I think pretty much every new mom has been there—that sleep-deprived zombie stage that comes a few weeks after bringing home a newborn. You hit a point where you’ve just been stretched to your limits with multiple wake-ups, night-after-night, and you’re just ready to crash. The sleep books may have seemed boring when you were pregnant, but a few weeks in, you’re desperate for some really good advice on how to help your tiny baby (and yourself) to get some good sleep.
Kim West, LCSW-C—famous as “The Sleep Lady”, author of the book “Good Night, Sleep Tight”, and a sleep consultant for 20 years—offers several tips for promoting newborn sleep. Although newborns aren’t really ready to start doing long stretches of sleep until they’re a few weeks old (often 6-8 weeks old), there are many steps you can follow that will help you both to get better sleep ASAP. Here are 8 tips Kim offers for helping your newborn baby sleep:
- Let your baby know when it’s almost time to sleep. Two things cue circadian rhythms (a person’s “internal clock”)—darkness and social cues. If a child sees that it’s dark out and that the parents are slowing down (especially with a consistent bedtime routine), their body will prepare to sleep. The sleep pressure causes the body to release Melatonin, which makes them go to sleep and stay asleep. Since your newborns internal clock is not developed until around 3 months YOU have to be their clock by providing appropriate social cues and darkness in the evening.
- Put kids to bed at the same time, every day. By putting kids down for bedtimes and naptimes at the same time every day, you can help your kids establish a predictable routine, which will make bedtimes and naptimes easier in the future. Likewise, starting the day at the same time every day, can help get your child into a good rhythm. This timing may move around some until your child is about 12 weeks old; until then, create your own flexible routine with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times, when possible.
- At night, keep their environment dark. To help your child distinguish day from night, keep a dark, quiet environment at bedtime and at night. It’s a good idea to use room darkening shades to help with this. Keeping their environment dark and quiet, reinforces that bedtime and night time are very different from playtime.
- Expose your child to sunlight in the morning. When they first wake up, take your baby outside or open the shades, to help let their brains know that it’s now daytime. Exposing them to light during the day wakes up their brains and again helps them learn to distinguish between night and day.
- Try to ensure your baby is well-rested during the day. Do whatever you can to help your newborn get good naps—put them in a carrier, swing, stroller, whatever. It’s OK if the baby’s naps are short. Make sure you’re not keeping your baby awake too long or skipping naps in hopes of them sleeping better at night though—this often backfires. A baby who has napped well during the day is likely to sleep better at night.
- Watch the clock and watch for sleepy cues to know when to put your baby down for naps. Newborns aren’t awake long—just 1 to 1.5 hours—before they become over-tired and wired. Once they’re over-tired, they become fussy, cranky and they sleep poorly. This timing slowly gets longer over time. Don’t just watch the clock though—It’s a good idea to also watch for tired cues so you can adjust to your baby’s timing.
- Wake a baby if they sleep more than 3 hours during the day, to prevent them from sleeping through a feeding and to hopefully save their long stretch of sleep for night time. Avoiding a really long stretch of sleep during the day also really helps with preventing day/night confusion.
- There’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn. A newborn’s cries mean something—they’re not self-sufficient, so when they cry, we’re supposed to attend to their needs. And, when someone responds and takes care of a need (e.g.: dirty diaper, hungry, sick, uncomfortable, over-stimulated)—this builds a trusting relationship and it builds a long-term ability to have trusting relationships.
Were you expecting to hear about sleep coaching? Kim explains that the beginning stages of self-soothing and self-regulating really don’t develop until a baby is around 4 months old (while she suggests that 6 months old is probably the ideal timing for sleep coaching). Plus, she cautions that there’s some thought that if parents sleep train before that, they’ll end up having to redo it anyway. So for those early months, really work on establishing good routines, reinforcing circadian rhythms with consistent wake-up and nap/bed times, using light and dark to work with you, and ensuring that the long stretch of sleep happens at night. And feel free to respond when your baby needs you and to enjoy your baby—there’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn!
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Thanks very much to Kim West for taking the time to walk through these tips, so we could share them with you. For more info on Kim, please visit www.sleeplady.com, check out her book, Good Night, Sleep Tight, learn about sleep coach packages, or visit her potty training and parenting page.
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