Getting your baby to sleep can be more challenging than expected, so we’re sharing newborn sleep tips straight from the expert’s mouth.
I probably don’t need to tell you that getting adequate sleep is important to your health. Sleep (good, revitalizing sleep) is just as important as eating a well-balanced diet for nutrition.
Studies show that sleep deprivation is a precursor to developing PMADs (perinatal mood and anxiety disorders). You can learn more about this in our Postpartum Mental Health Guide.
Of course, sleep after bringing home a newborn baby will be different. You’ll be up every couple hours feeding and tending to your baby at night.
The healthy habits you implement now will prepare your baby to be the great sleeper they are meant to be. And that’s an exciting thing to look forward to.
Understanding newborn sleep mechanics
Developing circadian rhythm
The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock within a 24-hour cycle, which controls our daily wake-sleep schedule. Unlike adults, newborns are born without an established circadian rhythm.
You’ve probably heard a parent say, “my baby has their nights and days mixed up!” Also known as day and night confusion (more on this later), newborns will likely want to sleep more during the day and stay up at night.
Newborn babies also lack a very important hormone we – as adults – require to help us sleep known as melatonin.
A baby’s brain doesn’t start producing melatonin several weeks after birth. Needless to say, with an underdeveloped circadian rhythm and lack of melatonin, newborn sleep is very erratic and unpredictable!
*Around the third month, babies produce high melatonin levels at night.
Frequent sleep regressions
It is not until closer to a baby’s fourth month that their sleep starts to mature and become adult-like.
This is also often infamously related to the four-month sleep regression, which I consider a progression, as the baby’s sleep pattern has gone through a huge cognitive developmental milestone.
Read next: Tips on How to Survive the Four-Month Sleep Regression
Nine essential newborn baby sleep tips
I hope you’re beginning to understand newborn sleep and why we address it differently than older baby or toddler sleep.
Your baby’s nervous system is still very immature; however, during these initial months outside the womb and being part of this new world; we can work on shaping sleep.
Below, we break down newborn sleep tips into three different categories:
- Addressing circadian rhythms and day/night confusion
- Creating the ideal baby sleep environment
- Dressing your baby appropriately for sleep
Now that you know some science behind newborn sleep, let’s start with shaping your baby’s circadian rhythm and helping their day and night confusion using some of my favorite baby sleep tips.
Read next: Newborn Sleep Shaping: The Key to Healthy Sleeping Habits?
Newborn sleep tips at a glance
- Get baby outside during the day
- Let baby sleep as long as they want at night
- Cap naps to two hours maximum
- Naps can be in a bright space
- Implement a bedtime routine
- Make sure the room is dark enough
- Ensure the room is cool enough
- Keep baby’s room quiet
- Swaddle your baby appropriately
Shop newborn sleep essentials
Addressing circadian rhythms and day/night confusion
As mentioned earlier, newborns are not born with circadian rhythms, which can cause day and night confusion. I’ve paired these two “peas in a pod” in this section as they go hand in hand.
1. Get your baby outside during the day
The best way to establish your newborn’s circadian rhythm is by getting them out and about during the day and letting them soak up the sun’s rays.
Conversely, ensuring that nighttime is the darkest it can get is equally as important in cueing their little bodies that day means “play” and night means time to sleep tight.
If you need to turn on a dim night light or bathroom light during night feedings so you can see your baby (and what you’re doing!), go right ahead. Ensure that the lights go out again when they are done feeding and back in their crib or bassinet.
2. Let the baby sleep as long as they want at night
When the pediatrician has given the green light not to wake babies up at night to feed, let them sleep.
Pediatricians typically want the baby back at its birth weight before recommending this, so consult with them before making any adjustments to your baby’s sleeping schedule.
3. Cap naps to two hours maximum
If the baby is reaching a 90-minute nap, fantastic. However, if it’s nearing the 2-hour mark, get ready to gently wake that baby up.
