Sleep 101: How To Build A Good Routine
Sleep 101: How To Build A Good Routine

Sleep 101: How To Build A Good Routine

Getting babies into a happy and healthy sleep routine is sometimes easier said than done. Even if you do manage it in the newborn stage, throw in issues like teething and changes in environment, and regression may well be on the cards. To help you build a realistic and manageable routine, we asked x sleep experts to answer our questions – plus, two mothers share their opposing experiences, and why each worked well for their families.

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How much sleep does a newborn need and how does this change?

“Newborn sleep can vary, but normally, babies will need around 18 hours of sleep a day – which sounds like a lot. As they grow, however, their ability to stay awake longer increases, and so by the time they’re about a year old, they may only need 15 hours in a 24-hour period.” Olivia Mulcahy, a Level 6 Advanced Paediatric Sleep Practitioner, maternity nurse & The Dream House sleep consultant

How normal is disturbed sleep in the newborn stage?

“Very normal. Newborns spend around half of their sleeping time in what’s known as ‘active sleep’. Active sleep can appear restless, so things like moving around, grunting and snuffling, and fluttering eyelids are all really normal. This can be confusing for parents as it can look like their babies are wakeful and needing something, when actually they’re still asleep.” – Emily Houltram, owner of The Sleep Chief 

“Babies are born with maternal melatonin, which comes from the mother, and this lasts around three to four weeks after birth, so babies can also be naturally sleepier during this time. When they’re comfortable and feeling supported, they will sleep well. After this time, the maternal melatonin wears off and babies will not produce their own until around the nine-to-12-week stage, which explains why in this in-between period, babies’ sleep patterns become a little bit harder to predict.” – Olivia

How do you get your baby get into a regular sleeping routine?

“Timing of sleep is very important; it’s best to try and wake them up around the same time each day and put them to bed around the same time each day too. Newborns can't stay awake between naps for very long, you’re probably looking at around 40–60-minute intervals before they need to sleep again. You also want to make sure that feeding is going well and that the baby is growing and thriving – a hungry baby won't sleep well.” – Olivia 

“It’s totally up to parents if and when they want to introduce a routine – and often when there are siblings, a new baby has to slot into an existing routine with school and nursery runs, etc. With our son (who was a lockdown baby) we started putting a gentle routine in place from around a month old. The first thing I advise my clients to do is to work to a 12-hour day. So that could be 7am-7pm, or 6am-6pm or 8am-8pm. This really helps with starting to get some structure into the day, particularly around feeds and naps. A bedtime routine is also a great place to start with a bath around an hour before bed, a bedtime feed, a story and cuddles.” – Emily

Do listen to your parental INSTINCTS – if your baby needs a cuddle, give them a CUDDLE and don't feel BAD about supporting them.

What’s the ideal sleeping environment?

“In the early days, all you need is dark, white noise and a swaddle. Sleep positioners or nests have not been deemed safe for sleep and in some countries, they have been banned. The sleep space needs to be clear of any objects and the mattress needs to be flat and firm. You also don't want any blankets or comforters near the baby.” – Olivia 

“Installing blackout blinds or curtains is one of the best investments you can make for your baby’s sleep and particularly if they are prone to early rising. Other things to consider are the temperature (keep the room between 16°C-20°C; ensuring the sleep space is clear of toys, books and any other distractions; only using an amber or red light during bedtime or night-time feeds; and ensuring the rest of the house is quiet and calm.” – Emily

Can you share some common dos and don'ts when it comes to sleep training?

“Do listen to your parental instincts and go with them. If your baby needs a cuddle, give them a cuddle; don't feel bad about supporting your baby in getting more sleep. Do read up on safe sleep practices and if you decide to work with a sleep practitioner, feel free to ask them as many questions about their qualifications and experience as you want.” – Olivia

What's your opinion on co-sleeping?

“I always come back to the saying, “If it’s not a problem for you, then it’s not a problem”. Lots of parents choose to co-sleep and if it’s in line with safe co-sleeping guidelines, it can work well for some families. Most of the families that come to us for support are co-sleeping as a last resort as it’s the only way they are able to get a few hours of sleep. Our focus is to help babies learn to be happy and comfortable falling asleep (and staying asleep) in their crib or cot.” – Emily


How can you break a co-sleeping cycle if it's no longer working for you?

“Co-sleeping is perfectly okay if you find that’s what works best for you and your family. If it’s not, or stops working for your lifestyle, you will need to find a settling technique that suits your child's temperament – especially when you decided to place them in their new sleep space. You can start with one nap a day in the new sleep space and over the next few days, increase the number of times they’re sleeping in this environment so that eventually, all naps and nights happen in there. You can also camp out in the baby’s room on a floor mattress while they are in their cot if you think that helps – but the transition will almost certainly be slower.” – Olivia

How can you help them through tricky periods like teething?

