June 9th, 2012
10:06 AM ET

Sleeping babies and kids make happy parents

Editor's note:  Pediatrician and bst-selling author Dr. Harvey Karp has been giving parents advice on how their children can be the "happiest babies and toddlers on the block," by providing tips on how to help them sleep better and how to better communicate with young children.  He joins Dr. Sanjay Gupta on "Sanjay Gupta, MD" at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday, with more advice on how to help children sleep better.

According to a recent BabyCenter survey of 1,000 moms, exhaustion is their No. 1 complaint!

In fact, 29% of new moms can't remember the last time they slept 8 hours. And the problem doesn't just last a few months. One in three kids continues to fight sleep or wake up in the black of night... most nights.

Extreme fatigue is corrosive to the happiness of this time of life. Tired parents feel demoralized, angry, forgetful - and their health suffers too!

Exhaustion is a main trigger for postpartum depression (which affects 10 to 15% of moms and many dads). It also leads to breastfeeding failure, child abuse, unsafe sleep practices and car accidents. Poor sleep even changes your metabolism and makes moms and dads gain weight (even when you reduce your calories)!

Parents are desperate for help.  Yet, too many of the sleep books on the shelves promote some tired old sleep myths and misinformation, including:                    

Babies need to sleep in a quiet room... wrong!
Never rock your baby to sleep... wrong!
Rice cereal promotes an infant's sleep... wrong!

In my new book, "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years," I correct many of these misconceptions and offer parents and doctors a totally new understanding of the sleep needs of young children.

For example:

* Babies CAN be taught to sleep longer from the first weeks of life by using swaddling + a rumbly white noise, for all naps and nights.

* Letting your baby fall asleep in your arms is one of the sweetest joys of having a baby, but you should always wake your baby up - for 5 to 10 seconds - when you place him in bed.

It's a  useful technique that I call "wake and sleep." The truth is that babies can be allowed to fall asleep in your arms, but when placed into be they should be jostled a bit or have the soles of their feet slightly scratched to rouse them. They don't usually cry much because they have a tummy full of warm milk and they're snuggly swaddled and have white noise playing.

So most babies just briefly look around for 5 to 10 seconds and then relax into slumber and that's what you want to see! 

Your little one is learning the basic skill of self-soothing without any holding, rocking,suckling. (Those sleep cues are very hard to wean later, but sound is very easy to wean! So it's a great sleep cue for infants to help them fall back asleep in the dark of night.)

* Pick the best type of white noise. Some sounds boost sleep and others actually make it hard to sleep! Pick sounds that are rough, rumbly and low-pitched (not hissy and high-pitched, like radio static, waves or babbling brooks)

* Use white noise for all children...all sleep.... all year! It can even help your infant sleep through teething pains.

* To reduce your toddlers bedtime resistance, think of the bedtime routine starting after breakfast.

Here are just a few of the many things you can do to reduce sleep-time struggles: Get him out for exercise and fresh air (even in bad weather); avoid stimulants (cola, ice tea, dark chocolate); practice boosting confidence and cooperation during the day (using "The Happiest Toddler" DVD tips like "gossiping", "playing the boob" and "patience stretching"); dim the lights and turn on some soft white noise about 1 hour before bedtime.

All of these cue his brain that bedtime is near.

You can read many more tips about sleep in my book, and as a Father's Day treat I invite you all to join me on June 21 at 7:30 p.m. (local time), when I give a “Parent’s Night Out” lecture about babies, toddlers and sleep - simulcast in 600 movie theaters across America. 

For more information and to find the movie theater nearest you, go to http://www.happiestbaby.com.

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. m@yahoo.com

    wow, as a father of 2, this information is just basic knowledge. i wonder how much this idiot got paid to come up with these "revolutionary" techniques.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alen Shapiro

      He's trying to help. You'd be amazed how many people don't know these basic tips and, when desperate for sleep, parents often make the situation worse as their anxiety is easily noticed by the baby.

