How Do I Get This Thing To Sleep? [Baby/Toddler Sleep Tips]
Updated: Aug 24
Sleep deprivation is probably the most notorious kryptonite for home culture. When your body doesn't get enough sleep it takes it upon itself to power down. The shut down isn't glamorous. It looks like:
Going into parenthood I did a lot of research and reading. I knew nothing was promised, but giving the gift of good sleeping habits to my baby would be a benefit worth it. (Some favorite resources [Social Accounts : @TakingCaraBabies and @sleepbabyconsulting | Books : "BabyWise" [Very strict, we didn't follow it to a "t" but the foundational "Eat, play, sleep" really helped us | Blogs : "A Mother Far From Home" ] There are many ways to raise a family. Honestly, I don't want to come across as a "one size fits all." I have made choices for my family in raising children based off of my personal preference. Some parents choose to sleep with their baby until toddler hood. Some parents don't schedule naps and let the child just morph to their life rhythm. I, personally, cashed in on "setting the sleep foundation" which meant saying no to social engagements or time with family and friends to guard nap/bedtime.I believe in it so much. This is not about control, or getting the selfish sleep I desire. This is about creating an atmosphere for my child, marriage, and self to flourish. Nobody is their "best self" when waking up 6 times a night. I want to encourage you, no matter what stage you are at, sleep is possible. Also, getting your baby to "sleep through the night" is not a badge of your parenting success. There's no medal or award. Yes there is a sigh of relief, but this is no competition. ***Also sleeping through the night usually means 8-12 straight hours.
The biggest thing is I want you to know that it is POSSIBLE to have a good sleep culture in your home. There are books and blogs, there are sleep consultants you can even hire. But also, if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ you have a Helper, and Holy Spirit will give you grace during those newborn seasons, and wisdom on when and how to implement sleep habits. Prayer is powerful... but so is sleep (ha!) which is why I want you and your family to have the gift of being well rested! It changes the home culture completely!
Here are the big ideas I want you to know about sleep: 1. Sleep is VITALLY important for development.
Brains and bodies grow during sleep. Babies and toddlers need A LOT of sleep.
2. Sleep is a learned skilled.
It takes time and practice. The same way you wouldn't expect a child to write their name in a day on their own, we can't expect them to be able to sleep in a day with no training/instruction. It's your job as a parent to teach your child HOW to sleep.
3. Sleep isn't perfect. Right when you get in a rhythm, your baby will go through a growth spurt and your perfect schedule is out the window. Deep breath, Mama/Daddy. Stay as consistent as you can and keep hope alive!
Okay.... so let's start with some basic baby sleep items that are game changers to understand. Wake Windows.
Babies have a thing called "wake windows". They can only stay up so long before getting overtired and overstimulated. An overtired baby is verrrrrrrry hard to get to sleep. So your goal is to get them down for that nap during the sweet spot, not too early, not too late. Here's a list of wake windows by ages.
Birth - 12 Weeks : 60-90min
3-4 months : 75-120 min
5-6 months : 2-3 hours
7-14 months : 3-4 hours
14-24 months: 4-5 hours
EX: So for newborns - they shouldn't be up more than 90min. This includes their feed. During this "wake window" you want to follow an "eat, play, sleep" rhythm. So The baby is up - start the feed, then change the diaper, do some eye contact or tummy time, then a possible new diaper again and back to sleep.
Because babies aren't clocks, the wake window are estimates, but the sleepy cues really are the thing to look for. 1. Staring into space/zoning out
2. Red or pink eyebrows
3. Ear or eye rubbing
5. Fussiness is that last cue that you're flirting with a time bomb. If you wait until they are fussy to get them to sleep it's going to be much harder.
Nap Routine and Bed Routine are things you do each time that will tell your baby, "It's time for sleep". You can make these as long or short as you'd like. I do very similar routines for both nap and bed to reinforce the routine.
This was our world 4-5 times a day for the first year:
Turn sound machine on.
Close curtains and shades [Only lamp is on]
New Diaper + Sleep Sack +PJs if bedtime
Book + Prayer
Lay down in crib awake. *From the second the curtains closed, I would change my pace and tone. Slowly walk and softly talk to set the tone.
***If he fell asleep in my arms at any point, before I layed him down in the crib, I would kiss him or whisper enough to get him to stir a bit "Mama loves you. I'm putting you in your crib. Sleep well." It's important that they are awake a bit to understand they are being transferred. Here's why.... Imagine you went to sleep in your bed, and then woke up on the floor in the living room with only your pillow. You would be scared and confused. Well what happens is baby falls asleep in mom's arms, but wakes up in the crib. So baby will cry until he's back in moms arms. Whereas, if they know they are in their crib, when they wake up in their crib, they will simply put themselves back to sleep.
Sleep Tools + Tricks White noise machine
I love the hatch. (Getting a second one for Eleanor was top of my list) But any white noise machine/phone app will do. Babies are use to hearing the rushing sound of blood in the womb from mom, so the shhhhhhhhhh sound is very soothing. It also helps drown out other household noises.
Sound Machine: Here's what we use.
Swaddles help baby not wake themselves up with their arm reflexes. Sleep Sacks become safe blankets and prevent toddlers from crawling out of the crib. They are also amazing sleep cues - if the sleep sack is on, it's time for sleep.
We splurged for the PB blackout curtains. They are fabulous. But even black trash bags tapped on a window work.
