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No one needs to tell you how important sleep is.
As a parent to a baby, it’s something you desperately crave more of.
Lack of sleep makes your brain fuzzy, leaves your body exhausted, and let’s face it, makes you cranky.
Not getting enough sleep also has a major impact on your baby.
Just like you, your baby’s brain and body are doing important things during sleep like repairing cells and clearing waste and toxins.
For kids, sleep is a crucial time to process information learned during the day and store it in their long-term memory.
It’s also when the biggest amount of growth hormones are released.
How much sleep do babies need?
Because of their rapid physical and mental growth, babies actually need a lot more sleep than adults. Here are guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Newborns should get around 14 to 17 hours sleep in nap-like spurts throughout the day and night
- Babies 4 to 11 months need 12 to 15 hours of total sleep (includes evening sleep and naps)
- Kids ages one to two need 11 to 14 hours of total sleep
It’s natural to assume that babies will just fall asleep when they become tired.
But even newborns – who seem to be able to crash out and sleep through anything sometimes – often need help dozing off.
Once your baby becomes more aware of her surroundings around four months old, falling asleep becomes more difficult.
The weird truth: Falling asleep is a process your baby needs to learn.
What happens if you miss your baby’s tired signals?
A major part of parenting a baby is learning how to soothe your little one. Whenever your baby gets fussy or starts to cry, you run through a mental checklist:
- Does he need to eat?
- What about a diaper change?
- Is he warm or cool enough?
Figuring out those things is pretty simple. But knowing if your baby is crying because he’s tired and needs help falling asleep is more challenging.
Even worse? If you don’t pick up on the cues your child needs to be soothed to sleep, the crying will get more intense until you have a frantic, red-faced, screaming baby that’s difficult to calm down.
According to Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (a must-have book for any new mom), all babies get drowsy after one or two hours of being awake.
The fact is: If your baby is awake for too long, you can expect fits of all-out screaming.
That’s why you want to learn which signs to look for.
Signs your baby is tired
The trick to avoiding fits of tired crying is helping your little one peacefully drift off before she starts to fret.
Signs of tiredness are subtle and appear before fussing begins.
You have to keep an eye out to catch these signals:
- Reduced movement and activity: As your child becomes sleepy, you might notice him moving less and becoming quieter (read: no more squirming or babbling).
- Less interaction: Your child isn’t interested in her surroundings or engaging with you and others. Trying to get your baby to smile back at you? It’s just not happening.
- Zoning out: Like adults, kids start mentally checking out when they’re tired. Your little one will seem to stare off into the distance without really focusing on anything. You might even see his eyelids start to droop.
- Yawning: This is a sure sign that your little one needs some soothing ASAP.
- Weaker suckling: If you’re feeding your child and notice suckling is slowing down and becoming weaker, that’s a cue that it’s time for sleep.
- Agitation: When your baby begins tugging her ears, rubbing her eyes or pulling at her head, these are cues that she’s about to start fussing. You are now entering the overtired zone.
- Watch the clock: Be sure to check your child for signs of sleepiness after your child has been up for an hour or going on two hours.
What’s the best way to put a baby to sleep?
At family parties, I’m known for being able to lull babies to sleep and that’s because I read two books that were a huge help when my kids were newborns – The Happiest Baby on the Block and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child – and had lots of practice over the years.
- How much sleep kids actually need
- When they should be sleeping
- How important the sleep environment becomes
- Tips for getting newborns to sleep
The newborn months are sometimes called the fourth trimester.
During the first three to fourth months, your baby still craves the comfort of the womb – the snug surroundings, the motion when you walk around, and the loud white noise of your heartbeat.
Mimicking life in the womb is the secret to getting your baby to fall asleep.
When your baby is still fussing after you’ve tried everything – food, a diaper change, making sure your baby isn’t too hot or too cold – she might just need to sleep.
Or, you might notice signs your baby is tired. Do these things that make your little one feel like she’s back in your belly (the most peaceful spot your baby knows!) to lull your child to sleep:
During pregnancy, you’ll often find that your baby becomes more active when you’re at rest. But when you’re moving around, your little one seems to stay still. A reason for that may be that rhythmic movement soothes babies.
They often doze off in cars and on walks in the stroller. When fussy, try calming your baby by:
- Swinging (in your arms or using a baby swing)
- Walking around
Do you ever get sleepy listening to the drone of a fan or your dishwasher? Babies get sleepy too when they hear white noise. You can use a fan or a white noise sound machine in your baby’s nursery to help get your little one to fall asleep.
If your child is in your arms, make a loud “shh” sound over and over again to copy the sound your little one heard in the womb.
The great thing about this is that you can do it anywhere, even when you’re at parties or other loud places. It totally works!
Suckling isn’t strictly for eating. It’s also something your baby does for comfort. That’s why your little one shoves her fingers in her mouth, and later a thumb. When you want to help your child settle down, try nursing or using a pacifier.
By instinct, we curl into a fetal position when seeking comfort. Holding your baby on his side – with your child’s belly to your belly – is the most secure-feeling position. (FYI, lying flat on the back is the least-comforting position.)
Swaddling is tightly wrapping your baby’s limbs and body up, burrito style, in a lightweight blanket to mimic the feeling of being in the womb. Some babies absolutely adore being swaddled, while others can’t stand having their hands confined.
(My theory is whatever position they were in the womb is how they want to be when sleeping. If your baby held her hands up by her head, she’ll fight and fuss until she can resume that position.)
Swaddling is definitely worth a try. Learn how to swaddle or cheat by using a Halo SleepSack Swaddle, which makes swaddling simple and diaper changes a breeze.
By doing some or all of these things– something Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, calls the “cuddle cure,” you can quickly soothe your little one to sleep.
A dark room
Lastly, putting your baby to sleep in a darker room can make a huge difference in getting your baby to fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
Room-darkening or blackout curtains can be especially helpful with this because they help block out sunlight, moonlight, street lights, car lights, etc.
They also help block out noises and may even save you a few bucks on your energy bill.
What if I’m too tired to do all the steps?
Too weary to do all the work?
The 4moms mamaRoo is an egg-shaped baby seat with five different motions (including bouncing up and down and swaying side to side) and a built-in white noise machine.
It’s a little pricey, but well worth the investment if it helps your baby nod off, hands-free.
Recognizing the signs that your child is tuckered out is the first step in getting your baby to sleep more. Then you can use the soothing methods above to lull your baby to sleep.
When your child spends more time sleeping, not only will you be able to get better rest yourself (hallelujah!), but you’ll also have an easier and happier baby all day long.