Locations:
Search IconSearch

The 6 Best Ways to Make Your Baby Tired (and 3 Things NOT to Do)

Pediatrician-approved sleep tips

Mom rocking her baby to sleep in rocking chair

Parents wait all day for that blissful break from diapers, dishes and other demands. Sometimes baby’s bedtime can’t come soon enough.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

The last thing you want is a child who’s not ready to unwind when you are.

While you can’t force a child to fall asleep at your command, there are things that soften the bed, so to speak.

Why rocking + lullabies really can work

“Making children feel sleepy requires decreasing their level of cortisol, the hormone that keeps them revved up and ready to go,” says pediatrician Maureen Ahmann, DO. “To decrease cortisol, calm their senses.”

Rocking your baby and singing a lullaby may be the best-known calming techniques, but any type of sensory soothing can work, says Dr. Ahmann. Try:

  • Swaddling (for infants).
  • Massage.
  • Any light, repetitive movement, like swaying or swinging.
  • Feeding (not until babies fall asleep, but just until they become drowsy).
  • Dimming the lights.
  • Playing soft music or tranquil sounds from a white noise machine or app. (Turn off the TV.)

“The key is removing stimulation and signaling the body that it’s time to rest,” says Dr. Ahmann.

What about a ride in the car?

Some parents claim that a ride in the car is a sure-fire way to induce sleep. In desperate times it may be tempting to buckle baby in the car seat and drive around the block. Just don’t do it for long, says Dr. Ahmann.

Sleeping in the car, while sometimes unavoidable, is not a good habit. Your baby is safest sleeping on a firm, flat surface, not propped up in a seat.

Every year hundreds of U.S. infants die due to unsafe sleep environments. Make sure your baby sleeps safely all the time. It’s non-negotiable, says Dr. Ahmann.

For babies, safe sleep means lying flat on the back with no blankets heavier than a hospital receiving blanket. There should be no stuffed animals in the crib. Do not use crib bumpers, pillows or any type of cushions for propping up your baby — not even items marketed to help babies sleep better.

The best way to trigger tiredness

Tactics to make your baby drowsy only do so much. The best way to get children to sleep when they’re supposed to is to establish a wake-sleep schedule and stick to it, says Dr. Ahmann.

“Nothing works better than keeping kids on a schedule,” she says. “It’s not always possible with so many demands on today’s parents — and life can throw curveballs — but keep nap and night sleep times consistent the best you can.”

Advertisement

Babies respond to consistency and structure, says Dr. Ahmann. The less you disrupt their schedule, the more likely they’ll fall asleep on time.

“If your baby regularly has a tough time falling asleep at night, you may need to adjust their nap schedule,” she says. “Gradually move morning and afternoon naps earlier.”

3 things not to do

There are numerous ways to get your baby to settle down for slumber. But here are three things you shouldn’t try:

  1. Keeping baby awake all day to sleep longer at night. This typically does not work, says Dr. Ahmann. Being overtired can make your baby — and everyone within earshot — miserable. And baby’s stress from being overtired can make it harder to relax and rest later.
  2. Putting cereal in the bedtime bottle. People used to think that cereal could keep a baby’s belly fuller, preventing them from waking up for a nighttime feeding. That’s not true, says Dr. Ahmann. “We’ve learned that eating cereal before bed doesn’t make babies sleep longer and actually can cause more restlessness due to gas pain,” she says. Babies should only have breast milk or formula in their bottle. Feed your baby cereal only when they can eat it off a spoon, usually beginning at 6 to 9 months.
  3. Holding your baby as you fall asleep. Remember that safe sleep is a must. “Too frequently, exhausted parents fall asleep holding their baby and wake up hours later to find the baby in a dangerous position,” says Dr. Ahmann. “If you’re tired, put your baby back in the crib. A baby will not die from crying in their crib.”

Following a consistent schedule and using calming techniques should be all you need to ensure a sufficient sleepyhead. Getting baby to sleep on time is one step toward getting yourself to sleep on time too.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Rainbow-colored heart hovering above healthcare provider's hand, with child sitting in exam chair
June 12, 2024/Parenting
How To Find an LGBTQIA-Friendly Pediatrician for Your Child

Local LGBT centers, online directories, visual cues and gender-affirming care or non-discrimination policies can all be helpful resources and cues

Mother post birth in medical bed, with partner holding new baby, and caregiver nearby
Baby on the Way? Here’s What You May Not Know About Labor and Delivery

The birthing process can take longer than you might expect, and plans can always change

Child sleeping
June 4, 2024/Children's Health
How Much Sleep Kids Need: Recommended Hours by Age

From newborn through teen years, your child’s sleep needs will change

Female breast feeding baby
Can You Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

An occasional drink is OK, and you can safely nurse your baby after the alcohol has left your breast milk

Person sitting on bed in pjs with head in hand, eyes closed
May 29, 2024/Sleep
Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Stress, weight gain and forgetfulness are just a few effects of losing sleep

Child in pjs sleeping in bed moving legs
May 22, 2024/Children's Health
How To Help Children With Restless Legs Syndrome

Regular exercise, an iron-rich diet, adequate sleep and bedtime routines that include a warm bath or massage may help with your kid’s RLS

Baby sleeping on their side
May 17, 2024/Children's Health
What To Know About Baby’s Fontanelles (aka Soft Spots)

A sunken soft spot may be a sign of dehydration, while a bulging soft spot may be a sign of head trauma

Young child in bed reading at night
May 2, 2024/Children's Health
Nighty-Night: Tips To Get Your Kid To Stay In Bed

A consistent, structured routine, which may include incentives, can help children learn to stay in bed and get the ZZZs they need

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad