Up to the age of two, most children are asleep more often than they are awake. A person spends about 40% of her overall childhood years sleeping, but it’s also a fact that kids under the age of five regularly don’t sleep through the night.
While uninterrupted sleep is ideal, it’s not the norm; nor is interrupted sleep considered abnormal or a disorder. It’s also a fact that, for a newborn, “sleeping through” is sleeping for a stretch of five to six hours, which might not be your idea of sleeping through the night.
What to expect from your newborn’s sleep patterns
Infants don’t have the same sleep schedules as adults or older children. Newborns sleep about 16 to 20 hours out of every 24, but that doesn’t mean endless hours of rest for you. Babies only sleep for a few hours at a time. Their need to feed is bigger than their need to sleep and their tiny tummies can’t hold much food. Therefore they need to be fed regularly during the day and night. Many paediatricians recommend that parents shouldn’t let a newborn sleep too long without feeding – that means feeding your baby every three to four hours and possibly more often for smaller or premature babies.
10 essential sleep tips for a good night’s rest
- A soothing bedtime routine such as a baby massage, bath and a change of clothes helps your baby distinguish between night and day. Try not to play with or talk to your baby during night-time feedings or nappy changes.
- During the day, wake your baby up so she feeds more and can stock up on calories, and save those longer stretches of sleep for night.
- What if your baby is fussy? It’s OK to rock, cuddle and sing as your baby settles down.
- Babies make sleep associations from about four months, and will do so if the same action, for example rocking, singing, your presence, etc, is consistent every time your baby is ready to go to sleep. While a dummy can be comforting, occasionally remove it from your baby’s mouth while she’s falling asleep so that sucking doesn’t become a sleep association. Other sleep associations are rocking and holding, which may be convenient and enjoyable in the day, but are not so much fun at two in the morning.
- Some babies will nap for 20 minutes, others for a few hours. Naps help prevent your baby from becoming too cranky to sleep well at night, so it’s important that naps aren’t too short. Over-tired babies often have more trouble sleeping than those who have had enough sleep during the day. Keeping your baby awake during the day, hoping she will sleep better at night, can backfire.
- A baby who is encouraged to stay awake when her body is craving sleep, is an unhappy baby. Learn to read your baby’s sleep signs: when she becomes quieter, loses interest in people and toys and starts to fuss – put her to bed when you have the opportunity.
- One of the key factors in developing good sleep habits for your baby is a consistent sleep zone. From about four months, babies begin to develop sleep expectations. One of these is an expectation of where they will fall asleep. It’s important that you establish a consistent calming sleep zone as soon as possible.
- Babies make many sleeping sounds; from grunts to whimpers to outright cries. Your baby is actually sleeping then; so don’t rush to pick her up until you know she really is awake.
- When your baby is a bit older, make sure she gets plenty of sunlight, exercise and fresh air for better sleep at night.
- Night-time sleep should be in a dark and quiet environment, except for a bit of white noise – a background hum like the sound she used to hear in the womb. It’s not necessary for your baby to sleep in a silent environment.
Possible causes of sleep problems in newborns:
- A wet nappy
- Needs security
- Middle-ear infection
- Unsynchronised circadian rhythm. A newborn needs her circadian rhythm (body clock) set to a 24-hour day.
If your baby is difficult to rouse from sleep and generally seems uninterested in feeding, speak to your doctor immediately.
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