Getting a baby to sleep better: The art of the perfectly timed shower


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How to get a baby to sleep better with a shower

A perfectly timed shower. My simple, practical fuss free tip for mums with babies who cat nap. A shower at just the right time, could well mean your baby will sleep longer.

Baby being held in shower by mother

If you have a baby over the age of 6 weeks, you have probably come to learn about the dreaded 'sleep cycle'. Babies (and actually adults for that matter) sleep in cycles.  A baby's sleep cycle is a defined length of time usually somewhere between 30-50 minutes long. You can read more about them from the National Sleep Foundation. Essentially they fall asleep, complete a cycle, rouse and then if you are very lucky they go back to sleep and start another cycle. If you are not so lucky they rouse and don't manage to get back to sleep. Then you have an awake baby! Most babies at some stage (after the sleepy newborn phase) require parental guidance to learn the skill of joining sleep cycles.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to give them some space to practice the skill of joining sleep cycles. It is funny when it comes to parenting. It would seem we all are very happy to encourage our little explorers to practice skills such as rolling, crawling, cruising and babbling at every opportunity. But when it comes to sleep we tend to step in straight away to help them. Sometimes to our own down fall. We never give them the chance to sleep well themselves, they always get help from us so they don't learn to do it by themselves. Now before anyone jumps on the 'you can't let them just cry' band wagon, hear me out. There is a huge difference between a distressed baby and a baby who is just grizzling because they can't get back to sleep. Babies grizzle when they can't reach certain objects because they are frustrated. I view sleeping as a similar scenario.

I completely understand as a first time mum how this can seem completely backward. I know, I've been there, I think all mums have at some point. You hear your baby, you look at your watch, bloody 45 minute sleep again! You rush in and start shushing, patting, back rubbing, anything,  you just want that baby to go back to sleep. Your anxiety levels rise. You think what the freaking heck am I doing wrong here. But maybe that rushing in, is, or has been your down fall. Maybe just maybe all they need is the opportunity to get back to sleep themselves,

So if you agree with what I've said so far and are brave enough to simply take a  10 minute shower then here are my 4 easy steps to master the art of the perfectly timed shower.

The perfectly timed shower in 4 easy steps

Step 1. Determine the length of your babies sleep cycle

This is easy, if you have a cat napper you probably already know the answer and can set your watch to it. It is the length of time from when they go to sleep to when they wake. For all my kids it has been 45 minutes! 45 infuriating, set my clock to it minutes! This is your babies sleep cycle length. (SCL)

Step 2. Select an activity which takes SCL-5 minutes to complete

Pick an activity you enjoy. Mine is exercise some days, book reading on others or cooking. Or actually if I'm truly honest it is sometimes blobbing on the couch and watching something on Netflix.

Step 3. Engage in your selected activity

Stop, take a breath and complete your activity. Enjoy it, indulge your self and stop doing the house work for 30 or so minutes.

Step 4. Take a 10 minute shower.

If you have determined your baby's SCL correctly then they should rouse from their first sleep cycle part way through your shower. Don't worry you will be none the wiser thanks to the magic of the soothing sounds of running water. By the time you have completed your shower they will have had 5 minutes to attempt to resettle themselves into another sleep cycle.

You will emerge from your shower to one of the following 3 outcomes

1. Baby is asleep.

Perfect they have gone back to sleep all by themselves. This would mean project perfectly timed shower has been a roaring success

baby asleep in bed

2. Baby is awake and happy in their bed.

Perfect they have had one sleep cycle woken well rested and you have squeezed in an activity and a shower. Again,  this would mean project perfectly timed shower has been a roaring success

baby happy in bed with blue blanket

3. Baby is awake and unsettled/upset in their bed.

Baby upset in bed

Perfect, you have had some you time. You have had a shower. You have given your baby the opportunity to get back to sleep on their own. They haven't managed it, but you are recharged and ready to tackle the task of resettling, or you are prepared to put up with a baby who isn't quite as well rested as you would like. Perfect (well maybe not perfect, but far from dreadful anyway) project perfectly timed shower has been somewhat of a success.

Over time hopefully your baby will get better and better at joining sleep cycles all by themselves, so hopefully there will be fewer and fewer times that you experience the not quite so perfect outcome number 3. Also, the younger your baby is when you start project perfectly timed shower the less likely you will be to ever run into the not quite so perfect outcome number 3. If your bub is little don't expect miracles. You could well need come out of your shower to outcome number 3 quite often. But that is ok. At least you have taken your mind off the dreaded 45 minute sleep cylcle for a bit, you are showered and you are ready to take on it on.

What might also happen is your baby's night time sleep might improve too! Babies sleep in cycles overnight as well, although these cycles are usually longer. If they have learnt how to join sleep cycles during the day, then they may just learn how to complete the skill at night time too!

Anyway, even if things never improve and you just have a cat napper at least you will be a mum or dad who has had a shower every day, and the most your baby will have been unsettled for is 5 minutes. I think a baby can grizzle for 5 minutes or so and still grow into a perfectly balanced, well adjusted human.

So there you are, a practical no fuss tip from me a busy mum who during the course of the past 3 years has learnt a thing or to about babies and sleeping.

If you have an unsettled newborn, i.e. a baby under 6-8 weeks of age, then look here for some practical advice that could help with their sleeping as well.

Babies having showers

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  1. I just love this shower idea! After reading too many bookings about infant sleep, I have to say that this article is the best I have seen in terms of summarizing it all up. I have two babies under two. They are so different in their needs and at the end of the day, you have to adjust to their needs but most importantly, you have to take care of yourself.

    1. I had 2 under 2 as well! And then 3 under 3. Good luck with everything ? having a shower helped me because even if it was a crappy sleeping day, at least I was ready to face it

  2. Ha, so I'm not the only one who liked to use the "shower trick"! I didn't have it down to an exact science like this, but yeah the shower is the perfect little refuge to "hide" in when you're trying to teach your baby how to join sleep cycles and you know they're gonna wake up soon.