Sleep Aids - What Works and What Doesn't

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Hands up if you’ve bought a baby sleep aid hoping it would solve all your sleep problems? I admit, with our first, I spent a small fortune on gimmicks that promised me better sleep. The truth is, none of it worked.

Strong sleep foundations alone will be all you need for great sleep. Once you have the basics covered, like a healthy well-fed baby, a dark and safe sleep environment, good timing of sleep and self-settling skills, then there are a few sleep aids which can complement your baby’s healthy sleep habits.

I believe there are three categories of sleep aids, but I think it’s important to note that no sleep aid or prop will be a magical cure all.

1. Useful

These items can become positive sleep associations as they are continuous/constant, so the conditions of sleep never change, and they don’t require parental intervention.

  • White noise

If you have an unsettled newborn, playing white noise can be comforting as it mimics the sounds of the womb.

The added bonus of white noise is that it drowns out background noise, so if you have older children or live on a busy street, these noises can be muffled and be less likely to disturb sleep.

Check out my preferred white noise machine here. It’s small, portable, plugs into the wall and has rechargeable batteries.

  • Comforter

Once your baby is old enough to safely sleep with a comforter, they can be used as a positive sleep cue and they help create a sense of security through stages of separation anxiety.

Comforters don’t need to be anything fancy. They don’t need to play lullabies or have flashing lights. In fact, the simpler the better.

Make sure you have two or more, so you can have one in use and one in the wash. Also be sure you are able to easily source a replacement if ever needed.

  • Swaddles and sleeping bags

Swaddles are an amazing sleep aid up to 6 months, or when your little one starts rolling. A swaddle will hinder the startle reflex that makes it harder for your baby to settle.

There are so many fitted swaddles on the market which are great and easy to use. Much better than trying to use a traditional flat swaddle in the middle of the night when you are half asleep and fumbling around in the dark.

Swaddles also become a positive sleep association, so when your little one is ready to be unswaddled, transitioning into a sleeping bag keeps that sleep cue as part of their pre-sleep rituals.

Read more on when and how to unswaddle.

Sleeping bags also keep your baby nice and warm without worrying about blankets and can delay toddlers from learning how to climb out of their cot.

2. Useful, but….

These sleep aids can be useful, but only in certain situations.

  • Dummies

Dummies can go either way. Some babies will settle to sleep well with a dummy and it is never a problem. However, if your little one wakes up every time it falls out and needs you to replace it for them, then it’s not really helping them sleep and you may want to consider getting rid of it.

More on dummies and sleep here.

  • Night light

Having a light on in your baby’s room can make it harder for them to settle. If an alert and inquisitive baby is able to see around the room, they will be more easily distracted and less likely to sleep.

Once your toddler is at an age where they experience fears at night-time (usually 2yrs+), then a night light can be used successfully. At this point it’s best to use a red light as this doesn’t block the production of melatonin.

  • Sleep training clocks

Training clocks are great for pre-schoolers. They require a certain level of comprehension to be used effectively.

Training clocks are mostly used to tackle early morning wakes, however, you also need to put into place a resettling strategy and implement some rules and rewards to see the best results.

For help with early morning wakes, check out my Early Wakes Solved E-guide.

3. Don’t bother

Then there are the sleep aids that are very cleverly marketed and usually the most expensive. However, quite often these products can actually be detrimental to sleep or are just not safe.

  • Toys or comforters that play white noise, lullabies or other sounds.

The problem with using these at sleep time is that quite often the sound only plays for a limited length of time (45 minutes, 2hrs, 4hrs etc). So, if your baby relies on the sound of the toy to fall asleep, when they wake in the night and it’s not playing they might find it hard to drift off again as their conditions of sleep have changed. This might mean you need to get up and turn the toy back on.

You are probably better off buying a simple comforter and have a separate white noise machine that plays continuously throughout the night and nap time.

  • Toys that light up and light projectors

Any toy that lights up will just be a distraction at sleep times. Light blocks the production of melatonin which is our sleepy hormone. So not only will a light show be distracting your little one when they should be sleeping, it actually inhibits their physiological ability to fall asleep.

  • Wedges and sleep positioners

These products are simply not safe to use. Your baby’s sleep space should be free from anything that puts them at risk of suffocation. Wedges and positioners are often marketed to parents of newborns and young babies who are at greater risk of SIDS.

Babies should always be placed down to sleep on their back, on a flat firm mattress. Using a wedge to elevate their head puts them at risk of positional asphyxiation.

Using sleep positioners like a safe-t-sleep forces your baby to sleep in a certain position. Once your child starts rolling or moving around their cot or basinet it’s best to let them explore their sleep space and learn how to make themselves comfortable, even if this means a few sleepless nights. Some babies can also become addicted to the feeling of being restricted by a positioner and they become more difficult to remove the older they get.

If you need help changing some of your little one’s sleep associations or setting up strong sleep foundations, get in touch.

One on one consultations and downloadable sleep guides are all available online x

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