During my practice as a sleep professional, I’ve gotten used to people asking me what the secret is to getting a baby to sleep through the night.
Of course, there is no ONE secret. Teaching a child healthy sleep habits is a combination of lots of different things.
But that doesn’t mean that there are not some shortcuts! Today I’d like to share with you 7 different shortcuts you can start trying over the next few nights to get your child sleeping better.
Here we go:
Sleep Shortcut #1: Watch the waking hours
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep is overtiredness. Many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired. Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:
- Newborn to 3 months: 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes of awake time
- 3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours of awake time
- 6-8 months: 2-3 hours of awake time
- 9-12 months: 3-4 hours of awake time13 months to 2.5 years: 5-6 hours of awake time
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you will find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too.
Sleep Shortcut #2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep better in the dark. Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard over the windows, or whatever it takes. In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle.
BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day.
Sleep Shortcut #3: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)
Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine, lasting no longer than 45 minutes, is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming. Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child.
After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to drag out bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc. Don’t participate. If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word.
Sleep Shortcut #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
The most common reason they infants and toddlers struggle to sleep has to do with a feeding-sleep association. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep. By feeding right after nap-time instead of before you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This strategy should only be used before naps, not before putting your child to bed for the night. A full tummy is needed to make sure your child does not wake up hungry during the night.
Sleep Shortcut #5: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, so it is a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place every day. For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it is a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep.
Sleep Shortcut #6: Try The 1, 2, 3 System
When your child wakes up during the night or during a nap and starts crying or fussing, try to wait a specific length of time before going in to check on them. The first day you try this, I recommend waiting exactly one minute before going in to check on your child. On the second day, wait two minutes. Three minutes on the third day, and so on. Why?
Why? Everyone, babies and toddlers included, will wake up briefly at the end of each 45-minute sleep cycle. Most adults wake so briefly that we do not even remember it in the morning. But children who have not learned to fall asleep independently need a little longer.
This 1, 2, 3 System gives your child the opportunity to get themselves back to sleep without your help.
Sleep Shortcut #7: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed, for naps or at nighttime, make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing.
The Next Step?
As I said, these are shortcuts and quick tricks that may help some parents get their children sleeping through the night. I do hope that you will be one of the lucky parents who are able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks. If not I am also here for you if you need a little more guidance. Feel free to book a 15-minute free call to discuss your child’s sleep issues and how I can help.
We’ve recently removed the nightlight from our son’s (2 years) room as the light from his gloclock is enough. However, we haven’t been able to remove from our daughter’s (4 years) room as she is too used to having it there. Is there a method we can use to remove her nightlight? She’s very fond of it, and is “afraid of the dark.” Thx
Usually cold turkey is the easiest way to remove the night light. If she insists on having a night light the best colour is a red light. The red light does not interrupt the natural production of melatonin.
This is a fantastic article with a wealth of information. I have passed your info along to my daughter who has a 2 week old baby so she will be contacting you. Thanks for the great post Brenda. Well done.
Great tips!! Dark rooms is key for us!! I used to travel with extra blackout materials and tape it on the hotel windows!!!
Black out materials. Great idea! We have a traveling Black out blind!! Love it!
knowing the awake periods were KEY to tracking my son’s sleep! Great tips!
Thanks for this info! For a 6-week old, do the “awake” times in tip #1 include feeding time? My baby often nurses for up to an hour, so does that leave 15 minutes before she should nap? Also, she often cries if I put her down for naps during the dayvstill awake, and it feels like she is too young to leave her crying. Any advice?
Yes the awake times include the feed. I would put her down 5 minutes after the feed at her age.
At 6 weeks she is too young to leave to cry ( I am not a strong advocate of that for very long at any age). She can go down in a drowsy state at her age. At about 4 to 6 months I start to try to but them down awake. Using the Pick up Put Down method id great for this age.
Thanks for this post, Brenda. I really like Short Cut #4. It’s so tempting for new parents to feed baby before nap time but they start a difficult cycle.
This is so true.
Great article Brenda! We need to get blackout blinds – especially since daylight savings. Bedtime is taking way too long because the kids keep saying “but it’s still daytime!”.. LOL
Great article Brenda about the importance of keeping a routine! Even with my 9 year old a routine is still a must!!
Hi Brenda, I love the sleep tips as many parents with children under the age of 5 really don’t know what’s enough and wing it. I love sleep tip #1 especially as I was always on the go thinking I needed to tire my son out. Now that he’s 15, he never seems to want to go to bed.. any tips for teens?
The trick with teens is to educate them on the benefits of sleep in a way they will listen. The key thing that helped here with our teen and young adults was to reduce the screen time before sleep. At least one hour before your teen wants to go to sleep there should be no/limited screen time. Also it is very normal for teens to not be able to fall asleep until later in the day.