While the saying ‘sleep like a baby’ would have us believe that teeny tots are great snoozers, babies under 12 months are actually lighter sleepers than adults. It’s why it can be difficult to get babies to sleep, and keep them napping.
Babies actually sleep completely differently from adults. They’re noisy and fidgety sleepers. That’s because they spend more of their sleep in ‘active sleep’ rather than ‘quiet sleep’. Babies also breathe shallowly, flutter their eyes, and twitch their limbs while asleep. And because they’re such light sleepers babies are easily woken. So it’s handy to have some tricks up your sleeve to get them to sleep and keep them in slumberland.
From gently sensory techniques to apps and feeding tricks, here’s how to get a baby to sleep.
How much do babies need to sleep?
While there are general guidelines on how long babies should be sleeping, it’s important to remember every babe is different.
Newborn to three months: Babies this little sleep throughout the day and night, and the total can be anywhere from eight hours to 20 hours a day. Remember that because they need to be changed and fed often, newborn sleeps can be quite short.
Three to six months: As little buttons get older, they tend to work out their days and nights. They may be having up to three daytime naps, of up to two hours each. Most little ones at this age sleep 14 to 15 hours a day in total – some will be doing eight of those hours at night. But many babies will still be waking at least once a night at this age.
Six to 12 months: Once our cherubs get past the six-month mark, their sleep patterns begin to mimic ours more closely. They’ll be sleeping about 13 hours each day in total, with their longest stretch of sleep at night – it tends to average 11 hours. You may also notice they’re fighting one of their day naps at this age, and lots of bubs drop their daytimes naps down to two naps of one to two hours.
How to get a baby to sleep
From using a tissue to tickle their faces (yes it really works!) to magical songs that send sleepy vibes, here are the top tricks to use when sleep just isn’t happening.
1. Face baby into the sunlight
Baby’s face into the sunlight: Like all of us, babies will close their eyes as soon as it gets too bright, so try shifting their focus towards the sunlight (not directly into the sun of course!) and watch those little peepers get heavier.
And here’s a bonus – studies show that babies who are exposed to natural light during the day, sleep better at night. They also figure out the difference between day and night quicker.
“I used to do this with my baby when we were out and he was struggling to sleep and it worked a charm!” – Caz
2. Face tickle
Gently running your finger over baby’s face can be enough to send them to the Land of Nod. The repetitive motion is a sensory delight that helps to calm and soothe.
Check out the video above to see just how quickly it works.
3. Vacuum the nursery
Babies just love the noise of the vacuum cleaner, because babies love white noise. It’s similar to the noises they heard in the womb, and helps them calm and relax really quickly. It also helps mask and distract from other noises that may prevent them from falling asleep.
So – two birds, one stone – get bub to sleep and get the nursery spick and span in one! Or, if you’re not keen on doing the vacuuming, pop on this eight-hour YouTube video of vacuum cleaner noise.
“I put the vacuum on under the bassinet.” – Christabelle
4. Use a white noise app
The monotonous sounds of things like the hairdryer or the hum of the car engine are almost hypnotic for babies. The continuous low-pitched sounds help calm and lull them off to sleep with minimal fuss.
Download an app like Sleeptot app which has everyday sounds to help baby fall asleep. It has more than 30 white noise sounds (like hairdryer, car ride and fan) and lullabies.
5. Rock the pram
The calming effect of rocking a baby is actually thought to help trigger natural sleep rhythms and ease sleepy tots into the perfect mode for snoozing.
Rocking the pram is a great bicep workout but if you’re keen to outsource, the Rockit ($59.95) does the rocking for you. Just attach it to the pram and it rocks the pram at adjustable speeds
6. Use a tissue
Sometimes to most gentle touch can help prepare a baby for naping.
Use a simple tissue, and like magic, the eyes close and all is silent. Watch the video above to see the technique at work.
7. Bounce around with baby
Babies love movement, but if you’re too exhausted to keep jiggling on your feet, why not combine a home workout with getting tired little cub off to sleep.
Bouncing and rocking triggers bub’s brain to release endorphins, which help them feel good. And when we feel good, we relax – and relaxing hopefully means sleep!
“I bounce [with bub] on a yoga ball.” – Karli
8. Give a scalp massage
Baby scalp massage: Take one of the best parts of getting your hair washed and transform it into a baby sleep technique. Genius.
