There's probably no other more consistent, constant thought parents of babies experience than "Pleeeeze sleeeep!!!!" And it's totally okay if you don't just think it sometimes and actually vocalize it and maybe curse under your breath, and maybe even feel resentful. It's SUPER demanding and draining taking care of a baby. And as much as you are overwhelmingly in love with that little nugget, there's no denying the fact that the sleep deprivation really messes with you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
An "off-switch" would sure be handy, but that's not how things work. And there's also not a one-size-fits-all solution because (surprise!) all babies and parents are different. BUT, there are some tried and true tips that are helpful and there are also some unexpected hacks that have worked like literal magic (like 30 seconds to snoozeville magic!) for some babies.
To help you along the way, we've gathered a bit of both. First up, we have a few easy-to-implement, tried and true sleep tips. Below those, we have some rather unexpected, but worth a try hacks that other parents swear by. (Feel free to skip ahead if you've already tried the tried and true!) Paired with a solid, consistent nighttime routine, we hope this advice will help everyone in the family get that much-needed shut eye.
First, here are our top tried and true sleep tips for parents to try.
Go Dark. Very, Very Dark.
If you do nothing else, make sure your baby's room is dark. Like really dark! A cave-like environment helps produce that super sleepy hormone, melatonin, and it blocks out any external stimuli that can excite their growing brain. Examine your sweetie's sleep space (whether it’s their nursery or your room). Are street lights flooding in through gaps in the curtains? Are there tiny, omnipresent LED lights from electronics? Babies love to fixate on anything bright and flashy, so take a few steps to create a pitch black bedroom:
- Use electrical tape or these handy light-blocking stickers to cover up any distracting (and annoying!) light from devices.
- Invest in blackout shades or curtains! You can also cover your windows in aluminum foil (Not the most stylish, but certainly the most cost-effective! And also the solution of choice for our co-founders Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. Read more about that here.) You can also tack up a spare blanket or install a legit blackout blind. Your baby will feel like they’re back home in the womb. If you still find that light seeps in around the side of the drapes, attach velcro strips to the curtains and the wall.
- Swap the fluorescent light bulb in their lamp for an amber or red light bulb. These softer colors are much easier for the eyes and brain to process at night and they won't suppress melatonin.
- If there’s a thin strip of light creeping in between the door and the floor, use a rolled up towel to block that gap. (Another tactic Kristen and Dax use!)
Soothe Them In Seconds.
Hello, Witching Hour! There are a myriad of reasons why babies fuss, scream, or become inconsolable right before bedtime–if only there was a foolproof fix all! When you’ve exhausted all your usual tactics (such as bouncing, burping, feeding, singing, rocking, shushing), try this quick, calming solution:
- Turn on the bathroom or kitchen faucet and place your baby in the football hold. Gently angle their head toward the water and wait for the sound of the running tap to work its magic. Our brains interpret rushing water as non-threatening and, therefore, can have a drowsy effect. That’s why most sound machines have a “crashing waves” or “rainfall” setting!
- Lots of parents have had similar luck with the bathroom fan, vacuum cleaner, or hairdryer. Just don’t run these for longer than a few minutes and if you do run them for any length of time, use an app to test the decibel level.
- Save water and energy by using an app or sound machine! Google "baby sleep app" and you'll find a bunch to experiment with. Similar to the above tip, make sure the decibel level is in a safe range for your wee one's developing ears.
Stroke Them To Sleep.
We know that most parents could use a good massage right about now. Same goes for your wee one, especially when they're mid-meltdown! Just like adults, babies hold tension in their little bodies from anxiety and overstimulation, making it difficult to drift off to slumberland. Physical touch can be an excellent antidote!
Try stroking their teeny tiny eyebrows, forehead and the bridge of their nose with downward strokes. Check out how shockingly quick and effective this can be in the video below.
Facial massage works so well to soothe an overtired baby because it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system–which lowers cortisol and tells the body to slllloooow down. Other ways to help them stay calm? Try skin-to-skin, baby wearing, and managing your own stress because studies show that babies pick up on their caregivers’ emotional cues and body language.
Seize The Sleepy Moment.
We aren’t about to recommend a specific sleep training book, program, or philosophy–that’s for you to research and implement, if you choose! But some sleep advice is worth paying attention to, like monitoring your baby’s sleepy cues, establishing a bedtime routine, and watching their wake windows! Time things right and you could BOTH enjoy a solid nap or stretch of sleep.
Experts suggest using age-appropriate wake windows (aka: the recommended amount of time between sleeps) to help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Experiment with a schedule and document your findings to see if you notice a pattern. For example, does your baby’s morning nap come fast and furious while they need lots of extra wake time and activity before bedtime? This is pretty common!
Wake Window Suggestions:
- Newborn: 60 to 90 minutes
- 4 to 6 months: 1.5 to 2.5 hours
- 7 to 9 months: 2 to 3.5 hours
- 10 to 12 months: 2.5 to 4 hours
- 13 to 15 months: 2.5 to 4.5 hours
- 16 to 18 months: 4.5 to 5.5 hours
- 18 months & older: 5 to 6 hours
Common Sleepy Signals (When you see the signs, get on that nap or bedtime routine STAT!):
- Zoning out
- Jerky arms and legs
- Rubbing eyes
- Tugging at their ears
- Sucking their fingers
- Drooping eyelids
Choose The Right Wrap.
Your baby is used to the warm, peaceful, and cramped confines of the womb, so it makes sense that they're not exactly thrilled to sleep in a bassinet or crib. That's like moving from a safe and sound studio apartment to a three-story unpredictable house! A good swaddle or sleep sack can help them feel more at home. And since not every baby likes to be rolled up like a burrito in a thin cotton blanket, you may need to hunt down and try out a few swaddle or sleep sack alternatives.
- Weighted sleep sacks or swaddles can help your baby feel snuggled and supported–as if they were asleep in your arms or under a heavy blanket. The downside? They’re pricey! So check Facebook Marketplace or your local parent’s group to see if you can find one that's up for grabs.
- Sometimes the best swaddle for your baby is the one that's easiest for you to get them in! Enter this stretchy, zip-up swaddle or this velcro sleep sack swaddle that effortlessly cocoons your cozy little caterpillar.
- If your baby’s ready to leave the swaddle behind, but their startle reflex is still going strong, try solutions like this sleep suit or this sleep sack. They’ll *hopefully* muffle that movement and keep your baby from jolting themselves awake every twenty minutes.
- While not a swaddle, these weighted lovies are a cozy companion as you snuggle with your baby after a long day. They are scented with fresh lavender and can even be warmed in the microwave! Remember: The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests keeping stuffed animals out of the crib until your baby's at least 12 months old.
- Sleep gear adds up and no one wants to spend their whole paycheck on special swaddles and sleep sacks that may or may not work for their baby! So do your research, ask other parents what sleep outfits have worked for them, and try to borrow or buy second-hand!
On the topic of swaddling, here's some priceless advice from baby-whisperer extraordinaire, Dr. Harvey Karp.
Now for some surprising sleep hacks...
Detach & Be Boring AF.
As Dr. Gwen Dewar of ParentingScience.com says, "because you are the single most fascinating thing in your baby’s life. Even something as mundane as quiet talk and eye contact can be very exciting for your baby." Translation? Gentle rubbing and shushing are powerful sleep tools that are immensely more effective if you balance that physical attention with zero mental/emotional attention. Zip your lips (other than a neutral sshhhhh) and avert your gaze.
Go Au Naturel.
Being able to control the temperature and lighting in our homes is an amazing modern convenience, but it's also a relatively new experience for human biology. We live in a modern world where a slow internet connection is frustrating, but our cells are grounded in nature and our cells get frustrated without the environment they've evolved in for thousands of years–with natural sunlight and fresh air.
- The sleep-wake cycle is controlled by your circadian rhythm (i.e. your internal clock). Studies show that babies who are exposed to natural light during the day sleep better at night and adapt to a 24-hour time cycle faster than those who are only exposed to artificial indoor lights.
- Fresh air also helps babies and toddlers sleep better. According to The Baby Sleep Site, "one study specifically designed to determine whether or not napping a baby outdoor improves sleep found that children who napped outside did nap for longer periods than those children who napped indoors. Even better, another study found that children who are exposed to a daily dose of fresh air and sunshine actually sleep better and longer at night. So it would seem that fresh air can positively affect more than just nap sleep – it can mean longer nighttime stretches, too!"
