Baby Can't Sleep? 5 Recommendations From a Baby Sleep Science Expert
Posted on May 27 2020
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a good friend about how she went about establishing a sleep routine with her newborn. She explained that as a new mum, she found all of the advice out there quite overwhelming and as a result feared making mistakes.
I reached out to the wonderful Kate from Babysomnia to hear her thoughts on the topic and she kindly offered to write a guide for our community that explains the foundations of baby sleep in a very approachable way.
For a bit of background, Kate has a PhD in Sleep Psychophysiology from the University of Melbourne and has extensive research experience including in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She has built a strong reputation for her family-centric approach at Babysomnia where she teaches and guides parents in building sleep skills in an environment where they feel empowered and supported.
I hope that this guide helps answer any questions you may have and if you found it helpful, Kate is offering virtual sleep skill workshops that will give you tailored advice to help you and your family sleep better.
It’s Not Just You – Sleep IS Complicated!
Have you ever had any of the following thoughts…?
- It just feels like we are in one leap after another
- Everything was going ok and then suddenly it was like he forgot how to sleep
- We are 5 months in but we have gone back to feeding more than when they were a newborn. Some nights it’s every 2 hours!
- The only way I can get her to sleep is on me, which is fine, but I can’t get anything else done
- It takes me 40 mins to get him to sleep for him to only sleep for 20 mins and then we start the whole process over again
If you have - you are not alone! Many parents, in fact, the vast majority, experience some sort of sleep issue at some point but let me reassure you as an expert in this area – sleep can be complicated and often counterintuitive.
It’s the perfect storm really: exhaustion, conflicting information (SO much conflicting information!) and the general upheaval of a new addition to the family. It’s no wonder so many parents - especially first-timers - feel confused, stressed and unsure of where to find help.
The other thing that makes this hard is that we are often led to think that sleep is supposed to come naturally and so that when it doesn’t it can make you feel like you have somehow failed “sleeping”. But there is no such thing! All families are different and it’s not a one-size-fits-all model.
I am passionate about helping you understand sleep and the way it develops, as this is key to implementing healthy sleep habits for your baby but also for your family as a whole.
So here are my top tips for promoting healthy sleep strategies:
1. Optimize the sleep environment
It’s really important to know the temperature of where your baby is sleeping. As an overall rule, we all sleep better in cooler conditions so ideally, you want to be aiming for around 18-20⁰C. It’s also imperative as the room temperature will help you decide what to dress your baby in for sleeping, to know how many blankets they need and the TOG rating of your sleeping bag. Remember that the only way to assess whether your baby is too hot or too cold is to feel their chest or their back. You want this to be cool to touch but if it is sweaty you need to start taking off layers.
2. Learn how to swaddle
Swaddling is great as it replicates what it was like in the womb where baby is all nice and snug. Babies have an immature startle reflex, which means that as they are falling asleep this can cause them to jerk their arms and legs - which isn’t really that relaxing! Most people learn to swaddle their brand new baby and soon find that technique doesn’t work for an older, more wriggly baby. I can show you how to swaddle safely and effectively and I promise it makes such a difference to promoting better, longer sleep!
3. Use Sleeping bags
Sleeping bags are a great tool in your sleeping toolbox. Babies are not great at regulating their own body temperature, particularly during sleep and so a sleeping bag provides this constant level of warmth. It’s also important to reduce SIDS risk as it prevents clothing from coming up and over the face and it helps to delay rolling so keeps baby on their back which is the safest sleeping position. Sleeping bags come in different TOG ratings for warmth and I highly recommend having a lightweight muslin one for summer and a 2.5 TOG winter one.
4. Strengthen your bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is really just a simple set of things that you do every time your baby is going to bed. It is the repetitiveness that is important as it becomes a cue to tell your baby that the next thing that’s going to happen is that they are going to go to sleep. In the beginning, the bedtime routine is very simple and it will change and adapt as your baby grows. Always try to do at least one part of this routine in your baby’s room with the lights off so they start to become familiar with being in their sleep space.
5. Understand sleep associations
Sleep associations are a normal part of falling asleep. Even as adults we have things that we associate with the process of going to sleep, for us it might be a particular pillow or even just being in your own bed. For many babies, the way in which they fall asleep can become quite ingrained and then if something changes they can get quite distressed and confused. Think of it this way - if the last thing your baby remembers doing when they fell asleep was being in your arms, when she comes into lighter stages of sleep and then finds herself in her cot instead, she is most likely going to let you know about it!
The thing to remember about sleep is that it will evolve and change as your baby grows. There will be times where it works for your family to have all naps on you and then other times when you need a little more structure to your day!
Some days will feel long and hard and then other phases where you soak it all in and don’t know where the time went. It’s all part of it and I am a strong believer that if you have the foundations for healthy sleep, then you can always get back on track when things don’t go as planned!