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What to Do When the Baby Disrupts Older Kids’ Sleep

A new baby can bring so much joy and excitement to a family. And, if you have older children at home, they might really relish their brand new roles as big brother or big sister.

As much as they love having a new sibling, though, things could head for cranky-pants town if the baby starts interrupting their sleep. In fact, you might even notice increased nighttime wakeups, clinginess or night terrors in kids at the toddler and preschool ages.  

So what can you do about it? We chatted with Brooke Nalle, a sleep consultant at Sleepy on Hudson and mom of three, to get some practical tips.

Step 1: Keep things normal  

Life post-baby can be pretty hectic, particularly for older kids. Put yourself in their shoes – first their parents disappear to a strange place called “the hospital,” and then they return with a new baby and a crowd of random visiting relatives. Brooke advises helping kids make sense of all the craziness by maintaining some degree of normalcy at home.

“During this time, there are gifts and merriment, but it’s not your typical routine,” Brooke says. “I always tell clients to return to normal life for your older child as soon as possible. Keep their routines in place and keep visitors to a dull roar.”

That means sticking to your older kid’s regularly scheduled programming when it comes to things like school drop-offs, play dates and bedtime routines.

Step 2: Let there be noise

Of course, it’s hard to keep things normal when the new baby wakes up crying at all hours of the night. The best thing you can do, though, is embrace the noise.

“You can really disrupt a baby’s sleep if you’re constantly trying to keep them from making noise so they don’t wake up their siblings,” Brooke says. “Instead, let older kids get comfortable with the baby’s noises. Let your kids be around each other and possibly wake each other up. It’s okay. They’ll get used to it by exposure.”

If your child does wake up from the baby, Brooke suggests going to their room and reassuring them that everything’s okay. Once you’ve comforted them, leave the room so they can fall back to sleep on their own. A little white noise can also help turn down the volume on baby’s crying.

Step 3: Take turns

Older kids might feel left out when a new baby enters the picture, which could lead to issues at bedtime. So Brooke recommends at least 20 minutes a day of uninterrupted kid-and-parent playtime. Not only is it a great time to bond, but it’s the perfect time to verbally introduce the concept of taking turns.

“For example, you can say, ‘Right now I’m coloring with you, so it’s your turn,’” Brooke says. “Then, flip it when you’re feeding the baby and your older child comes over wanting your attention. You can say, ‘Now it’s the baby’s turn, but when I’m done, let’s talk about a snack and it’ll be your turn to eat.’”

Step 4: Think roommates

After 6 months, once your baby is sleeping through the night, you might want to consider allowing your children to room-share.

“If you want your kids to share a room, do it around the 6-month to 9-month mark,” Brooke says. “I always encourage families to raise two independently good sleepers, then merge them together and schedule a little bit so they can both go to bed at the same time.”

You can similarly coordinate daytime nap schedules. “After 6 months, you can start to play around with it,” Brooke says. “I’ve had a few clients who’ve made their baby’s morning nap a little shorter so that they’ll be more likely to take a long nap when the toddler takes a long nap.”

Step 5: Get everyone in on the plan

Keep an open line of communication with everyone in the family – even the youngest members – about the new baby and sleep. You can even draw or diagram the family’s sleep routine, Brooke says, so older children know exactly who will be putting them to bed and who will be putting the baby to bed each night. It’s also a good idea to get big brothers and sisters in on baby’s sleep routine.

“You could say things like, ‘Now your baby sister is going to take a nap. You can help me turn on their white noise machine,’” Brooke says. “That way they really feel like they’re helping.”

Added bonus? You can teach older siblings all about baby’s sleep via the Nanit app. That way they know just how their little sibling snoozes.

Got a sleep question for our sleep expert, Brooke Nalle? Ask away on Facebook or Twitter!


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Diana Aydin
Diana Aydin

Diana is an editor and writer based in New York City, and she frequently writes about health, parenting and everything babies. She’s been a fan of sleep since the early 1980s.