      Following up on the anxiety thingy. Another small piece of advice is don't take a deep breath and hold it as you place your baby in the crib. I learned not to do this as it seemed to send a signal that I was nervous (is baby going to fuss or fully wake/cry etc.). Forcing myself to breathe normally through this transition has made a big difference.

      Another tip that I find useful is to pick a short tune (20/30 seconds or so) with words and sing quietly in baby's ear while holding, from a very early age. Repeating this tune many times in a row. Building a familiar, expected, set of sound transitions from a very early age in a baby can act as a very powerful calming device.

      Who knew... Singing to a scared/hurting/teething baby can really work! But, perhaps I should not suggest this as it's bound to be common knowledge, right?

      June 10, 2012 at 09:04 | Report abuse |
    • loretta

      How rude, are you socially stunted?
      Do you respond to any and all information that you can't understand with such BS?
      Spare us your lame comments, your out of your league.

      June 11, 2012 at 16:47 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      As a father of four, I couldn't agree with you anymore... These supposed "Experts" are fishing with a study that they hope will pay off....

      June 12, 2012 at 01:12 | Report abuse |
    • Nora

      As a mother of two, this article is definitely NOT basic knowledge. It's a wealth of information for numerous sleep-deprived parents like me. You would've noticed that if you'd taken a look at the comments. How unbelievably rude.

      September 3, 2012 at 02:47 | Report abuse |
    • diyoutlet

      Very informative!


      February 11, 2013 at 22:19 | Report abuse |
  2. Oh how lovely

    Actually I never would have thought about the white noise. I think I was way too tired to. My infant woke every two to two and a half hours to eat the first year. I felt like a zombie mom. So tired all the time. Maybe our house was way too quiet. I'll take all the help I can get just in case we have any more children.

    June 9, 2012 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jess

    unfortunately when you are dealing with a baby NONE of these people writing books make any sense or are any help...parents dont' read or buy these books...it's a waste...your kid will eventually sleep

    June 9, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matt

      You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. All of these tips are very helpful. There are a lot of things you can do that will compromise a child developing a normal sleep pattern. Telling parents to just wait it out under the hope that the children will just develop a natural sleep pattern is just asinine. Children can and do develop bad sleep patterns that persists for years to the dismay of their exhausted parents.

      June 10, 2012 at 19:24 | Report abuse |
    • watergirl

      Actually, its pretty simple...

      June 12, 2012 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
  4. Galadika

    I currently have a baby, and we don't use white noise because he shares a room with his older brother who snores all night. I've never found any of these parenting books to be helpful.

    June 9, 2012 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • g.r.r.

      So, you do not use white noise, but the noise that you are supposed to have is low rumbly, just like snoring.
      Sounds to me like you had it there by accident.

      June 9, 2012 at 23:14 | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      You basically just said that the white noise tip is helpful, but you lucked into it by chance. Then in the same breath said, these parenting books aren't useful? Seriously?

      June 10, 2012 at 19:26 | Report abuse |
  5. Heidi

    My daughter didn't sleep more than 4 hours a night for 5 – yes FIVE years – why because her adenoids were effecting her sleep. A 15 minute procedure corrected the problem and she now sleeps 8-10 hours a night. Four pediatricians and three ENT's brushed us off and told us to basically "suck it up and deal with it". Adenoids can only really be identified by a CT scan which the 4th ENT bothered to do. It was a life changer. Maybe I should write a book.

    June 9, 2012 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. CatSh

    My 'baby' is grown and off to college – and I still avoid flushing the toilet at night. 😉

    June 9, 2012 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ria

    White noise and shh shh sounds do help my baby to fall sleep but my experience so far with a 6 month old baby is that sleep training/facilitating methods don't work in keeping a baby asleep. Babies have growth spurts, sleep regressions and teething,making it difficult for them and parents to sleep. It seems to me that people are making money by writing books and selling DVD's because parents are desparate for sleep. As a new mom, I would say just accept that your baby might get up during the night. Its a part of parenting.

