Sleepless parents, this blog is for you!
You were prepared for life to change with your new baby. But, of all the changes, sleep loss has you the most frustrated, and you’re constantly searching the internet for solutions. Googling things like, “How do I get my baby to sleep at night.”
It seems like some families don’t face the sleep struggle. Either their baby is sleeping like an angel, or they simply need less rest.
But you and your loved ones are struggling in the sleep department. Your newborn is up all night or only sleeps 40 minutes at a time. You are wondering how you can function through one more day with heavy eyelids and a cloudy brain. The good news is that you are in the right place! Get ready for some quality information on:
Normal baby sleep
Practical tips for when your baby isn’t sleeping
Access to extra support
With the Baby-Led Sleep Approach, You Meet Your Baby’s Needs Night or Day
Start with the basics. The Baby-Led Sleep Approach begins with the premise that babies do wake up at night. And research backs this up, finding that up to 57% of babies (12 months) woke up at night. This was defined as sleeping in intervals of less than 6 hours1. The Baby-Led Sleep approach is different from sleep training, where the goal is to train your baby to sleep better by letting them cry until they learn to fall asleep.
The Baby-Led Sleep Approach addresses sleep in a way that is holistic, encourages parents to meet your baby’s needs, and affirms that babies will sleep – when they are ready. Everyone wants their baby to sleep at night. Consider this idea: babies wake up for legitimate reasons, and do actually need adult support during the night. Learning effective tools to meet your baby’s needs leads to better sleep for everyone.
Babies have their own unique timeline for developing skills – including sleep. There are some babies that naturally sleep better. Even if your infant sleeps well overall, you can be mystified by unexpected changes. These may occur during sickness, teething, or times when your baby is learning a new skill such as rolling over or crawling. A week of less sleep can have you searching for ideas to deal with sleep deprivation.
And then… you might be one of a family with a baby who really struggles to sleep. A baby that cries at night – a lot.
You may be faced with any of these shenanigans:
You can’t get your baby down at night or naptime, so your baby is crying because they are overtired but won’t go to sleep.
Your baby refuses to sleep unless being held, so you are trying to figure out safe sleep practices.
Your baby only sleeps for short intervals. As soon as you get to close your own eyes, your baby is waking up again.
Your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and won’t go back to sleep. They’re ready to play, snuggle, eat, and maybe cry a little more.
Your baby sleeps all day and is up all night.
All of these are normal baby behaviors – but can wear a parent down. Because, after all, you rather enjoy and need to sleep at night! The sleepless weeks turn into months, and you might be struggling to manage. You’re looking for more than “Wait until your baby grows out of it”, or the unhelpful “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
This is the beauty of the Baby-Led Sleep Approach, it recognizes the goals and wellness of the entire family. Not just the baby. Addressing wellness includes addressing the issues related to sleep deprivation in parents.
You will sleep again. But you need to find ways to manage in the meantime. You are doing a wonderful job of meeting your baby’s needs, night and day. Take heart. Here are some uplifting tips for surviving when your baby isn’t sleeping.
Ideas for Surviving Sleepless Nights with an Infant
Embrace this stage of life
The lack of sleep is hard, the crying is hard. But it doesn’t last forever. Somehow accepting this fact — and even expecting it — helps you deal with sleep deprivation. Partly because it gives you permission to stop trying to fix your baby’s sleep. Instead, you can focus on meeting their needs, and finding adjustments to meet your own sleep requirements.
Simplify Your Schedule
Be easy on yourself when you have a baby in the house. Find ways to reduce and simplify your schedule. Give yourself permission to skip things because you need rest! Evaluate what is most important and look for ways to reduce other responsibilities.
This could be:
Ignoring extra housework such as dusting, cleaning every corner, or organizing closets
Put a pause on investing more time in career advancement
Reduce volunteer responsibilities
Limit extra-curricular activities for older children
Remember, this is a small slice in life. You can return to valuable activities when your baby is older and everyone is sleeping better.
Consider skipping or leaving early from church, social gatherings, or outings because they interfere with your baby’s nap schedule. You know your baby. Some babies really need to stick to their sleep routine or things go downhill quickly.
If you are working, you might need to limit evening activities. It might be hard to give up on the things you enjoyed doing before, but recognize that everyone might be happier with a simplified schedule and an early bedtime. Remember, this won’t last forever and your evening fun will return.
