Helping baby sleep through the night

Sleep is vital for newborns. And for you! Use these tips to help your little one sleep through the night so you both get good rest.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Sleep is important for both you and your baby. But to a newborn, sleep is the brain's main activity. Babies spend about half the time they're asleep in the dream stage, called REM sleep. That stage is linked to brain activities, such as memory, nervous system function and self-control.

And for a newborn, there's no such thing as night and day. So they sleep and wake on their own schedule. But even with a newborn, you can start to shape your baby's sleep habits for healthier lifelong rest.

Developing a rhythm

Newborns sleep 12 or more hours a day but just an hour or two at a time. Babies born before their due date, called premature, may sleep more than babies born at term.

There may be no pattern at first. Babies wake up to eat and then fall back asleep. But after a couple weeks, babies will be able to stay awake longer, and then sleep for a longer time. A more regular sleep schedule comes with brain and nervous system growth and being able to go longer between feedings.

After a few months many babies are on a regular three-times-a-day nap schedule and sleeping for longer periods at night.

For caregivers, the age-old advice is "sleep when your baby sleeps. " While it's almost a cliche and sometimes impossible, getting enough sleep is as important for you as it is for your baby.

In these first few months, caregivers often report that they are exhausted. Tired caregivers can find it hard to focus, remember details or see solutions to issues.

Until you get into a new rhythm with your baby, it might help to set aside anything that doesn't have to be done. That way you have a better chance of getting the sleep you need.

Every baby is different. But by age 3 to 4 months, many babies sleep at least five hours at a time. Babies this age should be sleeping around 12 to 16 hours a day including naps. And at some point during a baby's first year, babies will start sleeping for about 10 hours each night.

Have your baby sleep in your room

Experts say it's best to have your baby sleep in the room with you. But babies should still sleep in a crib, bassinet or other structure designed for infants.

Adult beds are risky for infants. A baby can become trapped and suffocate in the normal spaces of a bed, including in bedding. Babies can become trapped between headboard slats, or the mattress and bed frame or wall.

A baby also can suffocate if a sleeping parent accidentally rolls over and covers the baby's nose and mouth.

If you can, have your baby's bed in your room with you for at least six months. Up to a year is ideal. This might help lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Another factor that lowers the risk of SIDS is making sure babies aren't exposed to smoke from cigarettes or vaping. A firm, flat mattress is another way to lower SIDS risk.

Encouraging good sleep habits

For the first few months, middle-of-the-night feedings will disrupt sleep for parents and babies. But it's never too soon to help your baby become a good sleeper. Consider these tips:

  • Follow a calming bedtime routine. At first, your routine will be set by your baby. But you can set the tone for the future by keeping the bedroom quiet and the lights low.

    Avoid playing with your baby right before bedtime. And keep your voice low and soothing to help limit how interested, also called stimulated, your baby is by your presence.

    If nighttime caregiving is shared with others, it helps if everyone follows the same routine.

  • Put your baby to bed drowsy, but awake. When you see signs of tiredness, such as when babies rub their eyes, head to the bedroom. Putting drowsy babies in bed helps link it with the process of falling asleep.

    Remember to place newborns on their backs to sleep unless your health care provider says another position is better for your child's medical needs. And clear the bed of blankets and other soft items.

  • Give your baby time to settle down. Your baby might fuss or cry for a few minutes before falling asleep. Allow a short time to pass before you check on your baby. If your baby is still upset, offer comfort and try again.

    Some babies fall asleep faster when they are swaddled. Swaddling a baby means wrapping them in a blanket or a swaddling sleep sack. If you swaddle your baby, make sure it isn't too tight. Babies need to be able to bend their legs.

    Swaddling should stop once your baby shows signs of rolling over, around 4 months.

  • Consider a pacifier. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick. And research suggests that using a pacifier during sleep helps reduce the risk of SIDS.

    But if you are breastfeeding, consider holding off on a pacifier for a few weeks while you and your baby are figuring things out.

Keeping it in perspective

Getting your baby to sleep through the night is a skill. It is one both caregivers and baby are learning. Take time to understand your baby's habits and ways of communicating. That will help you guide your baby toward becoming a better sleeper.

If you have concerns, talk to your baby's health care provider.

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Feb. 25, 2023 See more In-depth