Top Ten Things to Do to Get Baby to Sleep

by Jodi Mindell, PhD

Babies can make us laugh; they can make us proud. They can also make us crazy, especially when it comes to bedtime. Help is on the way. Dr. Jodi Mindell is one of the country's leading sleep experts. She's counseled scores of weary families on helping their babies fall asleep, and as important, teaching babies to do it themselves. Now, the top ten things you can do to help your baby's sleep.

10. Recognize your own baby's sleep signs. Does she rub her eyes? Does she pull her ears? Does she twirl her hair? One baby I knew used to stare off into space. The mom thought the baby was bored so would first do antics, but really, that was a sign for the baby that he wanted to go to sleep.

The moment your baby gives you that sign, that's your window of opportunity. You want to go right away and put them down for their nap or for bedtime.

9. Make sure the bedroom is conducive for sleep. What you want is a bedroom that's cool, that's quiet, that's dark, that's comfortable. There is this whole question about, if you're completely silent when your child's sleeping, are they going to get used to that silence and not be able to tolerate noise. We really don't know. One thing that can be helpful is running a white noise or a fan in the room to mask household sounds. However, you want to be careful, you don't want the house to be absolutely, utterly silent when your child is sleeping.

8. Make the crib a safe haven for your baby. All babies should sleep on a firm surface. There should be very little bedding, if any, in there. You don't want to give your child a pillow until they move to a bed. And, of course, all babies should be put down on their backs to sleep to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

7. Have a consistent bedtime routine. One of the key things in getting a baby to have good sleep habits and fall asleep easily and quickly is to have a bedtime routine. You want that bedtime routine to be twenty to thirty minutes, about two to three activities which are the exact same every single night.

6. Make sure your bedtime routine is sleep-friendly. You don't want to be doing anything that's way too active, because it will stimulate them and have a hard time falling asleep. A typical bedtime routine may include taking a bath, massaging a baby, reading to a baby, singing lullabies. You want things that are soft and soothing. Now, if your baby hates taking a bath or can't sit still for books, you want to do that at a different part of the day.

5. Keep your baby awake until it's time to put him down to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation data from the Sleep in America poll found that 46 percent of children are being put down awake in their cribs rather than asleep. So the majority of children are being put down asleep. For those children who are being put down awake, they fall asleep faster, if you look at their bedtime routine to the time they fall asleep. They sleep, on average, one hour more at night.

4. Make sure the nighttime feeding is not right before bedtime. You don't want your baby falling asleep while either nursing or drinking from a bottle. If your baby falls asleep while drinking or nursing from a bottle, they're going to need the exact same thing when they naturally awaken during the night.

So you can feed a baby twenty to thirty minutes before they go to sleep. You may want to feed them in a different room of the house or you can feed them, then do your bath, then do pajamas, diaper changes, into the crib.

3. Try to let your baby fall asleep on their own. A baby who can fall asleep on their own at bedtime is a baby who's going to fall right back to sleep when they waken during the night. A baby who's rocked to sleep, nursed to sleep, driven in the car to sleep, pushed in a stroller to fall asleep at bedtime is going to need that exact same thing to fall back asleep at 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00 every time they naturally awaken.

2. Avoid unusual middle of the night routines to put baby back to sleep. I hear stories all the time of all the things that parents do to get their babies to sleep. Some of them put their baby in a car seat on top of the dryer, which, of course, you want to be there so they don't fall off. Or, taking them for a drive in the car and so they're driving at 1 in the morning and 3 in the morning to get them back to sleep. Whatever habit you instill is what you're going to be doing several times that night as well as for the next month, six months or a year.

And the last and one of the most important tips for new parents.

1. Get some sleep yourself! It's crucial for parents to get enough sleep, too. So they need to nap when the baby naps. They need to not worry about what the house looks like and get to bed on time. They need to ensure that they get enough sleep at night and that may be switching off with another parent, if there's someone in the household. Single parent, getting some help once or twice a week.

The better rested a parent is, the better a parent they can be the next day.

Jodi Mindell, PhD, is a professor of psychology at St. Joseph's University and of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In addition to teaching and research, she is the associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where she treats children of all ages and their parents. Dr. Mindell has written over 25 papers on pediatric sleep disorders and presented over 100 papers at national conferences.

Dr. Mindell is the author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep (HarperCollins, 1997), a selection of the Children's Book-of-the-Month-Club, and co-author of A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2003). She is frequently quoted in national publications including New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, Parents, Child, Parenting and Redbook. She has also made over 100 television and radio appearances discussing children's sleep disorders, including the Today Show, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning.

Dr. Mindell received her MS and PhD from the State University of New York at Albany and conducted her internship training at Brown University Medical School.

Copyright © Jodi Mindell. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.