stage a baby can be seen making small movements. Their eyes will move around (while closed) and they may twitch or jerk their libs and fingers. You might also see their breathing speed up. All this is completely normal and part of their natural and shooter sleep cycles.
As they grow, they’ll exhibit less of this behavior as their sleep cycle starts to mimic that of adults who typically only experience around 20% of REM each night.
Sleep will come in short random bursts for newborns until they start to develop a more regular schedule as they get older. But, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start to differentiate between nighttime and daytime. You can do this by letting them only sleep in their cribs at night with the lights turned out.
If your baby is fighting sleep at night and wanting to nap more during the day, you can try to implement less sleep inductive activities during the daytime that give way to napping and less high-energy, stimulating activities at night. Remember, babies are incredibly sensitive to moods and energies so try to adapt their surroundings to lead to better sleep conditions.
Keep Their Bellies Full
Newborns should eat as often and as long as they want. If they’re not sleeping or they wake up unexpectedly it could be because they're hungry again. Don’t try to change their eating patterns during their first year, it’s important to simply let them consume the nourishment they need as and when they need it.
Even if you’ve just fed your baby, it can't hurt to see if they’re still hungry. And before you want to put them down for a long nap or for the night, try to give them an especially large meal to increase the chances of them sleeping for longer. Below is a rough guide for newborn feeding schedules.
Every 2-4 hours
Every 3-4 hours
Every 4 hours
Every 4-5 hours
A dream feed is a late-night feeding that gives your newborn a meal just before you head off to bed yourself. Usually executed in a ninja-like fashion 2-3 hours after you’ve put them down for the night, this can help them stay asleep for longer and give you a longer window to get some rest before you need to give them their next feed or nurse them back to sleep when they wake up.
It is also advised that newborns who sleep for longer stretches of time should be awakened to feed. For example, it’s good practice to wake your baby every 3–4 hours for a feeding even if they’re still sleeping soundly. This ensures they have all the nourishment they need to keep growing healthily and happily.
What To Feed Your Baby
Breast milk is the best food for babies. However, if you can’t do this, then there are several healthy formulas that you could use. A recommendation by a health professional or doctor can be prudent here so that you choose something that contains all the right vitamins and minerals to keep your child healthy.
You shouldn't expect your newborn to consume anything like water, juice or other fluids until their digestive system is more developed.
Understanding how to help a newborn sleep at night requires knowing what to dress them in. All newborns will need comfy practical clothes. They're far more sensitive to itchy fabrics or stuffy garments than we are, even on our most delicate days.
Ultimately, life in the womb is a whole lot different to life in the real world, and you must do your best to give your little one the right clothes so they still feel protected, safe, and comfortable.
How To Choose Baby Clothing
What you dress your child in will depend on many things including the season (summer vs. winter baby clothes), personal preferences and safety considerations. When choosing your little one’s clothes, there are some important sleepwear factors you should always consider:
- Age appropriateness
- Temperature suitability
- Fabric choice
Often, a swaddle is the best option for newborns, but if you want a detailed breakdown of the aspects above, take a look at our blog: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep? — The Right Products for the Right Time.
Swaddling for Comfortable Baby Sleep
Most parents start by wrapping their baby in a swaddle. This has been known to calm babies, reduce the impact of their Moro reflex and offer them a warm, cozy, womb-like experience that helps them to relax and drop off to sleep easily.
You can simply craft a swaddle yourself with the blankets you have on hand, or alternatively purchase a charming premade swaddle product from us, known as the Zippy Swaddle, which is carefully tailored for extra practicality and comfort.
However, as it’s not advised to swaddle your child past 3 months, you should start to transition your baby away from this item. This is because of the danger it presents to babies who have developed stronger neck and back muscles and can potentially flip themselves into a position that makes it harder for them to breathe.
To solve this problem, products like our own Zipadee-Zip are specially designed to give infants a greater deal of mobility when they start rolling over or flexing their limbs while giving them the same benefits that come with the swaddle position.
The Parent’s Role
No matter how amazing your parenting skills are, you won’t be able to simply click your fingers and send your newborn to sleep. However, your approach to parenting and general behaviour when it comes to sleep can hugely impact their sleeping abilities and patterns.
