Bedtime and naptime are incredibly important for parents and babies alike.
For parents, this precious time is perhaps your only opportunity to get on with things like household chores, work, or to even put your feet up for some much-needed rest.
And for a baby, you may be surprised to learn that a large amount of physical and mental development actually happens during their sleep, to the point where sleep builds your baby’s brain and plays a crucial role in their overall health and well-being.
A child who does not get enough sleep may have trouble functioning during the day, and in the evening they might find it harder to settle, which can lead to more tiredness, worse sleep, and a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.
Because good sleep habits start from birth, it’s important that parents understand the basics of good sleep, and know how to diagnose and resolve any potential issues quickly and efficiently.
In the early days, our daughter Isabella wasn’t the best sleeper, so as a result Tori and I have spent hundreds of hours reading up on the subject and have spoken to several sleep experts to resolve our issues.
As a result, we are pretty well qualified and experienced in many baby and toddler sleep-related subjects – here’s what we’ve learned.
Table of Contents
- Recommended Sleep
- Safe Sleep Tips
- Signs Of Tiredness
- Where To Sleep
- Crib Vs Bassinet
- Sheets & Blankets
- Sleeping Positions
- Rolling To The Side
- Prepping Their Room
- Overcoming Sleep Issues
Some children naturally sleep more than others, but as a starting point it’s good to know what the recommended amount of sleep is for a child over a 24-hour period by age group, which we’ve shown below (source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine).
|Age||Recommended Sleep per 24 Hours|
|Infants (4 to 12 months old)||12-16 hours|
|Toddlers (1 to 2 years old)||11-14 hours|
|Children (3 to 5 years old)||10-13 hours|
|Children (6-12 years)||9-12 hours|
Did you notice how newborns aren’t included in the table above?
That’s because infants younger than 4 months have a wide range of normal variation in the duration and pattern of their sleep, so experts aren’t confident in providing recommendations for babies in this range.
And before we go any further, it’s worth highlighting that babies who fight sleep are not necessarily more intelligent than babies who sleep well.
Safe Sleep Tips
All parents should be aware of the ABCs of safe sleep, which stands for:
- Alone: Your baby should always sleep on their own sleep surface.
- Back: Your baby should sleep on their back for every sleep. Don’t move your baby if they roll over to their front, but do put them down on their back for every sleep until they are 12 months old.
- Crib: Until your baby is 12 months old their crib or bassinet should be empty, which means no pillows, blankets, loveies or soft toys (although pacifiers are fine, which we’ll cover shortly).
Signs Of Tiredness
It’s important to know when your baby is tired and ready for sleep because an overtired baby finds it harder to fall asleep and doesn’t sleep as well as a well-rested baby.
Overtired babies can easily become stressed and overstimulated, particularly because their body produces cortisol and adrenaline, and both of these chemicals make it much harder for your baby to fall asleep.
Some of the signs of an overtired baby include yawning, pulling at the ears, neediness, being fussy with food, fighting sleep, and sleeping for shorter periods than usual.
Where To Sleep
Newborn To 6 Months+
According to experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centres For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should sleep in the same room – but not in the same bed – as their parents for at least the first 6 months.
This is because studies show that co-sharing a room with your child can reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by as much as 50%, which is a hugely significant reduction.
After 6 Months
From around the 6-month mark parents can begin to think about moving your child to their own room.
Some other things to think about include:
- Do you think you or your baby will sleep better if they have their own space and less disturbance?
- How long are your baby’s sleep stretches – if they are still only a few hours long and you need to feed or comfort them a few times a night, your baby might not be ready for their own room.
- The proximity between your room and your baby’s, is so far as whether you’ll be able to hear them if they are unsettled.
- What effect the current sleeping arrangement is having on your relationship with your partner – tiptoeing around in silence and not being intimate in the fear of waking your sleeping baby beside your bed isn’t conducive to a strong and healthy relationship!
Crib Vs Bassinet
It’s important to understand the difference between a crib and a bassinet before plunging into buying one over the other.
Bassinets are specifically designed for newborns, meaning they are a smaller, cozier environment in which to sleep.
One of their main advantages is their size, meaning they are easier to fit beside your bed and they can be moved around your house without any issues.
