Newborns and sleep: the basics explained

Newborns are adorable. But their sleep patterns are not. So here’s a brief rundown of some of the most basic tips for coping with newborn baby sleep issues.

On average, newborns sleep between 16-20 hours a day, but they tend to take this in small bursts through out the day. Newborn sleep patterns are often impossible to predict. Very young infants will sleep and wake at any time that suits them throughout a given 24 hour period. This means you will need a lot of patience and flexibility, and taking on board all the advice you can.

Baby sleep patterns

New born babies usually take several weeks to begin adjusting to a normal day/night sleep cycle. After spending 9 months in the womb, they have no concept of day and night so notions of your new baby sleeping all through the night are unrealistic.

This can sometimes means months of insomnia and sleep problems as you attend to their every need. However, there is light at the end of tunnel, and the majority of babies usually settle into a more regular sleep routine when they are a few months old. It’s a good idea to teach your baby the difference between day and night. Some useful tips are:

  • keep the lights low during night time feeds
  • make daytime feeds lively and night time feeds quiet
  • put your baby down as soon as the feed is over

Light sleep and deep sleep

Before a baby falls into deep sleep, they pass through a phase of light sleep. During this time, the child isn’t fully asleep and therefore any slight noise or disturbance can make them wake up.

This means that you should ensure that the child is fully asleep if you want to transfer them to the bed. Some times the child goes straight into deep sleep. This mostly happens when the baby is tired, they’ve been crying or when they have had a large feed.

The importance of sleep to babies

Sleep to a child is one of the most important things alongside food. Babies need plenty of sleep because it is vital for their healthy growth and development. Far from being a passive activity, sleep helps the the baby to grow both physically and psychologically.

Human growth hormone, a protein essential for proper growth and development, is released into the body throughout the day. For young babies however, the main time for this is during deep sleep. This is why you should be very keen to get your baby to sleep regularly.

Tips on how to get a baby to sleep

Some babies are stubborn and may refuse to sleep despite your best attempts. This is why it is essential to have some tried and tested sleep strategies up your sleeve to get your baby to sleep.

  • don’t worry too much about establishing strict sleep routines in the first few months. It takes time for babies to learn the difference between day and night
  • stay calm -babies are sensitive and can pick up if you are stressed or upset making it harder for them to settle
  • use a security blanket – a blankets, stuffed animals, or a towel with mum’s scent will make your baby feel more secure when you’re not holding or feeding them
  • use warm sheets – babies don’t like cold sheets so use a hot water bottle to gently warm the sheets before they settle
  • swaddling – swaddling has been used for thousands of years to help babies relax, make them feel more secure and help with sleep. It is controversial however, with some scientists claiming it can increase the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • let baby cry it out – this is a sleep-training method that advocates letting your baby cry out when it wakes at night. When successful, this technique lets the baby learn how to settle by itself
  • feed more in the day – some babies are too busying playing but if you fill up your baby in the day, they will be less likely to want to feed at night
  • try sleeping with white noise – CDs with ambient music or nature sounds can be a soothing way to get your baby to sleep at night
  • use a sling – if you have a reluctant sleeper, try carrying your baby in a sling just before bedtime. This will give them a sense of comfort, whilst literally ‘wearing them out’

Helpful Resources

Pediatric Sleep Council Official Site

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