Sleep is one of the first big parenting struggles that moms and dads face, but of course, it’s not the last. Still, this one challenge can drive parents crazy because sleep is, after all, essential—both for babies and parents.
But for many families, getting the baby to sleep comes down to actually being able to place him or her in the bed and walk away. Sure, infants wake throughout the night to eat or have their diapers changed, but apart from that, why is bedtime so stinking difficult with babies?
The thing is, there are plenty of “hacks” out there to help manage your baby’s sleep (and potential sleep aversions) without driving the entire house bonkers. There are no magic sleep solutions for parents—you’ll probably be tired until long after the kids leave for college, let’s be honest—but there are ways to make it all easier.
From getting the baby to accept his new bed to getting your toddler to actually enjoy sleeping in hers, here are 12 genius ways to work out the baby sleep dilemma. Plus, we’ve listed ten of the things that just never work, no matter how desperately you might want them to.
22 Genius: The Heavy Hand Hack
The idea behind this one is genius, although the execution needs a bit of work. But the idea is that you put some sort of weight on your baby so they feel comforted but you don’t have to hang by the bassinet or crib all night patting their back! Of course, there are now weighted swaddles that achieve the same purpose. But if you’re in the same room with your baby, perhaps not yet going to bed yourself, propping any small but weighty object similar to the size of your hand might just help your baby feel comforted and stay in dreamland.
21 Genius: Wait A Little Longer
This trick isn’t so much a trick as just a bit of knowledge that makes parenting life a tad easier. Instead of trying to put your baby down when they’re semi-sleepy or barely drifting off, wait until they’re deeper into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
REM is the deeper sleep which involves dreaming, bodily movement, and eye movement.
You can tell your baby is deeply asleep if she’s moving her eyes around (with them closed), twitching her arms or legs slightly, or breathing more deeply. This way, she’s less likely to notice when you gently place her in her bed—zonked completely out.
20 Genius: Maintain The Movement
With all the driving, swinging, and bouncing around parents do with little babies, it’s no wonder they like so much movement.
So it makes sense that many babies associate movement with their caregivers—but that presents a problem when it’s time to go to sleep. Luckily, there are bassinets and even cribs these days that do the moving for us tired parents—which is nice, because you can only rock the baby so many times before you fall asleep yourself. Often, a bit of gentle movement is all babies need to go to sleep and stay asleep. Of course, we already know that putting them to sleep in swings and bouncers isn’t safe, so a vibrating bassinet is ideal.
19 Genius: Make It Special In The Daytime
Making your baby’s bed less scary at night starts with making it comfy and cozy during the day. Aiming for getting your baby to sleep in their first bed during nap time is a good start. And, if they’re bigger and it’s a toddler or even twin-sized bed, you can join them (at least at first). Try reading a few books in bed, bringing a toy, or even just sitting there during the day so it feels less intimidating. Then when it’s sleep time, your baby will at least be familiar with the sleep area and not feel so worried about what was previously unfamiliar.
18 Genius: Side-Car The Child-Size Bed
At this point, you’re likely trying to get your baby to sleep anywhere other than your arms. And whether you’ve been co-sleeping already or are just trying to get your baby to accept a bassinet instead of his bouncer, using the sidecar method might help! Instead of putting the baby to sleep directly in your bed (typical bedsharing), you put their bed right next to yours.
There are many co-sleeper beds on the market for this, where one side folds or zips down and you can access your baby at night if they need you. You can also do this with a crib—just remove one side (toddler bed mode) and make sure it’s snug against your grownup-sized bed. This way, your baby has his own space but you’re close enough to comfort him.
17 Genius: Co-Sleep With Siblings
Of course, we’re not recommending that you put an infant to sleep with her older siblings. But for many babies, sleeping in a room alone is a bit scary, especially if they’ve been sleeping in your room or in your arms for the first few months. If you have an older child, consider putting the baby to sleep in that child’s room. If they’re both on the same schedule already, it can help reassure them both and make sleep more pleasant. If your baby is older and transitioning to a big kid bed, you could even let the kids co-sleep in one larger bed, as long as you do it safely.
