Inside: Ready to make sleepless nights a thing of the past? Learn how to get baby to fall sleep on their own and sleep longer, plus the main reasons why they’re fighting sleep and what you can do about it.
Forcing my eyes open while I throw my feet over the side of the bed, I follow the cries toward my son’s bedroom.
“Here we go again,” I mutter to myself as I pick the crying child up out of his crib and prepare myself for another sleepless night.
But something’s different this time.
Why can I actually see him?
And then it dawns on me.
It’s morning. It isn’t the middle of the night.
“HE SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT!!!”
I scream as I run in and excitedly wake up my husband. “He didn’t wake up once!”
I felt like a brand new person.
With a whole night’s sleep in, I felt more like the person I imagined I was before having a baby (I can’t quite remember her, but I imagine she felt this awesome with all the sleep she got).
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And Then, It Ended
As quickly as my son’s first time ever sleeping through the night came, it vanished.
The very next night was another blurry memory of rocking, walking, and soothing a cranky, upset baby.
And then the next night.
And then the next.
I felt like a complete and utter failure as a mother.
Why Won’t My Baby Sleep?
For the longest time, I was convinced my son hated sleep.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but it took me a large number of sleepless nights to learn what the problem was.
If you feel like your baby hates sleeping and you’re wondering why they won’t just give in to those heavy eyelids and drift off to sleep, here are a few things that could be hindering their ability to sleep:
When a baby is overtired, they have an especially hard time getting to sleep and sometimes an even harder time staying asleep.
An overtired baby is one of the most common reasons why babies won’t sleep, especially for new moms.
It’s hard to know when your baby is tired, and by the time you can actually see their signs of tiredness, they’re beyond tired and have already entered the overtired state.
Getting an overtired baby to sleep can feel impossible.
Avoiding overtiredness is one of the best things you can do to help your baby fall asleep on their own – or even at all.
Here are some signs that your baby may be overtired:
- Waking after a short period of sleep
If you finally get your baby to sleep and let your body melt into the couch cushions only to be alarmed 10 – 20-minutes later by a crying baby, your baby is most likely overtired.
- Indistinguishable crying
An overtired baby may cry for reasons that you are unable to distinguish. If your baby is fed, dry, and comfortable but still crying for no reason that you can figure out, that could be a sign of an overtired baby.
- Frequent yawning
While you may associate yawning with your baby being ready for a nap, frequent yawning generally means that baby is already overtired.
- Difficult to calm down
Much like the indistinguishable crying, another sign of overtiredness in babies is having a baby who is difficult to calm down and isn’t happy playing with the toys he/she usually likes.
As brutal as it is, overtired babies just don’t sleep very well.
This is why it’s best to avoid allowing your baby to become overtired if at all possible. We’ll talk about how to help your overtired baby sleep, and how to keep your baby from becoming overtired, in the sections below.
Much like overtired babies, overstimulated babies often have a difficult time sleeping as well.
Raising Children puts it this way:
“Overstimulation happens when a child is swamped by more experiences, sensations, noise and activity than she can cope with.”
Here are a few signs your baby may be overstimulated:
- Avoiding eye contact
One of the first signs of an overstimulated baby is a baby who won’t make eye contact. If you try to make eye contact with an overstimulated baby, they will most likely be quick to look away.
- Cranky, fussy, difficult to settle
If your baby is particularly cranky and difficult to settle, that could be a sign of overstimulation. When a baby gets overstimulated, they are likely to feel out of control and may throw a fit out of confusion from the situation.
- Zoning out
Zoning out and acting tired are both signs of overstimulation in babies.
An overstimulated baby will sleep very similarly to an overtired baby: not very well. Here are a few things you can try to help calm your overstimulated baby down:
How to calm down an overstimulated baby:
- Turn off noise
Is there music playing or is the TV blaring? Maybe there are older siblings running around and being rambunctious. Too much noise can trigger overstimulation in babies.
- Go to a calm room
Help baby calm down by removing yourself – and them – from the overstimulating area and going into a dark, quiet, and calm room.
- Be present
Now’s not the time to scroll Facebook or like pictures on Instagram. Put your phone down and give your baby undivided attention. They may be trying to tell you something with their body language.
- Rock and pat
In a dark or dim room, rock with baby in the rocking chair while gently patting their back and making a “shhh” sound to help them calm down and de-stimulate.
We couldn’t have made it through the first year without our trusty rocking chair.
- Watch their body language
A baby could very likely end up overstimulated after an afternoon of being out and about and held and smothered by different people.
Watch your baby’s body language to figure out what they need. Sometimes when overstimulated, babies will want to be held (by someone they trust and are comfortable with – usually mom or dad). Other times, babies will want to be laid down to kick around and have some space.
They’ve Got Gas
Gas bubbles can give babies cramps and stomach aches, which cause them to be extremely uncomfortable and even in pain.
If you suspect the reason why your baby isn’t sleeping well is from gas, here are a few ways to relieve gas in babies:
- Do the colic carry
Hold baby under his belly on your forearm and massage his back. The pressure on his stomach can relieve some gas pains and the massage can help in calming fussiness.
- Gripe water
Gripe water is a herbal remedy that is made to help relieve gas and soothe fussy babies. Studies haven’t been done to prove whether or not it works, but we used it with our son and it helped calm him down almost every time.
Of course, never start giving your child something new – like gripe water – without first consulting your baby’s pediatrician.
- Help baby burp
One of my biggest struggles as a new mom? Getting my baby to burp.
Then, one day when my son was a few months old another mom passed a trick down to me that helped me get my son to burp almost every time.
The trick? Straightening his spine. It sounds scary, but it’s simple.
Place baby in a sitting position, with your left hand supporting their head by holding under their chin.
With your right hand, gently place your palm on baby’s back near their tailbone and gently press, until their back begins to straighten.
Hold them in this sitting-straight-up position for a couple of seconds.
By now, baby should have burped. If it doesn’t work, release and repeat a second and third time.
- Bicycle legs
You can help trapped gas escape by laying your baby on her back and slowly pedaling both of her legs. When one knee goes up to her belly, the other leg stretches out, and vice versa.
This can help get gas moving and relieve the discomfort.
They Don’t Want to Miss the Party
If there’s a lot going on, music, noise, siblings playing loudly, oftentimes babies will fight sleep simply because they don’t want to miss out on the party.
They want to be a part of the action.
One of the best ways to get baby to sleep longer and better is to use a white noise machine in their room to block noises coming from outside their room.
This way the giggling from their siblings, the TV, or the radio won’t keep them from falling asleep.
If baby is hungry or has a dirty bum, trying to get your baby to sleep will be next to impossible.
If their diaper is just wet, it’s more likely that they’ll still be able to fall asleep, but if they pooped, the diaper needs to be changed (on top of being incredibly uncomfortable, being left in a poopy diaper can also cause horrible and painful bum rashes).
There’s not much worse than going through baby’s bedtime routine and getting them all settled down for bed, then laying them in their crib and realizing they pooped.
You’ll contemplate which would be worse: a bum rash, or waking up the baby you worked so hard to get to sleep.
Reluctantly, you’ll scoop them out of the crib and change their bum. And now baby will be screaming again and the whole process starts over.
It isn’t fun, but it’s something every parent deals with. (Use the tips below in the “how to get baby to fall asleep on their own” section to eliminate the screaming baby effect.)
Night and Day Confusion
If you’re dealing with newborn baby sleep problems, one of the leading causes of a newborn who doesn’t sleep well at night is night and day confusion.
Meaning, they sleep all day and party all night.
Day/night confusion in babies is surprisingly common, and it’s something we had to deal with when our son was born, too.
Here are a few ways to straighten out night/day confusion and help your baby learn that nighttime is for sleeping and daytime is for playing (not the other way around):
Bedtime routines help your baby know what’s coming next. When you get consistent with their bedtime routine, they’ll start to wind down and prepare themselves for sleep as soon as you start the bedtime routine.
Routines create consistency for your baby, and babies love consistency.
- Get them dressed in the morning
I know how tempting it is to just let your baby lounge around in their sleeper all day (they sleep most of the day away, anyway, so what’s the point of changing them?).
But if you’re struggling with a baby who has night/day confusion, if you get them dressed in the morning they’ll quickly learn that PJs are associated with sleep and that getting dressed signals the start of a new day.
- Interaction (at the right time)
During the day, talk to your baby, sing to them, and play with them. This will help them know that daytime is playtime.
- Keep nighttime feedings boring
Unlike during the day, when baby wakes at night, keep the lights dim and try not to talk to them. Pick them up, feed them, change them, and put them back down to bed with minimal interaction.
The lack of interaction will communicate to your baby that nighttime is for sleeping – not playing.
As soon as you start interacting with your baby, they’re going to want to stay up longer to play.
How to Get Baby to Fall Asleep on Their Own
Ever wondered how to get your baby to stop fighting sleep? Here are the secret baby sleep tips you need to know for restful nights and happy days:
Routines will quickly become your new best friend after having a baby.
With everything baby’s experience being new and exciting (and sometimes frightening), having something like a routine that they can count on helps them gain a sense of security and stability.
Creating a bedtime routine for your baby doesn’t have to be hard (in fact, I have a free step-by-step guide to creating a fail-proof bedtime routine for any child, here) and it will reap benefits.
“Routines help infants and toddlers feel safe and secure in their environment. Young children gain an understanding of everyday events and procedures and learn what is expected of them as routines make their environment more predictable.” – Kaplan
Having a calm bedtime and naptime routine and being consistent with it will pay off in the long haul.
Right now it may just feel like you’re fighting to keep a child sitting still while you read the last page of their bedtime-routine book and that pulling your hair out would be a more pleasant situation, but the things you stick to now will benefit your child (and their sleep) in the long run.
2. A Calming Environment
Creating a calming sleep environment for your baby is one of the best ways you can help your baby fall asleep on their own with as little fussing as possible.
A calming and peaceful sleep environment helps your baby anticipate what comes next, which helps them prepare themselves for sleep.
Much like with your baby’s bedtime routine, you wouldn’t take a child straight from playing a high-energy game like tag and then send them to bed and expect them to be able to fall asleep right away.
Their body needs time to de-stimulate and prepare for sleep, and that’s exactly what a calming sleep environment helps your baby do.
A calming sleep environment will help your baby anticipate sleep, not fight it.
There are three things that make up a calming sleep environment for babies:
Ensuring the place where baby sleeps meets the above standards will help your baby sleep better and learn how to fall asleep on their own faster.
3. Wait a Few Minutes
After placing baby down in their crib, wait a few minutes before responding to their cries. A child needs to have the opportunity to cry in order to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
If you rush in at the slightest whimper, they’ll learn to be reliant on you to fall asleep.
I’m not suggesting the full-fledged cry-it-out sleep training method, unless that’s what you’re opting for.
All I’m saying is that it’s good to allow your baby to cry for a minute or two before rushing to their aid.
Eventually, they will learn how to soothe themselves to sleep.
As hard as it is, if your baby starts crying, set a one or two minute timer and distract yourself from entering the room until the timer goes off.
4. Watch for Sleep Cues
Believe it or not, there are many more sleep cues than yawning (and if your child is already yawning away, chances are they’re past tired and on their way to overtired).
It’s important to learn what your baby’s sleep cues are and to start their bedtime or naptime routine as soon as you see the first sign of sleepiness.
Some common signs that baby is tired are:
- Yawning – get baby ready for sleep as soon as the first yawn escapes their lips, if not before.
- Rubbing eyes and face
- Pulling at their ears
- Zoned out
- Sleepy & glazed over eyes
- Heavy eyelids/long blinks
- Grunting and groaning
Once baby has shown their early signs of tiredness, one of the most noticeable signs of tiredness is:
Try to get your baby to sleep before they get to the crying/fussy stage of tiredness.
5. Understand Sleep Needs by Age
A one-month-old is going to need a lot more sleep than a 1-year-old.
Understanding your baby’s sleep requirements according to their age is vital in ensuring your child is well-rested and doesn’t become overtired.
Because once baby is overtired, sleep is a far off wish for mothers.
You can grab your free sleep-by-age chart here that includes the amount of sleep your baby needs according to their age, their wake time requirements so you can put them to sleep when they’re actually tired, as well as an easy solution to a successful bedtime routine for your baby.
6. Focus on Wake Times
Focusing on baby’s wake times, rather than nap or sleep length, will help you put baby to bed before they are overtired, which will help them learn how to fall asleep on their own.
I found when I started focusing on wake times rather than nap length with my son, I was able to determine the best time to put him to sleep even better than when I focused on signs of sleepiness.
Learning about wake times was one of the single most useful things I learned as a new mom, and one of the best helps we received for our son’s sleeping issues.
You can grab your free Wake Times Chart here to determine how long your baby should be awake between naps/bedtime.
7. Keep Them on a Schedule
Babies thrive on schedules.
Just like having a bedtime routine is important in helping your baby learn how to fall asleep, keeping them on a schedule throughout the entire day is vital.
Hearing that I needed to stick to a schedule with my son scared me. I hated the thought of being trapped by some invisible mom-law, and that if I dared mess the schedule up? I had failed as a mom.
Turns out, keeping a schedule wasn’t that hard. All I needed to do was again, focus on my son’s wake times and plan my day around his naps.
I kept our schedule as flexible as possible, but found when I stuck closely to it is when my son slept the best.
A daily schedule helps baby’s anticipate what’s coming – which helps their bodies prepare for sleep before it arrives.
When creating your baby’s schedule, sticking to it may feel restricting, but it will often help your baby learn how to fall asleep on their own at an earlier age.
If you’re struggling with feeling restricted by your child’s nap and daily schedule, remember, this will pass.
You won’t be trapped by nap time schedules for the rest of your life. In the grand scheme of things, this is a short period of time that will reap many benefits in your baby’s sleep habits later on in life.