“Teething only tends to last between one and seven days, so if you need to support your little one more at this time that's absolutely fine. It’s only going to be a phase. Teething gels and powders can really help during this time too.” – Olivia 

“My tips with teething would be to add in pain relief and do as you normally would. If your little one needs more comfort or help to get to sleep than usual though, by all means give that.” – Emily

Is it ever okay to let them 'cry it out'?

“The term ‘cry it out’ means to put them in bed and shut the door and not go back in until the morning – I personally have never used or suggested that someone use this technique and probably never will. It's really important to look at the evidence we have on sleep training and there is no evidence that sleep training harms a baby’s ability to have that secure attachment to a parent or carer, but in this research, they have never used the term ‘cry it out’. Therefore, I think it's more important to ask a parent what they think ‘cry it out’ means before saying it’s okay or not.” – Olivia 

“We don’t advocate the ‘cry it out’ method at all – this is where you would leave a baby without returning to reassure. We do, however, teach the ‘controlled crying’ method which is where you will leave your baby for short intervals at a time and return regularly to reassure. We always recommending having a cut-off time though so that your baby will not be crying for extended periods and missing out on too much sleep.” – Emily

What are your thoughts on swaddling?

“The first three months of a baby’s life are often referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’ and recreating the feelings they had in the womb can really help them to feel comfortable and secure. I recommend swaddling from birth, which will really help give babies the snug feeling of being tucked up in the womb. It also helps to counter the ‘Moro reflex’ that babies are born with, which causes their arms to flail around and can mean that they wake every time their arms connect with the sides of their crib. For parents who are struggling to put their baby down at all in the first few weeks, swaddling is my top tip. I love the Swaddle Up sleeping bags by Love to Dream which are perfect for babies who do not enjoy being swaddled with their arms in front of them, but are not ready to have their arms out.” – Emily

How do you balance regular napping with sleeping through the night?

“You need to look at your baby’s sleep pattern over a 24-hour period. If you want a baby to sleep 11-12 hours overnight, then you need to offer a specific amount of day sleep that isn't going to impact the nights. So for a baby who needs 18 hours of sleep, and you want 12 of those to be overnight (with feeds), then you only need to offer eight hours in the day – any more can make the nights difficult.” – Olivia  

“For young children and babies their daytime sleep (or lack thereof) can greatly affect the night-time sleep so if they are getting too little, they will be going to bed in an overtired state which can then cause frequent night wakes, waking up crying or screaming, difficulty in settling and early rising. Equally, if they are getting far too much daytime sleep you might have a situation where they are not wanting to go to bed until late. A good daytime routine is totally central to our method, and this will usually vary from one to three naps depending on the baby’s age.” – Emily

TEETHING only tends to last between one and seven days, so if you need to support your little one more at this time that's FINE – it’s only a PHASE.

What do you do if your baby falls asleep while feeding?

“This is very common. The sleep pressure at night is a lot higher and combine this with warm milk and the close connection to a carer, and it’s likely most of us would fall asleep! If it works for the family and the baby, then there is no need to change anything.” – Olivia  

“All I’ll add is that if you want to get your baby used to falling asleep in their crib or cot, then moving the feed slightly earlier in your bedtime routine and doing it in a light/bright room can be helpful.” – Emily

How can you encourage your child to stop night-time feeding?

“Newborns need to feed around two to four times a night at the beginning, so you don't want to encourage them to stop – these night feeds will be essential to their growth. Around the six-month mark, you can try to reduce the number of night feeds if the baby is growing well along the percentiles and they are thriving.” – Olivia 

“Babies will quite often use feeding as a way of falling asleep, so it’s about establishing if a night wake is genuine hunger or if they are just needing some help or comfort getting back to sleep when they stir between sleep cycles. One way of looking at this is if your baby is sometimes managing to do six-hour stretches of sleep during the night, and then at other times, only managing two-hour stretches, then it’s unlikely to be hunger, so try to re-settle in a different way.” – Emily

Any advice for sleep regression?

“The only permanent sleep progression is the four-month one, which can happen anytime between 12 weeks and six months. The reason is sleep architecture changes at this time to more "adult" sleep and will stay this way for the rest of their lives. Most babies who are in a good sleep and nap routine do not see the progression happen in quite the same way as others, but all babies are different and some who don't have a routine won't see it at all.” – Olivia 

“I agree – the only sleep regression with any science behind it is the one that happens around 3.5-4.5 months old when babies’ sleep cycles actually change. Between four and six months is one of the most popular ages for parents to get in touch for support with their baby’s sleep so this regression really is one of the most difficult times. My top tip here is to teach your baby how to fall asleep independently. Once babies have the hang of this, sleep generally improves quickly.” – Emily

Finally, what's the one thing you wish all parents knew about good sleeping routines?

