Getting a Newborn to Sleep at Night – Expert Tips Revealed

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 30 March 2021

Getting a newborn to sleep at night does not mean they will sleep through the night but rather, to teach them the difference between night and day and make night-time feeds as peaceful and swift as possible. 

This will then quite naturally move towards sleeping for longer periods at night and settling quickly once they have been fed as your little one grows.

Getting A Newborn To Sleep A Night Pin

Each baby is an individual so their journey towards longer stretches of nighttime sleep will be different. 

Being the parent of a newborn is exhausting and you will, without doubt, be sleep deprived. I can speak first hand from this as my son decided night time was the perfect time to be wide awake and energetic!

Therefore, patience is key

Setbacks are inevitable so even when you feel you are moving forward with the night time sleep, your little one may suffer sleep regression, be unwell or undergo a growth spurt which may cause sleep disruption and it can take a while to get back on track. 

But DO NOT WORRY! 

This is all perfectly normal and part of the journey of parenthood.

This post will give you all the guidance and assurance you need to know about newborn sleep cycles for when you're exhausted and wondering if you will ever sleep again.

So first things, first...

How much sleep does your baby need?

Your newborn requires a huge amount of sleep in the early months and ideally, your newborn baby should be getting at least 14 to 17 hours of sleep every day.

Of course, this is not all in one go.

Newborn babies have tiny little tummies and can only take a small amount of milk at one time... So, when they arrive into the world, they will wake for a feed every 3-4 hours (sometimes more frequently) until they have sustained weight gain. 

And ideally, you should not let your newborn sleep for longer than 4 hours in the early days after birth.

How often do newborns feed at night? 

As I mentioned above, your newborn baby will require feeding every 3-4 hours. 

Depending on when you put them down for bed or when you go to sleep, your baby will have a bedtime feed and a minimum of two nighttime feeds.  

However, each baby is different and you may feed more or less than this to begin with.

You should take heart from the fact that by 2-3 months old your little one should be having no more than 2 night feeds.

How should babies sleep? 

There are a few questions I am often asked when talking about newborn sleep, and they are… 

  1. “How should babies sleep?”
  2. “How do I put a newborn down to sleep safely?”
  3. “How do I get my newborn to sleep without being held?” 

And my answers to new parents about these questions are:

  1. The only way newborn babies should be sleeping at night is by being placed on their backs in a crib or cot with no cot bumpers or pillows. 
  1. Swaddling is an ideal way to make your newborn feel safe and secure while sleeping as it suppresses the moro reflex which can startle your baby awake.

As they get a bit older or if they do not like being swaddled then I would recommend a baby sleeping bag such as the ones available from the excellent GroBag range. 

These bags come in all tog ratings to ensure your baby has the correct sleeping bag for whatever time of year of sleeping conditions.

Sleeping bags are safer than blankets for your little one at this age and they cannot be kicked off. 

Therefore, your baby stays at a safe and constant temperature all night long and is less likely to wake from feeling cold or too hot.

  1. When it comes to getting your baby to fall asleep without being held, you will need to help them to learn to self-settle. I will be talking more about this further on in this post! Click Here to jump down!

6 Reasons Why Your Newborn Isn’t Sleeping at Night

There are many reasons your baby may be sleeping very little at night. These can include:

  1. They have day/night confusion
  2. They need to be swaddled (this helps if your baby is resisting back sleeping and finding it hard to settle or stay asleep)
  3. They have not yet learnt to self-settle (I talk more about this further down the post!)
  4. They are not taking full feeds during the day & as a result, they need to feed more often
  5. Their nighttime sleep environment is not dark or peaceful enough (try a white-noise machine to keep a constant background hum going)
  6. They do not have a bedtime routine yet and so they don't fully understand that it's time to settle down in the evenings.
6 Reasons Why Your Baby Isn't Sleeping at Night Infographic

How can I get my baby used to night and day?

Oh no… The dreaded day/night confusion. 

I can speak from personal experience with my own son about this, but if you’re going through it with your little one... remembering that newborn babies have no concept of night or day is key to being able to move forward with it. 

For the first 4 weeks, your baby will do little else other than eat, sleep and poop. 

But gradually, they will start to stay awake for longer periods and sleep for a little longer between feeds. 

