By Angela @babysmilesclub
Babies need a LOT of sleep! And it’s important that they get it – they need it for their health, physical growth and mental development. Getting that sleep unfortunately, isn’t always easy, and it can be hard for parents to know what to do about it.
I co-founded Baby Smiles Club (together with my partner Dan) to help babies and families sleep well. We’d seen so many parents struggling with their baby’s sleep, and wanted to create an easy-to-use, accessible and affordable ‘one-stop’ source for parents.
Our Baby Sleep Program is an ebook and videos to guide parents through the complete first year of their baby’s life. We have two foundations: the latest science about how babies sleep, and strengthening the parent-baby bond (using the principles of ‘attachment theory’).
So how can you help a baby to sleep well? There isn’t one magic trick, unfortunately! It’s a combination of things that need to come together – like creating a cosy sleep environment, having good daytime naps and preventing overtiredness, and feeding at times conducive to good sleep.
Here are three top tips to help your baby sleep well:
- Help your baby establish their internal body clock
All of us have an internal body clock – and so do most living beings, including plants and animals. It’s what makes us sleep at night and be awake in the day. The only exception is newborn babies! Babies aren’t born with a body clock, which is why their sleep has little consistency in the early days.
Research shows that a baby starts developing their body clock from around 6 weeks old, and it can be fully developed by 3–4 months.
There’s a few things you can do to help your baby develop their body clock in good time. One of the most important things is to use daylight and nightfall to set your day. Daylight tells your baby that it’s time to be awake and nightfall tells them it’s time to be asleep. This is because light and darkness activate the production of cortisol and melatonin, which are the two key hormones responsible for a baby’s sleep.
So, it’s good to open the curtains at morning wake, get outside in the daytime, and minimise artificial light as your baby’s bedtime approaches.
- Watch your baby’s awake windows
Babies can only stay awake for a short time before they need to sleep again. And that amount of time is surprisingly short; for example, when they’re first born, a baby can happily stay awake for only around 30 minutes to an hour. This time lengthens as a baby grows older.
Now, if a baby stays awake for too long, they’ll become overtired, which means they’ve gone past the point of being able to easily fall asleep. Their stress response system kicks in and they produce more cortisol, which makes it harder for them to fall and stay asleep.
To prevent overtiredness, your baby needs to have daytime naps and bedtime at the right times.
- Consistency is key!
Babies LOVE a good routine! And it can do wonders for their sleep. Why?
Firstly, consistency gives a baby a sense of security, as they anticipate what’s coming. They learn when sleeping time is, helping them to fall asleep more quickly.
Secondly, science and nature tells us that it’s best to sleep at consistent times. It’s why we feel rubbish when we’re jet-lagged, and why shift workers (whose sleep is routinely disturbed) are more prone to illness. Having consistent sleeping times is another thing that helps a baby to develop their internal body clock, and then to keep it in tune.
Thirdly, your baby’s body clock and their sleep hormones means that there are optimal times for a baby to sleep. A good routine is based on these times!
Angela Wilson is co-founder of Baby Smiles Club. Angela has an MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and is a certified child sleep consultant for children aged 0–5 years. The certification is from the Institute of Sensitive Sleep Consulting, whose approach is to nurture the parent-child bond whilst helping children to sleep.