Studies have shown that regular baby massage may help get their circadian rhythms on track so they’ll work out what is day and night quicker.
“Massage bub’s scalp. She is 13 now and will still ask for a scalp massage at bedtime, not all the time but if she is having trouble falling to sleep. Within 2 minutes of the scalp massage, she is sound.” – Julie
9. Do a sneaky feed
Feeding over the bassinet or cot: Some mums swear by feeding baby while they stand over their bassinet or cot. Then it’s just a case of quickly popping your sleepy bear straight down into the cot.
“I would breastfeed him to sleep while hovering over the cot so I didn’t wake him up putting him down.” – Samantha
10. Try the bedtime fading technique
Bedtime fading is smart little technique that’s worth knowing about. It involves gradually reducing the amount of time you help getting bub to sleep until eventually, they need less and less help from you. Find out more in our article about bedtime fading.
11. Get in the cot
Get in the cot: Ok, it may be a last resort, but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Just work out an escape plan before you get too comfy, as the dad in the video above discovered!
“I had to get into the cot with my bub on a handful of occasions when she was younger!” – Mandy
12. Play music
Some babes just love the sound of music as they go to sleep, but you may be surprised what actually works to lull them off. Some do adore a good lullaby, but according to the mums we asked, these are some the songs that work a treat to get their bubs to sleep:
- Blackbird – The Beatles
- Moonshadow – Cat Stevens
- Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
- Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
- Don’t Funk With My Heart – Black Eyed Peas
- Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – Lauryn Hill
- Who Let The Dogs Out – Baha Men
- She Will Be Loved – Maroon 5
- All My Loving – The Beatles
- Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Aerosmith
- Isn’t She Lovely – Stevie Wonder
- Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
Find the full list in our article on the best 25 songs to help baby sleep.
13. Use a sleep balm
A little natural hit of essential oils that promote relaxation, a lotion like Sleep Head Balm ($22.95) helps create a sleep association, as well as drawing on the benefits of massage.
The organic essential oils including lavender, sandalwood and magnesium help settle the nervous system and calm the mind before bed.
14. Bumpy pram ride
Some babies just love falling asleep in the pram, but prefer a rougher ride with bumps. It’s not really ideal to bundle them into the pram at 9pm when they won’t sleep, so the Sleep Rumbler ($69) simulates a bumpy pram ride. All you need to do is push the pram back and forth over it.
15. Go for a drive
If day naps are a struggle, the bump and hum of a car ride may just do the trick to get your little speedster into the right mindset for sleep.
Or if it’s too cold to bundle up and head out, try playing this lullaby that was developed for babies who love the sounds of a moving car.
16. A calming bath
A calming bath with lavender and chamomile is a tried and true way to get wee ones into the right mood for sleep.
Using bath milk like Calm Baby Oil Bath Milk ($34.95) transforms the bath into a magical, soothing soak for tired bubs.
“Bub had her bath this morning with Gilly Goat Calm Baby Oil Bath Milk and actually fell asleep in it! Normally it’s a screaming match!” – Kylie
17. Try a shushing sound
Sometimes all it takes a is the rhythmic sound of ‘shhh’ to get a tired tot to sleep.
Using the same principals as white noise, The Baby Shusher ($59.95) outsources the ‘shushing’ and repeats a gentle shhh sound until bub is asleep.
18. Use a baby carrier
Very young babies love to fall asleep with the warmth of mum or dad next to them, so to give your arms a rest, pop bub in a carrier and walk around. They can hear your heartbeat and smell you, so everything familiar is close by and helps to calm.
Once they’re asleep, transfer them to a cot or bassinet.
19. Pick up, put down method
This involves comforting bub by holding them, then putting them into the cot before they’re fully asleep. If they wake, just keep repeating – pick up and comfort, but put down before fully asleep – until they are asleep.
The goal here is that this will eventually become a cue for sleep.
20. Pram ride in the fresh air
A combination of movement and fresh air is usually a winner for babies who are fighting sleep. In many countries baby sleep outside as it helps them sleep better and longer. It’s believed the cooler temperature makes for a deeper sleep.
So lace up your runners and get pavement pounding.
21. Try a dummy
Some babies just need the comfort of sucking to get them settled for sleep. Even if you’ve tried a dummy previously, some babies take a few goes before they get the hang of it, so it’s always worth another try.