Bassinets tend to be much cheaper than cribs (Snoo notwithstanding), but if you buy a bassinet keep in mind you will still need to buy a crib several months later as well – after around 5-6 months your baby will need to transition to a crib.
Moses baskets are a type of bassinet, usually made from natural materials such as wicker or palm leaf, and are typically more portable and more pleasing to the eye than a regular bassinet.
Cribs are much larger and more solid than bassinets and as a result, they cannot be moved around your house.
However, they do contain your baby in a safe environment in which your little one cannot fall out or get out themselves, and depending on the type you buy and if it converts to a toddler bed, your child can sleep in a crib until the age of around 5 (especially because most cribs can safely hold a child that weight between 35 – 50 pounds).
Both have their pros and cons and are safe for newborns, but if budget allows then the general recommendation is to use a bassinet for your newborn and then transition them to a crib a few months later.
Sheets & Blankets
For hygienic and comfort reasons you should always use sheets with a bassinet and with a crib.
Frustratingly there isn’t a universally standard size for a bassinet, meaning sheets are produced in slightly different shapes and sizes.
If you decide to use a fitted sheet on your bassinet, then you will need to ensure you either use one that comes with the bassinet or if not, then sheets that have the exact same dimensions as the mattress.
The general rule of thumb when dressing a baby is simply to dress them in one more layer than you would wear.
When deciding what a baby should wear to sleep during cold weather, you should opt for heavier fabrics, use layers, and avoid overheating.
In summer or hot weather, the reverse is true, so you should always opt for lightweight fabrics, avoid overdressing and use common sense.
You’ll want your baby to be warm, comfortable and most importantly safe when dressing them for sleep, and for this reason sleep sacks or swaddle blankets are a great choice.
These items are excellent because they help ensure your baby is the right temperature and provide plenty of freedom to move around while eliminating the need for loose blankets (which pose a suffocation risk and shouldn’t be used until your baby is at least 12 months old, and even then you should only go for lightweight versions with no ribbons or other choking hazards).
A sleep sack (also known as a sleep bag or wearable blanket) is a wearable blanket designed to keep your baby a comfortable temperature during sleep.
Sleep sacks keep your baby’s torso, legs and feet within the sack, even if your baby moves around their crib.
Sleep sacks are perfectly safe for babies including newborns, provided the fit is correct, which means the fabric of the sleep sack cannot go over your baby’s head, which shouldn’t be an issue as long as it’s not too loose around the neck or arm holes.
When purchasing sleepwear it’s important to understand what a TOG rating is.
TOG, which stands for Thermal Overall Grade, helps take the guesswork out of dressing your baby for sleep.
Most manufacturers make sleep sacks and swaddle bags with a TOG rating between 0.2 to 3.5, and the key thing to remember is that the higher the TOG rating, the warmer and more insulated the garment is.
Both of these positions are natural and safe, so there’s nothing to worry about and no need to move your baby or put them in any other position.
Rolling To The Side
Babies will typically start rolling over when they are around 3 to 4 months of age.
If you have noticed that your newborn is rolling to the side while sleeping you should note this isn’t actually rolling in the traditional sense.
What’s actually happening is something called the “newborn curl”, an involuntary reflex that young babies naturally have.
The newborn curl stems from the fact that your baby was so used to being curled up in the fetal position when they were in mommy’s tummy that they are still getting into this position after birth.
A baby doing the newborn curl will literally curl themselves into a scrunched up fetal position that results in them unintentionally rolling onto their side.
In some cases, your newborn might even roll onto their tummy or stomach, although this is less common.
But either way, if your newborn is rolling to the side you should note that unlike a traditional roll, the newborn curl is an unintentional movement, and that’s a key difference in a newborn curl vs rolling.
If your son or daughter does roll to their side while sleeping, you can gently return them to their back.
Parents should note that there is no way to prevent your baby from rolling to the side when sleeping, or indeed to prevent them from rolling onto their stomach.
What a parent can do however is always make sure they place their baby onto their back for each sleep, while also of course following the ABCs of safe sleep mentioned above.
Pacifiers are safe to use during naps and at night, so there’s no need to remove one from your baby’s mouth when they are asleep.
Some studies indicate that using a pacifier when sleeping can reduce the risk of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out after your baby falls asleep.
