Good sleep for your baby or toddler doesn't have to be complicated. Nor does it have to involve crying or traditional "sleep training". Sometimes improving your child's sleep is as simple as tweaking a baby's awake windows, or making their room darker!
These are our 7 proven steps to better sleep - they are the most important factors that will affect a baby or toddler's ability to settle easily and sleep well.
Making sure your baby's sleeping space is really sleep-promoting is an easy step in the right direction. Babies love white noise as it helps them link sleep cycles together and also blocks out household noises that might wake a sleeping baby. Make sure there is nothing stimulating in their environment to distract them from sleeping such as a nightlight or musical mobile. A dark room becomes important beyond 8 weeks old because the dark stimulates the release of melatonin - a hormone that makes us sleep. Use of a swaddle or baby sleep sack helps create a cosy, warm sleeping space for your baby.
Having the right awake times for your baby is crucial to your baby settling easily and napping well. A baby who isn't awake long enough between naps might fight going to sleep or only nap in short stints, simply because they're not tired enough. A baby who is awake for too long between naps will also fight sleep! Awake times are constantly changing as your baby grows and develops - so the awake time for a 2 week old baby will be vastly different to the awake time of an 8 week old baby. Depending on the age of your baby, their awake times throughout the day will also change, for example a 7 month old baby will have the same amount of awake time between naps in the morning, but then a longer awake period in the afternoon/evening.
Babies can get overstimulated very easily and some wind-down time before a nap is important to let your baby get in the zone for sleep. This, as part of a naptime or bedtime routine, will also signal to your baby that sleep is approaching and act as a sleep cue in their day. For winding down, you could cuddle and sing to your baby, read a story, talk quietly to your baby while cuddling them in a dimly lit room.
A baby's ability to settle to sleep is dependant on 2 main factors - that they are perfectly ready for sleep and also their age. Before the 4 month regression hits, settling your baby totally to sleep if needed is absolutely fine! It is a good idea to settle them to sleep in their bed, using our side-settling method, so they learn that their bed is where they fall asleep when tired. For older babies, the time can come for your baby to learn the important skill of falling asleep independently. This will mean they're able to drift off unassisted at the start of a nap and then resettle themselves between sleep cycles during the nap and overnight. If a baby is relying heavily on being actively settled to sleep, they will need this settling to happen every time they naturally rouse between sleep cycles in the day and overnight.
Some babies need a hand regulating their nap lengths so that they nap for the perfect amount, at the optimum times of the day, to lead to easy settling and good night time sleep. Some babies love to sleep in the day and are then up all night because they've had too much day sleep and genuinely aren't tired enough for a deeper sleep overnight! It is most restorative for babies and toddlers to nap for a couple of hours across the middle of the day, when there is a natural dip in energy levels for all humans and our biological sleep window is open. If a baby naps for too long in their morning nap they won't be tired enough to have a longer nap at lunchtime and this can end up leading to a build up of overtiredness throughout the day. Having more control of a baby's nap lengths means you can set them up for excellent nap habits that are sustainable for years to come - namely establishing and maintaining that long lunchtime sleep which your child will keep until they're around 3 years old.
The affect milk and solids has on sleep is quite dramatic. A hungry baby won't settle or sleep. Likewise, the types of solid food offered at certain times can affect a baby's sleep too. We would always recommend feeding your baby when they wake from a nap, so they're awake and restored enough to take a decent feed. Feeding a baby right before they go to sleep can mean they're too tired to take a big feed and might only nap for a short period, waking hungry. It can also mean a feed-to-sleep association is developed, which can begin to affect a baby's nap length and night time sleep eventually as well. For solid food, we recommend holding off protein at the dinner meal until after 10 months; prior to this it can cause discomfort and night waking due to your baby's digestive system struggling to digest the protein overnight while lying prone and their digestive system has slowed. Offering protein at the lunch meal over 6 months old is the best choice!
A baby's night time sleep is dependant on so many factors lining up: the amount of day sleep they've had, the timings of those naps, milk and solids quantity and times, their sleep environment, settling ability... Good night sleep is not just about "sleep training". Babies are certainly capable of sleeping for good lengths overnight from quite early on, if everything is lined up right, but it is still quite normal for a baby to be waking for milk in the night until they're well established on solids. If however, you feel your baby's night waking is excessive, you could look at the other factors in this article and try and make some changes there, rather than just assuming hunger every time your baby wakes. It might be as simple as tweaking their nap structure to get better overnight sleep!
Better sleep, both day and night, is all about looking at your baby's day across the whole 24-hours and getting everything happening at the optimum times to allow for easy settling and good sleep. Imagine if the key to your baby's sleep challenges was simply changing their nap times or the kind of food you give them for dinner?!
To take out the guesswork around your baby's sleep needs, our age-specific Sleep Programs give you all the tools you need to make positive change, starting right now!