Sleep, Baby, Sleep…
Yearning for those peaceful nights when you could sleep through without any interruptions? Read our eight-page guide and say good night.
Ask any new parent what they miss most about their pre-baby days and they’ll probably say “sleep”. Gone are the days when a night of sweet, delicious shut-eye seems possible.
When preparing for the arrival of a baby, we often miss out on learning more about baby’s sleep. More often than not, we thought “babies sleep all the time!” or “we’ll see to it when it happens”. Understanding baby’s sleep, having a realistic expectation and gradually introducing a routine helps in promoting a healthy sleeping habit in your baby.
How your newborn sleeps
Just like adults, your baby experiences sleep-wake cycles that take her from light sleep to dream sleep to deep sleep and back again. But while most grown-ups take up to two hours to complete each cycle, newborns go through this in 50 to 60 minutes, and could be awakened at the end of each one. A baby’s biological clock begins synchronising with ours – mostly awake during the day and mostly asleep at night – at about six to nine weeks of age, and does not work smoothly until about four to five months. It’s normal for most new parents to experience sleep disruption for the first nine weeks of their baby’s life, sometimes even longer. Fret not as babies can usually manage longer period of deep sleep after that.
While most grown-ups take up to two hours to complete each cycle, newborns go through this in 50 to 60 minutes…
How much sleep your baby needs?
All babies are different and may need longer or shorter sleep hours. Some sleep better at night with longer naps in the daytime while for some, it may not be the case. Be led by your baby’s needs and observe his cues for sleep.
|Age||Number of naps||Total length of naptime hours||Nighttime sleep hours (average/does not represent unbroken stretches of sleep)||Total of nighttime and naptime sleep|
|Newborn||Newborns sleep 16-18 hours per day, distributed evenly over six to seven brief sleep periods|
|1 month||3||6 – 7||8½ – 10||15 – 16|
|3 months||3||5 – 6||10 – 11||15|
|6 months||2||3 – 4||10 – 11||14 – 15|
|9 months||2||2½ – 4||11 – 12||14|
|12 months||1 – 2||2 – 3||11½ – 12||13 – 14|
|2 years||1||1 – 2||11 – 12||13|
|3 years||1||1 – 1½||11||12|
Source: The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill)
7 Facts You Should Know About Infant Sleep
Babies are not born to fall asleep on their own, let alone sleep through the night. They need to be parented to sleep, not just put to sleep. Some babies can be put down while drowsy yet still awake while others need parental help by being rocked or nursed to sleep. Rushing your baby to bed while she is still in the initial light sleep period will usually awaken her and require a repeat of effort.
With a shorter sleep cycle, babies usually start stirring an hour after they go to sleep. Some of them need help getting back to sleep while the rest may self-soothe and ease themselves back into a deep sleep. You can help your baby through this vulnerable period without complete waking by laying a hand on your baby’s back, patting him lightly or singing a lullaby.
Babies don’t sleep as deeply as grown-ups do. Not only do babies take longer to go to sleep and have more frequent vulnerable periods for nightwaking; they have twice as much active, or lighter, sleep as adults.
Nightwaking has survival benefits. In the first few months, babies’ needs are the highest, but their communication skills are the lowest. Suppose a baby sleeps deeply most of the night where some of her basic needs are unfulfilled. With a tiny tummy and a less efficient stimulus for hunger, this would not be good for baby’s survival. The same applies if baby’s nose is stuffed and she can’t breathe, or is cold and needs warmth. Encouraging a baby to sleep too deeply, too soon, may not be in the best survival or developmental interest of the baby
Nightwaking has developmental benefits. Sleep researchers believe that babies sleep “smarter” than adults do. They theorize that light sleep helps the brain develop because the brain doesn’t rest during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In fact, blood flow to the brain nearly doubles during REM sleep.
Your baby’s sleep habits are more a reflection of your baby’s temperament rather than your style of nighttime parenting. It’s not your fault baby wakes up.
