By Sleep specialists Mary McGowan & Marie Dignam

Newborn infants are born with a primitive brain (brainstem) which controls their basic and essential functions.

In the first few weeks they are unable to recognise night or day and rely on their tummies and wake/sleep accordingly, depending on whether they feel hungry or sated respectively.

Overtired infants are difficult to settle; learn your child’s signs of tiredness (eye/face rubbing, yawning, irritability, loss of interest in surroundings)

Daytime Naps are important and improve night time sleeping.

In the first 12-16 weeks an infant is dependent on parents/caregiver for soothing. The capacity to self soothe is not developed until 12-16 weeks of age and is a reflection of neurodevelopmental maturation and learning.

When an infant is about 16 weeks of age start a good bedtime routine. The routine should be the same every night and last about 30-45 minutes. The routine should finish in your infant’s darkened, quiet bedroom and consist of predictable low key activities. Good elements of a bedtime routine are a bath (short & quiet), massage, changing into night clothes, story time, song (same one every night).

The purpose of a bed time routine is to prepare your infant for sleep and should be calm and relaxing.

After 16 weeks you can start encouraging your infant to self sooth. In the day, when he/she shows signs of tiredness, put your infant in their cot tired but awake. Promote sleep by gentle touching. White noise helps and apps are available!

If your infant can only go to sleep while feeding, a few more steps may be needed before self soothing is successful. Instead of feeding to sleep, rock to sleep and slowly progress to putting into their cot awake.

It is important that the infant falls asleep where they are going to spend the night.


Mary McGowan PHN, Sleep Specialist
Marie Dignam PHN, Sleep Specialist.
HSE, Old County Rd, Dublin SW.