Another idea: don’t schedule activities for Saturday mornings. During this time, you and your partner can take turns getting some extra sleep.
Spend time outside
Going outside is a great way to improve mood and reduce fatigue3. Studies show that people feel more energized when they spend time outside4.
Better yet, combine time outside with a walk. Mild exercise also improves energy and mood. So, grab a stroller or a baby-carrier and take a walk around the block. You might be surprised how much your baby enjoys it too. Sometimes just a change in environment can help a baby stop crying.
Take turns sleeping
Strategize with a partner or family member to help everyone get more sleep. Can you set up a schedule where you each take half the night? When you go on a road trip through the night, you know it is unsafe to drive when you are too tired, so you take turns sleeping and driving – apply the same principle here!
If breastfeeding, you can feed the baby, then have your partner work on getting the baby to fall back to sleep. If your baby wakes up early in the morning, one person can take the first morning shift. Then trade before everyone needs to get going for the day.
Some mothers have a hard time sleeping when they know the baby is crying. When someone else is responsible for your baby, consider sleeping in a room where you won’t hear crying. You can also add white noise to optimize your precious sleeping time.
Prioritize sleep when you get the chance
You dream about going to sleep all day but then when the baby finally falls asleep — you don’t. Instead, you spend time on housework, watch television, or scroll on social media. The time to yourself is precious. It’s tempting to do a million different things. Give yourself some quality relaxation time. Then, take that power nap, or head to bed for the night.
Easy ways to unwind and promote sleep:
Put phone on silent, or in another room
Use essential oils
Read a book
Listen to calming music
Ask someone to watch your baby so you can sleep
Some weeks can get rough and you need to call in some back-up. Time to use that tribe or trusted community. Think about who you trust with your baby. It could be your friend, sister, or someone you know from church. Grandmas love getting called for snuggle duty while moms get a much needed nap.
Give yourself permission to take some time away just to sleep. Think about the benefits of a good nap – thinking clearly, and being more patient and loving2.
Simple ways to feel more alert
There is no substitution for real sleep, but some simple things can help you feel more awake. Essential oils containing peppermint or lemon can help you feel more alert.
If you need a form of caffeine such as coffee, use it conservatively. Make sure you don’t consume caffeine within 8 hours of an expected sleep time. Otherwise, it could interrupt a good sleep opportunity.
Eating a healthy snack with protein can also help you feel more alert. Also, remember to drink plenty of water.
Seek professional help when needed
Side note for mental health awareness: inability to sleep can be a sign of postpartum depression or anxiety. If your baby is sleeping, but you can’t settle your mind, it is a good idea to contact your doctor to discuss.
Need Help Figuring Out Your Baby’s Sleep?
Caring for a baby is full of cuteness, cuddles, and celebrating each new thing they do. It’s crazy how fast they grow. You are torn between wanting them to stay small forever and wanting to reach the next milestone – or more hours of nighttime sleep.
But it can also be hard to manage the lost sleep, stress from the sound of crying, and ever-changing routines. Finding sleep routines that work allows you to be the best possible parent. Give yourself permission to prioritize sleep – you won’t regret it.
If you need extra help figuring out sleep, please reach out! I am a Certified Baby-Led Sleep Specialist and I help my clients find wellness through improving sleep, and finding routines that work for the whole family. My services are unique because I address the many variables that impact sleep – environment, development, sensory systems, routine, and development.
Visit my website, Holistic Sleep Support, to learn more about improving infant sleep or to schedule a consultation.
Looking for an affordable way to get sleep support? Join my Better Sleep For Babies Group Coaching program today.
M. Pennestri, C. Laganière, A. Bouvette-Turcot, I. Pokhvisneva, M. Steiner, M.J. Meaney, H. Gaudreau. Uninterrupted Infant Sleep, Development, and Maternal Mood Pediatrics, 142(6),DOI:https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/6/e20174330.long
McQuillan, M. E., Bates, J. E., Staples, A. D., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2019). Maternal stress, sleep, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(3), 349–359. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000516.
Hon K. Yuen & Gavin R. Jenkins (2020) Factors associated with changes in subjective well-being immediately after urban park visit, International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 30:2, 134-145, DOI: 10.1080/09603123.2019.1577368
Kaplan, S. The Restorative Benefits of Sleep: Towards an Integrative Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2