Extending Sleep Time: Tips from a Sleep Consultant
Hi! I’m Rachel, certified infant and toddler sleep consultant and owner and founder of The Slumber Studio. I became an infant and toddler sleep consultant after my own difficult sleep journey with my second born. I never want any parent to feel the devastating effects of sleep deprivation the way I did. I get so much joy out of supporting parents in their journey to a better night's sleep. It’s truly in my heart to empower parents with the right tools so everyone can get the rest they need.
I am really excited to discuss the topic of extending your baby’s sleep because it’s such a common question I get from clients and followers. Sometimes it can feel like your little one is waking a lot more frequently than necessary. You know they’re fed and have a clean diaper, but 45 minutes or an hour into sleep – they’re up.
There’s a lot of reasons this can happen but there’s also plenty of ways we can help prevent it. I am going to give you all of my top tips on how to tackle this common problem. Keep in mind, you’ll want to work on extending your baby’s sleep over a period of time. Progress with sleep doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a linear journey and can often look like two steps forward, one step back but rest assured, that is completely normal. You want to strive for progress, not perfection! Keep working on the building blocks of healthy sleep habits, be consistent and you’ll see success come over time!
Let’s dive into my top recommendations for lengthening the amount of time your baby is sleeping!
1. Proper room environment: the room should be between 68 and 73 degrees. This is to prevent baby from overheating or being too cold – both of which can lead to them waking. The room should be truly pitch black. If you go in their nursery in the middle of the day and shut the door, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand if you hold it up in front of your face.
I really encourage the use of blackout shades and blackout curtains. You should also utilize white noise machines for naps and nighttime sleep. This becomes a positive sleep association and helps block outside noises. White noise can help your baby fall asleep faster, can prevent them from waking too early by blocking household or outside noises and can also assist in helping them fall back asleep if they’ve had a short nap. You can turn on the white noise machine during your bedtime routine or pre-nap routine to send the message that it’s time for sleep.
2. Make sure your baby is getting the proper amount of sleep for their age. If they’re having a lot of short/missed naps or not enough nighttime sleep, this can cause them to be overtired. Overtired babies have a tendency to wake more frequently.
Take a look at this chart which shows you approximately how much daytime sleep your little one should be getting:
3. Try adjusting their bedtime. Putting a baby to bed too late typically means they’re at the point of being overtired which can lead to frequent night wakings and early morning wake-ups. With newborns, bedtime can be somewhat unpredictable and often quite late. As your baby starts reaching the 3-4 month mark I like to see bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 pm. You can work on making your baby’s bedtime earlier by putting them down 10-15 minutes earlier each night until you reach your desired bedtime. If you have a day with short or missed naps, don’t be afraid to bring bedtime up! Nighttime sleep is the most restorative and therefore it’s important to get baby to bed a little early on those days with bad naps.
4. Make sure your baby is dressed appropriately for sleep. This is to ensure they aren’t too hot or too cold but there are also specific products designed for helping to extend baby’s sleep. If you have a newborn, I really encourage the use of a swaddle. Swaddles are extremely comforting to newborns. They mimic the tight, enclosed feeling of the womb and help them adjust to the outside world. They help to calm the baby and prevent them from startling themselves awake as a result of the Moro Reflex.
The Moro Reflex, also known as the startle reflex, is a normal biological response to unfamiliar stimuli in the newborn’s environment. I really like using the Dreamland Baby Swaddle because of the way it’s designed. It works for babies 0-6 months so you aren’t having to constantly purchase the next size up, it has the option to work as a swaddle or a sleep sack and it’s gently weighted to mimic the reassuring touch of their loved one. It’s not uncommon for me to hear parents say that their baby doesn’t like the swaddle but what they may not realize is that swaddles are designed to be used in conjunction with other calming methods. You’ll want to swaddle your baby first and then utilize shushing them (or white noise), rocking them or patting them, a pacifier if they’ll take one, and a dark room environment.
Once your baby starts rolling, it’s time to move to a sleep sack. This can be a stressful transition for some parents as they feel their baby won’t sleep as well in a sleep sack as they did in a swaddle. The great news is that there is a product designed to help with this transition perfectly but also to help extend the amount of time your baby sleeps. The Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack is ideal for this transition but also for any baby or toddler. It’s gently weighted to provide comfort and security during sleep. It’s a product I recommend to my clients and followers due to its ability to promote more restful sleep.
