Over the years of working with families who’ve struggled with their baby’s sleep, I’ve gotten used to the questions asking me what the “secret” is to getting a baby to sleep through the night.
Of course, there is no ONE secret. Teaching a child healthy, independent sleep habits is a result of a combination of lots of different things. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some quick tips, either!
With that in mind, today I’d like to share with you 7 different tips you can start trying over the next few nights to get your little one sleeping better.
Sleep Tip #1: Watch the waking hours
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep – especially for babies and toddlers – is overtiredness… and it can be really surprising to learn just how soon children get overtired!
Here’s a quick breakdown to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:
Newborns (0-12 weeks): 45 minutes of awake time
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours of awake time
6-8 months: 2-3 hours of awake time
9-12 months: 3-4 hours of awake time
13 months to 2.5 years: 5-6 hours of awake time
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime… AND this helps them to be more relaxed at bedtime, too!
Sleep Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
Humans (babies and toddlers included), as a general rule, sleep better in the dark.
Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. (I recommend using blackout blinds, taping garbage bags over the windows, or whatever it takes!) In many cases, even the muted glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle!
BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day!
Sleep Tip #3: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)
Babies and toddlers excel with predictable routines. Predictable bedtime routines (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) are a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.
A typical bedtime routine could look something like this:
After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring, and well, predictable. It is common for children to try dragging out bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc. Don’t fall for it!
If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!
Sleep Tip #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
For a lot of babies and toddlers, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association. I’ve talked about this before in other blog posts here and here.
In other words, your child has made the connection that feeding makes it a whole lot to get to sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.
Avoid feeding them before the nap and wait until after they’ve woken up to offer the feed. By doing this, you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This strategy should only be used before naps, not before putting your child to bed for the night. (A full tummy is needed to make sure your child doesn’t wake up hungry during the night!)
Sleep Tip #5: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, it’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place – around the same time – every day.
This means that naptime should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep – and avoid relying on naps to occur in the carseat, strollers, or in your arms at the coffee shop, etc.
For many parents, simply keeping the space where their child naps during the day consistent causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it’s a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep. In a nutshell, if your child falls asleep in your arms on the couch and then wakes up during the night in a completely different place (like their crib), chances are they’ll be a bit disorientated… and start crying to let you know about it!
Sleep Tip #6: Try The “1, 2, 3” Count
When your child wakes up during the night – or during a nap – and starts crying or fussing, try to wait a specific length of time before going in to check on them.
The first day you try this, I recommend waiting exactly one minute before going in to check on your child. On the second day, wait two minutes. Three minutes on the third day, and so on.
Well, children will wake up briefly at the end of each 45-minute “sleep cycle.” For those with independent sleep skills, these wake ups are so brief that they don’t even remember it in the morning. But children who haven’t learned to fall asleep independently need a little longer.
This “1, 2, 3” Count gives your child the opportunity to get themselves back to sleep – without your help. And once your child has learned this skill, you’re home free!
Sleep Tip #7: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing.
This would mean no throwing your toddler in the air… or watching a show on the iPad or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.
DISCLAIMER: I fully endorse tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just NOT in the five minutes before bed. (Right after waking up is a great time to play!)
Like I said, these are tips – quick tricks that, for some parents, are the missing piece of the puzzle that gets their child sleeping through the night.
And while I hope that you’ll be one of the lucky parents who’s able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks, I’m also here for you if you need a little more guidance.
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.