The months ahead of your first baby’s arrival are jam-packed with activities: doctor’s appointments, getting the nursery together, baby showers, birthing classes and more. But have you prepared yourself for what’s to come with sleep?
Here i’ll briefly explain the fundamentals of baby sleep covering everything from how to set up your baby’s room to encourage nourishing rest, the science behind baby sleep, and how to establish healthy sleep habits from day one.
If you’re interested in getting ahead on baby’s sleep, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ it’s jam packed with expert content and tools to guide you step by step through your baby’s sleep journey.
Plus, the schedule feature automatically adjusts your baby’s nap and bedtimes every time you track a sleep - taking the guesswork out of sleep!
10-Fundamentals of Healthy Sleep Habits for Babies
Here are seven fundamentals that will help set your baby (and you) up with healthy sleep habits:
1. A Consistent Soothing Bedtime Routine:
A series of steps that always happen in the same order are used to cue baby it’s sleepy time. It doesn’t need to be long (in fact it can be super short) but it works best when delivered consistently.
Your goal here is to soothe your baby as a cue for them to fall asleep. The act of actually falling asleep is the baby’s job, and you want to reduce the use of anything the baby can’t do themselves to fall asleep, these could include props such as a stroller or car ride, things like rocking, bouncing or patting
A good soothing routine can include a song, a story, a diaper change,, anything really – what is most important is that you:
- Ensure feeding is first, and done almost as a separate part of the routine . We don’t want baby to fall asleep feeding or to associate feeding with sleep as that will become problematic later.
- Complete the routine before your baby falls asleep, you want to place your baby down drowsy but awake.
- Keep the same steps in the same order each time and follow your baby’s cues to either speed up or cut short your routine as you see them becoming more tired.
There are no hard and fast rules here, but some tips that might help you along the way:
- Remember your #1 goal is to avoid missing the window where they are ready to sleep, this will result in an overtired baby.
- If your child becomes irritated during the routine, it could be a sign they just need to be put down (on their back) to sleep. Equally if you have followed the steps in your routine and your baby is calm this is a good opportunity to put them down (on their back) to sleep.
- You don’t have to complete the routine, you can shorten each step or skip a few. This is a great opportunity to try out some ‘self-soothing’ this is a skill they have to learn. If they take an extra short nap, leave it a few mins and see if they put themselves back to sleep again.
2. Feeding - How and when to eat
Feeding and sleep are integrally linked, getting this rhythm right for your baby can significantly impact their sleep. Healthy feeding habits include:
- Consistent Feeding Schedule: Create a routine by feeding your baby at regular intervals during the day. This helps regulate their internal body clock. For newborn babies this will be more frequent, every 2-3 hours and those feeding windows extend as they get older.
- Daytime Feedings: As your baby reaches 4-5 months you may notice they feed more during the day, to load up on calories so they can sleep for longer stretches overnight.
- Last Feeding Before Bed: Offer a calm and quiet feeding at the start of your bedtime routine. This helps separate feeding and sleep while giving your baby time to digest before bedtime.
- Positioning and Burping: After a feeding, take time to hold your baby upright and burp them afterward to prevent discomfort from gas.
By following these practices, you can establish a healthy feeding routine that promotes better sleep for your baby. Remember to be responsive to your baby's cues, and consult with a pediatrician before weaning overnight and for personalized guidance.
3. Set a Regular Sleep Schedule
Following a regular, biologically appropriate sleep schedule is integral to fostering healthy sleep habits in babies. It aligns their internal circadian rhythms with their homeostatic sleep drive. When these two forces work in tandem consistently, we regulate their body's natural sleep-wake cycle, making it easier for them to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up at the right time. It also establishes a foundation for lifelong healthy sleep habits, ensuring that as babies grow, they continue to appreciate the importance of a structured sleep routine. Babies truly are creatures of habit, a regular sleep schedule reduces stress and anxiety, offering a sense of security and comfort, and supporting the development of predictable daytime naps, which helps prevent overtiredness and contributes to overall well-being.
4. Predictable Naps
Predictable naps are a fundamental component of healthy sleep habits for babies, offering numerous advantages:
- Preventing Overtiredness and Undertiredness: Regular naps reduce the risk of babies becoming excessively tired (or not tired enough), making it easier for them to sleep at night.
- Consistent Sleep-Wake Cycles: Predictable naps align with a baby's circadian rhythms, aiding in smoother transitions between sleep and wake times.
- Optimal Growth and Development: During predictable naps, babies engage in crucial physical and cognitive development processes.