16 Genius: The Bedtime Routine
Ah, routines, those magical things that perfect parents establish to get their perfect offspring to do everything that’s asked of them—and on a schedule. Alas, this isn’t a magic hack to knock your kiddo into dreamland in ten seconds flat.
But a bedtime routine does help kids wind down and get ready for sleep, no matter where it’s happening.
And plenty of kids do fine going to sleep even in unfamiliar places—it’s the order of things that help them stay calm and get ready for rest. Things like reading stories, taking a bath, and brushing teeth in the same order every night can help your kiddo learn what to expect and when—and maybe even look forward to bedtime.
15 Genius: White Noise Really Works
It sounds kind of annoying (literally), but plenty of parents swear by white noise to not only keep their babies asleep but also lull them into dreamland. And it does make sense: the white noise, whether it’s background music, a fan, static, or other sounds, blocks out the neighborhood ruckus that is dogs barking, car doors slamming, and the house creaking.
So if your baby is one who wakes up at every little noise, introducing a noise machine might give you the cover you need to sneak out of the room and have a little me time after bedtime.
14 Genius: Give Baby Control
This one works with older babies, obviously, who are closer to toddler age. But all the same, you can drum up excitement with your young toddler over his new big boy bed. Choosing the bed itself (think race car, pirate ship, princess castle, and more), the sheets and blankets, a new pillow, and even a snuggly buddy to sleep with can help make the experience more inviting overall.
Some kids even like curtains around their beds to help cocoon them in. And who wouldn’t want to go to bed when a cozy space like that is beckoning to you?
13 Genius: Wear Them Down
If you’re trying a new bedtime routine that involves a new sleep space, day one of the new bed should start with a fun-filled day of doing every possible thing that can wear your child out! For younger babies, they’ll still need naps, of course, but you can fill the pre-bedtime hours with plenty of games, silliness, and movement to get them worn out. It will likely wear you out, too, but the more tired the baby is, the easier putting them down should be. And it could take a couple days or more to really cement the routine, but who can say no when they’re too tired to protest?
12 Genius: Serious Swaddling Sessions
Tons of parents absolutely swear by swaddling to get their babies to sleep. And while there is an age limit to swaddling—essentially when your baby can roll over—if you start early, you might be able to get your baby used to sleeping in her first bed with some practiced swaddling. Swaddling keeps babies from bonking themselves in the face in their sleep, and it helps them feel secure.
Not to mention, it keeps them warm, too. There are also sleep sacks for bigger babies, and footie jammies for big kids, if your tot’s bedtime dilemma is that their temperature isn’t quite right for rest.
11 Genius: Warm The Bed Beforehand
For little babies who still need reassurance and comfort from mom and dad at night, this little hack might just make the transition to a crib easier. While it’s not safe to leave a heated blanket or hot water bottle in your baby’s bed, you can use some type of warming device to get their spot a bit more cozy before you put them in.
After all, no one likes lying down on cold sheets (except in summer), so making sure the surface of the bed is adequately warmed can help fool your baby into thinking he’s still being held.
10 Won't Work: Bribes And More Bribes
If you’re dealing with an older child, you might be tempted to bribe them to sleep in their big kid bed. And what could it hurt, right? After all, plenty of us bribe our kids to use the toilet or to eat their vegetables. But in this case, sleep is something that’s super important for her health and wellbeing, so it shouldn’t be negotiable.
But it also shouldn’t be traumatic or wrought with anxiety.
Instead of begging and pleading (and let’s be honest, yelling), work on making your kiddo more comfortable with the bedtime plans and avoid promising candy if they’ll just GO. TO. SLEEP.
9 Won't Work: Just Closing The Door
For younger kids, it would be great if we could plop them in bed and say goodnight, only to see them again after the sun rises (hopefully quite a long time after). But even if your toddler gladly preps for bedtime and gets in the bed, there are no guarantees she’ll stay there.
If you’re okay with just closing the door and taking care of whatever you need to while your toddler ransacks her bedroom, climbs on the furniture, and eventually falls asleep blocking the doorway and drooling on the carpet, then more power to you.
But if you want your child to go to bed at a reasonable time and get a good night’s rest (floor-free), this probably won’t work to achieve that goal.
