Like I said in my Top Ten Newborn Baby Sleep Tips, laying your baby down awake but drowsy can be kind of tricky sometimes trying to get the timing down and catching your baby’s optimal sleep window.
It’s also helpful because I believe it is the number one way to help your baby sleep through the night when he is ready. My goal in sharing this step-by-step is to help you guide and encourage your baby to have good sleep habits to allow sleeping through the night to happen naturally over time. Night feedings will begin to drop off naturally when your baby is ready.
This means when your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and does not have a legitimate need, he will put himself back to sleep independently. No rocking, bouncing, or doing 10 handstands required by mom or dad. On the other hand, if your baby does have a legitimate need, I assure you he will cry and let you know. And you should go to him, and feed him, and do what needs to be done. Then repeat the process of laying your baby down awake.
Let’s discuss how to teach your baby to fall asleep independently.
1. Catch your baby’s sleep window.
This refers to monitoring your baby’s wake time, which is the amount of time awake that your baby would have before needing to rest again. In the first month a newborns wake time may only be around 35-40 minutes or so. At the first year mark, your baby may have a wake time of 2.5-3 hours before needing a rest.
I prefer to focus less on the actual number of 35-40 minutes of wake time, and more on the baby’s actual sleep cues. In the book The Baby Whisperer Solves All your Problems, Tracy Hogg talks about watching for sleepy cues.
A baby’s sleeping cue may come in the form of an eye rub, a yawn or a fuss. Keep your eyes peeled to determine what an appropriate wake time is for your child. Once you know your baby’s approximate wake time, it can help you gauge when to set the stage for sleep.
2. Setting the stage for sleep.
Setting the stage helps release hormones in your baby’s body to help him prepare for sleep. When we are exposed to bright light, our bodies stimulate Cortisol, which is a hormone that helps us feel awake. When we are exposed to dimmer light or darkness, our body activates melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us feel sleepy.
In the home. Once you learn your baby’s approximate wake time, you will want to start setting the stage in your home about 20 minutes before an anticipated nap time. Keep stimulation low key: books, relaxing music, or gentle talking or playing are just a few examples. If it’s daytime, there is no need to block out all the light, but trying to keep your baby in a room that is less bright with the curtains partially closed can help prepare your baby for sleep.
In the baby’s room. Once you notice your baby’s sleep cue, you will want to start setting the stage for sleep in the baby’s room. This usually means taking your baby to his room, closing the curtains, swaddling, singing a lullaby, sitting with your baby for a few minutes to help relax and settle him, and saying your sleepy words (e.g. I love you. I hope you have a good sleep. Night. Night.)
3. Establish a good pre-sleep routine.
Like I just mentioned above, setting the stage is really all about establishing a good baby sleep routine. You can use an abbreviated sleep routine for naps (5-10 minutes) and a longer sleep routine for bedtime (30 minutes).
Use these newborn routine and baby routine cards to help get you started…
Choose whatever sleep routine you think will work best for your child and your family. Keeping it simple and functional will best serve you and your child and increase the likelihood you will stick with it for the long run.
A good sleep routine could include anything such as a bath, soft music, stories, massage, swaddle, dimming the room, turning on white noise, etc. Whatever you choose, you will want to use the same sleep routine every single time, as it will best cue your baby for sleep.
Such sleep routines offer reassurance and security to a baby, who sees the world as a very chaotic place. These sleep routines help your baby learn to anticipate sleep, which in turn, helps them fall asleep better because he knows it’s what he is supposed to do.
4. Lay the baby down.
Now you are probably nervous or shaking in your boots because you’ve done all the work to prepare your baby for sleep. You lay your baby down awake, but drowsy and hope he doesn’t cry or fuss. I encourage you to give it a few minutes to allow your baby to settle himself. See what happens.
5. Offer reassurance when needed.
If your baby cries or fusses for longer than you are comfortable with, go ahead and offer some reassurance. Pick the baby up for a minute or two and offer a few kisses, cuddles, and pats on the back. Resettle the baby and then lay him back down awake and quietly step out of the room.
You can continue repeating this process until your baby falls asleep. When I timed the sleep window and we were on a good routine at home, it was very common for my son to fuss less than 5 minutes, if he even fussed at all.
It’s not to say there were never times when if really fussed or protested. Certainly there were from time to time, but for the most part he responded very well to this technique. If your child is fussing or crying before sleep, you could even wait 5 minutes. Listen to your instincts and your baby. Decide what is right for your baby.
If you don’t feel comfortable with fussing or crying, I completely understand. You can also try the ‘shush-pat’ method described by Hogg with a 4 month old or younger. Just before you lay the baby down you start shushing and then pat your baby’s back.
According to Hogg, a very young baby is not capable of keeping several thoughts in his head, so by shushing and patting, he will begin to settle, as he will not be able to focus on crying. Once you lay the baby down awake, continue shushing and patting your baby until he falls asleep. This method is effective; just know you will likely just need to be more patient before your baby is able to fall asleep independently.
Print your free baby sleep checklist!
This post comes with a free printable baby sleep checklist to help you support longer stretches of sleep for your baby! Plus, when you grab this printable, you’ll get instant access to my free 3-day baby sleep eCourse.
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable straight to your inbox, plus get my Free 3-Day Baby Sleep eCourse!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference and don’t forget a thing!
Want more on baby sleep?
- My Top 10 Newborn Baby Sleep Tips To Help You Get More Sleep
- The Newborn Routine That Will Help Your Baby Fall Asleep Faster
- Top 7 Challenges + Solutions for Parenting a Newborn and Toddler
- 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know
Resources for baby sleep:
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with finding a routine, rhythm or schedule, this email series will help you find one that will work for YOUR family. Yes, really. I've seen my sample routines work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
This free email series will help you:
- Free sample routines for your child
- Best morning routine tips and tricks your kids will actually follow
- All-time favorite parenting hacks for getting more cooperation at bedtime
- Step-by-step guide for using a printable daily schedule with kids