5 tricks to help baby sleep better tonight
Calling all tired parents: our resident sleep expert shares her solutions for more zzz’s.
Fact: parenthood is so much tougher when you’re exhausted. The same goes for your little one. Every hiccup, every boo boo, every icky thing seems so much worse to them when they’re tired and cranky. Now we all know sleep doesn’t erase the tears (for any of us), but it sure does help make the days and nights more manageable. To help you get your baby to sleep soundly, we asked Dr. Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist who is board certified in behavioral sleep medicine, for her top baby sleep tips—all of which should help you get a better night’s sleep, too.
1. routines are everything
“Bedtime routines help signal to your child that bedtime is about to happen,” says Dr. Harris. Even if your newborn wakes up multiple times per night to feed, setting an arbitrary bedtime will help you get in the habit of a bedtime routine. “A common routine might look something like bath, dim lights, change clothes/diaper, feeding, book, sing song, bed,” she says. Try an abbreviated version of this for naps, too.
As part of the wind-down routine with her own kids, Dr. Harris used a sleep sack from early on. “It helped both of my children learn to associate getting dressed in them with their bedtime routine,” she explains.
2. rock, but not to sleep
“While it might feel lovely for you to rock your child to sleep before actually being put in the crib, it can lead to your baby needing to rock to sleep at every awakening,” says Dr. Harris.
Get in the habit of putting your child to bed in the bassinet or crib when he or she is drowsy instead of totally knocked out so they better learn to settle down independently for sleep.
3. dim those lights
Lighting helps signal bed and wake times for your child. “Our brains naturally make melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, as the night gets closer and melatonin needs darkness to work,” says Dr. Harris. To promote sleep at night and during naps, dim the lights, close the nursery door and use blackout shades. When it’s time to wake up, lift the shades and flip on the lights to help your child understand the difference between nighttime and daytime, she says.
Dr. Harris also suggests using a sunrise alarm clock for the cold winter months when there isn’t as much light out there. “An added bonus is that you can also set them to dim before bed, almost creating a fake sunset before bedtime.”
4. get the temp just right
Like adults, babies need their sleep space to be quiet, dark, comfortable and cool. “I like to use a humidifier on really cold and dry winter nights to keep the environment comfortable,” says Dr. Harris. (It’s worth putting one in your own room too, she notes.)
5. plan for routine changes
If a family trip takes you across time zones, Dr. Harris suggests planning ahead will ease the transition. “Work on going to bed progressively 15 minutes earlier (and waking up 15 minutes earlier) every night for the three nights before the time change occurs,” she says.
She also suggests taking it easy during the transition day. “Hydrate, get some light and movement by going for a family walk or doing something outside with your child,” she says. “Know that you and your children might need a few days to adjust to the shift.”
ABOUT DR. SHELBY HARRIS
Dr. Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, is a clinical psychologist who is board certified in behavioral sleep medicine. Her specialty is working with patients of all ages—babies through adults—to improve their sleep using evidence-based, non-medication approaches. Follow her at @sleepdocshelby.