Use these 3 simple steps to get your baby sleeping better TODAY!

Apply these tips and you should see changes in just 1-2 days!

1

Set the foundation for good sleep with an age-appropriate day routine

Creating an age-appropriate day routine is important to ensuring your little one gets enough day sleep that then encourages good night sleep. We recommend starting to move towards a regular rhythm around 3 months (12-16 weeks old).

Day rhythms are not strict schedules and routines that require your baby to follow a rigid system, but rather a predictable sleep-wake pattern. So if you have a baby over 5 months of age whose day rhythm is unpredictable and they’re struggling with sleep, we’d really encourage you to introduce an age-appropriate day routine.

Why?

There are a few reasons:

  • Having regular naps *about* the same time each day helps to regulate your baby’s circadian rhythm. This means they are more likely to be tired at those times, which makes falling asleep easier.
    Hot tip: to work towards this, begin to gently wake your baby within the same half hour every day!
  • An age-appropriate day routine will help you avoid overtiredness! If a baby has irregular naps every day, they’re going to eventually get super over-tired, which is one of the key underlaying causes of frequent night wakings and other sleep issues.
  • A day routine can help distribute your child’s overall day sleep in a balanced way across their day. For example, a 6-month-old who has a 2-3 hour nap in the morning and then catnaps the rest of the day will likely still be overtired by bedtime, even though they met their sleep “quota” for the day. 

Some parents choose to start their day at the same time, some like to play it by ear based on when the baby wakes up in the morning. The important thing is to make sure your day allows the baby to get the rest and nutrition they need at every given age.

How to know if your child is overtired and you should change their day routine?

Look out for these signs:

  • frequent night wakings (often accompanied by crying or night terrors upon waking),
  • catnapping,
  • difficulty settling to sleep,
  • early morning waking,
  • clinginess and a grumpy mood during the day.

You will find all our recommended day routines in our Dreamy Day Routines Guidebook and in the upcoming Ultimate Baby & Toddler Sleep Course (stay tuned!).

For now, use the information in the following table to make sure you’re following the key guidelines for your child’s age.

Awake time: the amount of time from waking up until back asleep that your child can handle at this age without becoming overtired.

Total day sleep: The amount of sleep your child gets throughout the day, distributed across the number of naps optimal for their age. 

Number of naps: this is the optimal number of naps at this age. If your child currently only catnaps and needs more naps, you should work on extending the middle nap to be longer.

Given the guidelines and principles that we’ve highlighted above, the optimal nap schedule for a 4-month old would look like this:

7:00am Wake up

9:00-10:00am NAP

12:00-2:00pm NAP

4:00-5:00pm NAP

7pm Bedtime

In the Dreamy Day Routines and our ecourse we give you sample schedule that also include optimal feeding times to ensure that your little one consumes most of their calories throughout the day, rather than at night.

Don’t forget about the bedtime routine!

And a nap routine for that matter.

Bedtime and nap time routines are great ways to signal to your little one that it’s time to sleep. After a few times they will recognize the pattern and find security in knowing what’s next. You can start with a very simple one as early as 3 months old. 

Nap rituals can be short, 5-10 minutes long and bedtime rituals  can be a bit longer, 15-20 minutes. 

Ideas you can include in your little one’s ritual before sleepy-time:

  • Wash face, teeth, change diaper and put on jammies
  • Cuddle time and looking at a picture book
  • Dim lights and put sleeping bag on
  • Hold baby and sing a lullaby
  • Turn white noise on
  • Lights out and baby into bed

Did you notice we didn’t include feeding as part of the bedtime routine?
We recommend feeding before doing the routine and ending the feed 20-30 minutes before putting your little one in bed (if they’re older than 4 months). This both allows your baby to get the nutrition they need, as well as give them  that extra cuddle time before you start your sleep-time ritual.

2

Support good sleep with a sleep-inducing environment

One of the most widespread myths of children’s sleep is that your baby will become a good sleeper ONLY and WHEN you train them to sleep in all sorts of environments (in daylight, around noise, around other people etc) from birth. In reality, the cause and effect have been completely swapped in this equation. You can only ‘train’ a baby to sleep in all sorts of environments, if they are biologically prone to be less sensitive towards outside stimuli. In essence – a good sleeper will sleep well anywhere, but you won’t have a good sleeper just by exposing them to different environments. 