This is a free tool. "The Pause" helps us parents not rush to the side of baby. Babies are VERY loud sleepers. They will cry in their sleep, grunt in their sleep, and even kick. Sometimes we rush too soon to pick them up and actually wake them up. As soon as 2-3 weeks, try practicing the pause. Wait 30-60 seconds before jumping in. More times than others they are actually sleep asleep and will put themselves back to sleep.
Waking From Naps
I know every southern mama is scolding me withe the thought of waking a sleeping baby. "Don't ever wake a sleeping baby" is a common thing to hear. Sorry, but I totally wake a baby. And here's why....
Babies need a certain amount of calories a day, and if they don't get them during the day, they will wake up for them at night. So, waking a baby to feed every 2-3 hours is important. You want them to have the long stretches of sleep at night, not during the day.
Between 4-5 months a baby can start to self soothe. This means from birth until about 4 months, if a baby cries, they need you to help them stop. (Fed, changed, cuddled, etc) It's not developmentally appropriate to let a baby "cry it out" until 4-5months old. But there is a shift in the brain that occurs typically between 4-5 months, and the baby now has the self-regulation *capability* to soothe. They don't however have the lesson mastered. So our job as parents is to lovingly teach them how to self-regulate, how to self-soothe. We can do this lovingly and slowly through small spurts of independence. (And yes... with a few tears. I know it's hard mama!)
We choose to sleep train Oliver at 4 months. He was at this point sleeping through the night, however not putting himself to sleep independently. I would have to nurse or rock him enough to get really drowsey. We used the Ferber method in framework. I'm not going to take time to go into that in detail. But you can give it a google and see if it's right for you. (It does involve letting the baby cry in small spurts and is hard. But within 3 nights Oliver had it mastered and was putting himself to sleep fully on his own in his crib.)
Sample "Schedules" ***No two days look the same. It's important to stay flexible.
Newborn [0-12 weeks]
Newborn Sleep Habits
Instead of trying to get a schedule, this is what I used. I focused on the eat, play, sleep rhythm and used wake times as my timestamps. 1. Weeks 0-4. Full Feeds and Day and Night distinction.
Just focus on getting that baby fully fed and help them learn day and night difference. Do this by letting them nap with open curtains and natural light during the day and at night, super dark and quiet. ***At this stage, lots of sleeping in arms is fine. But as it works, try putting them in their crib during the day and bassinet during the night. That'll help them get use to day/night as well as really help with crib transition in the future. Use the swing, the carrier, your arms... the goal is for them to eat and sleep.
2. Weeks 4-8. "Eat, Wake, Sleep" cycle
I referenced this above, but getting baby in this rhythm is the game changer. What will happen usually is eat, SLEEP, wake... and then the baby gets in the habit of only being able to fall asleep with a breast or bottle to put them to sleep. We want to gradually teach the baby how to sleep without food being the sleep crutch.
At this point, you should have a "typical" time rhythm.
3. Weeks 8-12. Establish wind-down routine
Focus on those routines. I think I've fleshed this out enough above but I'll just add, this is the point when you really want to start getting in their brains, this is HOW we sleep (with a sleepsack, or with a song) and WHERE we sleep (crib and basinet). Try to limit swings/strollers/etc.
4. Weeks 12+. Independent sleep.
Aka, being able to go to sleep by themselves, not through nursing, rocking, tv, etc. If they still have some night nursing sessions that's okay, but make it business only. No lights on, talking, playing, etc. I wouldn't even look at Oliver in the eyes. Just up, feed, and back to bed. (I know that sounds harsh.... you'll know the difference between baby being up and needing maternal soothing, and baby being up because he just wants to party. You just have to set the tone early that night time is sleep time.)
Oliver has been a solid sleeper since that 4 month mark. Obviously, random nights or weeks come and you're up 5 times in a night, but those should be rare. Here's what our day looks like currently:
Toddler - [14-24months. This is our current routine at almost 20 months] 8:00am Oliver Wakes Up
- Independent Play
9:00am Activity with Mom or Outside
- Depending on his mood/my mood/weather this looks different. But this is our time to really be present. I put the phone away, and we read or go on a walk. Maybe do an art project. I don't plan this out. We just go for it.
10:00am Quiet Time
- I wrote a blog about this. Linked here.
- I shower, do some emails/work
-We get out of the house for something. Groceries, coffee pick up, etc.
12:00pm Lunch + Dad Play
We are so spoiled that Dad gets to come home for lunch every day. It is a nice break for both of us.
- Music on
- Curtains closed
- New Diaper
- Sleep Sack + Pacifier
- One Book
- Lay down in crib wide awake
Oliver wakes up usually between 3:30-4:00. I try to let him lay in his crib 5-10min before getting him.
4:00 House Help
- Laundry, organize something, Oliver "helps" aka he plays and checks on me here and there.
5:30 Dad is home
- While the boys play, I cook dinner.
- Play time - Looks different every night. [Facetime Family, outside Walk, Bath goes here 2-3 times a week]
7:15pm Wind Down
- Music on
- Clean toys in the living room and Oliver's room
- Brush Teeth
7:30pm Bedtime - Music on
- Curtains closed
- New Diaper
- Sleep Sack + Pacifier
- One Book
- Lay down in crib wide awake I know this is a lot of content, but I hope it helps. There are SO many resources out there. A peaceful home is an option. You don't have to wait and wonder when and if you're kids are going to "explode" or "pass out". It takes some parent guts, you can't be a pushover and have to be consistent, but at the end of the day a well rested child is happier, healthier.
Cheering You On! Abby ***Don't forget... The Cirkles are cheering you on.