11 Sleep Hacks For Babies & Toddlers: Help Them Fall Asleep & Stay Asleep
Desperate to figure out how to get your baby and/or toddler to go to sleep and stay asleep? (Us too!) In this guide, Health Writer Lindsay Haskell shares 11 tried and trusted sleep hacks.
You’re tired and so is your little one, but for some reason, NOBODY is sleeping.
All babies are different when it comes to sleep, just like with eating or anything else. Nonetheless, there is a healthy range for how much sleep your child should be getting per their age group. Your child does a lot of developing “under the hood” while getting that shuteye, so it’s important that she get enough of it.
How much sleep do babies and toddlers need?
- Infants need 14 to 17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle. Newborns generally wake every 2 to 3 hours for milk.
- Toddlers 12 to 24 months of age need 11 to 14 hours of sleep in every 24-hour cycle, and they typically take 1 or 2 daytime naps.
- Toddlers older than 24 months need 10 to 14 hours of sleep in each 24-hour cycle.
While we can’t totally eliminate the trial and error process for you (because every baby is different), we’ve examined 12 expert-approved and research-proven ways you can get your baby or toddler down to sleep faster and help them stay asleep longer.
Scroll down to learn the best sleep hacks for babies and toddlers.
11 Sleep Hacks for Babies and Toddlers
Whether you feel like you’ve tried everything or you have no clue what to do from the jump, try as many of these hacks as you need.
At last, you’re bound to find something that works for your child. If not, be sure to consult with her pediatrician about the sleep issue.
1. Look for signs of irritated skin
If your baby is having a hard time falling asleep, the first thing to do is look at their skin for signs of irritation. Sometimes, dry, itchy, irritated or painful skin keeps your baby awake. Check their diaper for a rash and then look for any signs throughout their body that there’s irritation on their skin. You can also check their fingers and toes for any hair that may be wrapped around them.
Shampoo & baby wash / Massage oil / Diaper cream
2. Give your baby a gentle oil massage
Massages are relaxing for babies just as they are for adults. While your newborn doesn’t need any deep tissue work done, a very gentle massage of their muscles from head to toe can signal their body to relax. In fact, a soothing massage with oil after a bath can lower your baby’s heart rate and reduce the release of stress hormones that keep her awake.
A baby oil that incorporates essential oils like lavender oil or chamomile oil offer aromatherapy to help soothe your baby and promote better sleep.
- After your baby’s bath, lay them down on their back in a warm room with just a diaper on.
- Apply some baby oil to your warm fingertips and softly rub the oil into your baby’s shoulders, chest, and down their arms. Rub it smoothly along their belly, onto their thighs and down the rest of their legs. Use your palm to massage slowly in circular motions on larger muscles like the quad, hamstring or calf.
- Take your baby’s foot in your hand and gently rub and squeeze it for a massage. If your baby retracts their foot, then stop, but if not then they’re enjoying it and benefiting from reflexology.
3. Use the 3 “S’s” tosoothing your infant to sleep
Swaddling your baby mimics the feeling of being inside the womb, with almost no room to move. You can learn how to use swaddling blankets to wrap your baby up, or you can use a swaddling “sack” for your baby that helps you Velcro them up more conveniently.
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Your mouth will get pretty tired after a while of “shushing,” but anything that makes a white noise sound can work. Parents swear by the Baby Shusher which is a portable white noise machine that makes rhythmic shushing sounds similar to those your baby heard in the womb, so incorporating it into their sleep routine is calming.
As you cradle your baby in your arms, try different movements and see how she responds.
Sometimes walking around the room will lull her to sleep, or swinging her side to side in your arms or in a newborn sway swing will do the trick. Or, rock her in a rocking chair in a forward and backward rocking motion, with her body lying sideways across your lap or against your chest. This way, be able to sit down as you soothe your baby and give your back a rest.
4. Dress your child in breathable sleepwear
As a general rule of thumb, babies need one extra layer of clothing than adults. They also need to be dressed in clothing that is going to help regulate their body temperature. Materials like sustainably produced bamboo rayon, pima cotton and organic cotton work best.
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5. Reduce stimulation before bedtime
Babies easily become sensorily overstimulated, with everything in the world being brand new to their eyes and ears.
The brain is only triggered to make the body feel sleepy when melatonin (a neurotransmitter) is released. However, the blue light emitted from screens has an inhibiting effect on melatonin release.
If your baby and/or toddler is exposed to TV screens or mobile device screens, keep them away or turned off each night 2 hours before bedtime. This limits the blue light your baby takes in from the screen, which can disrupt the hormones that regulate her sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid excessively bright lights in the home 2 hours before bed, too. Make use of any dimmer lights you have in your home, or just turn off some of your lights to reduce the brightness.