22. Give bub a massage
Settling and grounding, a gentle massage gets babies into a calm state, ready for sleep. Use a little moisturiser to help your hands glide gently over bub’s skin.
Or you can try the techniques outlined in our guide to reflexology for babies to help get your cherub in the mood for a snooze.
23. Trying swaddling
A soft, stretchy jersey wrap to keep snuggly little bunnies warm and content. So many babies sleep better swaddled, with their arms kept close to their bodies, to avoid being woken by their own startle reflexes.
The startle reflex usually kicks in when bub is being put into their cot or bassinet, as to them it feels like they’re falling. So swaddling helps them feel secure and calm.
24. Do squats holding baby
Get your workout done while getting baby to sleep. The up and down movement mimics some of the movements while bub was still in the womb, and babies love it!
25. Diffuse essential oils
Lavendar is known for being a relaxing, natural sleep aid, along with other essential oils like chamomile. To easily diffuse oil in the nursery use a diffuser. It blankets baby’s room with dreamy scents and mood lighting.
Just add a few drops of essential oil and the ultrasonic fairies will do the rest.
26. Try a sound sleep aid
Working the same way that white noise sounds do to calm and sooth, a sound sleep aid is pre-programmed with lullabies and sounds.
Some are even clever enough to sense when a baby is stirring and come to life with soothing heartbeat sounds to gentle steer baby back to sleep.
27. Read this magic book
A number one best-selling book, The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep ($19.99) is helping kids to fall asleep the world over.
Work it into your nightly routine even before baby can understand the language, the soothing sound of your voice may just be enough to send them off to sleep.
28. Try the football hold
Sometimes just a change of position makes a world of difference in getting bub to sleep. Some babies prefer to drift off on their bellies so do it safely by using the football hold, then placing them to bed on their back once asleep.
29. Use mum’s scent
Babies often sleep better when they can smell their mother’s scent, just like the precious poppet in the video above. He instantly settles once he can smell mum. The ability for bub to recognise mum’s smell is actually a survival tool. If they’re breastfeeding, it helps them recognise where their food is, and of course soothes them when they’re upset.
30. Turn on a fan
A cheap and easy way to introduce white noise to bub’s nursery is to have a fan going. A ceiling fan or a desk fan will work, as long as their sound is a gentle hum.
31. Give co-sleeping a go
Sleeping right next to mum or dad is sometimes all it takes for baby to drift off to sleep. Once again it’s having the smell of mum close by that can help.
A co-sleeper bassinet makes co-sleeping a cinch and comforting in the middle of the night is so much easier.
32. Block out the light
Bub may need the room a little darker, so invest in some of re-usable window blockouts, which also help regulate the room temperature.
33. Pop baby on the dryer
So many mums swear by this one! Pop bub’s moses basket on top of the dryer as it’s going. There’s something about the vibration that sends babies to sleep, much like that in a car.
Of course, you have stand with at least one hand on the basket and watch over bub if you’re going to try this one.
34. Play this magic song
Scientists have crowned the song ‘Weightless’ as the most relaxing song on earth. Have a listen and see if it puts bub to sleep before you nod off!
35. No eye contact
Some experts recommend reducing the amount of eye contact you make with your little cutie-pie for about 20 minutes before bedtime. It aims to reduce stimulation and excitement and set the tone for winding down to sleep.
36. Make the room cooler
We’re all worried that our bubs are going to be cold while sleeping and that sometimes mean we have the heat too high. A safe sleeping temperature for babies is between 18 and 22 degrees.
A cooler sleeping temperature is why parents in some countries pop their babies outside in their prams for naps.
37. Sit next to baby
Similar to bedtime fading, in that you sit next to your sleep fighter’s cot in a chair until they go to sleep. Each night, move the chair a little further away until it’s finally out of the nursery.
38. Try these hypnotic tricks
More than one million people have watched this video by hypnotherapist Scott Sandland, who shares four easy techniques to get baby to fall asleep. No, they won’t wake up clucking like a chicken!
39. Give it a rest
Try again later: It may be that your little nugget just isn’t tired, is over-tired, or just doesn’t know what they want. Try a change of scenery, pop on some Netflix and just relax together and when bub is settled again, start the sleep routine again.
Read next …
Looking for more ways to help baby sleep at night? Pop into one of these articles for handy tips and ideas: