I can’t tell you how many emails we get about sleep problems, and asking how much sleep babies actually need. I lived by the Gina Ford time table which I know gets a lot of flack, but I was interested to ask another few experts and Dr Janet Kennedy has written us a great piece on how well-rested babies sleep long and better.

Tip: Well-rested babies sleep longer and better.

Follow the 90-minute rule: Newborns need a lot of sleep and new parents often make the mistake of keeping them awake too long. For the first several weeks and even months of life, make sure that your baby is not awake for more than 90 minutes. Start soothing your baby to sleep for naps or bedtime before she is exhausted and she will fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer.

Learn your baby’s drowsiness cues: Watching your baby for drowsiness cues will help you learn to recognise when she is ready to sleep. Parents often doubt or miss these cues because they think that the baby has not been awake long enough to be tired yet. But if you pay attention to the drowsiness cues, your baby will get the rest that he needs and sleep will settle into a predictable rhythm. Babies who stay awake too long become overtired. This causes the body to release adrenaline, causing her to fight sleep. If your baby is overtired, he will have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Drowsy cues are subtle and include:

  • The first yawn
  • Slowing down and becoming less active
  • Droopy eyes or face
  • Becoming quiet/less vocal
  • Staring out into space
  • Long, slow-motion blink

When you see these signs, start your soothing to sleep routine.

Signs of over-fatigue include:

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Becoming cranky or fussy
  • Crying
  • Bursts of energy/looking wired
  • Spastic movements (batting face, pulling hair)
  • Seeming tired but unable to settle

Tip: Create bedtime routines.

Establish sleep cues. Sleep cues will help your baby or child to relax as the routine winds down. Simply bringing your baby into the bedroom, closing the door, turning down the lights and closing shades will set up the expectation of sleep if you do it consistently. Other sleep cues can include: soft music, white noise, cuddling with a lovey, rocking, and reading a book. The final sleep cue for your baby is being placed in the cot.

Soothe without over-stimulating. Newborns are soothed by stimulation, but as they reach 2-3 months of age, those vibrations, bounces, and extended rocking sessions start to interfere with sleep. Your presence is stimulating, too, which is why your baby will need to learn to self-soothe. Transition to less vigorous forms of soothing like gentle rocking, singing or humming. It might take your baby some time to get used to the change, but she will respond if you keep trying.

Tip: Teach your baby to self-soothe.

Self-soothing is anything your baby does to calm down or fall asleep without your help. This could include: sucking his thumb, hand or a dummy; turning her head from side to side; making fussing or grunting noises; rubbing or stroking a lovey. Self-soothing is important because it helps the baby to fall asleep at bedtime and return to sleep during normal nighttime arousals, all without your intervention.

Teach your baby to self-soothe by putting him in the cot after a bedtime routine before he falls asleep. If he protests, you can wait a few minutes or pick him up and soothe him. You can try again right away or wait until the next sleep time. Or you can use a cry-it-out strategy when your baby is ready.

Stop jumping in so quickly and your baby might just go back to sleep. Babies make a lot of noise during the night and parents are very sensitive to it. Sometimes, they need something (like a feeding or change), but other times, they don’t. In fact, they might be making noise while asleep and your “help” just wakes them up. If you wait a few seconds or minutes to listen to your baby before responding, you will give him the chance to self-soothe.

By Janet Kennedy
The Good Sleeper by Dr Janet Kennedy is published by Vermilion, £10.99.