Making your baby fall asleep can often be a challenge. While there’s plenty of content online explaining how baby sleep works and how you can best encourage your little one to nod off each night (or at naptime), it can still feel overwhelming when you have a wide-awake crying baby on your hands that simply won’t go to sleep.
At these times, it can be helpful to have some helpful strategies to try out, as well as a list of things you probably should avoid, whether it’s for safety reasons or because they’re just not likely to work. So, read on for our breakdown of dos and don’t for getting your little one to sleep.
The Science Behind Baby Sleep
Even a basic grasp of the science behind baby sleep can go a long way. And when you’re weighing up various tips and tricks from other parents, it’s much easier to understand why certain methods do or don’t work when you have a better idea of the role that sleep plays in child development.
Without going into things too deeply, important baby sleep facts are:
- Babies are not born with a strong circadian rhythm so sleep training isn't really possible for newborns until after the 4-6 months mark, according to the Sleep Foundation. This is when your baby’s sleeping patterns can be regulated with the help of healthy sleeping routines and best practices for baby sleep.
- Sleeping and being able to soothe oneself to sleep after waking up is actually a skill. And like all skills, it can take time to master. The right environment and parenting approach can make this process of learning much easier, but it is ultimately the child who will need to develop their own independence. As such, quick tricks and techniques to make your baby drop off are not nearly as important as teaching your little one the long-term life skill of getting themselves to sleep.
- Health, diet and general lifestyle all play a major role in sleeping ability. Even stimulation and stress in the home environment can affect sleep for babies. So when looking for ways to make your baby fall asleep, it can really help to think of the “bigger picture” and how you can optimize their lives so there are minimal barriers to healthy sleep.
- A parent can help their baby sleep by knowing the signs of sleep readiness, teaching them to fall asleep on their own, and providing the right environment for comfortable and safe sleep, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
We explore more aspects of baby sleep in our blog: How to Help Your Newborn Sleep At Night - A Practical Guide
Babies are not born with a strong circadian rhythm so sleep training isn't really possible for newborns until after the 4-6 months mark.
Approaches to Sleep Training
Child experts often talk more about “approaches” and “methods” in response to baby sleep problems. This is because, as mentioned above, the development of sleeping ability is something that needs to be tackled more holistically rather than just with a few one-off techniques that are handy when you’re in a pinch.
Below are some of the major methods being used today.
The cry it out method
This method accepts that crying is a natural part of child development and even though it’s hard, letting your baby cry at night when they can’t sleep is a necessary part of teaching them the skills of soothing themselves to sleep on their own. Some parents disagree with this method for being too “brutal” and a potential cause of psychological stress for children.
The chair method involves parents sitting near the crib until their infants fall asleep. As your child gets older, the chair can be moved further and further away from the crib so they become less dependent on your physical reassurance.
This approach involves letting your baby cry when they can’t sleep, while adjusting the time you wait until you offer support. By delaying your arrival increasingly, you can encourage them to be less dependent on you gradually.
No cry sleep training method
The no cry method isn’t a single approach or technique and instead captures an overall mindset when it comes to baby sleep. In essence, it involves providing your child with all the right tools they need to sleep, gradually removing any dependencies they have, but always responding to them when they cry. This method focuses a lot on the preparation phase, where healthy bedtime routines and practices substitute for specific techniques used when your baby is actually crying and unable to sleep.
While we’re not saying you need to pick any of these in particular, we do recognize the benefits of having an overall approach to sleep training. This will make your acts of baby soothing and efforts to make your baby fall asleep at night less random and sporadic. You can always make adjustments based on how your baby is responding.
Healthy (And Effective) Ways to Make Baby Fall Asleep
While you can’t force a child to fall asleep when they’re wide awake or distressed, there are a few specific things that can make things much easier in the short-term.
Rock Your Baby with a Lullaby
A simple rocking accompanied by a soft lullaby sung by an adult can be enough to reduce the levels of stress in your baby and induce some well-needed relaxation in time for bed. The comfort of the adult, the sound of their voice and the gentle distraction offered by the subtle rocking has worked for parents all over the world.
If you’re not in the mood for singing, you can try playing a soothing song on the stereo or even YouTube. As long as it’s calm and relaxing, it doesn’t really matter what you’ve chosen. And experimenting with different types of music can be fun to see what your baby enjoys the most.
If this doesn’t work, a number of studies carried out on newborns and infants have shown that white noise can have a positive effect on encouraging sleep.
Bouncing and Walking
If some gentle rocking isn’t working, or just for some variation, try walking around with your baby while they’re distressed and inconsolable. A change of scene as well as the comfort of a parent gently bouncing them can help to snap them out of their crying session long enough for you to put them back down in their cribs and try a second attempt at sleep.
