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5 Tips for Getting Longer Stretches of Newborn Sleep

Updated: Mar 2


“Sleep like a baby” is the most misunderstood phrase known to parent-kind.


I used to think that I “slept like a baby” during college, when I was able to pass out in a dorm room next to a raging party and sleep for a solid 12 hours without so much as opening my eyes to check the time. That, my friend, is not how babies sleep, especially when they are newborns.


For babies younger than 4 months old, sleep is erratic, unpredictable, short or long (depending on the magic voodoo you spend hours trying to recreate), and all around hard to figure out.


This is normal newborn sleep, and it can be challenging, but it is not hopeless!


There are several steps you can take to encourage longer stretches of sleep during the newborn months, none of which involve sleep training (they’re too young for that anyway!). Rather, these tips will help you establish healthy sleep habits and feel confident about their sleep as they grow and develop.


If you're viewing this at 3:00 a.m. and your eyes are weary, pop in your headphones and watch the video about establishing newborn sleep schedules on my YouTube channel (linked below). Then, read on for even more tips!





Swaddle

Swaddle that baby! Your little one just spent upwards of 10 months in a cramped, perfectly heated apartment and has no idea what to do with all the room they have acquired in their upgraded bassinet. Plus, they have zero control of their limbs and involuntary startle reflexes can wake them up from a solid slumber.


Using a tight, Velcro swaddle will help your baby to feel snug and contain those flailing arms. Many parents say that their baby cries as soon as they are in the swaddle, which leads them to believe the baby “doesn’t like” being swaddled.


This is usually more a sign of your baby being overtired and it coinciding with your attempts to swaddle and nap them.


Keep swaddling until about 12 weeks of age or if they begin to show signs of rolling. At that point, you’ll want to transition them out of the swaddle for safety purposes, using these tips.


White Noise

Let’s keep talking about that apartment your newborn was recently evicted from- it was noisy, but not college-dorm-party noisy. Think ambient noise; the gentle, constant kind that lulls you to sleep.


Babies can be overstimulated by the sounds of their environment very easily, which can make it difficult for them to fall asleep and take long naps. Investing in a white noise machine will help drown out background noise and recreate the soothing, sleep-inducing sounds of the womb.


Practice the Pause

There’s all sorts of catchy phrases for this concept, most notably “Le Pause” as thoroughly explained in the French parenting book “Bringing Up Bebe,” but the idea is the same. If your baby stirs in their sleep, give them 1 or 2 minutes to decide what they need.


Full disclosure -this is absolutely not sleep training or letting them cry it out, and I’ll tell you why.


For one, babies are noisy sleepers. They spend most of their time in active sleep, therefore grunting, moaning, even crying out could be done while they are actually still sleeping. Springing to action may interfere with their natural sleep rhythms, waking them up from a slumber unnecessarily.


Also, while in active sleep, babies may wake briefly out of a need to get comfy again with their surroundings, and decide they are ready to go back to sleep. Giving them 1 or 2 minutes to decide can result in extending their sleep.


If your baby does not settle after pausing briefly, they have decided they are actually awake and now need Mom or Dad to help them out, so get to it!


Practicing the pause more frequently will help you learn more about your baby’s sleep habits and decipher better when they need you and for what reason they are calling you.


Keep Your Newborn Well-Rested During the Day

The biggest mistake I made with my oldest during her first 4 months of life was thinking that she was sleeping too much. I couldn’t believe she needed to sleep 20 out of 24 hours in a day and convinced myself that if she slept less during the day, it would mean longer stretches at night. Boy was I wrong. She was about 6 weeks old when my dad came over to babysit so my husband and I could go out to dinner. I gave him strict orders to keep her awake the entire time we were gone, because I wanted to sleep well that night.


You see where this is going- she was awake a full 2.5 hours and then proceeded to sleep almost ZERO hours that night. (Okay, I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect, but you get the gist.)


As a sleep consultant, what I know now is that “sleep begets sleep.” The more sleep our babies get, the more well-rested they will be, the easier it will be for them to fall asleep at the next sleep phase. This means to assist your baby to sleep in any way possible, as long as it is within the safe sleep guidelines recommended by the AAP.


There is no such thing as a bad sleep habit at this age and the time will come when your baby will sleep unassisted. But for now, nurse, feed, rock, sway, and baby-wear your little one into a deep slumber.


Bonus tip:


Pay attention to wake windows, according to their age, to know when the optimal time for sleep will be.


Wake time is the amount of time your newborn can tolerate staying awake without being overtired. Wake times generally can include feeding, diapering, and short activities such as tummy time.


Here are wake time recommendations by age:


0-4 Weeks: 30-45 minutes

4-8 Weeks: 45-60 minutes

8-12 Weeks: 60-75 minutes

12-16 Weeks: 75-90 minutes


Co-Regulate Your Emotions

I had an in-home newborn consultation once and was teaching mom the best way to soothe her baby before sleep. She was surprised at my slow, gentle swaying, which greatly differed from the fast paced bouncing she was currently practicing. Without getting all scientific, this is co-regulation.


Okay, I’ll get scientific for a second.


Co-regulation is the process of regulatory support between a caregiver and child. In layman’s terms, it means that our babies sense our emotions, so it is important to mirror calmness if we expect them to be calm. Infants actually sync their heart rates to ours during moments of co-regulation.


So what does this mean in practice?


Picture the environment you want to fall asleep in. Would it be while you are stressed, jilted up and down on a yoga ball, with an increased heart rate? Probably not. You might get bounced to exhaustion, but there will likely be tears and heightened anxiety as a result.


Mirroring a calm emotional state, with deep, slow breathing, and gentle swaying from side to side is a better state to be in while you are co-regulating with your baby during sleep. I can sense some of your eyerolls- like how are you supposed to do that when your baby is screaming their head off?!


Practice deep breathing to keep yourself grounded, be mindful of the message your body language is sending, and know that you are fully supporting your baby through a tough stint of crying that will eventually subside.


As always, if you reach a max level of frustration, it’s okay, and probably safest, to put your baby in the bassinet or hand them off to your partner and take a few minutes to collect yourself before going back to try again.


Co-regulating is probably the most challenging, but most effective, of all of these suggestions and you’ll find that practicing this technique in all aspects of parenting will help you on your journey.


Getting your newborn to sleep for longer stretches can feel like an impossible feat, but with the right tools and mindset, it’s possible to make progress. Remember to be patient and consistent, and to pay attention to your baby’s individual needs and preferences. With time and practice, you and your baby will find a sleep routine that works for you both.


 


Here’s to happier, healthier, and more restful sleep for both you and your little one!


If you’ve found these tips helpful or you are interested in learning more about how I help working with newborns one-on-one to establish healthy sleep habits, check out my newborn packages to find out more information and book a call to chat with me!





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