Here are some tips for letting your baby’s senses unwind before bed:
- Dim the lights
- Put your phone on silent
- Avoid music and play white noise
- Keep toys and screens out of sight
If your tot needs something to wind down, try the screen-free story telling machine from Lunii or a nice book!
6. Follow the same routine every night
Doing the same thing in the same order night after night trains your child’s brain and body to get ready for sleep when the night-time routine begins.
Rather than wait for your child’s cues such as rubbing their eyes or yawning, start the bedtime routine at the same time every night. After a few weeks, your child will be asleep easily by the end of the routine. You might start with bath-time, then a baby oil massage, and then after getting dressed, move on to reading books. Then, sing a bedtime song or start the white noise. Whatever it is, do it in the same pattern every time and your little one will know what to expect.
Put all of the kids to bed at the same time.
Excluding the teens, try to have all siblings going down at the same time. When it’s bedtime for one and for all, it can be easier for your kids to transition to bed as a group. While it may seem chaotic to have everyone going through their bedtime routine at the same time, it does help the younger kids to have older kids going to bed when they are.
Besides, it’s a lot less chaotic than protesting little ones who want to stay up with the older ones, or older kids being too loud for the little ones to sleep. When everyone’s going to bed, it feels like more of an event, and none of your children feel alone in going through the process.
7. Diffuse essential oils
Essential oils contain the medicinal compounds of various plants in their most concentrated forms. The active therapeutic molecules in essential oils are highly volatile, which means they quickly evaporate into gas. These are the molecules you smell when you open a bottle of essential oil. As they evaporate as gas and release their odor, they also release negative ions, antioxidants and plant compounds with medicinal effects. For example, chamomile oil produces a calming, sedative effect that can help children relax and fall asleep.
Incorporate soothing essential oils into your baby or toddler’s nap and bed routines by using a diffuser. A diffuser emits negative ions into the air, helping to clear the air of airborne allergies. It also puts out the soothing compounds inside essential oils for your baby to safely inhale from wherever she is in her nursery.
8. Supplement with Vitamin D
Vitamin D is probably best known for building strong bones. However, it also plays a crucial role in the brain’s sleep-wake cycle. Insufficient vitamin D levels can wreak havoc on sleep-wake patterns in your child, causing them to have trouble falling to sleep. Supplementing with vitamin D is a safe and effective way to prevent this.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby and neither your or your baby is supplementing with vitamin D, then your baby could be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. You can find vitamin D3 drops suspended in an MCT oil base and no other added ingredients. Give this supplement to your baby to ensure they’re getting this essential nutrient.
9. Calm with chamomile
Chamomile is best known as a tea, but you can also find it as an alcohol-free tincture that might help your child settle down to sleep. As a mild sedative, chamomile helps the nervous system relax. If your baby has gas, constipation or another source of stomach discomfort, chamomile tincture can also help her by soothing intestinal inflammation. If your older baby or toddler is drinking water, you can even try giving her some chamomile tea at night instead of water.
10. Nourish them before bed
Often, the key to a long night’s sleep is a full tummy. Feed your baby milk as part of your routine in putting her down to sleep. Once your baby can eat rice cereal or baby oatmeal, start giving it to her at night around the same time—ideally, about 30 minutes before she goes to sleep.
Toddlers also need a solid bedtime snack to hold them through the night. You could offer a yogurt smoothie, some crackers with cheese, or whatever healthy snack your child enjoys. With a settled stomach, the waves of sleep can come on more easily. Plus, your little one won’t get up as frequently for night feedings.
11. Use a smart baby monitor
Called one of the “Best Inventions of 2018” by TIME Magazine, the Nanit Plus smart baby monitor does double time as a sleep coach by tracking your baby’s movement and sleep from a high definition bird’s eye view. By monitoring the room temperature, how many times a parent had to go in, how long it took your baby to self soothe and other crucial sleep stats, the Nanit works with its app to give you insight into your baby’s sleep patterns so that you can make the necessary adjustments to improve them.
Designed to work directly with your phone or tablet, you don’t need a parent monitor to hear or see how your baby is sleeping. Background audio even lets you hear your baby while in other apps, or when your screen is locked. There’s also a two way microphone that lets you speak or sing right through your app.
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Sleep is so important to your little one’s developing mind and body.
If your baby and/or toddler is having any sleep issues, early intervention is key. When bedtime troubles go on without solutions, children start to develop anxiety around bedtime, and it makes the problem worse.
Helping your child get the sleep they need can make all the difference for them and for you! The more tricks or “hacks” you try, the more chances you have of finding what works for your baby.
Hopefully we’ve helped you out with these tips. Still, the biggest thing is to get down a routine and stick with it. If your little one still struggles with sleep, be sure to talk with your pediatrician about it.