How to help your older baby sleep well at night

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

To encourage good nighttime sleep, you can begin a consistent bedtime routine as early as 7 weeks. A bedtime routine cues your baby to prepare for sleep by offering low stimulation activities like feeding, reading a story or singing. If you end the bedtime routine by placing your baby on her back in her sleep space, while she’s still awake and aware, she’ll be familiar with her surroundings before falling asleep.

This routine supports her being able to fall asleep with less assistance from you over time. As she naturally cycles through deeper and lighter sleep throughout the night – sometimes even waking up – she will “feel” like she is in the right place and be able to fall back to sleep more easily and independently.

Equally important is to establish a consistent wake up time for your baby. It may seem counterintuitive to wake your baby in the morning, but if your baby is awake for periods of time in the night, you don’t want her sleeping in and making up that lost sleep during the day. Creating a consistent morning wake time and consistent naps will set the stage for the entire day’s schedule, which in turn will lead to a consistent night pattern.

What to Do

Establish a consistent bedtime and wake time

Put your baby to bed within the same 30 minute window each evening and wake her between the same 30 minute window each morning.

Create an optimal sleep environment

Keep the sleep environment dark at night because light has a very strong impact on the circadian rhythm. Use a nightlight only if you must for safety reasons, and then, choose a warm colored light (red, amber or orange hues) and place it behind a piece of furniture so no direct light shines in your baby’s eyes.

Auditory changes in the environment can also disrupt sleep so avoid any white noise machines that turn off on a timer or change in pitch or tone. The sleep environment should be the same all night long.

Use a sleep sack when your baby outgrows her swaddle

Once your baby is rolling on her own, it is no longer safe to swaddle her. Transition her to a sleep sack to offer the feeling of being snug and cozy while still keeping her safe. The sleep sack will also prevent her legs from sliding through crib slats and keep her little toes covered and warm.

Be mindful of sleep associations

Sleep associations are the conditions present when we initiate sleep – we all have them. Being aware of the associations your baby develops can help you determine if changes should be made to improve her sleep at night. For example:

  • Does your baby use a pacifier? A pacifier is a wonderful soothing tool, but most babies cannot physically retrieve and replace their own pacifiers until 7 months of age. Practice the fine motor skills needed to place the pacifier in her own mouth so she will learn not to depend on you throughout the night.
  • Does your baby fall asleep in your arms at bedtime? Practice placing your baby in the crib while she is awake and aware and soothe her while you are still next to the crib as she falls asleep. This practice will help your baby learn not to depend on you rocking her to sleep. Over time you can slowly lessen her need for you to be present while she initiates sleep for herself.