Want baby to sleep better at night? Try more tummy time, say researchers

Long, sleepless nights are perhaps one of the biggest challenges of baby's first year, and sometimes why baby wakes in the middle of the night can be a mystery. After being fed and changed if baby still isn't dozing off, inactivity during the day could be a culprit, according to a new study from Michigan State University (MSU).

The research suggests babies who are less active during the day may also be getting less sleep at night. The study analyzed 22 healthy six-month-old infants and monitored physical activity level and sleep over 24 hours. Researchers found that babies who slept less overall in the monitored 24 hours were significantly less active during the day.

And the researchers say more tummy time during the day could mean more restful nights for baby and mama.

Tummy time refers to dedicated time during the day in which babies are positioned on their stomachs, while supervised, and encouraged to develop motor skills. The research focuses on the effect physical activity, such as tummy time, has on infants.

"While we don't have evidence yet that tummy time directly affects sleep, it increases physical activity and promotes healthy weight gain," says Janet Hauck, an assistant professor of kinesiology at MSU, who specializes in infant motor intervention research. "So, parents who feel their baby isn't sleeping enough could promote tummy time during the day to boost their baby's physical activity level."

According to Hauck, physical activity and sleep influence each other and are strongly associated with growth in older children and adults. "Our findings suggest that this association could emerge as early as infancy, a critical development period," she explains.

Put simply, babies need physical activity too, not just older children and adults. A baby who has exerted themselves physically is likely to sleep more than a baby who isn't as active, according to the researchers.

To improve sleep, Hauck suggests establishing a consistent bedtime routine and encouraging physical activity during waking hours by interacting with baby during floor activities and doing supervised tummy time several times a day.

Tummy time recommendations

Tummy time has come to be a focus of pediatrician recommendations in the last 20 years since putting babies to sleep on their backs became part of the official safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

While the "Back to Sleep" campaign has reduced the rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), it has increased cases of positional plagiocephaly — babies with flat patches on their heads. Tummy time helps to alleviate that risk, and strengthen baby's core and arms, laying the foundation for development of both gross and fine motor skills.

Tummy time can be challenging, however, and it's not uncommon for babies to protest time spent on their stomachs. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) suggests making tummy time interactive—getting down on baby's level, talking to baby and showing baby toys.

Babies can be positioned on their tummies in short sessions throughout the day, based on baby's tolerance and needs, starting with just a few minutes a day and working up from there as baby gets stronger. Initiating eye contact, talking and singing to baby as well as arranging toys in a circle to promote reaching in different directions are all ways to make tummy time interactive and strengthen baby's core, according to the AOTA.

Placing baby on a blanket on the floor isn't the only way to achieve the benefits of tummy time. One recommendation from the AAP includes positioning baby tummy down across a caregiver's lap lengthwise while providing head support.

Side-lying is another positioning option recommended by both the AAP and AOTA. Caregivers can position baby on a blanket on their side, supporting their back with a hand or using a small rolled blanket. Parents can also start in the hospital by positioning their newborn, while awake, on their stomach or chest, and encouraging eye contact.

Other tummy time tips from the AOTA include:

  • Engage baby's senses by placing a plastic mirror in front of baby or offer differently textured blankets and towels so baby can experience different touch sensations.
  • Get the whole family involved—baby will be encouraged to lift their head, reach and play when they see faces and hear voices.
  • Read to baby during tummy time.
  • Incorporate tummy time into activities you're already doing with baby, such as changing diapers or drying with a towel after bath time.

While increased tummy time doesn't necessarily mean baby will snooze all night long, it's certainly something for exhausted parents to consider, and the benefits of increased physical activity for children of all ages could mean more restful nights for everyone.

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With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


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Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

But it hasn't been. It's been more—as one of my favorite memes says—difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Because until this towel hit the bathtime scene, there was no easy-peasy way to pick up your squirming wet baby without drenching yourself and/or everything around you.

Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

Check out our favorites to make bathtime so much easier:

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My first son was born via a non-medicated vaginal delivery. I felt like a mama warrior after I delivered him. (I was all—“I am woman, hear me roar!"—and everything.) So when I went into labor with my second son after my water broke at 34 weeks, I knew I would be having a much different experience.

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