Wiggle Your Little One 10 Minutes Into Their Nap.
Sleep coach and mom Erin Hill's kids were 'crap nappers' (i.e. they'd typically last only 15–30 minutes). Knowing a full sleep cycle is 45 minutes, she knew her baby wasn't getting the full positive benefits of a good nap. Since poor sleep begets more bad sleep, she decided to try something most parents would find absolutely insane – she gently jostled her baby 10 minutes into the nap (just until eyelids start to flutter). "You do not want to wake the baby fully, but this gentle disturbance carries them past the normal point of wake up and they sleep deeper for 45 minutes or more! No more 'crap naps' and no more cranky baby," she explains. "Sounds crazy, but it works!"
Calm Them With Kleenex.
Similar to stroking your baby's face, lightly "swooshing" them with a tissue can have a sleep-inducing, calming effect. There are a bunch of videos online of parents using this Rip Van Winkle-ish witchery, and here's one example.
Go All Jedi On L'il Junior.
Even if you're not a Star Wars stan, you likely know the deep, breathy sounds Darth Vader makes. Slow inhale, slow exhale, slow inhale, slow exhale. Know what else sounds like that? Human respiration when it's not drowned out by other sounds – like when you plug your ears (go ahead, try it), or when you're a fetus in utero. No wonder it's suuuuper calming for babies. It reminds them of "home." Check out how effective it can be.
And finally, we asked our Hello Bello Love Club for their best nighttime words of wisdom. Here's some of their advice:
Place a heating pad on low on the area your baby sleeps while you get them ready for bed, then take off the heating pad and lay your child down so they feel the warmth.
Layering your crib/bassinet mattress with an extra sheet and protector that way If there are any accidents in the night you don’t have to fumble around to put on new sheets—just take off the top layer!
Our little one didn't sleep well for us at all, but we realized he just needed more stimulation during the day. We started going on long walks in the late afternoon before bath and bedtime and now he's sleeping 6-7 hours straight at night at 4 months old. We make sure he has plenty of tummy time and toys to play with before we try to put him down for a nap too.
Lavender is always my go to! We make a routine right before bed where my son gets a calm bath with low light and lavender. I think it really helps wind him down. He also starts off in our bed and I move him once he falls asleep. It allows for extra cuddle time too!
My kids loved sleeping to white noise. Sometimes you have to find what works best. For my son it was the sound of a vacuum cleaner and for my daughter it was any kind. Also to save money instead of buying a sound machine you can use any bluetooth speaker and hook your phone up to it!
Be consistent with the crib when they are a newborn! Naps and nighttime! If they still are awful sleepers in their crib, allow them to be in the crib 10-15 minutes a day awake (play time) so they can understand there is nothing to be scared of!
…One thing that’s worked with both of my babies that goes along with the bathroom fan/hair dryer idea is the microwave vent fan! It’s seriously like a magic button for a fussy baby.
Two babies… two different sleepers! My trick to sleeping is opting to do a dream feed while baby is asleep before they wake up themselves. Baby goes down around 7:30 and around 10:30 I go in, nurse baby without waking, and put them back down without ever disturbing them!
I have both of my girls pick out something they want to do. Anything from going on a walk to reading. After the activity we have bath time. I let them play for about 15 minutes and take them out. They get to pick what they wear to bed. We’ll read a bedtime story and get in bed. All lights are off, no TV in the room, and they are out for the night. My oldest is 6 and my youngest is turning 2.
A good, portable sound machine will do wonders! My toddler and baby know that when the white noise goes on, that means they are going down. I also would say to just pick a sleep training method and stick to it. Some of my friends will try one method for a day, then have misgivings and give up and try something else another week. You can research till your eyes bleed, but at the end of the day, whatever type of method you choose, you have to actually *do* it for 3-7 days for it to work!
…another tip for getting them to sleep longer is always keep about your routine of cleaning like vacuuming, doing the dishes, and laundry. The baby will begin to sleep through your cleaning. A tip for bedtime is bathe the baby then put a fresh new diaper on. Next feed the baby and lay the baby in the crib with either a white noise machine or lullabies. Baby will learn to have a sleep schedule very quickly.
We know that EVERY parent has a "bedtime story" with valuable tips and advice! What are your best kept sleep secrets? Please share in the comments below! Your experience is sooooo helpful to others!!