    June 10, 2012 at 06:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leigh

      Disagree – we raised all of our kids with the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby and none of our children ever got up at night, except for the obvious feeding. At four months on, all of them slept through the night, never getting up. I hear about parents with kids who have "trouble sleeping" or crawl into their beds or need water, etc. and I feel bad for them. Some common sense in the beginning and understanding that you are not a bad parent for letting your tired baby cry and they are set up with good sleep habits for a long time.

      June 11, 2012 at 08:05 | Report abuse |
    • watergirl

      yes Ria, you should resort to child neglect to get your baby to sleep.

      June 12, 2012 at 13:06 | Report abuse |
  8. jeremy

    Babies are too costly for our society! Just get a pet already! I have 2 cats and they are not nearly as much trouble as a little baby. Stop at 2 children, ppl!

    June 10, 2012 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      Jeremy: I agree, babies are costly. But do you not consider yourself "worth" the cost? I have 5 brothers and sisters who are very productive members of society. Children are a gift from the one who put us on this earth. What makes 2 your magic number?? Also, good luck getting your cats to provide you any deep fulfillment, lol 😉

      June 10, 2012 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
  9. floyd schrodinger

    The people who write these books can't possibly have children. New parents should listen to older parents. THEY (older parents) know what works, they’ve been there. Or listen to your own common sense. These books make the authors rich. New parents should spend that money on a nice cuddly toy for their baby to sleep with. It will work better.

    June 10, 2012 at 07:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Catherine

      YOU must not have children. I think the percentage of babies who would actually be like "OH! a snuggly toy! This is what I've been missing. Now I'm going to sleep all night long! I certainly prefer this over the love and comfort of a parent!" is slim to none. And yes, I AM a parent! 😉

      June 10, 2012 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
    • floyd schrodinger

      Yes. I AM a parent and a grandparent many times over. Books don't work. Using your brain (and heart) works.

      June 10, 2012 at 16:20 | Report abuse |
    • Angie

      Floyd, WRONG. Books DO work! It worked wonders for my daughter. "Good night sleep tight" in case anyone needs it.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:35 | Report abuse |
    • Angie

      What's a cuddly toy going to do??? Keep them stimulated. You can't possibly have children.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
  10. Josh

    Sigh, I just wish they came with a manual. All the ones available seem to be written for different babies than the one I have. All nice ideas, if you have the baby that manual was written for. They haven't gotten to my variety yet...

    June 10, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amy

      Josh, I feel for you, I have friends whose kids didn't sleep. Mine did, lucky for me. I will say that I did not do some of the things my friends with the non-sleeping kids did: I didn't hold them when they were doing their crying thing. If they cried, I checked for something wrong and fixed it (diaper, food, boo-boo), and if they still cried, I put them down in the stroller I kept in the house, wheeled them to a room where the noise wouldn't be too loud for me, and let them cry it out. By about 8 weeks that crying behavior had stopped. Similarly, when I put them down at night, if they cried, I did the check and if all was well, I considered it no concern of mine, and left them to cry it out. My friend said she simply could not bear to do that. So, she had kids that cried at night till well into infancy, and beyond. So my suggestion: examine what you are doing and ask yourself, could I do something different? Make no assumptions, question everything. Another assumption I heard a lot from fellow parents: let's take the kids out to this event or that and get them tired so then they'll sleep! That never worked for me or for them, the kids were just more excited than usual and took longer to settle down. I since read that routine and predictability of the day's activities are what foster regular sleep patterns. So, I tried to limit outings to just once a day, if that, and never back to back fun things, because that wound my kids up so tight that nobody had any fun! Best of luck to you!

      June 13, 2012 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
  11. Becky

    This is all common sense, however if you constantly play "white noise" for your child to fall asleep or stay asleep how are they ever going to learn to fall asleep on their own? My daughter slept through the night at 6 weeks and it's because we developed a routine early on. She learned the process and knew that her sleeping was the end result. She puts herself to sleep in quiet rooms, loud rooms, the car, everywhere. At almost three, she knows if she's having trouble falling asleep she can ask for some music to be put on to help her.

    June 10, 2012 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lady barbara


      I agree. Most babies who are fed, bathed and put to bed on a regular schedule every day are happier babies. Hard to keep the schedule sometimes, but the benefits are wonderful. My daughter slept through the night at 5 weeks. You don't want a baby to become used to white noise or a night light. Their little minds and bodies need the quiet and darkness to develop.

      June 11, 2012 at 22:02 | Report abuse |
  12. Brenda@MyParentingCoach.com

    Believe it or not, studies trying to prove that parents don't get 8 hours of sleep found the opposite. The reason they feel so tired is that the qualify of sleep is poor. Parents, more often new mothers, do not get into a deep sleep. One scientifically proven method to give parents and babies better sleep is the performance of infant massage. When a parent gives the infant or child routine massage, there are actual hormonal changes that are a benefit to both!

    June 10, 2012 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Joyce

    For infants, the whole swaddling thing is key. After two weeks, my son was sleeping from 11:00pm to 6:00am.

    Eventually, the bedtime routine was the ticket. Same thing, every night....teeth brushing, bedtime story, lights off with a song.

    When my son resisted naps...even though I knew he was tired, I'd make a deal with him. Lay down for 15 minutes, and if he was still awake, he could get up.

    June 10, 2012 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Baki

    pysical activity is key. thats how humans grow muscles, & easily fall asleep to recover. massages are great but w minimul intervals, otherwise ur gonna have to become a professional massuse for a kids age of 10years old. ive trained my kids & w d twins, wen they feel a certain way, its tiredness & a nap will my them feel better. . day nap is naping . . night time napping is "sleeping". good luck all & smile thru it

    June 10, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. rdeleys

    I give my kid a bit of Valium or a bit of whiskey in orange juice and it works like a charm.

    June 11, 2012 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John Hampton

      That's the worst advice I've ever read. I truly hope you're not a parent. Everyone knows that orange juice has too much sugar. The whiskey should be served neat.

      June 11, 2012 at 22:32 | Report abuse |
    • TooTiredPawPaw

      Orange juice with vodka works for me, however, I'm the one who ends up sleepy.

      June 27, 2012 at 14:28 | Report abuse |
  16. Angie

    As a new inexperienced mom, this really concerned since I have bouts of insomnia. I checked out an excellent book called, "Good Night, Sleep Tight." By 5 months my daughter was sleeping 12 hours straight with no waking. Read the book, implement the sleep program....it requires some work, but it's sooooo worth it! You will thank me.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Angie

      And if she did wake, I didn't know. She went back to sleep herself....that is key.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:41 | Report abuse |
    • watergirl

      And a lot of doctors don't recommend this because then you train your baby to sleep through anything, like having trouble breathing.

      If you are not prepared to stay up with an infant, for a year, then you shouldn't have children.

      June 12, 2012 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Please don't believe WaterGirl, she may be suffering from martyr syndrome.

      June 13, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
  17. Bethi

    I think that exhaustion is certainly the biggest problem in parenting, but once you get past the baby stage there are so many other factors that lead to poor kiddo sleep. Knowing your own children and figuring out solutions is what it's all about but when it comes down to it... I think that being a parent has always been tiring. Good luck to all you other parents out there! I blogged about this same thing today at http://www.disneymommi.com.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. bobington

    Wow that picture on Time magazine is disturbing.

    June 11, 2012 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • retta

      Hard to see a womans breast's used for what they were intened for?
      Why do I not find that surprising?

      Now who's missing the point of the cover? duh....which came 1st the baby or the breast?
      So sorry you felt uncomfortable, but that's your problem, deal with it.

      June 11, 2012 at 16:57 | Report abuse |
  19. Yeahhaha

    Just listen to Joe Biden.

