Science reveals best way to get a baby to sleep

Woman holding sleeping baby.
Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

Parents in need of a quick way to get their babies to sleep now have a simple formula that scientific research indicates should be a success.

Exclusive Station
Disney Sing-Alongs
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

A study about the method was published Tuesday in the peer reviewed journal Current Biology.

First, parents or caregivers are advised to carry infants for five minutes. Then, they should sit down and hold the infants for five to eight minutes before placing them in a crib or sleeping surface.

Ideally, caregivers should attach the infants snugly to their body and support the baby’s head. For the carrying portion, they should walk on a flat and clear passage and at a steady pace, preferably without abrupt stops or turns.

Carrying babies can soothe them via the transport response, which study authors described as a coordinated set of vagal [referring to the vagal nervous system] activation and behavioral calming in mammals that need aid to mature after birth.

Although a survey from earlier this year found that 82% of parents reported getting five hours of sleep or less each night and the study published this week said approximately 20%–30% of “infants cry excessively and exhibit sleep difficulties for no apparent reason, causing parental stress and even triggering impulsive child maltreatment in a small number of cases,” it also noted that there is no conclusive recommendation for immediate intervention.

“Five-minute carrying promoted sleep for crying infants even in the daytime when these infants were usually awake, but not for non-crying infants,” said the study. However, “maternal laydown of sleeping infants into a cot exerted bimodal effects, either interrupting or deepening the infants’ sleep.”

In particular, sleeping infants “were alerted most consistently by the initiation of maternal detachment, then calmed after the completion of maternal detachment in a successful laydown.”

To conduct the study, mothers used four different methods to get infants to sleep: walking and holding, sitting and holding, laying infants in a cot and laying infants in a mobile crib that was then rocked or moved. They found that “the only significant group difference identified was how long the infants had been sleeping before the mother initiated the laydown.”

“The effects of carrying should be compared between mothers versus non-maternal caregivers because motion-based infant soothing is commonly performed by fathers, grandparents, and childcare professionals in several countries including Japan,” said the study. Authors said that further study is also needed to confirm the holding-sitting-laydown method.

“Nevertheless, this study provides a proof of concept that infant transport robustly reduces cry and potentially promotes sleep,” thus promoting the five-minute carry and five to- eight-minute sit before laydown. This method is intended to promote immediate calming, and does not address long term improvement of sleep regulation, said the study.

LISTEN on the Audacy App
Sign up and follow Audacy
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram