How To Help Your Baby Connect Sleep Cycles at Night - A Beginner’s Guide

If your baby’s sleep patterns are quite erratic for a while, this is completely normal. While they are between three and 12 months of age, don’t be surprised if they wake up a few times in the night and require attention before being able to sleep again. 
The truth is that newborns don’t have the same cycles as adults and must be guided or trained to connect their individual sleep cycles together so they can sleep for longer periods during the night. If you’re frustrated and are wondering how to help your baby connect sleep cycles at night, keep reading!

Baby sleep cycles - the basics

Mother learning how to help baby connect sleep cycles at night

Adults are able to combine multiple sleep cycles and in some cases sleep through an entire night (8hours+) before ever fully waking. However, children don’t have the necessary sleeping abilities to do this until they have matured. And this process is sometimes referred to as connecting sleep cycles where multiple bursts of sleep can be knitted together to create a longer period of sleep overall.

  • Baby’s are not born with the ability to sleep for long stretches of time. A typical burst or cycle of sleep might last for 40-60 minutes for some babies, after which they will wake up and require comfort before they can get back to sleep. 

  • Up until your baby is 12 months old, their sleep patterns will constantly evolve until they eventually replicate a “normal” pattern that matches their parents

  • From the age of 0-3 months, it might seem like your child has consistent sleep patterns or even sleeps for very long periods throughout the night. This is partly due to the overwhelming need to sleep for your child and a constant energy depletion caused by their daily activities during their first few months. However, there will come  a point when this rhythm is lost and they will naturally wake up more during the night (often referred to as a sleep regression). 

  • At this point, it will take a certain amount of skill and conscious effort on your baby’s part to get themselves to sleep after they have woken up in their cribs during the night. At first, they will cry out for help but eventually you will be able to teach them to self-soothe/self-settle.

    What Is Self-Soothing/Settling? 

    Baby learning how to connect sleep cycles at night
    The biggest tool you have for connecting your baby’s sleep cycles is promoting self-soothing through various tactics that promote sleep independence. It’s normal for your child to look to you for support if they wake up suddenly at night, but if they become too dependent on you for help, this can be detrimental to your baby’s health.
    It is advised to encourage your baby to resettle by postponing the introduction of parent soothing methods such as feeding, shooshing, or rocking as well as removing them completely when the time is right. 
    The biggest tool you have for connecting your baby’s sleep cycles is promoting self-soothing through various tactics that promote sleep independence

    How to help your baby connect sleep cycles at night

    A gap in your baby’s sleep can sometimes trigger distress and crying. They may wake up at the end of a sleep cycle and feel scared and insecure. However, by providing your child with everything they need to be comfortable at night and holding back on the comfort you give to them when they’ve just woken up, you can nudge them into becoming better at self-settling. 

    Start small with sleep cycle training

    First, try and connect just two sleep cycles together so you're not intervening every 40-60 minutes. Once achieved, this is a good foundation to build on. Expecting that your baby will sleep for several hours at a time when you’ve only just started sleep training them is unrealistic. 

    Phase out soothing techniques gradually

    Young mother learning how to help baby connect sleep cycles at night
    Babies will develop a reliance on various soothing techniques for comfort and security when they are trying to sleep. For instance, you may rock or “shoosh” your baby to sleep when they have woken up and are distressed during the night. While this is necessary when your baby is young, being too generous with this kind of comfort can slow down your baby’s progress when it comes to becoming a strong independent sleeper. 
    Phasing out soothing techniques is a great way to encourage your baby to be self-reliant. When they know help isn’t coming, they may be more likely to settle themselves to sleep. 

    Remove distractions

    The right environment can really help your baby to develop a consistent sleep pattern. Consistent activities, as well as the right room atmosphere, can give your little one the support they need to resettle by themselves when they wake up at night.
    In terms of making sure their rooms are suitable for a good night's sleep, consider doing the following as part of your evening checklist.
    • Turn off electronic devices including phones, tablets and televisions
    • Close windows in your baby’s room so that less noise filters through
    • Put a notice on your front door to stop people ringing the bell or knocking 
    • Make sure everyone in the house is aware that your baby is sleeping
    • Create noise blackout periods in your home where people keep their voices to a low volume 
    • Use blackout curtains to stop light from getting in 
    • Dress them appropriately 
    Also, it doesn’t matter what you do exactly each evening when it comes to your baby’s evening routine as long as there is a good amount of consistency involved. Using the same soothing technique, starting bedtime at the same time, following the same sequence and catering to your child’s preferences can all make a huge difference. 
    A few ideas to consider adding to your child’s nighttime routine include:
    • Having a bath
    • Changing into comfy night clothes 
    • Playing white noise
    • Reading a bedtime story
    • Cuddles
    • Singing a lullaby 
    For more on this topic, take a look at our popular blog post: How to Help My Baby Sleep — The Perfect Evening Routine
    Consistent activities as well as the right room atmosphere can give your little one the support they need to resettle by themselves when they wake up at night and sleep for longer periods of time.

    Be strategic with naps

    Dad learning how to help baby connect sleep cycles at night
    Keep in mind that newborns sleep for 18 or so hours a day, but often for only 2-3 hours at a time. Controlling your baby’s overall levels of sleepiness is important when you’re learning how to connect your baby’s sleep cycles at night. 
    If they are too tired, or not tired enough, they won’t be in a good state when it comes to giving them the opportunity to self-soothe and connect their separate sleep cycles at night. 
    The right amount of sleepiness (created through a strategic nap schedule during the day) is the best starting point when training your little one to sleep better at night.

    Final comments

    It’s completely normal for newborn babies to wake up throughout the night and there’s no use in trying to avoid this reality completely. 

    Until they are over 12 months and even for a time after this in some cases, you might experience erratic or random sleep patterns. However, rest assured that if you’re following the general best practices when it comes to bedtime routines, they’ll develop a strong circadian rhythm eventually!