I want to share 10 habits that help our baby sleep through the night because I know once you become a parent, you suddenly have a new obsession: sleeping. Whether you are carefully scheduling naptimes, working through a 4-months sleep regression, dealing with early wakings or lamenting the loss of your own uninterrupted sleep schedule, sleep becomes a very popular topic of conversation. It’s easy to understand why when you consider how important it is for baby (and mom and dad!) to get a good night’s rest.
Bibi is our first child so we are learning things as we go. We have tried to create healthy sleep habits for our baby from the beginning. We didn’t start all of these sleep habits at once but added them to our daily routine as we discovered what worked best for us. If you want to lengthen the length of your baby’s nighttime sleep, here are nine habits that we found that has helped our baby sleep through the night.
The resources I used and referenced in all my baby sleep posts are:
• The Happy Sleeper Book – Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Newborn to School Age
• Taking Cara Baby Paid Sleep Program
• Bringing Up Bebe Book: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
• One-on-one meetings with lactation consultants at BC Women’s Hospital
• 7-week Pre-natal Class at the Childbearing Society
• Local La Leche Meetings in Vancouver
• Today’s Parent: Cry-it-out sleep training will not harm your baby
• Baby Sleep Site: The Ferber Method Explained
• Today’s Parent: Giving your baby morning breastmilk at bedtime might be ruining his sleep
• Taking Cara Babies: 5-25 Months Sleep Schedule
• Baby’s Breath Canada: What is SIDS
• CDC.GOV: Learn what parents and caregivers can do to help babies sleep safely
• American Academy of Pediatrics Journal: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
• It’s all in the timing: kids’ bedtimes
• Top Culprits for Early Morning Wakings
• AAP endorses new recommendations on sleep times
• Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial
• Daytime nap controls toddlers’ nighttime sleep
What Does “Sleep through the night” Mean for Babies?
When we are talking about babies, the term “sleeping through the night” can be a bit deceiving. You will be disappointed if you are expecting 10-12 hours of sleep. The usual definition for babies “sleeping through the night” is actually sleeping 6-8 hours straight.
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What Age Can Baby Sleep Through the Night?
Infants up to three months old will need to wake several times a night to feed. Because they are growing so rapidly and have such small stomachs, they digest breastmilk rapidly and need to eat every 2-3 hours.
Between 4-6 months many babies will begin to have the ability to make it 6-8 hours without feeding. This is the perfect time to create healthy and reasonable sleep habits that will encourage your little one to make those long stretches of sleep a regular occurrence.
I know it can be frustrating if your baby isn’t sleeping long stretches, before we successfully trained our baby to sleep through the night at 3 months old, we were taking turns holding baby in our arms all night long. I am now convinced that if you establish good sleep habits, longer sleep for both of you will come in time. Below are ten sleep habits that helped our baby sleep through the night.
Make Sure Baby Has a Full Tummy
Babies grow rapidly in their first years of life. For optimal brain and body growth, good nutrition is essential. It is easier to understand why they need to eat so often when you remember that their stomach size is roughly the size of their fist.
We have found a full belly is a big component that helps our baby sleep through the night. When she was younger, this meant a bottle before bedtime. As she’s gotten older, we are making sure she has eaten a full and balanced dinner in the hours leading up to sleep. If for some reason dinner happens earlier than normal, or if she is going through a growth spurt or seems extra hungry we will give her an extra healthy snack before beginning her bedtime routine.
Here are some recipes for baby’s meals which have been a hit in our home:
– Turkey & Veggy Meatballs for Baby Led Weaning
– Sweet Tomato Sauce for Baby
– Soft Vegetable Soup for Baby
– Vegetable Squash Soup for Baby
Careful Timing of Baby’s Last Nap
The timing of a baby’s daytime nap can have a big impact on their ability to sleep through the night. Babies that are tired and ready to sleep will fall asleep faster and have longer nighttime sleep duration. Studies have shown that around 18 months, a “duration-controlled” nap in the early afternoon leads to longer nighttime sleep.
We have found that being aware of our daughter’s awake window helps us to set optimal nap time and duration. An awake window is the amount of time that a baby is awake and active before needing more sleep. Currently, Bibi’s bedtime is 7:30 p.m. and her awake window is five hours. Basically, I work my way backward from her bedtime and make sure that she wakes up from her last nap of the day no later than 2:30 p.m. Maximizing her awake window helps to build enough sleep deficit for her to go to bed without resistance and fall asleep easily.
To determine your baby’s awake window, observe for 2-3 days and write down how many hours pass from baby being awake to needing a nap or going to bed. Take an average from those days and then use that awake window going forward. We try to stick very closely to Bibi’s five hour awake window. Five hours after she wakes up in the morning we put her down for her nap. Five hours before her bedtime we make sure she is awake from her nap. This has worked wonderfully for our family.
