The first couple of weeks with a new baby are pure survival. The next couple of weeks are a series of experiments. But by the time your baby is a month old, it’s time to get serious about newborn sleep and these newborn sleep hacks will get you and your baby sleeping better right from the start.
Because getting regular – or any – sleep is important to our health (it’s so important we mention it here and here and here) as babies and adults, it’s important to help babies sleep well at night. You can try your luck with experiments to see what works but we believe the following newborn sleep hacks will give you a blueprint for newborn sleep that you can follow.
By working through our suggestions you will build good sleep habits and sleep hygiene that will help your newborn become a great sleeper.
1. Light & Dark
Toys that glow in the dark or lamps that project images on ceilings are a terrible idea for a small baby. Every light in an otherwise dark room becomes a neurological stimulant to small babies. When a newborn wakes between sleep cycles lights will wake them up for more than they should and it will become difficult to ease them back to sleep.
→ Keep rooms dark with black out blinds and put masking tape over indicator lights in baby’s room.
Baby’s who wake to very, very dark rooms may not easily be able to tell they are actually awake. This deep darkness can fool a tired baby into quickly and calmly falling back asleep.
2. Baby Monitors
Do you really need a baby monitor? I admit: as a postpartum doula I kind of love being able to watch a baby’s twitches and grunts while I’m in a different room or on a different floor. But I’m paid to stay awake all night to observe and respond to a baby’s needs.
→ Don’t use a monitor at night if you are on the same floor as your baby. Keep your door and baby’s door open a little. This way you can hear baby if they are awake and in need of immediate care but you’ll sleep through all the little grunts and squeaks as baby dreams.
Newborn babies are noisy at night! They make way more noise than you ever imagined a baby should. Many parents hearing a series of grunts and squeaks will respond right away thinking the baby is awake and wanting to nurse or be soothed. But most babies, most of the time, are doing the equivalent of talking in their sleep. And some babies do a lot of it. By reducing exposure to this noise parents may find baby sleep cycles leap from 1 hour to 3 hours at night.
3. Silence Is NOT Golden
The inside of the pregnant body is loud. The sound of blood rushing through the many veins and arteries, the muffled sounds of life in the regular world can all sound nearly as loud as a vacuum to the baby in utero. After they are born the sounds of the world will become much more distinct and sharp, but overall the sound levels will be very quiet.
→ Use a white noise setting that is a steady sound, either a constant shhhhh signal, or a rhythmic shushing pattern.
White noise works in a number of ways. First it masks sharper sounds that might startle the baby such as doors closing, dogs barking or parents talking. Secondly it provides a soundscape that is familiar and therefore soothing to the baby. Finally, the white noise can influence the brain waves patterns of the sleeping brain to encourage longer, deeper sleep.
You can enhance this newborn sleep hack even further by choosing a sound machine or app for a device that does not have nature sounds – these can include random high-pitched sounds that can alert the baby’s nervous system and stimulate them – but does have pink noise. Pink noise has stronger emphasis on lower pitched frequencies but sounds very similar to white noise.
4. Swaddle Time
Babies are tightly tucked up inside the pregnant belly. After birth they are rarely held tightly and when sleeping, their arms and legs can jerk around and wake them up. There is a reflex called the Morrow Reflex where babies arms fling outwards and baby feels as if they are falling even when they are lying flat.
→ From 0 to 3 months, swaddle babies securely in a swaddle blanket, a wrap style swaddle or a Luv To Dream swaddle.
Swaddling is the fundamental newborn sleep hack. Much like the calming effect of a “gravity” blanket on children and adults, gentle pressure on baby can help calm them. Lightly containing a small baby’s arms within a swaddle can reduce their chances of startling themselves awake with sudden arm flinging movements. There are many types of swaddles – from thin blankets to purpose made sleepwear – so experiment with a couple to find what works for you.
5. Sunrise and Sunset
New babies don’t know there is supposed to be a night time and a day time. They don’t know that darkness equals quiet, sleepy time and that day equals louder, active time. We have to teach them.
→ Take your baby outside early in the morning and again late in the afternoon/early evening to expose them to natural blue light to wake baby and red light to stimulate melatonin flow and prepare the baby for a longer night sleeping.
Some newborns will adapt very quickly to normal circadian rhythms – the active day and sleeping night patterns of people. Other newborns can take up to two months to shift their long sleeps to night time. Light exposure will help them make that shift so that night sleep is much deeper and longer than napping. That’s why we love this particular newborn sleep hack.
Your baby may sleep very well right from the beginning. If not, you can help shape their sleep gently by implementing these helpful tools and tricks.
If you have been trying all of these newborn sleep hacks and your now slightly older baby is still having trouble sleeping longer than three hours at night – or maybe they don’t even sleep that long – Hamilton Family Doulas offers sleep help. Get a sleep consultant to craft a special plan for your unique needs and a postpartum doula will get your started and your baby sleeping better in as little as three days. Contact us to find out more and get started.