8. Take Baby Outside
Allowing your baby to get lots of sunlight during the day will promote longer and better sleep at night.
If temperatures allow, try to take baby out for a walk at least once a day. If it’s too cold to get out for a walk, consider opening up the blinds and letting as much natural light into the house as possible.
Keeping things light and bright during the day and dark at night is also a good way to correct night and day confusion in newborns.
9. Wake and Sleep Training
One of my very favorite information-packed books for parents is Happiest Baby on the Block.
It’s jam-packed full of useful information that works and makes sense in helping parents navigate through new parenthood.
On their blog, Happiest Baby talks about using a “wake and sleep” method to help your baby learn how to fall asleep on their own.
The wake and sleep training method is a very gentle sleep training method and has been proven to be very successful by many parents.
Here’s what the Happiest Baby blog has to say about Wake Sleep training:
- At bedtime (or naptime) swaddle your baby and turn on some white noise.
- Feed baby, burp baby, and let baby fall asleep in your arms.
- Lay baby down in their bed and gently rouse him until his eyes open (do this by tickling his feet or neck, etc.).
- Once his eyes open, stop tickling him and allow him to drift back off to sleep.
If baby gets fussy before drifting back off to sleep, pick him up and calm him. Once calm (or back asleep), lay him back down.
If he fell asleep on you, gently rouse him from his sleep again once he’s in bed.
Those few moments of sleepiness before drifting off to sleep is the starting point of your baby learning how to fall asleep on their own.
Mistakes Parents Make When Trying to Get Baby to Sleep
In an innocent attempt to help your baby sleep longer, you may actually be harming your child’s sleeping abilities.
Watch out for these common mistakes parents make when trying to get baby to fall asleep that may be harming your baby’s sleeping habits:
- Keeping Baby Awake Longer
One thing many new parents (me!) do with their baby in an attempt to help them sleep longer and better is to keep them awake all day or longer than normal.
It makes sense, right?
The more tired baby is, the longer they’ll sleep.
Unfortunately, baby sleep doesn’t work that way. The more tired baby is, the harder time they’ll have falling asleep, and the more frequently they’ll wake up.
A well-rested baby sleeps better than a tired baby.
If you want your baby to sleep good and long, make sure they’re getting adequate sleep. You can learn how much sleep your baby needs according to their age, here.
- Allowing Harmful Sleep Associations
Negative and harmful sleep associations are anything that require a parent or caregiver to do to help baby to fall asleep.
When you help your baby fall asleep by doing the following harmful sleep associations, as your child goes through his sleep cycle, he’s more likely to wake and not be able to fall back asleep without the help of a parent every 40-or-so minutes.
Negative sleep associations:
- Nursing/bottle feeding baby to sleep
- Rocking/patting/walking/singing baby to sleep
- Laying with baby until they fall asleep
- Driving around until baby falls asleep
- Pushing them in a stroller until they fall asleep
These are all examples of harmful or negative sleep associations.
If you are currently doing any of the above actions to get your baby to fall asleep, you will want to stop as soon as possible to allow baby to learn how to fall asleep by themselves.
- Tending to Their First Cry
Rushing into baby’s room at their very first cry robs them of the opportunity to try and go back to sleep.
Sometimes babies will whimper or let out small cries and then go back to sleep, but if they see you in their room they are going to want to be picked and there will be a much slimmer chance of them going back to sleep on their own.
- Sleeping in the Same Room For Too Long
To reduce the risk of SIDS, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sleeping in the same room as baby for the first 6 months of their life, and up to one year.
If you keep baby in your room much longer, you may experience frequent night wakings and restless sleep long after baby reaches the age of being able to sleep through the night (which is generally 6 – 12 months of age).
The noises that you make while sleeping and/or rolling in bed may cause baby to wake up aand sleep lighter.
- Tip-Toeing Around Baby
Some babies are born natural light sleepers, while others are induced.
Meaning, when you try to be particularly quiet around your baby while they’re sleeping, you may be harming them in the long run.
Sure, you don’t want them to wake up. But what happens when you add another baby to the family? Or, when you want to make popcorn at 10PM on a Friday night but you can’t, because it’ll wake the baby?
Carry on with life as normal while your baby sleeps to get them used to sleeping through noises.
If you already have a light sleeper, gradually increase the noise level when your baby is sleeping to get them used to sleeping through different sounds, or install a sound machine in their room to block out outside noise.
How to Get Baby to Fall Asleep On Their Own… Your Turn
Do you have some baby sleep tips and tricks hidden up your sleeve? Feel free to share your tips for getting baby to fall asleep – and stay asleep – by themselves with other moms in the comments below!