Some children better with a pacifier, as it enables them to resist fighting sleep, settle more quickly and stay asleep for longer.
There is no single correct answer regarding when to stop using a pacifier or binky, but many experts and pediatricians recommend taking the pacifier (or soother) away when your baby is around 2-3 years of age.
This is because the use of a paci or binky beyond this age can lead to dental problems, inhibit speech development and make the eventual withdrawal process even harder.
Prepping Their Room
Many experts agree that in both winter and summer, the ideal temperature for a baby’s room is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ideally, your baby’s room should feel a comfortable temperature, but on the slightly cooler side.
Using a white noise machine is generally safe for babies and children, provided the sound level doesn’t exceed 50 decibels, the machine is at least 7 feet away from your baby’s crib or bassinet, and you turn the machine off once your baby has fallen asleep.
The decision as to when to stop playing white noise in your child’s room is a personal preference which we can see from the wide range among parents – some stop playing white noise when their child reaches 12-18 months, while others keep going until their child is 3, 4 or even older.
Contrary to popular belief, babies are not afraid of the dark.
In fact, for a young baby the opposite is true and infants actually like the dark and often sleep better in darker conditions.
If we think about this it’s not surprising, because darkness is all a baby knows after spending 9 months in the womb.
To help promote good sleep, a baby’s room should be as dark as possible before you put them down, and this includes both naptime and overnight.
Baby monitors are popular because they allow you to check on your child without having to enter their room, but they do also have some disadvantages, particularly because they can give you a false sense of security and can impact your sleep as well.
As with a lot of baby questions, there’s no one-size-fits-all regarding when to stop using a baby monitor, although three of the most common reasons are the monitor is negatively impacting your sleep, your baby knows they are being watched, and you are concerned about hacking.
Overcoming Sleep Issues
Despite your best intentions and the strongest will in the world, it’s only natural for babies to face sleep issues at some stage of their development.
The reassuring thing to know is that there are often things you can do that will make an immediate difference, so never lose hope however challenging your current situation might be.
Fighting Sleep & Fussiness
Fighting sleep and fussiness is very common for newborns, infants, and even older babies, and even if you’ve been blessed with a good sleeper up until this point, it’s not unusual for a baby to start fighting sleep all of a sudden.
Common reasons for fighting sleep and fighting naps include separation anxiety, over or understimulation, development leaps, teething or some other discomfort, and a disrupted routine.
The good news is there are some helpful solutions and things you can do to stop your baby fighting sleep, such as:
- Adjusting their bedtime, might sound counter-intuitive back a baby that is fighting sleep may need to be put down earlier rather than later.
- Developing a routine by not stretching awake windows.
- Addressing any anxiety they may be facing.
- Winding your child down before bed, for example by having a warm bath and reading bedtime stories.
- Darkening their room, which is proven to help a baby sleep better and release melatonin.
- Using white noise, which can be soothing and calming for a baby.
Refusing To Be Put Down
Babies typically like to sleep on your chest because they find you and your heartbeat calming, safe and comforting as they transition from life in the womb to the big outside world.
This practice is typically safe if you are awake, but you should never let yourself fall asleep while your little one is resting on you, because it could increase the chances of SIDS as your baby could roll off or become strangled or suffocated underneath your body.
If your baby is refusing to be put down and instantly cries when you put them in their bassinet or crib, some things you could try to get your newborn to sleep without being held include:
- Keep to within awake windows
- Try swaddling
- Put your baby down when drowsy (but still awake)
- Use a pacifier
- Ensure their bed and sleeping environment is comfortable
- Ensure their room is a comfortable temperature
- Stroke your baby once you’ve put them down
- Play white noise
- Ensure feedings are calm
- Establish a bedtime routine
It’s common for a baby to move a lot in their sleep, to the point where they’ve turned 180 degrees in their crib and are in a completely different position to the one in which they started.
Babies and infants are naturally active while asleep because they spend the majority of their sleep in the REM sleep (also known as the dream cycle).
Provided you follow safe sleep recommendations there’s typically no need to be concerned, but if your baby can roll over by themselves then you should stop swaddling them, and if they are still sleeping in a bassinet you may want to move them into a sturdier crib instead.
Waking Up Crying
It can be pretty scary if you wake to hear your baby (or toddler for that matter) suddenly crying hysterically in the middle of the night, and if you are wondering why this is happening you might be surprised to hear it’s actually quite common.
