I have been there. Awake at 2am with a baby who Just. Won’t. Sleep. Bleary-eyed desperate; searching the internet for any miracle cure to help my baby close their eyes for longer than 20 minutes during the day. I have been the one to laugh a little crazily when someone suggests I should ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. I have been the one to read at least six of the best baby sleep books, as recommended by my mother’s group.
I have felt just like you.
And I’ll be totally honest with you, even with our youngest nigh-on five-years-old, I don’t think we’re out of the woods.
The only thing I DO know: There is no single, enchanted miracle that applies to every baby to grant you the achingly sought-after treasure of sleep. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but hear me out. I promise there is something positive.
Each and every book out there has something beneficial. However, sleep is a personal thing. Parenting is a personal thing. You and Your Baby are a unique combination…and the little trolls have a tendency of changing sporadically too.
But after three kids, and…*counts on fingers and toes* 12 years of sleep deprivation, I can give you a summary of the best baby sleep books I have read and/or been recommended and tell you what is best about them. For both parents and kiddlywinks.
FIRST UP: If you are a tired first-time parent with a new baby under 6-months old, please know I feel your pain. If you are struggling with sleep deprivation, please ask someone for help-—be it family, friend, child-health nurse, hospital, emergency services. Someone to give you a break so you can sleep, because newborn babies cannot be trained, newborns are something completely different. There is plenty of research specifically addressing the inappropriateness of sleep-training for babies 6-months and younger. For example, the UK’s National Institute for Health Research has comprehensively determined behavioural sleep interventions in the first six months of life do not improve outcomes for mothers or infants. Please do not try this alone.
Baby sleep books for parents
If you are into strict routines and controlled methods, then the best baby sleep book to outline this is Save Our Sleep by Tizzie Hall. The secret to this book is to strictly follow the routines exactly…And that’s why I sucked at it. Totally and utterly sucked. I am not very good at sticking to routines; especially when siblings came along and older kids had different routines on different days (and a whole bunch of other excuses). It simply didn’t work. However, four out of six in our parents’ group swore by this book. And look, there are plenty of variations of the “controlled responses and strict routines” approach to baby-sleeping, however, this book is the stand-out title. This is not just rituals; this is strict regular consistent routine. If you are confident in your ability to stick to routines, this could be the book for you.
At the other end of the baby-sleep spectrum is Sleeping Like a Baby, by Pinky McKay. This book is as much about reassuring parents as it is about teaching parents to reassure their babies. This is the book to read if you are unable to stick to routines and need advice without feeling like you ‘failed’. It is far softer in both style and suggestions. There is a lot of talking about connecting with your baby and learning to read their cues (in contrast to reading the clock). And while this book didn’t solve ALL of our sleep problems, it definitely helped with my state of mind.
If you have read either of those books and thought “that’s so not me”, don’t stress. Most of us will be somewhere in between. Trust me: I have tried to play nice with our third child and then reached a point where ‘mama needs some sleep’. Or, we find a routine that works…when something unexpected happens and we’re back to square one. My favourite midway book for these types of nights is The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp. With it’s 5 S’s approach (swaddling, side/stomach, shushing, swinging, sucking), Karp happily gives suggestions on adjusting the environment to comfort the child. Many of these ideas have worked in diverse cultures all around the world so it seems fair to give them a try. You don’t have to do all of them; you can find one or two to help you and stick with that. Either way, it is a more relaxed approach to encouraging some rituals to sleep-time.
Reading Rituals for the Baby
For many of us Rioters, part of the bedtime ritual for our kids is…well, reading. It is a great personal time with kids, it can be relaxing, and the right book can really help encourage kids to give in to sleep. Many kids love rituals, and if you can include a bonding moment like reading, it will reassure them of their safe and sleepy surroundings.
We have a few favourites in our house (both home and public library), so I sat down to figure out a common theme between them. All have a soothing tone and rhythm to the reading. All of them have a calm ending, with no “what-if” hanging in the air. And all of them are on regular repeat, encouraging the familiar nature of the routine. Face it: Your kids respond best to repetition repetition. I empathise with your sanity but reading their favourite book for the 27th time helps them, which eventually helps you.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas
An Australian classic, currently celebrating its 35th anniversary. It is a cuddly story of Grandma Poss and her invisible granddaughter Hush. They travel all over Australia searching for ‘possum magic’ to make Hush visible again. Great for kids, great for fans of Australia, great for foodies. Spoiler Alert: The ‘road trip’ is a success.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
I thought I was reading this story with a natural rhythm…until we watched the BBC special. Ever since I changed my tone and beat, the kids have been naturally slumping into their bed. They feel more ready for sleep-time. The book is fun to read but not in the way to over-excite them. Fellow Rioter Jen loves the book so much, she went hunting for more by the same author. Good news: there is a series for you to rotate for bed-time routines.
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee, and Kadir Nelson
This book is perfect for the younger kids who love to reminisce about their day, although it might be a little too honest for the adults reading it. The vivid pictures really capture the contrast between parent and child, playing out with some humour as the parents beg for some sort of compromise. But as with our common theme, there is a sweet and gentle ending as the baby is happy with its wonderful day and wants a kiss from ‘mama’; no matter how crazy your day is, a kiss goodnight helps.
The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin
Yes, this is THAT book. The one created by a scientific process to ensure your child falls asleep. Its success rating is pretty high…unfortunately, for both adults and children! For those familiar with Yoga, you may recognise the same methodical approach to breathing and meditation. If you need some help yourself (as many exhausted parents do), you can also purchase the audiobook with two readings—first with a male voice, second with a female voice. I have never stayed awake for the second reading…
Sleep, Baby, Sleep by Calee M. Lee and Elizabeth Miyu Blake
This beautiful baby sleep book is based on a German lullaby and translated into English; my personal goal this year is to find the German copy of it. The illustrations are gorgeous, with silhouettes and soft backgrounds. It has a gentle hypnotic feel as it almost emanates the blanket of night outside.
Seriously, Just Go to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes
This is the child-friendly version of the absolutely hilarious and way-too accurate Go The F–k To Sleep, by the same authors. The first title-link is the one you read to your children, with a soothing voice and a gentle smile on your face. Mainly because we are all thinking of the original version (the second title-link). And we all know how fitting the original title is. An extra treat for parents: you can choose between Samuel L. Jackson (Go the F–k to Sleep audiobook) or Noni Hazlehurst (YouTube) to read the original book to you, neither of which are safe for work or children. Jackson is known for his character emphasis and colourful language, however, Noni Hazlehurst is a popular children’s-television presenter in Australia, who many adult Australians remember reading to them. She absolutely nails the “we have ALL been there” vibe.
I really hope, from the bottom of my dark-purple suitcases under my eyes, there is a book here for you. Be it a parent-help book, a sweet children’s book, or the dulcet tones of your favourite cussing audiobook. Please let there be something here for you. Because the one thing I remember the most about the longest nights is the sense of being all alone. You are not alone. There are so many parents and carers, all around the world, who have been where you are right now. We have read the baby sleep books. We have rubbed the eyes. We have cried with our babies, hoping the exhaustion will pour out of our bodies with the tears and allow us enough relief to gain some sleep. And if the books do not give you solace or guidance, then it is the book’s fault—not yours. Find someone you can talk to. Sleep is a very personal and serious thing. And while we can usually find many things in a book, we also need to know when to look outside as well.