- Enhanced Mood and Behavior: Consistent naps result in happier, less irritable babies with better attention spans.
- Parental Routine: Predictable naps offer parents structured periods for rest, chores, or personal time, improving daily life quality for the entire family.
Creating and adhering to a regular nap schedule fosters healthy sleep habits, benefiting both the baby and their caregivers.
5. A Safe and Stable Sleep Space:
Your baby’s sleep environment needs to adhere to all of the safety guidelines but also should be dark, cool & quiet. The space your baby sleeps in should be:
- Pitch dark – use blackout shades or curtains. Darkness helps produce melatonin, a natural hormone that helps babies and adults sleep. Sunlight, meanwhile, stimulates cortisol, a hormone that reduces melatonin and wakes us. Even a little bit of light can lead to the production of cortisol, so it’s really important you invest in blackout curtains for your little one’s room. These will keep the sun out so your baby will sleep longer, and you will, too.
- Cool – 68°F (max 72°F). Many baby monitors offer relative room temperature and humidity readings.
- Quiet while maintaining a steady background noise. A white noise machine running at 50dB (the maximum level recommended by the AAP) is ideal.
Sound machines perform two functions: one, they create a consistent soundscape that blocks out outside noise, like traffic, a pet, or the doorbell; and, two, on the right setting, they mimic the sound of the womb, helping soothe and calm your baby into restful sleep.
6. Respect Circadian Rhythms:
body goes through in a 24-hour period. As your baby grows and develops, their circadian rhythms will evolve and mature and as such, how we support their sleep needs to adjust too.
Sleep waves naturally occur at 9am, 1pm and 3pm and babies are naturally early risers, 6-7am is a normal wake up time!
Sleepy cues are your best friend, around 30mins before these natural sleep waves look to see if your baby is:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Getting fussy
- Zoning out or their eyes are glazing over
- Pulling their ears
- Turning their head side to side
These are all signals your baby is tired and ready to sleep. Catching your baby when they give these signals should mean you can prepare them for sleep before they become overtired.
The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ features an automated schedule that updates every time you track a sleep and reminds you when it’s time to look for sleepy cues! Awesome right?
7. A Flexible Bedtime:
It’s what happens during the day that sets them up for overnight sleep success, so bedtime needs to be in-tune with how their daytime sleep has gone.
If naps were less than one hour or skipped completely, then shoot for a much earlier bedtime (using those sleepy cues) but you can go as early as 5.30pm! YES, I mean 5.30pm! Our deepest, most restorative sleep happens before midnight - that early bedtime is giving your little one the best sleep possible. And remember, more sleep = more sleep - an earlier bedtime will not result in an earlier wake up!
8. Ability to Self-Soothe:
An important skill your baby will learn is the ability to fall asleep independently and put themselves back to sleep if/when they wake up during the night. They will need space and the opportunity to practice this learned behavior.
It may be necessary to teach your baby to do this, the process of doing so is known as sleep coaching or sleep training. A safe, effective process that uses a range of science-backed techniques to help your baby become a strong independent sleeper.
Sleep isn’t a one size fits all approach, there are three core aspects of sleep:
- Environment - where we sleep
- Behavioral - how we sleep
- Biological - when we sleep
Sleep Coaching is designed to fine tune all three of these aspects so your baby can get the sleep they need!
For more help with sleep coaching, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app.
9. Confidence to Manage Your Baby’s Sleep:
Your success in helping your baby sleep better is directly correlated with your state-of-mind and belief in yourself that you can succeed. Be kind to yourself, remember you’re not alone – sleep challenges hit nearly every baby at some point.
10. Understand that Babies Need A lot of Sleep:
A lot more than adults. Be prepared to adjust your schedules and expectations to ensure your baby can get the necessary sleep they need to develop and grow. Newborn sleep is super disorganized. You’re probably aware, or have experienced, that newborns are famous for not sleeping at night. That’s not entirely true – they sleep at night and during the day – just in very short increments. That is because their circadian rhythm is maturing and won’t start to organize sleep into patterns until around 16-weeks age adjusted.
TIP: Baby Sleep Can Be Noisy:
This surprises a lot of parents, but babies can be really noisy when they sleep – little snores, grunts, and moans punctuate their night. Rest assured this is completely normal.
Though it’s natural to want to check on your baby at every strange noise, I urge you to resist for a few minutes to see if they settle themselves back down. This gives them the space to learn how to soothe themselves.
There is a lot happening now, and it may seem overwhelming, but you’re going to be a great parent. In fact, you already are - here you are, doing your research, learning all you can – you’ve totally got this!
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.