Simple changes like this, including the change of the adult who is holding the baby, are subtle ways to take your baby’s attention away from their despair without offering too much stimulation.
Going for a drive can also help, but it’s often hard to get your baby from the car back into bed, making the process a bit of a risk. A stroll around your garden or just the other rooms of your house can do the trick just nicely.
Babies like vibrations and many become relaxed and distracted when placed near an appliance that vibrates. To try this out, put your baby in a car seat securely and place it on top of or near a washing machine, dryer or dishwasher.
As well as the white noise generated from the machine, the soft and consistent rumbling can also help put them to sleep.
Time Your Naps Perfectly
If you’re desperate to get your baby off to sleep, it can help to pay extra special attention to the timing of their naps. Admittedly, it can be hard to know when the best times are and it’s useful to refer to the normal sleep patterns of other children the same age.
However, it is also crucial to look out for tiredness cues like fussing and rubbing of the eyes. This is a good sign that you should put your baby to bed (sleepy but not yet asleep), according to Kids Health.
For more ideas on how to soothe a crying baby and help them to fall asleep, check out our blog: How to Soothe a Baby - 10 Simple Ideas
Look for tiredness cues like fussing and rubbing of the eyes as a good sign that you should put your baby to bed.
Baby Sleeping Practices to Avoid
There are numerous ways to get your baby to settle down, but here are a few you should try to avoid where possible.
Keeping Your Baby Awake to “Tire them Out”
You might think that skipping a nap or reducing nap time can help your little one sleep for longer at night, but this is often not the case. Instead, they are likely to become even more distressed and overwhelmed due to the feeling of overtiredness and too much stimulation.
Instead, watch out for signs of sleepiness and try to keep your baby’s sleep debt at a healthy range (not too many missed naps).
Holding Your Baby to Sleep all the Time
Holding your baby to make them fall asleep might feel like the only way to truly get them to rest and stop crying, but doing this too much can be a problem.
Firstly, when you place them back in the crib after they have dropped off, there’s a big chance they will wake up and start crying. Also, if you’re holding your baby too much, they can become far too dependent on you each night, taking away from their abilities to self-soothe.
Relying on Car Rides
While this can really help, relying on your car to put your baby to sleep isn't sustainable or healthy. The best place for your child to sleep is in their crib and on their back. Using this set-up as much as possible will give them the foundation they need to get used to normal sleeping routines in their bedrooms.
Feeding Baby to Sleep
The problem with feeding your baby to sleep all the time is that they may develop the notion that this must always happen. As such, try to feed your baby slightly earlier so that their bedtime doesn’t coincide with their feeding time.
Relying on Soothing Methods
As mentioned, good routines and general approaches to sleep training are probably going to be much more effective at helping your child sleep consistently than simple one-off soothing techniques.
So while there's nothing wrong with resorting to your go-to strategy when times are tough, it’s also good to put up with a few nights of crying and distress if it means your child can teach themselves to self-soothe and sleep independently.
Give Your Baby a Chance to Self-Soothe
While it’s always useful to be armed with certain strategies to help your baby sleep at night, there’s going to be a certain amount of turbulence until your child gets past the age of 12-months and has learned how to soothe themselves independently.
Rushing in the room quickly and trying several ways of making your baby fall asleep can set your child back when it comes to achieving complete sleep independence.
Your efforts should be focused on creating the right environments and routines with minimal disruptions. In time, your baby will naturally build their own set of skills and tricks to calm themselves and get themselves to sleep without your help.
In time, your baby will naturally build their own set of skills and tricks to calm themselves and get themselves to sleep without your help.
A Word About Healthy Sleeping Principles
No one likes lack of sleep. And when you’ve had several nights of disrupted sleeping, you might be tempted to experiment with various techniques for getting your little one to nod off. However, while there’s nothing wrong with this, always act within the guidelines of safe and healthy baby sleep practices such as always putting your baby to sleep on their backs on a firm mattress that is clear of clutter and unnecessary baby accessories.
We’ve got a great blog about sleep safety practices if you want want to brush up on this topic: Safe Sleep for Babies: The ABC’s and What You Need to Know
Don’t Lose Hope!
Sometimes it’s perseverance and hope that will get you through as much as any piece of advice or recommended technique. If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a decent idea of the basics involved in making your baby fall asleep and simply need to push through until your child has developed a more consistent pattern of sleep.
If you're faced with what seems like an unusual amount of sleepless nights and broken sleep schedules, rest assured that millions of parents across the globe have felt exactly the same way.
As long as your overall approach to baby sleep is consistent with advice from child health experts, you’ll eventually get to a point where your child can sleep for a full night — it’s just a matter of time.