    June 11, 2012 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Dorkus

    Just jug your crying kids with some Bailey's Irish Cream. Trust me, it works wonders.

    June 11, 2012 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dorkus

      PS, it works on cats too.

      June 11, 2012 at 19:53 | Report abuse |
    • Dayo

      – Jenny these are all so beautiful. What an ainzmagly gorgeous mom-to-be. The setting and the processing is like something out of a fairy tail. LOVE theme all (but especially the second one down with all the negative space)!

      August 1, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
  21. watergirl

    I had the worst colicky baby you can imagine. Life was hell. I finally heard about this book and my baby, who would scream from 3pm till 1am, would be asleep in 15 minutes.

    Every parent should be required to read this book before leaving the hospital.

    June 12, 2012 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Dawnn Whittaker

    I work with sleep deprived parents all the time and the effect it has on the family can be crippling. There is so much information out there that new parents don't know what to believe and fear doing something wrong and how they will be judged by others. Babies have not changed, but society has, overall we live in a society that does not value sleep as life now is 24 hours a day, however its crucial for your overall well being. I cant understand why there is so many free resources for breastfeed mums but not for sleep deprived families.

    June 13, 2012 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Eve

    I agree with Dr. Karp that it's best for the child to sleep close to the bed but not in the bed. When I was a little kid, my rabbit gave birth to a bunch of little bunnies. I remember that I loved the bunnies so much, I snuck one in my bed to sleep with me. In the morning the bunny was dead. I rolled on the bunny. So it makes sense what Dr. Karp says that a parent may roll on a child or block the airway by lifting up the blankets or putting an arm over the baby. They do sell co sleepers, which are cribs that go right up against the bed. So the baby is close to the parent but not in the same bed. But I do encourage having the baby in the same bedroom, at least for the first year. I think parents should be extra cautious the first year of birth due to SIDS. The child can be better monitored if sleeping in the same room.

    June 13, 2012 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. leroy jenkins

    I've tried methods like these, and they don't work for my baby! She just screams louder than any type of white noise we play for her. And if I wake her up while I'm putting her down she does NOT only stay awake for 5-10 seconds. She's only 3 1/2 months so crying it out is not an option. Being awake at night is just part of being a new parent!!

    June 14, 2012 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. swaddleblanket

    The point that is not stress enough in the article is how swaddling can help your baby sleep. Swaddling has been proven to reduce startle reflexes (the quick movement). This allows for babies to sleep longer and not get disturbed. I definitely recommend parents give swaddling a try. You just need to find the right swaddle blankets for your baby. Read some reviews from other moms, like from http://www.bestswaddleblanket.com, and pick what is best for you and your baby. A well rested baby is a happy baby. Give swaddling a try!

    June 14, 2012 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Nicole

    Nice post! I think these are great lifestyle changes that parents can incorporate into the bedtime routine. I had recently read another blog that discusses the role of melatonin in children for sleep. The Natural Standard website (www.naturalstandard.com) has great information on the scientific evidence behind melatonin and provides letter grades for the commonly used indications. To me, giving melatonin to an infant seems a little extreme, but might be something to consider in young children if the problem is long term, especially considering some of the sleep aids out there seem to induce hyperactivity in children. The Natural Standard website does advise that the use of melatonin in children under 18 should be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist before starting. Note: These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent Natural Standard’s positions, strategies or opinions.

    September 5, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Sandy

    We used to have trouble getting our daughter to sleep. Since my husband have a iPhone our friend told us to try a sleep app on the App Store.
    We tried a few but fell in love with a app named Sleep Bug. This has helped us so much.
    The app contains 22 different scenes where you can add extra sound effects as you wish. We mostly use the Music Box and Lullaby scene and add violins, piano and birds sound effects.

    We set it on timer for 30 mins when its bedtime and our daughter falls sleeps listeining to lullabys 🙂 Beats listening to me singing 🙂

    November 16, 2012 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 14, 2012 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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    February 11, 2013 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply

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