8 Won't Work: Crying It Out
Technically, this method might work—but it’s not something that’s exactly healthy for babies. In fact, most experts these days don’t recommend sleep training of any kind with babies since their biological programming is what makes them cry for mom or dad. Many babies really do need to eat at night—especially preemies or babies with health issues—and they also need love and affection that’s not always conveniently scheduled.
And while sleep training may get mom and dad a good night’s sleep eventually, the baby just learns that no one’s coming when he needs them, so he eventually gives up.
7 Won't Work: Baby Net Cages
If you have or had an older toddler who liked to “escape” the crib, you may have considered one of these at some point. Crib tents, or net coverings, are meant to keep your baby safe by preventing them from climbing out of the crib. But they can rip, become dislodged, and even present a safety hazard to your baby.
Plus, there’s something that’s not quite right about babies in cages—no matter how soft and cozy the material might feel.
There’s also the fact that if something falls on top, that’s also a problem for the baby who’s sleeping inside.
6 Won't Work: Overfeeding For Sleep
While adding cereal to babies’ bottles is practically an age-old tradition, doctors today caution against it. Of course, some babies legitimately need their bottles thickened, but that’s dependent upon the child’s medical condition and the advice of her doctor. For healthy babies, adding cereal to bottles can not only pose a choking hazard but also causes the baby to consume extra calories that can make her feel hungrier later. After all, the more you feed her, the more she’ll want to eat, and even if she sleeps through the night thanks to a fuller tummy, it’s not a healthy way to start the sleep routine.
5 Won't Work: Rock-A-Bye All Night
When you’re dealing with a newborn who needs to eat and be changed frequently, you might just resolve yourself to staying up practically all night. But even babies who wake for necessary feedings and diaper changes need to go back to sleep—and so do you. At least five hours of sleep is a good minimum to shoot for.
So staying up, turning the lights on, and rocking and talking to your baby only serves to keep him awake longer.
Instead of rocking all night, try and keep things calm, mellow, and as dark as possible to promote sleepy time for the both of you.
4 Won't Work: Dosing With Miracle Melatonin
Everyone’s heard great things about melatonin recently and for good reason. It has a reputation for helping even the youngest kids go to sleep and enjoy better sleep. But the thing is, there’s a lack of clinical research to back up using melatonin on kids.
Plus, there’s a long list of potential side effects, including headaches, feelings of depression, sleepiness in the daytime, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability, according to WebMD.
And even if your doctor does okay you to use the drug, you should watch the dosage carefully and look for any signs of side effect—and you still need to establish a healthy bedtime routine.
3 Won't Work: Watching TV To Sleep
As adults, we often find ourselves drifting off in front of Netflix while trying to enjoy some me-time. But just because grown-ups can fall asleep in front of the TV doesn’t mean it’s a suitable bedtime pursuit for anyone, let alone our young kids and infants. But with all the talk about screen time these days, parents still rely pretty heavily on screens to help entertain kids and even help calm them.
But nighttime isn’t the time for this—watching artificial light late at night can mess with kids’ circadian rhythms—the body’s biological “clock” that says when it’s time to sleep.
If it’s not dark in the room, your baby’s system struggles to realize that it’s dark and that it’s sleepy time.
2 Won't Work: Enforcing An Oddball Schedule
Maybe you have a show coming on at a certain time, or maybe it’s just that you have to be up at an early hour and need your baby to go to sleep by a set time. The thing is, even babies are wired to be tired at specific times, so if you’re trying to put them to bed at the wrong time, it’ll only backfire.
Plenty of sleep struggles have nothing to do with where the baby sleeps, but rather when.
You have to catch your baby’s first sleepy signals and be ready to act—not put off bedtime for another hour or two, potentially entering meltdown time. Similarly, it doesn’t help to put the baby to bed two hours before she’s actually tired—then she’ll just fight sleep, and you.
1 Never Work: Fluffing Up The Crib
Especially if you have a baby who loves cuddles during the day, you might be tempted to drop a whole bunch of fluffy stuff in the crib or bassinet to make it cozy. But every expert out there says babies should sleep on flat surfaces with no extra stuff around them—no lovies, no blankets, no pillows, and no toys. Sure, it would be more inviting to your baby to have all their favorite things in the crib for sleep time.
But it’s better and safer to use swaddling or a pacifier to help soothe them throughout the night instead.