Babies still wake up, even after they mature into adult-like sleep patterns. The reasons? Painful stimuli such as colds and teething pain can keep them awake. Growth spurt and major developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, and walking drive babies to “practise” their new developmental skills in their sleep. Between one and two years of age, other causes of nightwaking include separation anxiety and nightmares.
Understanding your baby’s sleep cues
An overtired and overstimulated baby takes longer to settle and stay asleep. Pay some attention and observe the sleepy signals when baby is tired and needs a rest:
- Calming down
- Losing interest in people and toys
- A slow-down in activity
- Makes involuntary movements such as flailing arms and legs
- Looking bored and “stoned”
- Fussing and whining
- Rubbing eyes, pulling ears or scratching face
- Burying face into your chest
- It is recommended that healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep, not on their stomachs. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) incidences are said to have decreased by more than 50% since this recommendation was first made in 1992.
- Do not place anything in the crib that may restrict your baby’s breathing such as plush toys, pillows and blankets.
- Keep your baby warm but don’t overheat her. An ideal room temperature is between 18˚C to 22˚C.
- Your baby should sleep on a firm and flat mattress with a smooth bedsheet that remains securely in place around the mattress.
- Place your baby in the ‘feet to foot’ position in the cot.
- Do not put a baby to sleep near a window, window blinds, cords or curtains.
- Never tie a pacifier to your baby with a string as it can become entangle around your baby’s finger, hand or neck.
- Do not use a blanket over a baby. They can pose a suffocation hazard. Instead, dress your baby in warmer clothings.
- Breastfeed your baby whenever possible. Breastmilk decreases the risk of certain illnesses and infections, which, in turn, can decrease the risk of SIDS and other health problems.
12 ways to encourage good sleeping habits
1 Get busy during the day. When your baby is awake, engage her by talking, singing and playing. Surround her with light and normal household noises. Stimulation during the day can help promote better sleep at night.
2 Monitor your baby’s naps. Strange but regular naps will also help your baby sleep well at night. Depriving her nap-time during the day may make your baby overtired by bedtime, making it harder for her to settle down. But sleeping for large chunks of time during the day may also leave your baby wide awake at bedtime.
3 Follow a consistent bedtime routine. Try relaxing favourites such as bathing, cuddling, singing or reading. Soon your baby will associate these activities with sleep. If you play bedtime music, choose the same quiet tunes each time you put your baby in the crib.
4 Make your baby comfortable. Some babies feel most comforted in a swaddled state. Wrap them securely in a receiving blanket. You may also place a small, safe stuffed animal with your smell in the crib, following all safety precautions. White noise like the sound of running water or hum of a fan is soothing too.
5 Fill your baby’s tummy before sleep. Try to give the last feeding before bedtime a complete one so that baby sleeps with a full, contented tummy.
6 Put your baby to bed drowsy but awake. This will help your baby associate bed with the process of falling asleep. In the long term, baby may be able to sleep without your help.
7 Give your baby time to settle down. Your baby may fuss or cry before finding a comfortable position and falling asleep. If the crying doesn’t stop, speak to your baby calmly and stroke his back. Your reassuring presence may be all your baby needs to fall asleep.
8 Consider a pacifier. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier may do the trick. In fact, using a pacifier during sleep may reduce the risk of SIDS. The pitfall is, you may face frequent middle-of-the-night crying spells when the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth.
9 Introduce a lovey. Some babies attach themselves to a favourite blanket or toy that comforts them in your absence. You may be able to help your baby become attached to a lovey by placing it between the two of you whenever you nurse, bottlefeed or rock him.
10 Expect frequent stirring at night. Babies can be noisy and often wriggle, squirm and twitch in their sleep. Sometimes fussing or crying is simply a sign of settling down. Unless you suspect that your baby is hungry or uncomfortable, it’s alright to wait a few minutes to see what happens before attending to him.
11 Keep night-time care low-key. When your baby needs care or feeding during the night, use dim lights, a soft voice and calm movements. This will tell your baby that it’s time to sleep – not play.
12 Respect your baby’s preferences. If your baby is a night owl or an early bird, you might want to adjust routines and schedules based on these natural patterns.
Tips and Advice from Sleep Experts
Author of Secrets of The Baby Whisperer
A nurse, Hogg believes that babies need to be comforted when they cry, and put down as soon as their needs are met. She cautions against letting your baby depend on “props” such as nursing, patting, and rocking to get to sleep. Her book tells how to strike a balance between the cry-it-out and no-tears sleep training methods.
Employ the robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul principle. During the day, never let a baby sleep more than a feed cycle – in other words, no longer than three hours – because otherwise it will rob his night-time sleep hours. Any baby who has had six hours of uninterrupted sleep during the day will not sleep more than three at night. The only way to switch him round is by waking him, thereby robbing Peter of the hours your baby is using up by sleeping during the day, in order to pay Paul – adding those hours to the night-time sleep.
Don’t rush in. At their best, babies often sleep fitfully. That’s why it’s not wise to respond to every little noise you hear. One must walk a fine line between responding and rescuing. A baby whose parents respond becomes a secure child who’s not afraid to venture forth. A baby whose parents continually rescue begins to doubt his own capabilities and never develops strengths and skills he needs to explore his world or to feel comfortable in it.
Author of The New Contented Little Baby Book
A former maternity nurse, Ford advocates a daily routine for both the baby and the parents, with the day divided up into very precise slots. The whole aim of her CLB routines is to ensure that the timings of feeds fit in with your baby’s daily sleep requirements.
If you want your baby to sleep through the night from an early age and ensure a long-term healthy sleep pattern, the golden rules are to establish the right associations, and to structure your baby’s feeds from the day you arrive home from the hospital:
Start your day no later than 7am, so that you have enough time to fit in all the feeds before 11pm. Try to keep the baby awake for at least six to eight hours between 7am and 7pm. Ensure that your baby stays awake for as much of the two-hour social period as possible. Once he is awake for a total of eight hours between 7am to 7pm, he will be more likely to sleep longer in the night. Always distinguish between sleep and awake time. During the first few weeks, put the baby in a dark room for all sleeps. Do not talk to your baby or overstimulate him during the feeds between 7pm and 7am.
Author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution and The No-Cry Nap Solution
Pantley opposes any sleep method that involves leaving your baby alone to cry, advocating a more gradual approach to sleep training. Acknowledging that her “no-cry” approach to sleep is likely to take longer than cry-it-out ways, her method instructs parents to respond as soon as their baby cries, comfort him, and repeat
“My bed is a nice place!”. This idea helps your baby learn that her bed is a safe, comfortable place. Spend some quiet, cuddly time during the day in the place you want your baby to sleep at night. Read, talk, sing and play. Have two or three pleasant interludes during the day with baby in her sleeping place. If she responds positively, try to get her interested in watching a mobile or playing with a toy as you fade back and sit quietly in a chair beside her and watch. By following these steps your baby will come to know her crib as a welcoming, safe and comfortable haven.
Develop key words as a sleep cue. You can condition your baby to know it is sleep time when you say certain words in a certain way. They can be the standard quiet sound of “shhh”, where your key words can be something like a whispered “shhh, shhh, it’s OK sleepy time” or “night night, shhh shhh, night night”. Use these words only when your baby is quiet and nearly asleep state, not when she’s crying or unhappy as you do not want her to associate the words with something else. Later, when the association is established, you can use your key words to help her calm down and fall asleep.
The cry-it-out method has been used for ages to train babies in sleeping through the night. Not recommended for babies below six months, it involves placing your baby in the cot and leaving the room. If baby cries, wait for five minutes before going back to reassure her, without any physical contact. Then gradually increase the timing and repeat the process until your baby
What Experts Say
Recent research has found that sleep training techniques such as cry-it-out have no adverse effects on the emotional well-being or behavioural development of children, or on their relationship with parents. While it brings effortless success at times, there are some experts who disagree with such training programs for babies:
Babies and young children are emotional rather than rational creatures. A child cannot comprehend why you are ignoring his cries for help. Ignoring your baby’s cries, even with the best of intentions, may lead him to feel that he has been abandoned. It is true that a baby whose crying is ignored may eventually fall back asleep, but the problem that caused the night waking in the first place has remained unsolved.