The good news is that there are things you can do (even at this early stage!) to gently guide them towards healthy sleep habits so that they settle down quickly for the evening and nighttime feeds, and move towards an established sleep routine.

1. Don't Let Baby Fall Asleep During A Feed

To start with… Try and avoid your little one falling asleep during a feed.

While not finishing a bottle is not ideal, having a sleepy feeder if you are breastfeeding is more complex, as it will impact on the amount of milk you produce and may result in you having to express more to avoid developing engorged breasts. 

In either case, you will end up feeding more often if they have not had a complete feed and this will result in you feeling even more tired, especially if this pattern continues throughout the night. 

Therefore, you need to keep baby awake in a gentle manner and encourage them to take a full feed to ensure they can settle nicely afterwards.

The following tips will apply initially both night and day (except for the cool cloth, which I would only use as a last resort). 

  • Tickle the feet
  • Even at night, unswaddle or even undress them down to nappy and vest (being too warm will make them more sleepy)
  • During the day, make sure they are properly awake before you start
  • During the day, chat to your little one as you feed
  • In extreme cases, put a cool damp cloth on their bare legs

However, as your baby begins to feed more fully, you can move onto the next stage of making a tangible difference between day-time and night-time feeds...

2. Make A Difference Between Night And Day

So, now your baby is taking full feed, making a distinct difference between day and night feeds is very important to help them fall asleep more quickly after a feed and ultimately, sleep more deeply at night.

Day-night confusion is a common issue with newborns and as I briefly mentioned before, it’s one I have experienced with my own son.

He would happily sleep all day and struggled to stay awake during day time feeds and then he would choose the middle of the night to want to feed constantly and be his most wakeful. 

This is a common problem, but there are things you can do to help your baby turn things around and help them get into a healthy circadian rhythm.

Day time feeds and naps can be taken anywhere in the house and not necessarily in a quiet space. 

Getting your baby used to sleep with noise during the day is very handy as if your house is normally a noisy one with the radio on and the doorbell going often, then getting your baby used to this is essential. 

A womb is a noisy place providing a constant background noise, therefore the normal daily noises of life should not disturb your newborn's sleep. 

Napping in a Moses basket or pram in a part of the house that is not a darkened bedroom, for example, gives your newborn the message that it is nap time, and not nighttime.

3. Begin A Bedtime Routine 

Nighttime feeds and getting ready for nighttime sleep are a different matter and there should be a clear distinction between the two. 

Once your baby is about a month old you can start a simple bedtime routine by bathing your baby before the early evening feed. 

Click Here to jump to my 6 step baby bedtime routine. 

After the bath, move to a darkened room, get them dressed for bed while talking softly and have a quiet time with your little one. 

You can look at a book together (for a full list of my recommended baby books, check out this post!), sing a lullaby or just talk softly. 

Then it is time for the early evening feed in a quiet darkened room before putting your baby to sleep in their crib. 

The energy level needs to be low and your movements slow-paced and calm. 

All of these actions will help to teach your little one that this is bedtime rather than nap time. 

All subsequent night feeds should then be very low energy with low light and no talking. 

This will ensure that your baby does not become too alert in the middle of the night and will hopefully settle back to sleep quickly.

A white noise machine is very useful for nighttime sleep as a quiet house is more likely to wake your baby if a sudden noise occurs. 

A white noise machine will keep the noise constant for them much as it was in the womb.

Dream Egg White Noise Machine

What is it? Sleek multi option white noise machine

Why do I recommend it? This a versatile white noise machine with 24 options that will definitely help your little one settle to sleep. It has a soft warm light that will help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

4. Teach Your Baby To Self-Settle 

Self-settling is probably one of the most important things you can teach your newborn baby to establish a lifelong habit of healthy sleeping. 

It is so tempting and quite normal to want to cuddle and rock your new baby to sleep and this is fine for the first couple of weeks. 

However, as soon as you feel able you should, try to put your baby down before they are fully asleep to allow them to fall asleep on their own. 

This will mean that they will not always need to be picked up when they wake in the night when they are older as they will have learnt how to resettle themselves.

In the beginning, your baby may grizzlies or whine, but try not to pick them up straight away. Leave them for a short while and you may find that they fall asleep. 

BUT, If they do start a full-blown cry then pick them up, calm them down and try again.

Not letting your baby get overtired is another key in teaching self-settling so you need to look for signs of tiredness in your little one like yawning, rubbing their eyes or pulling at their ears. 

If you are playing with your baby after a feed and they show signs of being tired, this is the time to cuddle them and put them down to a self-settled nap.

Timing is everything when it comes to teaching your baby to self-settle and you will soon learn to recognise the signs that your baby is ready for a nap during the day. 

It is just as important to put your baby down at night when they are still awake to ensure that they can fall asleep on their own.

5. Swaddle If You Can

Swaddling is a great way to help your baby to learn to self-settle and self soothe as they are less likely to wake from the Moro Reflex. 

It is also a great tool to associate with nighttime sleep. They will feel more comforted when you put them down at night if they are swaddled.

While all this may take a time to establish, having a simple bedtime routine, treating nighttime sleep in a different way to day time naps and teaching self-settling are all excellent ways to help your baby sleep well at night and establish healthy sleep patterns.

6. Create A Nurturing Sleep Environment

Alongside swaddling, creating the correct sleep environment for your baby's sleep is also important to help your baby settle and sleep well. 

This includes making sure the room is at the correct temperature, that there is not too much light and that they are suitably dressed for sleep.

Having a good room thermometer is an ideal way to make sure the bedroom is not too hot and many baby monitors have a built-in thermometer. Check out my Parenting Toolbox for my top recommendation!

Just like us, the more comfortable your baby is, the more likely they are to sleep well.

When will babies start to sleep through the night naturally?

You will have to be patient when it comes to reaching the goal of your baby sleeping throughout the night. 

Because... You are probably not going to get 8 hours of sleep on a nightly basis before baby turns 6 months old.

Many young babies sleep up to 6 hours during the nighttime from 6 weeks old, while others will not achieve this before they are 4 months old. 

Baby sleep is not an exact science and there is no magic trick that I can give you to ensure that your newborn sleeps 'through the night' by a certain age. 

However, adopting some of the tips I cover in this post will encourage your baby to have healthy sleep habits and will ensure that they are on the right track to sleep through the night when they are ready to do so.

If, by 3 months old your baby has been encouraged to self-settle, has a bedtime routine and is napping in the day time and is gaining weight well, there is no reason why a 6 hours stretch of nighttime sleep is not achievable.

6 Step Baby bedtime routine

Bedtime for babies is as important as it is for the toddler and older child. 

Here are my 6 steps to getting into a consistent baby bedtime routine. 

It is worth pointing out, however, that newborn babies sometimes have their own plans for the day and you will not always get a perfect routine in!

BUT…

After a month or so, I’d encourage you to try and stick to a bedtime as it will make your life so much easier as they grow up!

Check Out Teething To Tantrums Youtube Channel here!

1. Bathtime

While newborn babies do not need to be washed every day, you can top and tail a couple of times a week and once they are a couple of months old, it is good to get your baby used to bath time at the end of the day. 

The freedom of kicking about in the water and not wearing a nappy is wonderful for them and it is proven that having a bath helps babies to calm down and it also signifies a change in the pace of the day.

Bathing a small baby can be one of the more daunting daily events for new mums so it is important to have all your ducks-in-a-row before you start. You will find lots of useful tips in my Bathing a Newborn post.

2. Baby Massage

Once bath time fun is over you should aim to lower the energy levels. Play softly and gently whilst dressing for bedtime.

Baby massage may be something you would like to introduce at this time of the day.

Baby massage is a wonderful bonding experience and is thought to help with digestive issues like colic and reflux which may inhibit your baby's ability to fall asleep. 

There are even studies that show that babies who receive regular massage show signs of healthy weight gain and improved immune function.

The real bonus is that regular massage sessions have been proven to help babies fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for longer. 

Which is all great news for you and your baby!

3. Books

Before you feed baby, you could now introduce your little one to the wonderful world of books. 

Even a newborn will like to look at books and listen to the sound of your voice as you talk about what you see and feel. In my posts when to start reading to baby and the best baby books you will find some great ideas on what books to choose and how to start reading to your little one.

4. Evening Feed

Next, the evening feed which will naturally progress into the bedtime feed. 

Even at this stage, it is important for your baby to sense the difference in rhythm in the day. 