Typically a baby will wake up at night crying for a variety of physical and developmental reasons, including discomfort, hunger and separation anxiety.
8 of the most common reasons why your baby might be doing this are:
- Pain from gas or teething
- Separation anxiety
- Growth spurts
- Transitioning between sleep cycles
Some of the ways to soothe your child, as well as how to stop your baby crying at night in the first place include:
- Consider basic needs first. Think of these as a simple checklist you can run through in your head: Is your baby hungry? Could their diaper need changing? Do they feel too warm or too cold? Has their pacifier dropped out?
- Check if they are in physical pain. If they are teething, do you have anything you could give them to relieve the pain? If you suspect they have trapped wind, maybe you need to rub their belly or pat their back. If they have a cold, could a humidifier help? And of course, if you believe your baby is in a lot of pain or anything could be seriously wrong you should call your doctor so they can take a look or advise on the appropriate care.
- Develop a consistent bedtime routine. This one is more preventative, but it’s worth stressing that unless your child has a strong and consistent bedtime routine, it can be difficult for them to feel settled and to soothe themselves to sleep whenever they wake up suddenly. Things like winding down before bed, brushing teeth, having a bath and reading stories are all great ways to develop that much-needed routine that babies thrive on and they can also help break the cycle of an overtired baby.
The Witching Hour
This intense period of fussiness or crying occurs in the afternoon or evening, typically anywhere between 5 pm to 11 pm.
For some babies, this fussy period only lasts for a short amount (i.e. a matter of minutes), but for those less fortunate parents, this fussy period can last for up to three hours.
The good news?
The baby witching hour goes away almost as quickly as it begins, and by around 12 weeks your baby will hopefully outgrow this excessive crying that’s probably driving you slowly insane right now.
Experts cannot be sure of the exact cause of fussy periods in babies, and it’s wise to always remember that crying is a perfectly normal part of an infant’s development, given it’s the only way your child can signal that they are uncomfortable, tired, hungry or want to be picked up by mom or dad.
Some potential causes of the witching hour include overtiredness, overstimulation, hunger, wind, growth spurts and food sensitivity.
If you’ve ever heard your baby crying in the middle of the night then you’ve probably wondered if it’s because they are having a nightmare.
Bad dreams and nightmares are not thought to start until a child is around 18 months old at the earliest, so if you have a newborn then one of the reasons above is more likely to be causing this.
But if you have a toddler or older child, then it’s interesting to note that no one really knows why kids or even adults for that matter have nightmares.
One possible reason why a young child might be having a bad dream is because even while they are sleeping a child’s brain is actively processing everything they experienced that day.
And while they are lying there dreaming, from time to time these dreams can turn into darker nightmares.
Interestingly, researchers believe that nightmares are more likely to happen if your child is experiencing:
How To Stop Nightmares In Toddlers
No parent wants to see their child having a nightmare or bad dream, even if whatever is being imagined isn’t real.
If your toddler is experiencing nightmares then the good news is there are some things you can do to help, including:
- Prevent your baby from getting overtired. For example, maybe they still need that daily nap or at least some quiet time during the middle of the day. Perhaps their schedule needs changing if it’s too active and full-on. Or maybe they need to go to bed a little earlier.
- Talk with your child. The great thing about having a toddler is their ability to communicate with you, so now is a good time to make the most of this. Try to delicately find out what might be bothering them by asking questions, but in a tactful way. It might take some patience and probing because a scared child might be reluctant to open up, but if you can be gentle and compassionate in your questioning then you might find out what’s causing their bad dreams and then take corrective measures accordingly.
- Offer a comforting item. When your child has a nightmare what they’re looking for is reassurance from something familiar they can trust. Ideally, you don’t want this to be your physical presence, because it means you’ll need to go into their room and comfort them each time they have a bad dream. This is where blankets, loveies, stuffed animals or other similarly comforting items can come in very handy.
How To Break The Cycle Of An Overtired Baby
If your baby is overtired and keeps waking up before they should, then you’ll be relieved to hear that breaking the cycle is possible.
But it will most likely require you do do a few things differently, along with a good dose of patience and consistency.
