Infant sleep expert's top 6 tips for helping your newborn actually go to sleep

  • 27/10/2021

It's no secret that sleep deprivation is one of the key hallmarks of life for parents of a newborn. 

In the lead-up to birth, many parents often mentally prepare themselves for the sleepless nights and the resulting brain fog that are sure to come. 

But if you've read all the books, tried all the traditional tricks and your darling baby still isn't going to sleep, you might feel like you're fighting a losing battle. And just like any battle, it's tough to fight when you're sleep deprived. 

If this is all ringing too true, we're here to help. 

Certified infant and child sleep consultant, mum of two and founder of sleep tech company Shop Snooze Cara Popping has offered up some tips, tricks and myth-busting when it comes to infant sleep. 

If lack of sleep is a serious problem for you or your child, seeking professional medical help is always the best option.

But hopefully even just one of Popping's tips might help you squeeze in an extra 20 minutes of naptime - for both baby and you.

Ditch the dummy

"A dummy can work really well in the early days with a newborn. It can help your baby to settle and fall asleep easily," says Popping.

"But for some babes, around the four-month mark the dummy can become a massive issue when it starts to fall out every 45-60 minutes overnight and baby is too little and uncoordinated to pop it back in - often the case until they are 7-8 months old. 

"Teaching your little one to sleep without a dummy can be an absolute game-changer." 

Turn the lights out!

"'My baby hates napping during the day' is a common thought process, but contrary to what you've heard, sleeping a baby in the light during the day or risking day and night confusion is a myth," says Popping.  

"Our bodies, babies included, cannot produce melatonin, the hormone responsible for helping us sleep, in the light. There might be babies out there who can sleep wherever whenever but most of my clients' babies really struggle to sleep in the light.  

"If your baby struggles with day naps, getting their room super dark to sleep in will really help." 

Rebalance feeding times

"Babies are incredible little calorie regulators, they innately know how much they need to eat in a 24 hour period," says Popping.  

"Some babies are feeding so much in the night that they just aren't hungry during the day.

"Rebalancing your baby's feeding, so they are taking the majority of their calories during the day, means they are less likely to wake up every two hours looking for a feed overnight."

Some babies just run hot

"Overheating is problematic for baby sleep. We are often told to bundle our babies and toddlers up, add one extra layer than we would wear ourselves," says Popping.

"But like everyone else, some babies run hot and bundling them up is keeping them awake and uncomfortable. 

"A merino layer, a sleeping bag, and a room set at 20 degrees might all sound perfect, but it's not for everyone. If you've met all your other baby's needs, try a layer less and set the heater lower."

Check your sleep clock

"Your friends may swear by their sleep clock, but if you're planning on buying one too, make sure it doesn't have a blue light," says Popping.

"Most sleep trainer clocks emit blue light to show the toddler it's sleep time, which is not helpful for sleep as blue light blocks melatonin secretion.

"Same with night lights - most are white glow which contradicts your best efforts at getting your toddler to sleep.  

"Choosing a red glow night light and sleep trainer clock is better as it's much less likely to interfere with melatonin secretion when your child is going to sleep, or wakes up through the night or early morning."

Crying is a communication 

"This is a tough one, as we generally don't like the feel or sound of our baby crying, and so we actively try to stop it as quickly as possible so we can feel better," says Popping. 

"Instead of trying to stop it, try to figure out what the crying is communicating to us and respond appropriately. Stopping a baby or child from crying, or not letting them cry at all, we are effectively shutting down their lines of communication instead of supporting them through actually feeling those big emotions and processing it." 

Popping says even newborn babies are able to do this "to some degree". 

"When we give the baby a little space to actually feel their emotions, by putting them down in their bed and allowing them to have a tiny cry, they are then a lot more responsive to being actively settled," she says.

"The same goes for toddlers, they have BIG feelings! We want them to feel we have allowed them to communicate those big feelings and that they are heard, instead of shutting them down. They're allowed to have feelings.

"They want to be heard, we just need to figure out how to respond to that and support them through it, without 'stopping the crying'."