5. Pause before going to your baby! The idea is to give your little one a minute or two to calm themselves or go back to sleep before you interrupt what is a normal phase of sleep where babies awaken and then settle. If you have a newborn, you’ll want to pause for a couple of minutes before intervening. If your baby is 4 months or older you can decide on a slightly longer length of time such as 5-7 minutes. The concept is not about letting your child cry it out. It’s about understanding that sometimes babies let out little cries in their sleep, or they need to acclimate to their surroundings. Sometimes they need the opportunity to decide if they’re okay or if they need mom or dad to intervene.
Newborns can be incredibly noisy little sleepers. There’s grunting, groaning, snorts, stirring and little cries. By going to them each and every time this happens you can inadvertently take away the opportunity of allowing your baby to settle on their own. This is not to say that you shouldn’t tend to the needs of your baby. You absolutely should feed them if they’re hungry, change their diaper when needed and hold them if they need comforting. This is all about learning your baby’s needs and allowing them the chance to work things out on occasion as they adjust to the outside world. Often times parents jump in too soon and this tip is designed to show you that’s it’s okay to give your little one a moment to work on figuring things out before intervening.
Should you let an overtired baby sleep longer?
Overtired babies have the hardest time falling asleep and further, staying asleep. When they’re newborns, it’s a good idea to wake them every 3-4 hours to eat, but once they’ve gained some weight, chances are they’ll sleep longer on their own. That’s perfectly fine but always consult with your pediatrician if you suspect that your baby isn’t sleeping enough… or even too much.
What happens if a newborn sleeps too much?
Most of the time, newborn sleep is fairly predictable, and they can sleep up to 17 hours in 24-hour cycle. If you suspect, however, that your newborn is sleeping too much, and that their sleep is interfering with their feeding, you may want to consult with your pediatrician. Sometimes, there may be be an underlying issue.
What are tips for a safe sleep environment for infants?
To ensure a safe sleeping environment for babies, it is best to:
- Room share, don’t bed share. While it may seem “easier” to bring baby into bed with you, she won’t be as safe in your bed as it is likely softer, has more bedding, and it’s possible that you could roll over on top of baby – all of which could compromise her well-being. If possible, have her crib or sleep space in the same room as you. Make sure she’s sleeping on her back and on a firm mattress. She will always get the best sleep – and longest stretches of sleep – sleeping in her own space.
- Avoid soft sleep surfaces. This means no sleeping on the couch or favorite chair, with baby. The safest place is for her to sleep on a firm surface such as her crib with nothing additional inside of it. Just baby, on her back, in a onesie, pajamas, and depending on her age, a swaddle or sleep sack.
- Just baby! That means nothing in her crib – no extra blankets, toys, or pillows.
- No smoking! Smoking around your baby is an absolute no-no. Both cigarette and marijuana smoke can create a serious health risk for your baby.
- Pacifiers work! If possible, once she is one month old, encourage your baby to use a pacifier. The sucking is soothing and helps reduce the risks of SIDS.
Does music help baby stay asleep?
Soft, soothing, and relaxing music can likely help baby fall asleep, and possibly even stay asleep for longer. Music also makes for a great sleep cue as part of the nighttime routine.
How do you settle a baby that won't sleep?
When your baby won’t settle into sleep it’s frustrating for everyone. So if possible, start with yourself first! Try to take some time every day, even a few minutes, to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and spend some “me” time. It’s likely that the better you feel, the more patience you’ll have in caring for your little one… and that can make the time spent with baby less stressful.
There are also several methods to try when your baby just won’t settle down. Here are a few suggestions:
- Swaddling – the tight “burrito” feeling resembles life inside the womb which most babies find soothing
- Try a Pacifier – the sucking helps soothe a fussy baby
- Fresh air – a walk outdoors or gentle swing time can be calming
- Consistent bedtime routine – a consistent routine does can do wonders for your little one’s quality of sleep. This could be bath, books, boob (or bottle), then bed.
What are common reasons a baby is having difficulty sleeping?
While every baby is different, there could be a variety of reasons why your baby has difficulty sleeping. Of course, it’s entirely common to have many restless nights as a new parent and that’s because baby is still getting used to life outside of the womb. Sometimes their sleeplessness could be discomfort like hunger or a wet diaper, or teething, or other developmental changes. Don’t worry, your baby will eventually sleep through the night.
Until then, here are a just a few common reasons why baby may be restless:
- Gas: try “bicycling” their legs or burp them
- Overtired: try putting them to sleep tired, but awake
- Stimulation: everything in the world is brand new and exciting to your newborn! Try a consistent and calming nighttime routine before baby gets exhausted
As you can see, there’s a lot of different ways to work on getting your baby to sleep longer stretches. I encourage you to start working on them gradually. Small changes over time end up having a big impact on your little one’s sleep! Remember: strive for progress, not perfection!