A newborn baby’s sleep pattern is very different from an adult’s. Most newborns sleep for 16-17 hours on average but often wake up frequently during the night (every 2 to 4 hours) and sleep for short bursts of time during the day. This unpredictable sleep pattern during these early months is completely normal and is actually suggested to be extremely important for your child’s development. The reason behind their short but frequent bouts of sleep is that most babies spend most of their sleep time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is much lighter than non-REM sleep. Another reason babies this young have frequent wake ups is due hunger. Many young babies will need to feed frequently throughout the day and night.
At around 6 to 8 weeks, many babies start to sleep for longer periods at night. At this age, your baby is expected to slowly develop a more structured sleep pattern, though waking up in the middle of the night is still a possibility. At around 6 months, your baby’s sleeping patterns may start to become more regular. Most babies at this age are developmentally ready to begin to learn independent sleep skills and when baby sleep training can be considered. It should be noted that most babies younger than six months are not yet capable of soothing themselves to sleep and will be dependent on the parent/caregiver to help them fall asleep. Therefore, implementing baby sleep training before 6 months is not recommended.
To help your baby develop a more regular sleep pattern, consider creating a calm, soothing bedtime routine. A bedtime routine is basically a series of nightly activities performed in a predictable pattern that culminates in your baby falling fast asleep. Establishing a routine is important because infants learn by recognizing patterns. Once they learn to discern familiar patterns, they can make instant connections to what comes next. Creating a consistent bedtime routine for your baby will help her to recognize when it’s time for sleep and will cue her body to release the natural sleep hormone, melatonin. For young babies, keep the routine simple. For example, start with a warm bath, then give your baby a soothing massage and then finish by feeding/nursing your baby to sleep in a dimly lit room. For babies 6 months and older, adding a short bedtime story can be a nice addition to their routine. Ideally, your baby’s bedtime routine should last between 20-30 minutes. This will allow enough time for your baby to wind down and prepare her body for sleep.
Be sure to watch for your baby’s sleepy cues, such as yawning, eye rubbing and becoming fussy, to know when it’s time to get your baby ready for sleep. Also, make sure your baby’s wakeful stretches aren’t too long in order to avoid your baby becoming overtired. Most young babies will only be able to be awake no more than 45 minutes to an hour and a half before needing to sleep again. An overtired baby, especially at bedtime, will have at harder time falling asleep and sleeping well the rest of the night.
Differentiating between day and night can be challenging for young babies, which can affect their sleep patterns. Therefore, exposing your baby to natural light during the day when she’s awake can help set her circadian rhythm. When it’s time for your baby to sleep, take her to a dimly lit or dark, quiet room to help promote melatonin production. Keeping noise level and activity to a minimum in the evenings can also help to cue your child’s internal body clock that nighttime is for relaxing and sleeping.
Finally, do not expect instant results. It may take a while before your baby picks up on the sleep routine. Keep doing the same thing, in the same order, every single night to help your baby begin to recognize these soothing activities as cues for sleep. Remember, babies younger than 6 months will be dependent on you to help them fall asleep at bedtime and back to sleep during the night. Rocking, holding, or feeding your baby to sleep during the early months is completely fine. You won’t be creating any bad habits that can’t be easily undone when your baby is a bit older. Again, by 6 months, most babies are developmentally capable of learning independent sleep skills. Therefore, you can consider baby sleep training at this time, in order to undo any sleep crutches or associations that were created in the earlier months. For best results, you can seek expert advice from certified Gentle Sleep Coach, Erin Anderson of The Sleepytime Teacher, LLC, to help you create a smoother sleep time transition plan or for a gentle approach to solve other sleep issues your child may be experiencing.
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