Sleep is indispensable to babies. It is a very important factor in their development and growth. In the womb babies spend up to 80% in active sleep and in their first two years of their lives they spend more time sleeping than awake. Actually 40% of childhood is spent sleeping. This is in part due to the fact that the brain is growing, much more than later in life.
There are two kinds of sleep: active and quiet. Active sleep (or rapid eye movement - REM) is when key brain cell connections are made. The brain will create new connections for things it learns and get rid of little used or unused connections. Active sleep is also when we dream. Quiet sleep (or non-REM) is when muscles receive increased blood supply, tissue growth and repair take place, as well as energy is restored.
A baby’s sleep is so important due to the enormous amount of physical and mental development happening. Research even shows that infants and young child who get enough sleep, have greater physical and emotional development. While it doesn’t remain clear is too much sleep can be detrimental to your baby, sleeping too much could be a signal of an underlying health condition. If you think your baby is sleeping too much, consult your peditrician.
If you are unsure if your baby is getting enough sleep, look for these signs that they aren’t:
- Lack of interest in people and their environment
- Looking away or avoiding stimulating things
- Fluttering of eyelids
- Pulling ears
- Rubbing eyes
- Crying more than often
- Extra clingly - refuse to be put down or insists on being held
- Does not wake up easily
If your baby maybe isn’t getting enough sleep, according to their age, here are some ways you can help your baby sleep better:
- Recognize the importance of sleep - sleep is arguably just as important as food as your baby grows. Make sure they are getting enough sleep.
- Create a routine - routines provide stability and a sense of security for babies and children alike. Know your baby’s wake windows and develop a routine around them and their eating habits. Try to keep to your routine as best as possible.
Your routine before naptime will be much shorter than your bedtime routine. A bedime routine might include: dinner time, bathtime, a massage, pajama time, and a story or lullaby. While a naptime routine might include a feeding, some soft music and a massage.
- Know signs of sleepiness - Although babies cannot communicate their needs orally, there are signs of sleepiness you can look out for. Babies tend to yawn, eye rub or become fussy when tired. They might become quiet and show little interest in playing as well as grimace or making jerky movements. Make sure to recognize these signs, your baby should be tired, but not overtired.
- Sleep-inducing practices - There are many different practices that aid babies sleep better. You might try swaddling. Many experts agree that swaddling helps babies younger than 6 months of age sleep better. Infant massage is also a great way to increase melatonin production and improve your baby’s sleep quality. Other practices might include: using a sound machine, sleep sack or trying a pacifier. Others swear by certain scents (i.e lavendar) or creams to help increase their little one’s sleep. Check with your pediatrician about the pros and cons of these practices.
- Make the most of awake time - During the day stimulate and interact with your baby as much as possible. Look at activities to do with your baby according to their age (i.e. tummy time, high contrast books).
According to their age babies should sleep, between daytime and nighttime sleep:
- 14-17 hours (0-3 months)
- 12-15 hours (4-11 hours)
- 11-14 hours (1-2 years)
A wake window is how longs your baby will be awake on average between sleeping periods. Know your baby’s wake windows too to help create a good routine and make sure they are getting enough sleep. Baby sleep wake windows are as follows:
- 30-45 minutes (0-6 weeks of age)
- 45-60 minutes (7-10 weeks)
- 60-90 minutes (11 weeks - 3 ½ months)
- 2 hours (3 ½ - 5 months)
- 2.5-3 hours (5-7 months)
- 3-4 hours (8-13 months)
- 5-6 hours (13+ months)
Other tips for improving your baby’s sleep including:
- Limit nap length and daytime napping - this might sound strange but your baby’s sleep should be limited during the day and follow your routine. Even if your baby is especially tired, try to stick to your baby’s recommended nap length.
- Consider following the “eat, wake, sleep cycle” - feed your baby immediately after waking up. This encourages full feedings and then your baby will have energy to play after. This cycle will also help your baby not associate food with sleep.
- Promote self-soothing - when you baby awakes during the night, try to limit your time with them. Check on them and place them on their back if need be. Tend to their other needs such as a nighttime feeding (for younger babies) or a wet diaper but try not to pick them up or stimulate them more than necessary. You can place your hand on their chest or back to calm them, but leave the room once they are calmer, but still awake.
- Wean nighttime feedings - once recommended by your doctor begin weaning your baby off nighttime feedings. Feed them less and less over several days or a week or so to get them used to not feeding when waking during the night.
- Choose an appropriate bedtime - while it is important to follow your baby’s lead at times, choosing an appropriate bedtime is important around 3 months of age. Newborn babies and younger babies don’t have a bedtime due to the fact that they just sleep according to their needs. For older babies, a later bedtime does not mean they will sleep later.
- Be patient - babies aren’t easy. Try not to compare your baby or their sleep habits to other babies. Some babies are naturally just good sleepers, while others are high alert or high need.
If they your baby was sleeping for long stretches of time of even through the night and suddently stopped, they might be in a sleep regression. They usually accompany big developmental milestones and will pass in a matter of days or weeks. Keeping that in mind might give you some relief.
Being a parent is no doubt a very difficult task however, you are capable. For quality time with your little from the womb through childhood, try Storybook. The perfect combination of infant massage, reflexology, bedtime stories, music, white noise and more! We are here to help you, help your baby sleep better too, so the whole family gets the ZZZs they need.