Here are some simple facts about sleep and its environment:

❗️Sensitivity towards their sleep environment (incl. light and/or noise) is mostly caused by your baby’s temperament and genetics, rather than any learnt habits. 

😴 ALL babies sleep better in an environment that biologically supports and encourages sleep.

We can’t force our child to fall asleep, nor can we change their biology or development – but we can set the scene for good sleep by optimizing their sleep environment. And the good news is: this can be done easily from the beginning!

How to set up the bedroom for good sleep?

  • Make it pitch-dark → As in, so dark that you can’t see 1-2 meters in front of your face! This encourages melatonin production, the hormone that makes us feel drowsy. So no light-up toys, baby carousels, fairy lights or any other type of light in your baby’s room. 
  • Use white noise → For children under 1 year and especially during the sensitive newborn stage, using white noise can be extremely helpful. It prevents other household noises (like you ninja-crawling out of the room) from startling the baby out of a deep sleep and actually helps them fall asleep faster (science says so!). White noise should be on for the WHOLE duration of the nap/night sleep and not exceed 50dB in volume. 
  • Keep the room cool → Try to keep the room 19-21 degrees celsius (66-70 fahrenheit).
  • The bed is for sleep ONLY! → there shouldn’t be too many distracting and over-stimulating toys in the baby’s sight and no toys/carousels in or above baby’s bed. After 12 months of age, a cuddle toy can be a good way to manage separation anxiety. 
  • Swaddle or sleep sack → We recommend using a swaddle for the first few months (until baby can roll over in their swaddle) to prevent baby from startling themselves awake with the Moro reflex, and a sleep sack afterwards. A swaddle or sleep sack also acts as an amazing non-verbal cue that “it’s sleep time”! Blankets and duvets are very impractical in the first few years. For babies under 1 year it also creates a suffocation hazard, so we recommend putting kids to bed in a sleep sack appropriate for time of year/temperature. Children under 2 don’t need a pillow!
  • What about a nightlight? If a nightlight is needed, find a red/amber hue one as opposed to a white/blue light and only switch it on for the time you need it, rather than keeping it on all night.

Sleep environment is one of the easiest things to change and often one of the most overlooked one. Parents often feel that surely, it can’t be THAT easy?! “Surely making the room darker a bit won’t have THAT much effect on our baby’s sleep?” “They sometimes sleep in full daylights so that can’t be the issue..?!” Or “we tried to turn on white noise twice. Nothing changed”.

Sure, ONLY changing your child’s sleep environment can not get you to your desired results, but WITHOUT optimizing the environment in which your baby sleeps, we’re making sleeping well a lot harder for them. After all – what do you have to lose?! Optimizing their sleep environment is a completely tear-free step towards better sleep and many parents have noted that just by making these changes, things already improve A LOT.

3

Reduce night wakings and achieve long naps with changing sleep associations

the YHave you ever wondered: 

🥱 WHY is my baby waking up after just 10 minutes?

😫 WHY won’t they sleep more than 30-45 minutes?

😢 WHY do they wake up every 1.5-2 hours at night?

😴 WHY do they sometimes wake up even to the quietest noise, but other times nothing can wake them?

All of this can easily be explained by your baby’s sleep cycle.

During the infamous 4-months sleep regression, your baby’s sleep matures and a predictable pattern of sleep cycles emerges during the night (which is ahy they start waking up every 2h).

Your baby sleeps in predictable sleep cycles that run for 45-minutes during the day and 1,5h-3h during the night. 

The first 10 minutes after falling asleep are spent in a very light sleep phase meaning your little one will be easily woken up by you trying to put them down into the crib, or leaving the room, or any sudden noises in the background. Once they get into deep sleep, they can sleep through a marching band practice. Towards the end of the sleep cycle, they will transition back into a light sleep phase, and can wake up easily again, which is often the reason why your baby will only do a catnap when you’re out and about. The unfamiliar noises surrounding them will likely wake them up and they will have trouble falling back to sleep.