For example, it’s recommended that parents don’t always rush in to rescue their babies the second they hear fussing. There is such a thing as sleep independence and self-soothing, and for a child to achieve this, they must be left to their own devices to a certain extent. It’s more a process of unleashing the power within that actively teaching your child.
Also, if you are stressed, anxious or tired, these are things your child might also pick up on. If at all possible, it’s important to keep loud noises and any heated debates away from your baby, especially before you want them to sleep. And when you can, make sure you tend to your own needs. There’s no shame if getting your child looked after for a few hours while you de-stress, unwind or simply get a few hours of sleep yourself.
At the heart of your role as a parent and sleep trainer is the routine you choose to implement. Each family has its own patterns and activities, but there are some safe and reliable techniques that all parents can leverage to help calm their babies and facilitate good sleep cycles as their little ones grow through their first year of life.
Some of these are:
- Having a relaxing bath
- Changing into night clothes
- Changing their diaper
- Turning down the lights a few hours before bedtime
- Singing them a lullaby or playing a soothing lullaby track
- Reading a bedtime story
- Giving them cuddle time
We have plenty more routine tips in our blog: How to Help My Baby Sleep — The Perfect Evening Routine.
At the heart of your role as a parent is the routine you choose to implement. Each family has its own patterns and activities, but there are some safe and reliable techniques that all parents can leverage to help calm their babies.
Your baby’s general health will also influence their ability to sleep. Even a small cold can seriously disrupt their normal sleep pattern and seemingly set them back. However, we would recommend trying to stick to their normal routines as much as possible, even when they’re unwell. This will help them from losing any progress they've already made in establishing a circadian rhythm.
Common Baby Illnesses And Baby Sleep Disruptions
- Sore Throat
- Ear Pain
- Teething Pain
- Skin infection
- Common cold
To help your baby sleep better again, you'll first need to address their underlying health issue. Normal sleep should come back to their life in due course.
For more potential reasons your child might not be sleeping, take a look at our blog: My Baby’s Not Sleeping: 10 Reasons Why.
How To Help a Newborn Sleep at Night with a Cold
When your child catches a cold, they’ll find it much grader to breathe and will generally feel some natural cold-related discomfort just as we adults do.
As you can’t give your baby any cold medication until they’re much older, many of the best solutions for helping your newborn sleep with a cold involve reducing the mucus in the systems and helping them breathe better. A few of our best tips are:
- Use the steam from a hot bath or shower
- Remove mucus
- Use a humidifier
- Keep their heads upright
- Boost immunity
Baby Sleep FAQs
If you’re scratching your head about how to help a newborn sleep at night, here are some common questions and answers related to infant sleep. If the information you’re looking for isn't below, it’s well worth asking a health expert for their take on things, or browsing through our blog of various sleep-related topics.
Should I Wake My Baby Up To Change Their Diaper?
If your baby can't sleep because they need a diaper change they’ll most likely just wake up and start crying. Short of this, it’s not really necessary to change them straight away. You might have a personal stance here, but a small amount of urine isn’t going to kill them and assuming you’ve bought a decent nappy, you can trust it to do its job until your little one does wake up.
If you wake your baby up to change them and find they won’t go back to sleep for the whole night, you might end up kicking yourself.
Should I Use A Nightlight?
To establish a circadian rhythm in your infant they require both darkness and light during a 24-hour cycle. You may want to use a nightlight for your toddler or as a transitional light during winddown town, but we’d say leave the nightlight out of the room when you want your baby to sleep at night.
A nightlight can do more harm than god and is more for the adult than the child when we’re talking about newborns.
When Will My Child Learn Sleep Independence?
There’s no definite answer to this, as you would have guessed if you’d read the above already. Some children will develop good sleep independence very early on, with very little assistance needed from parents.
Others will need a good few years of sleep training. The most important thing to do is make sure you’re adhering to baby sleep best practices and let your child progress at their own pace.
There’s only so much you can do when it comes to helping your newborn sleep. Even if you build a solid strategy from all the points we’ve mentioned, you may have a child who fights against sleep with all their might, keeping you and your family up into the early hours.
Nevertheless, most babies will start to pick up a regular sleep pattern eventually and will sleep for longer stretches of the night until one day, they'll surprise you with a full night of interrupted sleep. It will happen one day, we promise!
Until then, don’t beat yourself up if your child is taken a little longer to develop a consistent routine. Sleep is just another natural milestone that all children must reach at their own pace.