Lullabies for a good night's sleep

Making the lullabies a travel essential may help children adapt to new sleeping situations and time zones.
Making the lullabies a travel essential may help children adapt to new sleeping situations and time zones.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

WASHINGTON • There are hundreds of things that can keep a child from sleeping, including teething, growth spurts, reflux, learning to walk, autism, another disability or simply being strong-willed.

No matter the cause of sleeplessness, lullabies can help children get more rest.

One may think that in the 21st century, parenting has progressed beyond cradle rocking and mothers humming.

However, Dr Janet K. Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and the founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, says: "I had an 'aha' moment when my daughter was 18 months. She had been sick. Once she recovered, she was having night terrors.

"On the second night of this, at 2am, I put on a CD, her eyes glazed over and she pointed to go to bed. She seemed to be more peaceful and had no more night terrors."

Now, Dr Kennedy, author of The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide To Sleep For Your Baby - And You, recommends this to clients young and old.

"It's like flipping the switch for the body, helping it know it's time to relax," she says. "We're trainable that way."

Have someone you need to lull to sleep? Here are some tips.


Lullabies can help kids - and adults - of any age settle down. It is especially helpful as you start to train babies to sleep, Dr Kennedy says, but you can start at any age.

"I love crutches, as long as it's not you needing to hold your baby," she says. "They can respond to their environment and learn to sleep independently with the right set-up. Maybe it's a stuffed animal, a pacifier or even reading books. It works because it's a cue. It puts a good routine in place."


Decide whether you want to stream music from the cloud or play a physical CD.

A Bluetooth speaker is great at home and on the road, but if the music is tied to your phone, your child will not have music when you have a babysitter over.

A portable CD player may be more useful. During the day, it can also be moved into the living room.


Sixty-beat-per-minute music is the best. This tempo is good for learning too, but if you go much higher than 60 beats per minute, the music can rev up the listener, rather than calm him. The tempo of about 60 to 80 beats a minute is a normal human heart rate at rest, so aiming for that range is akin to a baby listening to his mother's heartbeat and falling asleep.

You can find playlists on streaming services or YouTube. If you choose classical music, make sure it is not too orchestral or upbeat. Baroque artists such as Bach, Handel, Haydn and Vivaldi are best for this.

Hipster parents might like Caspar Babypants - formerly the singer of The Presidents of the United States of America - who has a CD for kids called Night Night. Dr Kennedy recommends the classical album, Bedtime Beats.


Dr Kennedy says not to let lullabies run all night because the brain stays attuned to sound and might not get into a deep sleep. Playing music for a half-hour after bedtime is good.

"I suggest using the old-fashioned white noise machines all night, but using music only as a sleep cue and as part of the bedtime routine," she says.

Also, you can start the music when you start the bedtime routine to let kids know it is time to wind down.


You might not see instant success. A child may have to grow accustomed to music in the room - or might need it in tandem with a pile of stuffed animals and a weighted blanket. Like all things parenting, trial and error is key. If it does not work for you, do not push it.


Take the lullabies along when you travel. Familiar tunes may help kids adapt to new sleeping situations and time zones.

Thanks to the Internet, your favourite music is easily accessible from anywhere.

"I really like music because it's portable and you can recreate those sleep cues when you're away from home," Dr Kennedy says, "because travel stresses people out."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Lullabies for a good night's sleep'. Print Edition | Subscribe