This means that no baby (nor adult) actually sleeps through the night, but cycles through light sleep stages regularly. A baby that can connect their sleep cycles by themselves will lightly arouse and fall back into a deep sleep. A baby that requires a lot of assistance from their parents to fall asleep and connect their sleep cycles will wake up often in the night to ask for that help once they hit the light sleep stage. This help forms a SLEEP ASSOCIATION.

What’s a sleep association?

Essentially, sleep associations are connections that your little one creates between things+behaviours and falling asleep. These associations can either help or hinder your baby’s ability to fall asleep and/or consolidate (bridge) their sleep cycles during sleep (think short nap vs long nap, or 2-hourly wakings in the night vs sleeping through).

Sleep associations aren’t inherently bad. But in reality, whether they are helpful or unhelpful boils down to if they work for or against your baby’s sleep.

Positive or helpful sleep associations either help your child fall asleep or protect their sleep. These are either constant during sleep or something the child can recreate on their own when they awaken between sleep cycles. Examples of positive sleep associations are constant white noise, which protects baby’s sleep from outside noises, and sleeping in a sleep sack, which becomes a non-verbal cue for sleep as well as keeps your baby warm at night.

Negative or rather unhelpful sleep associations are those that babies need for settling, but cannot recreate on their own, which means they are unable to move from one sleep cycle to the next without your assistance. The most common unhelpful sleep associations are nursing to sleep (after newborn stage), rocking/bouncing to sleep or using a dummy (unless they can find and replace it themselves).

But, to emphasize once more – nursing or rocking to sleep are not bad per se, but may at one point become a stumbling block for long restorative naps and night sleep leading to frequent night wakings+short naps.

The ‘help’ your baby needs can be the same or different every time. For example, it could be that your little one takes all their naps in the moving pram or a carrier, is rocked to sleep with a dummy in their mouth in the evenings, but only settles at the breast during the night. In this case, they have at least 3 unhelpful sleep associations.

If you have already done steps 1 and 2 in this guide, and your little one is still waking up frequently in the night, struggles to take a long nap or wakes up very early in the morning, they most probably have some unhelpful sleep associations.

Want to start sleeping through the night again?

Well, first we have to set some realistic expectations. Did you know that the meaning of ‘sleeping through the night’ varies a LOT according to your baby’s age?

Here are some realistic sleep expectations based on your child’s age:

  • 0-3 MONTHS: one 4-6h stretch per night, 2-4 night feeds
  • 4-8 MONTHS: one 6-8h stretch per night, 1-2 night feeds
  • 9-12 MONTHS: 8-12h night sleep, 0-1 night feeds
  • over 12 MONTHS: 11-12h night sleep with no feeds

If your baby wakes/feeds more than mentioned above, their sleep CAN be improved!

How, you ask?

Well, by creating an age-appropriate day routine AND sleep-inducing environment, you’re setting a great foundation. But then it’s time to tackle those unhelpful sleep associations by encouraging your little one to fall asleep and connect their sleep cycles INDEPENDENTLY.

Hot tip: If your child is seemingly falling asleep independently, but has a feed (from bottle or breast) right before going into bed, start by moving the feeding time 20 minutes earlier.

Our Ultimate Baby & Toddler Sleep Course will walk you through exactly how to wean sleep associations in a gentle, developmentally appropriate way, with as little tears as possible. 

We will be launching the course in November 2022, so make sure you open our emails to be the first to know when sign-up begins AND we will be offering a special reduced price for you early birds! We’ll see you in your inbox 🙂

xo, Rachael & Hanna

Rachael is the founder of Sweet Babydreams and a certified baby and toddler sleep coach with over 6 years of hands-on experience helping sleep deprived parents successfully improve their little one’s sleep. Hanna is a psychologist and sleep coach who has worked with over 150 families one-on-one and taught hundreds more through online webinars and sleep courses in Estonia. Together they form a dream team of experts ready to empower you with the knowledge and tools that will transform your child’s sleep.