Help, My Baby Won't Sleep

sad woman sat in front of baby gate

If there was a single secret to getting your baby to sleep all night, every parent would be getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night! There are so many factors that affect how well your child sleeps, we want to share with you some top tips that should really help improve your little one’s naps and night-time rest.

Teach Your Child to Fall Asleep Independently

Every parent has the end goal to teach their child to fall asleep unassisted, so that when they wake in the night, they peacefully put themselves back to sleep.

Though many parents see this as impossible, there is a way to teach this. This most definitely does not mean leaving your baby to cry until they fall asleep due to exhaustion (that does not teach them anything) and can lead to separation anxiety and child psychological trauma. You can instead support them through the whole journey towards this lifelong skill.

Sleep Regression

We often talk about the dreaded '4-month regression' too. Although it may not feel like it when they are waking up constantly throughout the night, this is, in fact, progression. As well as your child developing physically, their sleep cycles have matured, so this is a great time to start teaching your child to self-settle. At the newborn stage (0-3 months), you can practise putting your baby down a little more awake each night but be aware that they may need a little bit of extra support. You may therefore need to use a more of a hands-on approach. Don’t be afraid to sometimes use the likes of a sling or pram to get them that little extra sleep!

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Your Child’s Room Should be Very Dark

Have you heard of 'melatonin'? It is the sleepy hormone that signals to your brain that it is time to rest. This is increased in darkness. A slight bit of light has been shown to reduce those melatonin levels in our bodies.

Let us give our baby’s the best chance of sleeping well, by ensuring their room is pitch black for naps and nighttime sleep. So dark, that if you put your hand out in front of your face, you would not see it.

The same applies to morning, if the light starts coming through the curtains, melatonin levels will drop and can contribute to those early wake-ups. If you don’t have blackout blinds or they still let some light in around the edges, you can always do a DIY job yourself, or there are some great velcro blackouts available.

Toys and Mobiles Should be Kept for Playtime

They may look cute, but toys and mobiles in cots often over-stimulate a baby and will keep them awake longer. As well as sometimes being unsafe, toys are often associated with playtime, which is exactly what you don’t want when you’re putting your baby to bed.

Again, mobiles over the bed have music and lights which don’t always encourage sleep.

Limit Total Day Sleep

When a baby has a bad night’s sleep, parents often let them catch up the next day and let them sleep more than what’s age-appropriate. All that happens in this instance, is the following night they sleep badly again, and they have entered into a vicious cycle with more night wakings. Always try to give them the right amount of sleep in the day, so that at night, they go down to bed easily and are not over or under tired.

How Much Day Sleep Should They Get?

Here is a guide as to how much sleep they should have during daylight hours. (Be aware that some babies have higher or lower sleep needs so these are just averages).

0 to 12-weeks - total day sleep should be between 4-6 hours (this gets less each month).

3 to 5-months - total day sleep should be between 3.5-4 hours.

6 to 11-months - total day sleep should be between 2.5-3.5 hours.

12 to 18-months on 2 naps a day - total day sleep should be 2 hours at most.

After 1 nap transition - total day sleep should be 3 hours at most.

Wake Times

When you catch your baby at the right time when they are not over or under tired, getting them to sleep and staying asleep will run a whole lot more smoothly! This applies for both naps and bedtime, and it really is about finding that sweet spot.

Below is a guide for wake times but adjust accordingly for your own child’s sleep needs:

0 to 12-weeks: 1-1.5 hours

3 to 5-months: 1.5-2 hours

6 to 8-months: 2.5-3 hours

9 to 11-months: 3-4.5 hours

12 to 18-months: 4-5 hours

18-months plus: (usually until about 3 years): 5-6 hours

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No Single Nap Should Exceed 2 Hours

If a nap is longer than 2 hours, it often steals some of the night’s sleep. This can result in a struggle to get them to bed at night, as well as more night wake ups and early morning rises. The only exception to this, is when your child is on a 1 nap schedule.

Some children will sleep for 3 hours and go to bed at night no problem!

Bedtime Should be Between 6pm and 8pm

We often hear parents say, “I put my baby down late, at about 9-10 pm hoping they then wake up later in the morning". This rarely works!

You will instead have a super overtired child, which will lead to more wakeups and they will probably still arise at 5-6am.

Somewhere between 6-8 pm is an ideal bedtime, because the sleepy hormone melatonin naturally surges during this time in a baby. So, you should take advantage of the hormone being high before it starts dropping again.

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Try to Not Make Feeding the Last Stage in the Bedtime Routine

Often the last stage of a baby’s bedtime routine is a bottle of milk or a breastfeed. When this is the case, they can go drowsy and without knowing it, you are assisting them into the first stage of sleep. This means they never really learn properly to fall asleep on their own and instead rely on the bottle or boob to feel sleepy.

Then when they wake in the night, they need the milk to send them back to sleep. Sound familiar? The best thing you can do, is bring the feed to the beginning of the bedtime routine, out of their nursery, so they disassociate feeding with sleep and then teach them to settle themselves. Either before or after the bath is ideal.

When your baby wakes and makes a noise, try to wait a short while and see what they do.

The slightest whimper and parents often rush to their baby. It’s parents’ instinct - we get it! But just by waiting a short while, you are giving them the opportunity to try and put themselves back to sleep on their own.

Did you know that it takes a baby 3-5 minutes to fully wake? So do try and wait this long. By going in before this, you may wake them up when they were just making noise as they transition between sleep cycles (they are noisy little sleepers!).

Consistency is Key

Routine and predictability - babys love this and they thrive knowing what’s coming next. Their little internal clock, called their 'circadian rhythm', starts expecting sleep at certain times of the day if you begin offering it at the same time each day. If you can give your baby as many naps in their cot, all at similar times, this really helps to improve their sleep.

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