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Medically reviewed by:
Carlos Del Rio-Bermudez
Carlos is a neuroscientist and a medical & science writer with more than eight years of research experience in the field of Neuroscience. Prior to working full time as a medical writer, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University Hospital of Bern (Switzerland). Carlos obtained his PhD from the University of Iowa (USA), supported by the Fulbright Program.
Some of the areas Carlos focuses on are RNA therapeutics, Rare Diseases, and REMS/RMPs. He has authored multiple original research papers in top journals in the field, book chapters, and periodicals. Carlos has also participated in international scientific meetings; most notably, he was invited to present his dissertation research at the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Sleep Regulation and Function.
You may have heard the expression: “small kids, small problems”. But if you are the mother or father of a newborn trying to establish a sleep routine, you probably disagree with this.
During the first months of life, sleep plays a key role in physical and cognitive development. Unfortunately for parents, sleep habits can be quite unpredictable at these ages. After all, babies have shorter sleep cycles and don’t sleep through the night, forcing parents and caregivers to be “on duty” at all times.
Although new parents are aware that many sleepless nights are ahead of them, nothing can prepare them for the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation. In a recent study, parents reported that sleep satisfaction and duration markedly declined in the first months after having their baby. Strikingly, their sleep did not fully recover for up to 6 years after the birth of their first child.
Desperate to get some sleep, parents will try anything to calm down a sleepless, crying baby. Luckily for you, we gathered some of the best tips based on scientific studies.
So, if you want to learn how to sleep train your baby and get some of your sleep back, keep watching this video to see what science has to say about it.
Adjusting the Internal Clock
Like adults, babies also have biological rhythms (or as we like to call it, the internal clock) for the timing of sleep, temperature, and feeding. As adults, we do not think much about it because our clock is already in sync with the natural outdoor shifts between light and darkness over a circadian, 24-h period.
On the other hand, the internal clock of babies is not fully synchronized or coupled to relevant environmental cues, so it takes a while for babies to adjust to the 24-h sleep-wake rhythm.
In the meantime, you can help your little one differentiate night from day by exposing them to natural daylight during the morning and afternoon hours, and include them in all the daily activities. As the evening falls, it is a good idea to slowly cut off the light, including artificial indoor lighting, and reduce the newborn’s overall activity.
How to Mitigate the Effects of Blue Light
If you start shutting down all indoor sources of light as soon as the sun goes down, you will quickly realize that a total blackout before 10 PM is not a realistic option. Whether you have to work, clean the house, or change the diaper, you still need proper light to move around. Do not panic and do not look for candles because there is a solution.
Parents are often worried about exposing their child to blue light because it can disrupt the baby’s already fragile sleep. But did you know that there are light bulbs that do not emit blue wavelengths? Amber bulbs with low watt can provide enough light, without hindering the baby’s sleep routine.
Another option is to use blue light filters which can be applied to some lamps; by doing so, artificial light is not going to trick your baby’s brain into thinking that it is daytime.
Sleep associations are very strong. Having a predictable bedtime routine will help your baby to learn when it’s time to doze off.
For a bedtime routine to be successful, it must be extremely consistent and predictable, and should include simple rituals and calming activities that will put your baby in the right mood, every night. The goal here is to make you and your baby feel as relaxed as possible before going to bed. And remember, your baby can sense if you are stressed or not in the best mood; avoid exhibiting negative emotions or signs of stress around bedtime.
Also, consider adjusting your own bedtime routine. Since most babies and toddlers wake up around 6 AM, you could start by going to bed earlier to gain a few hours of extra sleep.
Be Careful With Naps
We all love a good afternoon nap, but babies are absolute champions in daytime napping. Although daytime naps are an essential component of baby sleep, that does not mean that parents should not control their nap schedule.
Parents should spot signs of sleepiness in their children. Babies yawn, fuss, or rub their eyes when they get sleepy, indicating that this would be a good time to nap. If babies are not sleepy around bedtime, that probably means that they are napping longer than they should or that their last nap started late in the afternoon.
You can also try to stretch the baby’s last period of activity during the day as much as possible. Babies will fall asleep much easier (and naps will be longer) when they are tired or have not napped for a while.
Sleep and Let the Baby Sleep, Too
When it comes to taking care of their little darlings, parents can never be too cautious. However, sometimes they tend to quickly react to every sound and movement that their children make.
We all wake up at night sometimes or mumble while sleeping. Partial awakening is common, and babies are not an exception. In the first months of life, babies often struggle to resume their sleep because they have not learned how to soothe themselves yet.
In some cases, babies can make sounds or move in their sleep. When in doubt, you should avoid rushing into your baby since you may disrupt their sweet dreams. So, sometimes it is better to wait a few seconds to hear if the baby will cry or continue to sleep.
Also, allowing babies to overcome these small night waking sleep disruptions on their own will help them learn how to self-settle.
Late Night Meals
Newborns require breastfeeding during the night as well, but it is essential to do so in a manner that will not arouse or wake them up completely.
While breastfeeding at night, parents need to be very gentle and quiet, avoid unnecessary interactions and eye contact with the baby, and keep the room as dark as possible. These tips will make it easier for your baby to go back to sleep.
Sleep Aids and Safety
Sleep-deprived parents will try anything to get their little ones to doze off, so it makes sense that an entire industry is dedicated to developing a variety of sleep aids for babies. From white noise machines to rocking devices, the number of sleep products for babies is numerous, but are they all equally effective or even safe?
You are free to try these aids to improve your baby’s sleep. However, bear in mind that some of these devices may not be safe for the little ones. For example, while white noise machines for babies are becoming highly popular, some of them can produce noise much louder than the recommended noise limits for these ages.
When in doubt, do some research, ask an expert, and never leave your baby around these devices without supervision.
General Safe Sleep Recommendations for the little ones
In the US alone, more than 3,000 infants die from sleep-related deaths every year, including the feared sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on creating a safe sleep environment include:
- Babies should be placed on their backs on a firm sleep surface
- The crib or bassinet should be free of stuff like pillows, toys, or soft bedding
- Share a bedroom with your baby, not your bed! This will increase the risk of SIDS
- Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
Parenting is never easy, and it is even harder with babies because there is hardly any feedback from them when you need it the most.
However, new parents quickly learn to identify their childrens’ sleep-wake cycles as they get to know them over time.
The good news is, circadian rhythms and adult-like sleeping patterns will start to develop within the first 2-3 months. In the meantime, you should gain some basic knowledge about your baby’s sleep needs and then try to adhere to the best sleeping schedule.
And lastly, ask for help!
Sleep is essential for a child’s mental and physical development. But to excel at parenting, you should also pay attention to your own health.
If you need some extra sleep, it is not a bad idea to ask your relatives or close ones to assist with your baby duties. Even a short nap can do wonders for your mind and body.
And remember, you can always talk to your doctor or sleep specialist if you need further advice on how to manage your baby’s sleep routine and take care of your own rest.