The bedtime feed is best given whilst sitting in a chair in the dimly lit bedroom away from distracting TV or other house noises.

Try and make sure that baby has been well winded to avoid early waking from discomfort and then check that their nappy is still clean and dry before settling.

Singing a lullaby and or playing a musical mobile of some sort is a great settler for a young baby and white noise machines can be very useful for night time settling. 

Of course, the very young baby will need another feed before you go to bed yourself in the hope that you can get a minimum of 4 hours sleep before the middle of the night feed, but again it is important to keep energy and voice levels low. 

In fact, in the middle of the night, there is no need for a lot of chat at all. 

Most babies will soon learn that this is a quiet time of day and time for sleep, but again I emphasise the need to start as you mean to go on.

5. Bedtime

When you feel they’re getting sleepy, give your baby a cuddle and put them to bed whilst they’re still half awake. 

Remember what I mentioned about self settling?

Have patience and your baby will soon drift off to sleep (hopefully for 4 hours!) until their next feed. 

Remember that putting your baby to sleep in the bedroom after the early evening feed is as EQUALLY as important for YOU as it is for them. 

Having a couple of baby-free hours in the evening when you should try to have some quiet time (not running around doing chores!) will help you feel a bit more human and get you ready for the night ahead. 

6. Nighttime Feeds

Your baby will continue to need to be fed during the night until they are at least 4 months old, but with most babies, this can be much longer. 

Therefore, I would not recommend trying to drop the night time feed before this age. 

See my Breastfeeding 101 Post and Easy Baby Routine Post for guidance on how to find the balance with nighttime feeding and how to progress once your baby is ready to drop nighttime feeds. 

15 Newborn Sleep Tips For the First Month

  1. Be patient
  2. Accept that there might be setbacks
  3. Have your baby sleep close by so that you can easily night feed or reach out to settle them in the early days
  4. Daytime naps are important
  5. Teach your baby to self-settle
  6. Don’t let baby fall asleep during feeds 
  7. Make night-time feeds low key
  8. Don't let your baby get overtired or overstimulated
  9. Swaddling will prevent waking from the Moro Reflex
  10. White noise is useful for nighttime sleep
  11. Establish a simple bedtime routine (bath, book, bottle/breast, lullaby, bed)
  12. Keep the bedroom at the correct temperature (The Lullaby Trust recommends  a temp of between 16-20 degrees with the appropriate sleeping bag)
  13. Dress your baby for nighttime sleep appropriately
  14. Store some expressed breast milk so that your partner or family member can give a night time feed if you are truly exhausted.
  15. Have faith in the fact that your baby will sleep through the night eventually! 

For the Parents

Don't worry, you are doing amazing. 

I know you're probably feeling tired and exhausted, but I want you to know that your baby loves you, you are doing all the right things and you will all be OK. 

Remember, don't be afraid to ask for help. 

Order yourself a nice meal. 

Have a quick shower, you'll feel much better afterwards. 

Take your time, remain patient, and your hard work will pay off in the end. 

Before you know it, you will be rewarded with a beautiful baby smile and gurgle and 8 hours of sleep.

If you enjoyed this post and know other parents who would enjoy this content, be sure to give it a share using the buttons below.

As I mentioned in this post, if you're looking for products for your little one and you're not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.

Within it I have compiled all my favourite products which I've tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, baby proof!

Do you have any blog recommendations that you'd like me to write about? Drop me an email: [email protected] and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Thank you for your continued support!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

Recommended Reading

We’ve all heard of the 8 month regression but what about the 6 month sleep regression? What is it? What are the signs? And how do you survive it?!

Baby won’t sleep unless held? Well, I promise that armed with these 16 tricks & a bit of determination, your baby will be an easy sleeper in no time!

Does your baby now resist naps and nighttime sleep? Is sleep for the weak for baby? Are you slowly going mad?! Welcome to the 8 month sleep regression! Here’s your ULTIMATE survival guide!

get tips and tricks straight to your inbox!

If you like what you've seen so far and you don't want to miss out on future blog posts, upcoming offers and my Norland Nanny Tips & Tricks, be sure to sign up below to join my weekly newsletter!

No spam, just honest valuable information for you and your little one weekly.

By entering your email address you agree to get email updates from Teething to Tantrums. We'll respect your privacy and you can unsubscribe at any time.