Here are some helpful things you can do to break this vicious cycle once and for all:
1. Don’t Stretch Wake Windows
Depending on your baby’s age, there is an approximate maximum amount of time your little one should be awake during the day.
In your bid to break the cycle of overtiredness, it’s very important not to keep your baby awake for longer than these maximum recommended amounts shown below:
- Newborn to 3 Months: 1 hour to 90 minutes
- 4 to 6 Months: 2.5 to 2.75 hours
- 7 to 9 Months: 3 to 3.5 hours
- 10 to 12 Months: 4 hours
- When On One Daily Nap: 6 hours
You also need to watch out for those sleep cues and signs of overtiredness above, such as yawning or becoming more fussy.
If you spot any of these then it’s probably a good idea to shorten the wake window, because your child is signally to you that they need to sleep.
2. Move Bed Time Earlier
Let’s say your baby has a normal bedtime of 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
When your baby sleeps well (think back to before this overtiredness began), you might have put them to bed at 7:30 pm.
However, during this cycle of overtiredness (and incidentally on any other day when your little one doesn’t nap well), don’t be afraid to put them down EARLIER at 6:30 pm, instead of trying to keep them up and stretch their bedtime to 7:30 pm.
Depending on your circumstances this might mean a really early bedtime, but remember, this earlier-than-usual bedtime is not forever, it’s merely to help reset your baby’s routine and to help break the cycle of a chronically overtired baby.
3. Give Them A Chance To Go Back To Sleep
Many sleep experts recommend setting a range when your baby should wake up, for example from 6 am to 7 am.
If your baby is awake before 6 am, unless something is obviously wrong, don’t rush into their room but instead, treat it like it’s the middle of the night and let them try and get back to sleep to catch up on that missed sleep they so desperately need.
4. Develop A Calm & Consistent Bedtime Routine
Unless your baby has a strong and consistent bedtime routine, it can be difficult for them to feel settled and to soothe themselves to sleep.
They’ll take ages to go down, which eats into their precious sleep time.
That’s why things like having a bath, brushing their teeth, giving your little one a massage and reading stories to them before bed are all terrific ways to develop that much-needed routine that babies thrive on, and to help break the cycle of an overtired baby.
5. Make Their Room As Comforting As Possible
Contrary to popular belief, babies and infants are not afraid of the dark, because they are too young to have an imagination.
Babies actually prefer sleeping in dark rooms, both in the evening and for daytime naps, because they find darkness comforting and familiar (hardly surprising given they spent 9 months in mommy’s cozy, dark womb).
So to help promote good sleep, try to make your baby’s room as dark as possible before you put your baby down, perhaps by using some quality blackout blinds like the ones below if necessary.
5-Piece Set Blackout Shades/Blinds for Windows ($19.99, Amazon)
6. Play White Noise
Playing white noise can soothe and calm a baby, and therefore help your little one fall asleep more quickly.
White noise machines are designed to replace silence – which can be unnerving to a baby – with a gentle, consistent and soothing noise (such as running water, music or a heartbeat).
7. Consider A Pacifier
Many parents also report that their baby sleeps better with a pacifier because it enables them to resist fighting sleep, settle more quickly, and stay down for longer, especially during development leaps.
According to the AAP, you should only introduce one to your baby once they have established a solid breastfeeding routine.
8. Try Swaddling
Swaddling is a way of wrapping a baby in a blanket so that their limbs are secure and can’t wriggle out.
According to many pediatricians, swaddling can help a baby feel calm and can promote better sleep because it helps replicate the feeling of being in mom’s womb and because it can help keep the moro (startle) reflex from kicking in.
Keep in mind however that when your baby starts showing signs of rolling, it no longer becomes safe to use a swaddle.
How To Settle An Overtired Baby
Aside from the above, here are some other tips and tricks for settling an overtired or chronically tired baby:
- Offer them reassurance in a calming and comforting voice, and give them cuddles to help calm them down.
- Hold them in your arms or on your chest until they fall asleep.
- Gently rock or bounce them on your shoulder, or pat them on the back, in a quiet, dark room.
- Stay with your baby until they fall asleep.
- For daytime naps, try continuous movements, such as a long walk in the stroller, car ride or a walk in a baby carrier.
- If you are still breastfeeding, offer them your breast, even if it’s just for comfort rather than for the milk.