Capping their naps to two hours at a time will help with the following:
- Maintaining regular feedings throughout the day (which can help with excessive night wakings)
- Differentiating between day sleep and night sleep
*Rest assured that your newborn is still getting the restorative sleep they need with a two-hour nap.
4. Naps can be in a bright sleep space
Contrary to night sleep, naps can happen in a not-so-dark room. This is yet another way to help babies know the difference between day and overnight sleep.
*If your baby is around 8 weeks and is giving you longer stretches at night (4+ hours), it’s likely that they are past the day/night confusion stage, and it’s now ok to nap them in a dark room.
5. Implement a bedtime routine
Yes! You can start to do this from birth. Introducing a bedtime routine sets the tone and separates the activities during the day from what happens in the evening before bedtime.
Over time, they will catch on and know that you are preparing them for sleep.
Creating the ideal sleep environment
Your baby’s sleep environment and ensuring that it’s conducive to sleep is key. This will help them tremendously as they explore and learn healthy sleep habits.
6. Make sure the room is dark enough
Once day and night confusion has been rectified (6-8 weeks), your baby’s sleep environment should be pitch-black for naps and overnight sleep.
To test out the room’s darkness level, I recommend going in during the day and turning off the lights, closing the door, closing the shades and blinds, and taking a good look around.
If you lift up your hand in front of you, can you see it, or is it nearly impossible to even make out your hand’s outline? If you’re shaking your head yes to the latter, let me commend you on a well-done job.
7. Ensure the room is cool enough
Research shows that the ideal temperature for your baby’s room should be between 68-72° Fahrenheit (20-22° Celsius)*.
Sleeping in cooler temperatures promotes better sleep and can affect sleep quality – not to mention it’s safer. Babies are at a higher risk of overheating (thus increasing the risk of SIDS), so it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep the room temperature on the cooler side.
*Consider your region’s typical climate and dress the baby accordingly.
8. Keep baby’s room quiet
Ironically, when I say a baby’s room should be quiet, I mean to have a sound machine (like this one) that emits white noise, continuously going for the duration of all sleep (naps and overnight).
This is the only noise we want a baby to hear throughout their sleep to help tune out any external-environmental noises.
White noise also mimics the sounds from inside the womb, which is anything but quiet. It was pretty loud in their “old” home, so hearing a familiar sound outside the womb will comfort your baby.
*Avoid birds chirping, ocean sounds, or lullabies. This is not white noise, and the different tones can inadvertently wake babies up when they come to a lighter stage of sleep.
Swaddling and how to dress baby for sleep
Your newborn was cocooned inside the womb for many months, and guess what? We want to also mimic that tight, snug feeling now that they are out and have a lot more space.
As mentioned earlier, newborns are born with immature nervous systems and have little control over their reflexes. A very common one you have likely heard of (and perhaps already seen in your baby) is the Moro reflex.
The Moro reflex is a normal and involuntary reflex where a baby will flail out their arms and look startled. It’s similar to the feeling you experience when you sleep and wake up startled because you feel you are falling.
9. Swaddle your baby appropriately
Swaddling your newborn will do two important things:
- Help mute the Moro reflex and
- give them that familiar feeling of being cocooned like they were in the womb.
Parents sometimes think their baby hates being swaddled and so they give up and toss the swaddle to the side. However, I encourage you to try a couple of swaddles before completely giving up on the idea.
Final thoughts on newborn sleep
Congratulations on educating yourself and acquiring these essential tools so you can feel confident throughout these initial months of your baby’s life. It’s the first step to getting your baby to sleep well.
I always like reminding parents that the newborn weeks are fleeting and the sleepless nights will soon be behind them. Take this journey one step at a time.
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Deneris Wong is a wife, working mom of three, and a certified pediatric sleep coach with Restfully. She works with families one on one to understand their child’s unique sleep needs. Her ultimate goal and passion is helping families get the rest they need and deserve by educating and coaching parents on child sleep and how to improve their sleep struggles using science, data and of course, empathy.