The science-backed way to get a baby to sleep

Everyone who isn’t your child’s parents seems to have a magic trick to put them to sleep, don’t they?

A new study a Current biology has its own recipe for success which the authors say can increase the chances of putting crying babies to sleep.

Kumi Kuroda, PhD, a researcher at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science in Japan who led the study, evaluated how whining babies were physiologically affected by being held, carried, and lying down.

Related: Taking vitamin D during pregnancy may reduce your baby’s risk of eczema

His team say their “carrying response,” which involves a series of processes, worked to calm babies and lower their heart rates, and their findings can be applied to help you make the transfer in the crib or crib. .

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(You probably know how hard “the transfer” can be. You rock that baby to sweet dreamland and then try to put him in his crib…then, poof, they’re awake again. They’re probably crying again too! )

The researchers used ECG machines and video cameras to compare changes in the children’s heart rates as people acted out activities used to help toddlers fall asleep. They carried the children, pushed them in strollers and kept them seated. Then they logged the data to observe patterns.

How to get a baby to sleep, according to science

What worked best? Walking for five minutes promoted sleep for the crying babies. All stopped crying and had slower heart rates after a 5-minute walk, and about half of them fell asleep before the 5-minute mark. But walking didn’t help the already peaceful babies fall asleep.

And sit and hold crying babies without walking? The researchers say it didn’t help them calm down. In fact, the babies’ heart rates tended to increase and they kept crying.

Related: AAP releases new 2022 safe sleep guidelines: Here’s what parents and caregivers need to know

The researchers also found that the babies’ heart rates increased if the caregiver turned or stopped walking. Being separate from the person was the most significant. (That’s the root of why “transfer” is so hard, right?)

But if the parents then sat and held their baby for a set amount of time after walking to calm him down, the transfer to the cot to keep him asleep was more successful.

Walk, then sit

When your baby is fussing and can’t fall asleep, Dr. Kuroda recommends healthcare professionals carry him while walking for 5 minutes (avoiding sudden movements). Then sit with the baby for 8 minutes and then put the baby to sleep. This 13-minute process had the best results for baby sleep in the study.

Here are more tips Dr. Kuroda gave to Motherly:

  • Walk in a clear and flat indoor environment.
  • Support the baby’s head and hold him tightly in your arms. A baby sling or carrier can help (but you’ll have to transfer the baby out of that to place in the crib).
  • Maintain a steady walking pace.
  • Don’t run or jump.
  • If the baby still cries after 5-10 minutes of carrying, stop walking and check the baby’s well-being.

Related: The one thing your child needs to get ready for kindergarten? More sleep, says AAP

Know what works (or doesn’t)

Patti Read, a pediatric sleep consultant in New Jersey who was not part of the research, says parents and caregivers should feel free to try this one.

“And if it doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged,” Read says, citing how difficult it can be for babies to fall asleep.

The study only included babies up to 7 months old and only 21 babies, she points out.

After 4 months, a baby should ideally not be placed in the crib fully asleep – he should be sleepy but awake so he learns to fall asleep on his own. This can help you master how to get your baby to sleep in a crib.

Related: Dr. Harvey Karp’s secrets to sleep training a child

“That’s because if a child can’t fall asleep, then they’ll need a parent’s assistance to walk and sit with them every time they wake up,” read the notes.

Read likes renowned pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp’s advice on the five S’s, which are similar to Dr. Kuroda’s advice.

“I don’t think there’s much we don’t know about getting babies to sleep, it’s just that there are a lot of factors going on in their little growing bodies and again every baby is different so it will never be exactly the same for every child,” Read says.

“Unfortunately, since they can’t tell us what’s going on and they can’t understand what we say to them, it’s harder to teach them how to fall asleep on their own,” she adds.

Unlock the mysteries of baby sleep

Dr. Kuroda says more studies are needed to verify her findings. Research doesn’t explain why some babies cry uncontrollably and/or don’t sleep, the study authors write. Researchers want to develop a wearable device that allows parents to see their babies’ physiological states on a smartphone in real time.

“Like science-based fitness training, we can do science-based parenting with these advances and hopefully help babies sleep and reduce parental stress caused by excessive infant crying,” says Dr. Kuroda in a statement.

Dr Kuroda also says the results are limited because they only measured daytime activities, not the children’s responses in the evening or at night.

“I can’t conclude from the article whether the heart rate measurements are accurate enough to work,” adds Heidi Holvoet, PhD, a children’s sleep consultant from Belgium and founder of Baby Sleep Advice.

Related: Sleep Like a Baby: Your Expert Guide to 12 Months of Sleep

Note that heart rates can give an indication of the baby’s state after walking to calm them down, but it is the type of sleep stage a baby is in that determines how easily they stay asleep.

Holvoet also wonders how accurate the method is for all children of all ages, something Dr. Kuroda wants to study more.

“We don’t know the mathematically reliable way to get babies to sleep, but I don’t think we need it,” says Dr. Holvoet.

“I believe we have all the knowledge in place, however, to help babies sleep; recognizing their development and natural abilities at any age, as well as each child’s unique personality and needs,” she adds.

The bottom line

As a mom of a child who didn’t sleep well when he was little (and woke me up at 4:15am today, but who’s watching?) I can tell you that this is just a small study, and not for fret if the methods don’t they work for you. There are many other studies (and tons of books) that can help you learn how to get your baby to sleep. What works in the end? It depends on you and your baby. It’s a mystery you may never “solve” and that’s totally fine.

Experts in the foreground

Heidi Holvoet, PhDis a Belgian baby sleep consultant and founder of Baby Sleep Advice.

Kumi Kuroda, PhD, is a researcher at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science in Japan.

Patti Read is a New Jersey pediatric sleep consultant who runs Goldilocks Sleep Solutions.

Sources

Ohmura, N., et al. A method of calming and aiding sleep in crying babies using the transport response. 2022. Cell biology. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.041

Douglas, P., et al. The crying baby: which approach? Current opinion in pediatrics, 2011. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e32834a1b78
Bregje, E., et al. Swaddling: A systematic review. Pediatrics2007. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-2083

The science-backed way to get a baby to sleep

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