Optimal awake windows as recommended by The Happy Sleeper :
- 5-6 months:1.5-2.5 hours (sometimes with a longer 3-hour stretch in the later part of the day)
- 9-14 months: 3-3.5 hours
- 15-20 months: 4-5 hours (depending on the length of nap)
This awake window fluctuates as baby grows so it should not be set in stone. If you notice that your baby is consistently fussy or unable to fall asleep quickly, you may want to increase the awake window or experiment with the timing of their nap(s). Here are two posts I wrote on how we transitioned baby from 3 naps to 2 nap & from 2 naps to 1 nap at 16 months.
Daily Exercise and Time Outdoors
Spending time in the outdoors has many health benefits for babies including establishing circadian rhythms that will help them sleep more restfully.
In a 2004 study in the Journal of Sleep Research, the amount of time babies younger than 13 weeks spent in the sunlight had a direct impact on their quality of sleep. Babies who slept well at night spent twice as much time in the sunlight as their more wakeful peers.
We also use our outdoor time to encourage physical activity for our daughter. We try to spend at least one hour a day on walks or playing outside. Even on days when she isn’t feeling very active, I still bring Bibi outside for some sunlight.
It can take some experimenting to determine the best time of day for exercise/outdoor time. When Bibi was on a 2-nap schedule I found that the optimal time for exercise was sometime between her first and second nap. Releasing all that physical energy after her first nap led to an on-time second nap with no resistance.
Now that Bibi is on a one-nap schedule, I find that the optimal time to exercise for us is sometime after her first nap. We’ve found that on days where she exercises after her first nap she is able to fall asleep faster at bedtime. As an added bonus, daily exercise and time outdoors is good for mom and dad’s health and sleep!
Establish and Stick to an Appropriate Bedtime
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reviewed 864 scientific articles to create sleep recommendations by age.
Although different children may thrive with slightly more or less sleep, being aware of these numbers can help you make good decisions about an ideal bedtime for your baby.
- Babies 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours
You can use these sleep recommendations to decide on an appropriate bedtime for your child. For example, after subtracting Bibi’s naptime from the recommended 11-14 hours, she should get around 10.5 hours of sleep each night. She is usually awake around 6:15 a.m. So counting backward 10.5 hours from 6:15 a.m. results in bedtime of 7:45 p.m.
Consistency is VERY important in establishing a healthy sleep routine with babies. Sometimes it feels very difficult to sacrifice your time with other adults to get your baby to bed. I can assure you that a consistent bedtime and a happy baby is worth that small sacrifice. Consider switching off with your spouse so one of you can stay at events and the other can get baby to bed.
Use White Noise Throughout the Night
Babies come into this world used to a dark, warm and somewhat noisy environment. As you work towards your baby sleeping through the night, white noise can be one of your most valuable tools. Human ears never turn off. This instinct is helpful for survival situations but not so much when every little noise startles baby awake!
White noise provides a constant, calming and familiar sound as it mimics the sounds babies hear in-utero. Whether it comes from a sound machine like this one, a fan/air conditioner or even a phone app and speaker, white noise can help baby fall into a deeper sleep and stay asleep.
Create an Ideal Sleep Environment
To help baby sleep through the night, it is important to create a calm and comfortable sleep environment. You should consider:
- Temperature: experts recommend keeping the temperature in a baby’s nursery or room between 68-72 degrees. A good rule of thumb is to have them in no more than one layer of clothing more than an adult is comfortable wearing. We don’t have a smart heating system in our house so we have to manually adjust the heat. It can be really disruptive to change baby in and out of different sleep sacks/outfits. In the summer, it is hot at bedtime but cools in the middle of the night. We dress Bibi in a thicker sleepsack with the air conditioner turned on. Before we go to bed we turn it off so she doesn’t get too cold when the temperature drops in the middle of the night..
- Light: Use blackout curtains to make sure the room is dark.
- Comfort/Security: If baby is a newborn, consider swaddling or using a sleepsack swaddle to help baby feel safe and secure.
- Sound: Listen in the room for any sounds that might disrupt baby’s sleep (Air conditioner switching on? Birds? Neighbor?). Consider using white noise (see above) to create a base layer of soothing sound that will drown out other noises.
- Safety: Make sure baby is sleeping on a firm surface, with no soft objects or loose bedding. These increase risk of SIDS or strangulation. Look close to baby’s bassinet or crib and consider things they might be able to reach as they get older. For example: the cords of window coverings.
Controlled Screen Time
There are many studies that show that screen time has a negative effect on sleep (for both children and adults). No screen time might be one of the harder healthy sleep habits to stay firm on. However, it is important for general health and good sleep, especially if you want to help baby sleep through the night.
The Sleep Foundation states,“Electronic devices emit an artificial blue light that can suppress the release of the body’s sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. In turn, this can interfere with the body’s natural internal clock that signals when it’s time to sleep and wake up.”
Bibi is currently under 18 months old. We have a no screen time policy except when video chat her grandparents for short periods of time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time (except video chatting) for children under the age of 18-24 months. Not only does screen time negatively affect sleep, but it also can impact their future learning capabilities.
“Good evidence suggests that screen viewing before age 18 months has lasting negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, and short term memory. It also contributes to problems with sleep and attention.”“Where We Stand: Screen Time.” healthychildren.org, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx
If you have a younger child who already uses screens, try to reduce or eliminate screen time. No parent will ever regret spending more time interacting with their baby. Be creative and find fun and simple activities that can be enjoyed together. Some things we like to do with Bibi are: listening to music, taking walks, stacking Bibi’s favorite magnetic blocks and reading books.
Careful Co-sleeping to Help Baby Sleep Through the Night
I’ve written before about our method of co-sleeping with Bibi. We have chosen to have Bibi in our room so we can quickly respond to her needs. Choosing to safely co-sleep with your baby can establish good sleeping habits and help baby sleep through the night.
- Having Bibi in our room allows us to respond quickly: Research shows that if parents respond to babies’ cries within 90 seconds it is much easier and faster to calm them (Hunziker & Barr, 1986)
- Babies feel safe and secure which encourages them to sleep more soundly
- Co-sleeping gives parents insight into changes they need to make to create a comfortable sleeping environment. We noticed that our room was getting too bright early in the morning which was causing Bibi to wake up at 5 a.m. We blocked some light that was coming through a gap in the curtain and put a towel underneath the door. This helped Bibi sleep longer in the morning.
- Co-sleeping helps baby to “mirror” good sleep activities. If baby wakes too early but sees mom and dad are still sleeping, he/she will lie back down and close their eyes.
Consistent Routine & Wind Down Before Bedtime
Imagine for a minute that you are the mercy of another person and unable to communicate what you need. It is no wonder that babies crave the consistency of a routine. When they have a routine before bedtime they know what is coming and can wind down and relax.
We find that sticking to a regular predicable routine helps Bibi get to sleep and sleep better at night. We try to give her every nap at home where she can get the most long and restful nap. When we do go out, we leave plenty of time to wind down at home before going to bed. For us, this means serving Bibi’s dinner at home and doing her usual pre-bedtime activities like bath time, books and music.
When we stay out with baby until the last possible minute and then bring her home for a quick bath and storytime, it takes her so much longer to fall asleep. I can only guess perhaps by then, she is overstimulated. She needs more time to process everything that happened in the day before being able to fall asleep. This might not be the case for your baby. I haven’t found much information on this. I just wanted to share that coming home early with baby for wind down time has helped us a lot.
Again, it can be hard to leave events early. Try to alternate with your spouse. When one of you takes the baby home for bed while the other stays out, it is a win-win. You get the benefits of sticking to a consistent sleep schedule AND enjoy occasional time out. If you have a hard time finding a good bedtime routine, try these realistic bedtime routine ideas for busy parents.
Allowing Baby to Self-soothe to Sleep
Lastly, once you breath a sigh of relief after baby finally falls asleep for the night, you’re not fully in the clear because we all know that baby might still end up waking up in the middle of the night. Therefore, it’s very important for them to have the ability to fall asleep again on their own if this happens.
To help baby foster the confidence and ability to fall asleep on their own again if awoken, at bedtime, we put Bibi in her crib awake and close the door behind us. We don’t wait around until she falls asleep as this can cause a reliance on having us help her back to sleep if she wakes up in the middle of the night. Of course, this took some practice on her part and some patience on ours. I discuss how we implemented this in how we trained 3-month baby to sleep through the night. Also, it can be a bit time-consuming to implement at first as you will get a lot of push back from baby but in the long-run the results are well worth it. When Bibi does wake up during the night, I see her babbling in her crib or hugging her stuffed animals while rolling around until she falls asleep again after about half to one hour.
I hope these ten sleep habits will help your baby sleep through the night. We have found that even as Bibi goes through growth spurts and sleep regressions, these habits can be maintained and help to get her back on track for a good night’s rest.
Please remember how important it is for you to get good rest as well. Establishing these healthy sleeping habits will not only help baby sleep through the night but also make your whole family happy and healthier in the long run.
Wishing you and your little one good rest,