Dr. Paul M. Fleiss and Frederick Hodges in Sweet Dreams (Lowell House, 2000)
When your baby cries – for whatever reason – he experiences physical changes. His blood pressure rises, his muscles become tense, and stress hormones flood his little body. Babies who are subjected to cry-it-out sleep training do sometimes seem to sleep deeply after they finally drop off. This is because babies and young children frequently sleep deeply after experiencing trauma. This deep sleep should not be viewed as proof of the method’s efficacy but rather evidence of one of its many disturbing shortcomings.
Kate Allison Granju in Attachment Parenting (Pocket Books, 1999)
Especially in the first six months, avoid sleep trainers who advise you to let your baby ‘cry-it-out.’ Only you can know what ‘it’ is and how to respond appropriately to your baby. Using the rigid, insensitive ‘let-him-cry-it-out’ method has several problems. First, it will undermine the trust your baby has for nighttime comfort. Second, it will prevent you from working at a style of nighttime parenting until you find the one that works best for you and your family and third, it may keep you and your doctor from uncovering hidden medical causes of nightwaking. Nightfeedings are normal; frequent, painful nightwaking is not.
Dr. William Sears in askdrsears.com
Q&A Your Sleep Questions Answered
Q What is a dream feed?
A It’s a feed given to your baby just before you go to bed, and can be given if your baby is half awake. What you can do is lift your child from her cot and give a quiet feed with the lights down low. A dream feed maximises the chances of achieving a longer stretch of sleep at night. However, this is not recommended beyond four months as it can encourage a milk-sleep association and lead to unnecessary feeds later in the night.
Q When should my baby start sleeping through the night?
A Some babies sleep through the night within the first two weeks of being born. But most sleep more in the day and less at night at first, until about four months of age. Expecting an uninterrupted stretch of 10-12 hours’ sleep from the baby is unrealistic. Babies are considered sleeping through the night when they sleep about five hours straight. Some babies take longer to achieve this. You can help your baby by letting her sleep at night, not waking her to feed, and by keeping things dark and quiet.
Q Is co-sleeping safe?
A Co-sleeping isn’t recommended because there’s a higher risk of smothering, falling and SIDS. Unless you follow strict safety precautions on co-sleeping, there are other alternatives for keeping your baby close to you. If you’re breastfeeding often, use a bedside co-sleeper. It looks like a cot with a missing side, where you can raise it to certain height and put it right next to the adult bed. If you’re feeding baby often, you can also consider putting a bassinet, cradle or crib nearby.
Q How can I get my baby to take longer daytime naps?
A All babies sleep in cycles throughout the day. Leave her for 10 minutes when she wakes to see if she can settle herself back to sleep. If she starts to cry, pick her up and pat her back until she stops and then put her back down again. Try this for 20 minutes and if she doesn’t go back to sleep, get her up and try again the following day.
Q My toddler still has a pacifier for bedtime/naps, any tips on how to remove this?
A Offer him a reward or swap for a very interesting new toy. The key is to make sure that he knows it’s gone at that point – it needs to go in the kitchen bin and then into the big bin for about 10 minutes before the garbage truck arrives. From then on, you will need to keep telling him that the bin uncles have it every time he asks for it. He will forget very quickly if you keep distracting him and re-enforcing the message.
Q My 11-month old is a light sleeper and early riser. How do we get him to sleep in?
A After 4am, babies and toddlers are in their lightest stage of sleep. If he is quite “prop” dependent, then this is the time when he will find it the hardest to re-settle. Try to stop all night feeds, consider ditching the pacifier and try not to get him out of bed until after 6am. Reassure him you are around, but keep the room dark and keep repeating a key message that it’s still not time to get up. It may take a few weeks, but he should start to sleep later.