Blissful Baby Sleep: How to Help Your Newborn Sleep Better and Longer

Sleeping Newborn Tips

Newborns sleep an average of 16 hours per day, but as any parent can attest, a baby’s sleep is unpredictable and only lasts a few hours at a time (resulting in many a frazzled parent). If you’re looking for help with sleep training so your baby can sleep better—and longer—you’re not alone. Establishing longer periods of nighttime sleep and more predictable wake-time lengths is a high priority for families with newborns.

The following sleep tips will help you and your baby stay on a path to dreamland, no matter what kind of sleeper you’ve got.

Play, Sleep, Repeat

In the womb, your baby could sleep and wake as they pleased—but on their birthday, well, that all changed. Outside in the real world, things are a little different for newborns. In general, we humans play and work during the day and sleep at night. Unless your baby adapts to this cycle easily (and granted, a few will), they’re going to need time to build their sleep skills and adjust to this “new normal.”

To do this, it’s important to make the most out of the time your baby is awake. Try to feed and change their diaper as soon as they wake and then give them plenty of playtime. Why? Activity and stimulation during wakeful periods (and especially exposure to natural light!) can help them sleep better and longer when you need them to: during naps and at night.

And that’s important, because even though they’re babies, they still need REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep—the sleep stage when dreaming occurs. Dreaming may reduce anxiety and has other health benefits, according to this 2017 Time magazine article. In contrast, as you probably know, when we don’t get enough sleep it can affect not only our moods, but our health as well.

Be Mindful of Your Baby’s Wake Time

Mother and newborn during awake time reading

Take note of the amount of time your baby stays awake before they begin to show signs of drowsiness, like eye-rubbing, fussiness, and a sleepy countenance. Most newborns will have a hard time staying awake for more than an hour at a time during their first month of life. By six months of age, a baby will generally stay awake between two and two and a half hours. Here’s why that’s important: An infant who is put to sleep after the age-appropriate amount of wake time is more likely to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep longer.

Pushing past your infant’s wake-time limit, on the other hand, can make them overtired and overly fussy—and thus more difficult to get to sleep. So while it’s tempting to go and run errands, or get back to your adult-oriented schedule with your awake babe, try not to push them past their limits. In the short term, you could suffer from parent-of-a-newborn cabin fever by ensuring a cozy crib is nearby, but in the long run, you’re honoring your baby’s sleep rhythms and helping your baby build their own sleep skills.

Create a Newborn Sleep Schedule

Some parents are comfortable taking each moment as it comes. Others want to schedule every minute. Every family finds their own way, of course, but the best approach may fall somewhere between these two extremes. Technology can help you find your way: Keep a sleep journal or use a smartphone application like the popular Baby Tracker or Sprout Baby to track sleep and wake times. While young infants won’t follow a strict schedule, you’ll start to notice emerging patterns that will help you set a general nap schedule and a bedtime that works for your child—and your family.

Keep in mind, however, that as your baby can handle longer stretches of being awake, their schedule will need to be adjusted—and the adjustments will continue for a few years. So don’t get too tied to a schedule as it will change sooner than you think, and you’ll need to adjust to the new sleep schedule, too!

Maintain a Bedtime Routine

In a world where everything is new, most infants are comforted by predictable routines. Establish a pre-nap and bedtime routine that tells your baby it’s time to sleep—for instance, you could snuggle your infant into a wearable blanket, read a quiet story, and sing a familiar lullaby. Once you find the routine that feels right for you and your baby, be consistent.

For many, nursing or feeding your baby to sleep is a surefire way to get those eyelids to droop and finally close. However, and especially for moms who need to go back to work, relying on nursing or feeding for naps or bedtime can begin to work against you, as your baby will begin to match the soothing comfort of feeding with sleep and become fussy if that’s not what’s provided. Find your own way, of course, but if you are nursing or feeding your babe to sleep and can’t be there for every sleep cycle, do your best to substitute at least one naptime or bedtime with a different ritual.

Create a Calm Sleep Environment

Photo by Daniela Jovanovska-Hristovska / iStock
Photo by Daniela Jovanovska-Hristovska / iStock

Try to keep the sleep environment consistent with as little stimulation as possible, though take note that most newborns can sleep through the everyday noises your family members may make. In fact, many parents report their newborns sleep better with noise, such the rhythmic slosh of a dishwasher or the whirl of a fan. (Children actually become more sensitive to noise as they get older.)

During nighttime feedings and diaper changes, do your best to maintain a calm environment by keeping the lights low and interactions to a minimum. If you have a spouse or partner who tends toward silly and excitable behavior during these moments, offer a gentle reminder that nighttime is quiet time.

The Best Newborn Sleeping Position

With good reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to place infants on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS. (This is exactly how we get all babies to sleep at KinderCare.)

But what if your baby hates sleeping on their back? It’s true, some infants won’t comply so easily, and could even wake themselves and begin to fuss or cry. While frustrating, it’s important to do your best to remain consistent with this one, because you’ll be helping them learn the important skill of falling asleep independently in this safer position.

Curious about our daycare naptime schedule? You might pick up a tip or two from our teachers! 
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