Education Blog

How To Get Sleep When Baby Won’t Sleep

September 22, 2021

Recently, an expectant parent asked me a question about baby sleep. I love sleep questions. Baby and child sleep are the most challenging of all parenting issues. It is also one of the most researched issues, and there are a lot of resources to help you. What do you, dear reader, want to know? Here’s the plea

My husband and I will be expecting our first child in just a few months. We are doing research to find out what to expect for the next year. Multiple sources have suggested that we should think about ‘rooming-in’. This idea is great: keep a bassinet near the crib for quick feedings and to watch Little One.

Parents Who’ve Been There also suggest that you split the night into different shifts and move the active’ parent’s station from the nursery to feed the baby and change diapers. This seems like a wise decision, since I’m a Cranky Hell beast if I don’t get enough sleep.

Although I am aware that sleep loss is inevitable I already see the benefits of the shift approach, which promises a 4-hour sleep block. Is it logical to choose one or the other? Or should we wait and see what happens when Babe arrives. We would love to hear your thoughts on the health benefits and concerns of each approach.


Seattle is already a bit sleepy.

Where is the Baby Sleeping?

This is largely dependent on how close the baby is to you at night. How close the baby is to you and how worried you are about their safety will determine how much work, ease, or sleep you can get in the first few months of your baby’s life.

Some parents prefer to share a bed with their baby. This is a controversial practice because it can lead to a baby getting trapped between parents and being wrapped in blankets or covered with pillows. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly condemns bed-sharing.

People who choose to bed-share try to adhere to the safe sleeping practices of the AAP. They use minimal bedding (bottom sheet only), a firm mattress with no pillows or blankets and place their baby on their back. To ensure safety, one parent will be in bed at night. Parents will not sleep if they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Co-sleeping bed extensions attach to a mattress and can be used by couples to extend their distance. These co-sleeping bed extensions allow babies to have their own private sleeping space while still being nearby for night feeds. Both parents can share the bed and the baby is not trapped between their bodies or under covers.

Does Having the Baby Farther Away Help Getting Sleep?

The expectant questioner is above looking out at more distance. You can either sleep in a room with your baby in a bassinet, or in a separate nursery from the rest of the family. While both are acceptable, the AAP recommends that infants share a room with their parents for at least six months, and if possible for up to one year. Research by the AAP shows that SIDS deaths can be reduced up to 50% when babies share a room.

This might be enough to convince some parents to allow their baby to sleep in their bedroom at night. There are many important and salient issues that our parents-to-be have raised. They are all addressed individually by me.

  • Easy Feeding: It is easier to just take a few steps, pop a breast into the child’s mouth and walk down a hall than to do it in a single step. It all depends on how difficult or inconvenient those extra steps may be to you. That convenience is almost erased when bottles must be prepared. Only if a mother is exclusively breastfeeding. It will not be more convenient for dads to breastfeed their baby at night with breastmilk and a pump, regardless of whether the baby is present in the room.
  • Keep an eye on them: It’s easy to keep an eye on a baby sharing a room. It’s easy to check on a room-sharing baby by simply getting up and walking over to the bassinet. Then, you can squint in the dim light and listen for their tiny breaths. It’s easy to see if they are crying, fussing, or engaging in other strange behavior. Only in the sense that baby monitoring equipment is required to monitor the distant baby.
  • There are many companies that offer solutions for keeping an eye on your baby. There are a variety of smart wearables available, including socks and diapers that can provide accurate information about your baby’s heart rate, respiration and blood oxygen levels.

The Problem with “Smart” Monitors

Smart monitor claims are not perfect. The accuracy of data collected by smart monitors is not guaranteed by any national regulator. If the monitors were sold as medical devices, there would be no way for oversight. If the devices were marketed as medical devices, they would be subject to independent testing and then approved by FDA.

They are currently not approved and parents should not use them to make health decisions regarding their baby. They should only be used as entertainment. A smart monitor can be used to entertain your child if it is interesting or comforting to see their heart rate and breathing. There is no evidence that smart monitors can save your child’s life from SIDS.

This would indicate that room-sharing is safer. What does this do for a parent’s ability?

How to Get Shut-eye Yourself

Maile Moore, a nurse practitioner at Boston Children’s Hospital Sleep Center, is one of my favourite sleep experts. She blew me away with a few important aspects of infant sleeping the last time she spoke to me.

  1. Infants don’t know the difference between day and night. Infants can manage to the 24-hour clock including when it is appropriate to fall asleep and wake. It depend on parents though.
  2. The infant sleep cycle is wild. Infants sleep for 45 minutes with wakeful transitions, up to 4 months of age. That’s right. 45 Minutes.

These two facts can lead to parents falling into a sleepless nightmare. The result is this: After a 45-minute nap, the baby starts fussing. The parent intervenes to provide comfort or food for their child. The child then falls asleep because he or she has become accustomed to the parental intervention.

It becomes a vicious feedback loop. The baby is never able to sleep well, and the parent loses their sleep.

Two important parental behavior are required in any room sharing arrangement. Parents must ensure that their children are sleeping well. At least one hour before bedtime, all screens must be turned off and lights should be dimmed or extinguished. The room must be dark. The room should have a fan or white noise.

Parents should also be able to take a step back from infant fussiness. Although it might be painful, it is worth the effort to let the baby rest for a while before reacting to their fussiness. It takes time for infants to learn self-soothing. Parents can help if a baby’s fussiness escalates to full-blown crying, or if they are experiencing discomfort. Babies should be able to manage their sleep cycle and have enough to get through the night by the age of three to four months.

What About Teamwork For Getting Sleep?

The nightwork should be divided in a way that is practical for the couple. A division of labor is not a panacea to night problems. Some couples would rather trade their night feedings and intervention one for one while others prefer to divide infant interventions into post-midnight or pre-midnight shifts. Some people divide the night shifts into days. Mothers may be allowed weekends off.

The choice of the couple will depend on how the baby is fed and their schedules. It is a good idea for parents to discuss the division prior to the child arrives. Kudos to our question-asker who was ahead of the game. Honesty is important and everyone should have the opportunity to discuss the topic in a context that supports a healthy, well-fed baby.

Fathers can still be very helpful even if the baby is exclusively breastfed. While moms may have trouble sleeping, dads can help ease the burden by making sure that breastfeeding stations (a table, chair, and lamp) are clean and well-stocked with snacks, blankets, and reading material. They can also take care of the baby while they are sleeping, keeping them awake during the day and allowing mom to get some shut-eye.

Collaboration is the name of this game. To give dads a break, I suggest splitting the night in half and adding pump-expressed milk and bottle feedings. This not only increases uninterrupted sleep for both parents but also allows dad to have some cuddles and care to boost his oxytocin levels and help him bond with his child.

The Final Answer

Regardless of how much you sleep, you’ll still be awake. Nevertheless, I prefer to follow the AAP recommendations. You might consider room-sharing with your child. You’re likely to succeed as long as you allow your child to learn self-soothing, good sleep hygiene, and behave like a badass team member.