“It's not as limiting or as hard as you think it might be, in fact it can be liberating to have a really good sleep routine as you will also be getting enough sleep at night and time in the day to do something that isn't "baby" related. Remember, you need to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of your baby.” – Olivia 

“No routine has to be restrictive – you don't just have to deal with poor sleep for the first few months (and years) of your baby’s life. There are so many things that you can do to improve sleep and it doesn’t take long for adjustments to yield results.” – Emily

Here, We Asked Two SheerLuxe Readers To Share Their Experiences

First, Jessica Zownir explains why co-sleeping works best for her and her family…

We didn’t plan on co-sleeping with our baby. In fact, as soon as he turned six months old, we moved him into his own room as we’d been told to do by our own parents and the midwives at the antenatal classes. As such, we hadn’t done any reading about the topic. We were only prepared for transferring our baby into the nursery we had lovingly prepared and sleeping in separate rooms.

Xander has never been a great sleeper. Now 16 months old, I can count the number of times he has slept through the night on one hand despite our multiple attempts at sleep training. While I was on maternity leave, I could cope better with the lack of sleep but going back to work, it simply wasn’t possible to function. We quickly learnt that Xander was happiest in our bed, sleeping between us and what started off as early morning snuggles has now evolved into half of the night spent with us.

We were wary of co-sleeping at first. Traditional literature and advice promote sleeping separately but it’s become necessary for my physical and mental health. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy quickly subsided once we realised we were happier getting more sleep and therefore better parents during the day. More importantly, our baby is happier and if this is what works for him, so be it.

I’m more comfortable with the arrangement than my husband. Or at least, I was at first but now I’d say we are aligned in terms of our feelings about co-sleeping. We are an affectionate family by nature, and both enjoy snuggling up to our baby during the night as it won’t be forever that we get to do this. I think my ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ attitude has rubbed off on him. He has also seen the toll that frequent disturbed nights have taken on me, so is understanding that this is what is necessary for us as a family right now. 

There hasn’t been too much judgement from other parents. But even if there was, I’m certain I wouldn’t care. Whatever you’re doing, it’s nobody else’s business – especially if it’s safe and working for you and your baby. I’m very much of the belief that you could be doing the same thing as other parents with regards to sleep training, but it is completely dependent on the child as to how they respond.  I’d love to be one of those parents that proudly boasts “My baby started sleeping through at three months” but that’s not our reality and I’m sure those same parents are struggling with other areas that maybe we aren’t. It swings in roundabouts – every baby is different. 

Co-sleeping has taught me how essential to put your own well-being first. Motherhood is all-consuming. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and yet the greatest and most rewarding. Xander won’t always need us to sleep, and we won’t always have him in our bed, so embrace and enjoy every moment you get together, because it won’t last forever.

Now, Sarah Campus explains why independent sleeping has been best for her children…

I personally chose not to co-sleep with any of my three children. They are now four, two-and-a-half and seven months and it’s just been what’s worked for me. It’s completely our choice and my views, and it’s important to realise that everyone has their own ways. 

The subject of co-sleeping had come up prior to my giving birth. But my husband and I didn’t feel that it was right for us and we suspected it wouldn’t fit into our routine. It was a joint decision – we both felt it was more important that the baby knew that they needed to sleep on their own, and that they learned how to self-settle. 

It’s my belief that quality of sleep is better for both baby and parent when they sleep separately. It allows for more independence and I find my babies only really woke up in the night for a feed or nappy change. As soon as they moved into their own rooms, their sleep improved significantly. Other mothers should follow their gut, though. There is no right or wrong here.

My top three tips for building a good sleep routine would be: first, make it consistent. Children thrive off routine, so set a ‘getting ready for bed’ time, followed by bath and a short massage to relax them. Personally, I don’t read books right before bed as I feel that stimulates them. Second, make sure the environment is relaxing. We play music, dim the lights dimmed and try to speak and act calmly. Finally, stick to the same lights out and wake up times. If they know that’s part of the routine, they’re so much more likely to sleep through and their energy and mood will be consistent, too.

Overtired children are the enemy. Personally, I don’t find it helpful to stimulate children too much before bed; instead I do what I can to maintain a calm atmosphere and feel at home. I also find that if my children haven’t had their nap during the day then it throws them off – which then makes it harder for them to get to sleep at night. So that’s another non-negotiable. 

I admit I wasn’t strict enough with one of our children. We weren’t strict about getting them to bed and we went in every single time they cried. If I’d just left it for even just five minutes, I know now that they would have self-settled. It’s actually very important for a child’s development and getting them into a sleep routine. We also read books to him before bed – sometimes up to three – which was too stimulating. In the end, I realised that taking control of the situation and knowing that you are the boss was what worked best for all of them.

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