Baby Sleep Guide
The ultimate baby sleep guide
Becoming a parent is a magical time. Every baby is unique, and they soon grow and develop in their own special way. While that can be a wonderful thing to witness, it can also make it almost impossible to become a parenting expert – especially when it comes to mastering how to get babies to sleep. With different needs and considerations for every child at every stage of their development, it can sometimes feel difficult to keep up with ‘best practice’.
To give you a helping hand, we’ve pulled together all our best sleep training tips and tricks, including information on the benefits of getting enough sleep and general information on baby sleep routines.
Remember, parenting doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, but our guide will provide plenty of techniques for you to try until you find one that works best for you and your little one.
In this guide:
- The benefits of sleep training for babies
- How much sleep should my baby get?
- How often should my baby nap?
- Establishing baby sleep patterns
- Teaching your baby to soothe themselves to sleep
- What to avoid for uninterrupted baby sleep
- What should a baby wear to bed?
- Methods to help break bad baby sleep habits
- JOHNSON’S® 3-Step Routine
The benefits of sleep training for babies
Establishing a regular baby sleeping pattern has many benefits for both parents and baby, such as improving bonding and helping infants learn the difference between day and night. Of course, it’s not always easy for everyone. Every baby is different, with their own personalities and sleeping patterns – even identical twins. Some babies will sleep for long periods of time right out of the gate, while others will need more regular reassurance before they learn to sleep by themselves.
While sleep training techniques, like controlled crying and camping out, can be worrying for new parents, they’re actually proven to not only help babies sleep through the night, but also have a positive impact on a child which lasts right up until they’re six years old. They benefit new mums too, by helping to reduce related depression in mothers for up to 16 months.
If you’ve tried sleep training before and not found success, don’t beat yourself up. Around 20% of babies won’t respond to the technique due to the fact that they need attention for other reasons, such as problems with gas or acid reflux. However, by sticking to tried and tested routines of sleep training, both parent and baby can feel the long-term benefits.
How much sleep should my baby get?
As your baby grows, they'll typically need fewer night feeds and so should sleep for longer. But, just like adults, not all babies have the same sleep pattern. Some might sleep for eight hours, some more, some less. It’s really more about finding what’s normal for your baby and going from there.
Newborn sleep needs
Most newborn babies will be asleep more than they’re awake, sleeping for between eight and 18 hours daily. However, a newborn’s need to eat typically overrides their need to sleep, so you’ll usually find they wake every two hours throughout the night when they’re hungry.
3 – 6 months
Sleep rhythms normally begin to develop at around six weeks, and most babies are developmentally capable of regular sleep-wake cycles by three to six months. As your baby begins to understand the difference between night and day, it’s the perfect time to help improve their sleep-time routine.
At around three months, your baby should start to sleep for longer stretches at night – which means you’ll also get a little more sleep than before.
After three months, babies will usually sleep 13 to 15 hours a day. It’s important to realise that every baby is different, and some will need more sleep, while others need less.
By four months, your baby may be spending around twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day.
6 – 12 months
By the time your baby reaches six months old, night feeds may no longer be necessary. You might also notice your little one starts sleeping for up to 12 hours a night. During these months, teething discomfort or hunger can wake them but, on the whole, you should find they’re more settled.
Over 12 months
After their first birthday, your little one will likely start sleeping for around 12 to 15 hours in total.
How often should my baby nap?
In addition to their sleep at night, babies often need several naps to get them through the day, which can last between half an hour to two hours at a time. These are important to help ensure your little one is well rested for both their physical and mental development – plus, they mean you get some time for yourself.
Babies often need to nap from two to four times a day. Keep in mind that cutting back on naps won’t help them sleep more at night — it can be a recipe for overtiredness and a worse night’s sleep — but avoid naps too close to bedtime.
As your little one grows and develops in their first few years, naps give their bodies and minds much needed time to rest and recharge. It can also help to avoid overtiredness, which can cause more problems when it comes to bedtime.
Between the ages of one and two years old, your child should start to need fewer naps, dropping to just the one nap most days. Early afternoon is typically a good time for them to try and get their head down, which could be for as long as three hours.
Establishing baby sleep patterns
Many parents feel ready to start introducing a bedtime routine when their child is around three months old. The goal is to establish a baby sleep pattern as a solution to how to get your baby to sleep through the night, but they’re also a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with your child. Your baby bedtime routine could include:
- Having a bedtime bath
- Changing your baby into their bedtime clothes and a fresh nappy
- Reading a bedtime story
- Dimming the lights to create a darker, calming atmosphere in their bedroom
- Giving them a goodnight kiss and cuddle
- Singing a lullaby or using a wind-up musical mobile
- Brushing their teeth (if they have any)
Keeping a similar routine as your baby grows older is useful. As they become more active during the day, it’s important to ensure they have time to wind down and relax before bed, as too much stimulation could end up keeping them awake.
Identifying changes in baby sleep patterns
Interestingly, your baby’s physical changes can alter sleep patterns. Many developmental milestones, such as rolling over and pulling up to stand, can temporarily upset your baby’s sleep. Don’t be discouraged if your baby temporarily wakes up in the middle of the night if they usually sleep through. Stick to your routine to help them get back to a regular sleep pattern.
