Sleep. It is an essential part of life for every living creature. Sleep allows your body to recover, your energy to replenish, and promote your healthy growth and development processes. However, your baby may not be as adjusted to your desired sleep schedule as you would hope.
Any household with a baby knows – nobody sleeps if baby cannot sleep. In addition to that, being sleep deprived can lead to behavioral and growth issues for everyone. After all, who isn’t cranky when they are overtired? Helping your baby to sleep not only benefits your baby, but also everyone else in the household. After all, your other kids still have to grow and develop as well which relies heavily on their ability to get quality sleep. Your own ability to work, focus, and care for baby are also impacted by lack of sleep.
Helping baby sleep through the night may not be as hard as you thought. Below, I offer some of the best tips for how to get baby to sleep longer at night.
Like many things in life, there is a scientific reason for why sleep cycles are what they are. Understanding this may give you a better picture of why you and baby’s sleep schedule just can’t seem to sync up. (Which in turn may help you retain your sanity just a bit longer! I know I questioned my own as my baby, Oliver, would wake throughout the night.)
“Circadian rhythm” refers to the 24-hour life cycle in which we are all accustomed to. In fact, every living being has its own circadian rhythm that establishes important timelines, like eating and sleeping patterns. Your circadian rhythm affects brain wave activity, hormone production and regulation, cell regeneration and much more. For most people, this pattern largely depends on external factors, like daylight and darkness. (In other words, your bedtime pattern, which is part of your circadian rhythm, corresponds with night because darkness causes your body to crave sleep.)
While we are all born with the need to sleep, babies are not born with the same circadian rhythm you have. Why? Because baby just spent the first 9 months of life within the darkness of your womb. And, if your pregnancy was like mine, they were most active while I was trying to sleep!
Babies have to adjust to the world around them. In fact, it can take 3 to 6 months to fully establish a pattern that supports a nightly bedtime. For my son, Oliver, it certainly felt like it took forever. And, even though we are passed the 12 month mark and he sleeps through the night just fine – Oliver still has some nights where he seems to wake up constantly.
Sleep is an incredibly important part of life. Take care of yourself, your baby and your family by helping to foster a prolonged, healthy sleep cycle. Sleep deprivation can not only affect your children’s growth, but it can also lead to increased symptoms of depression.
Now that you understand circadian rhythm, let’s address how much sleep is important. Babies and children need more sleep than adults. Why? Because they are undergoing growth and developmental periods that far exceed those of an adult. These periods require sleep in order to fully process. To ensure your baby is getting the optimum amount of sleep, experts recommend specific sleep quantities based on age.
From the time you bring your baby home until they are 4 months old, he or she should get 16 to 18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. This time is split between nighttime (8 – 9 hours) and 3 to 5 naps that break up the remainder of the sleep balance.
From 4 to 12 months, however, this changes to a total of 12 to 16 hours. Nighttime sleep should now span 9 to 10 hours, while naps are reduced to a cumulative 4 to 5 hours, split between 4 to 5 hours total.
Between the ages of 1 to 2 years, however, the time spent sleeping is reduced again. Now, your baby should be sleeping between 11 and 14 hours a day. At night, your baby should be able to get 11 hours of sleep. Naps, which should be split between 1 or 2 periods, should make up the remainder of the 2 to 3 hours.
The natural sleep cycle (often referred to as Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycles) can also contribute to your baby’s ability to sleep soundly. For us adults, we typically just fall right back to sleep should a sleep cycle wake us. Not so for baby!
Teething, yet another part of your baby’s growth cycle, can cause pain that keeps your little one up at night. (With Oliver, this process felt like it took forever. In retrospect, I think that was just the Mombie talking.)
In addition to these natural roadblocks, various scheduled activities may also contribute to the lack of quality sleep. From inconsistent bedtime routines to feeding schedules, baby may be waking up for a host of individual reasons.
While the first several weeks can be grueling, baby can begin forming habits as early as 6 weeks old. Before we get into the specific tips, however, it is important to stress that you be as consistent with your routine and rules as possible. This helps to establish an early routine on which your child can become reliant.
You know your baby better than anyone else does. If you believe your baby is experiencing something more than common baby struggles with sleep, such as an illness or infection, contact your pediatrician. High fevers, infections, and other health concerns can be more serious in infants who have yet to fully develop their immune system. Pediatricians are your go-to baby experts. These professionals can not only examine your baby’s health and progress; they can also help provide personal tips or tricks that may help your baby sleep longer. After all, they can help you determine the underlying issue that might be causing your baby to wake up throughout the night.