For many of us, an hour of sleep can make all the difference in the world. This is especially true when you have a baby who’s been waking up every 3-4 hours for the last few months. At the newborn stage, there’s no avoiding it. Infants need to eat every 2-4 hours and they really shouldn’t sleep longer than 5 hours before around the age of 3 months. That’s just the joy (price) of bringing a newborn into the world.
Baby sleep, just like feeding and physical development, tends to progress in phases. Sometime between 3 and 6 months (adjusted age), your baby may start sleeping a bit longer. At least, he probably has the capability to do so in at least one sleep stretch. Ideally, that’s when you should be sleeping, too. Sometimes this isn’t possible because the timing is off; our own little ones seemed to favor the morning nap period. This is normal.
Let’s assume that your baby is at least 4-6 months old, follows something of a daily routine, and sleeps at least a few hours at night. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of, and offer some tips for, helping baby sleep longer.
Why Help Baby Sleep Longer?
Most parents we know really turn a corner when their little one goes for five or seven hours at night. They start showering regularly and looking less zombie-like during the day. Since you’re here, I probably don’t need to sell you on the idea of helping your baby sleep longer, but let’s talk about the benefits anyway.
- Cognitive development. It’s during sleep that memories are made permanent, which is a big deal for an infant. Longer sleep periods are likely to help remember all the things they learned during the day.
- Physical recuperation. For both baby and exhausted parent, the physical recovery that sleep offers is a must. Muscles rest, blood vessels are repaired.
- Avoiding sickness. Scientific evidence suggests that the immune system is stronger while sleeping. It follows that more sleep can help prevent sickness. That’s a good thing, because helping a sick baby to sleep is even harder.
It goes without saying that when the baby sleeps longer, so do you. Thus you’ll reap all of the benefits above as well. According to a recent study on baby sleep intervention, baby sleep problems are linked to maternal depression and other long-term problems. There are plenty of good reasons to want to improve your baby’s sleep habits.
Tips for Helping Baby Sleep Longer
So what can you do to help your baby sleep longer? There are many things. All of these are (in my opinion) universally good baby sleep tips, but you might want to try one at a time, for at least 2-3 days, to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Try An Early Bedtime
This tip comes first because it’s really important. By setting an early bedtime, you encourage your little one’s sleep cycles to coincide with circadian rhythms. You also prevent over-tiredness from diminishing his sleep quality. For more benefits and some practical how-to advice, see our article on early bedtimes for baby.
Make Sure Baby’s Tummy Is Full
Your little one is always growing, and with that comes ever-growing nourishment requirements. In other words, your baby will keep eating more and more. His capacity to fill up will continually surprise you, so make sure that you’re giving him a full belly before bedtime! Once our boys started eating solid food (on the pediatrician’s advice), we began offering them a small bowl of cereal just before the bedtime bottle. Fill that little belly with warm, nourishing food and your little one will have the “slow burn” to sleep longer at night.
Use A Nighttime Diaper
If you’re not using an overnight diaper for your little one, I have great news for you. This is probably the simplest sure-fire way to help the baby sleep longer at night. I’ve written an entire article on why diapers are important for baby sleep. Nighttime diapers are super-absorbent — probably three times as much as a normal diaper can handle — which means your baby’s bottom will stay drier for longer. That means more sleep for the both of you!
Dress Baby for Comfort
Along the same lines, dressing your baby comfortably (and appropriately) for sleep is essential. A clean set of soft pajamas (long sleeve unless it’s summer time) will help accomplish this. True, you can often put a baby to sleep in whatever they happen to be wearing, but a good set of sleepwear ensures warmth and comfort that might help go the extra mile. See our reviews of the cutest baby pajamas and sleep sets.
Prevent Early Wake-Ups
This past fall, we noticed one of our boys was waking up about an hour earlier than usual. We couldn’t figure out out! None of the other tips above seemed to help. Finally we realized that due to the daylight savings time change, sunrise came an hour earlier and sunlight poked in around the room-darkening shade, right onto our boy’s face. Another time we found that a child’s digital watch had an alarm that went off in the middle of the night. We’ve also had problems with barking dogs and noisy neighbors.
If you can find causes of early wake-ups like these and eliminate them, your baby is going to sleep longer. See our article on 7 reasons your baby woke up last night.
Baby Exercise During the Day
I saved my last tip for last, because this is probably the most fun way to help your baby sleep longer. It’s simple, too: wear him out during the day. Ever notice how a morning spent playing outside has your little one has him sleeping soundly for the rest of the afternoon? It works great playing in spring, summer, fall, or even winter. If going outdoors isn’t feasible, a high-energy indoor activity can do the trick. See our reviews of jumpers and activity gyms for some great toys for baby exercise.
With a little work, you can extend your baby’s sleeping hours, and reap all of the benefits by doing so. Good luck!