Teaching your baby to soothe themselves to sleep
The most important aspect of getting your baby to sleep through the night is having them learn to self-soothe to sleep. Put your baby down to sleep when they are drowsy but still awake. Babies need to be able to fall asleep independently so that they can self-soothe when they wake in the middle of the night.
In their first few weeks, you may find that your baby only sleeps when held by you or your partner. This may lead to them expecting you to be there to cuddle or rock them back to sleep if they wake during the night. To avoid this becoming a problem, and to help your baby learn to self-soothe, try putting them down for bed before they fall asleep by looking out for the following cues:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Pulling on their ears or hair
- Being less responsive or engaged
- Drooping eyes
- Arching backwards
- Wanting to suck or feed
- A glazed look
You could also try putting your baby down to sleep when they’ve just finished a feed.
Many experts feel that six months old is a good point to start sleep training a baby. Although, some parents feel it’s best to wait until their little one is around nine months and no longer needing to wake for a night feed.
If you find your baby disturbs in the night and struggles to settle back down, you should try to avoid over-stimulating them. This means not:
- Changing them unless they need it
- Engaging in active play
- Talking to the baby
What to avoid for uninterrupted baby sleep
Make sure your baby’s night-time routine is not too long or too impractical to stick to. Avoid rocking or feeding them to sleep, because you may end up doing the same when they naturally wake up during the night! Don’t forget to take turns with your partner in putting your baby to bed.
Remember, too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your little one up again. So, instead, make time for calming activities, like cuddling or reading before bed.
Putting your baby down before they’re fully asleep can reduce the risk of them only sleeping when held. It can also help prevent it becoming a habit in later life when it may be harder to stop.
What should a baby wear to bed?
Getting the environment right is often key to ensuring a safe and comfortable night’s sleep for your baby. That means everything from the clothes they wear to their bedding and getting the room temperature just right.
Here are some of our top tips for creating a healthy and comfortable sleep environment for your little one:
- The ideal room temperature for a baby should be between 20°C and 22°C (68°F and 72°F). If your house tends to run cool or warm, you’ll want to adjust accordingly by adding or removing a layer – but try to dress your baby in a similar way to yourself to make sure they’re not too hot or cold.
- It’s better to have baby slightly underdressed than heavily overdressed, as they can’t regulate their body temperature in the same way adults can. Although uncommon, overheating can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Opt for minimal bedding in your little one’s cot – avoiding using duvets, thick blankets and too many layers – and instead, consider using a lightweight sleeping bag. You can find out more about what your baby should wear to bed in on our Newborn Essentials page.
- Make sure you keep your baby's head uncovered as they lose excess heat through their heads to prevent them overheating. Tuck their blanket in no higher than their shoulders and don’t put a hat or any other head coverings on for them to go to bed in.
- Do not use pillows or duvets as they can increase the risk of suffocation in babies less than a year old. Duvets can also increase the risk of overheating – a major risk factor for SIDS.
Methods to help break bad baby sleep habits
If your baby won’t sleep or is fighting sleep, you might benefit from using sleep training techniques. Here are a few examples of tried and tested methods.
The cry it out method (CIO)
The cry it out method (CIO) does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s where you take your baby through their bedtime routine, say goodnight and leave the room. If they start to cry, leave them to calm down by themselves.
Leaving a baby to cry can make parents feel worried or guilty. But studies have shown that as long as there is no reason for their crying that requires attention – such as a high temperature or needing a nappy change – leaving your child to cry won’t have any lasting damage on your little one or your bond with them. In fact, sleep training can actually enhance your relationship and have long lasting benefits that stay with your child right up until school age.
The Ferber method
The Ferber method is a more gradual approach to baby sleep training than CIO. For the first few nights of using this technique, you can return straight away to soothe your little one if they become upset. Once they settle back down, you can leave the room again. The idea is that over the course of the training, you gradually increase your response time until they learn to self soothe.
The chair method
Some parents prefer the chair method, as it allows them to be in the same room as their little one and reassure them from a distance. With this method, you take your baby through their bedtime routine as normal and put them down when they’re drowsy but still awake. You can stand next to the cot and reassure them verbally if they disturb – but don’t pick them up or touch them.
Each night, you can move slightly further from the cot until eventually you’re out of the room. It typically takes about two weeks to train a baby to self soothe using this method.
The “check and console” method
Check and console is another baby sleep training technique that does exactly what it sounds like. After putting your baby in their cot, you can return to their room to check on them – regardless of whether they’re crying or not. Go back every few minutes and give your baby a gentle pat or stroke and offer some reassuring words, then leave again.
Slowly increase the length of time between your checks until you reach about 15 minutes. Monitor your baby’s response to this technique to make sure they’re not becoming over excited every time you check on them.
Remember, different methods work for different babies and parents, so try various approaches until you find the right one for you.
JOHNSON’S® 3-Step Routine
Our JOHNSON’S® 3-Step Routine includes bath time with Johnson’s Baby Bedtime Bath and massage: two rituals that are key to your baby’s happy healthy development. When done regularly, these rituals, combined with cuddles and quiet time, help your baby know that it’s time for sleep.
Once baby is bathed and massaged, they should be feeling nice and calm and drowsy. You can then enjoy a few minutes’ cuddle time to round out the 3-Step Routine before putting them to bed.
If you want some additional support and advice, you can attend the Now Baby antenatal class on sleep and learn more about the Johnson’s Baby routine.
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