In the article “Baby Sleep Schedule and Habits” I will tell about basics and characteristics of sleep, establishing sleeping schedule, and development of healthy sleep habits. We discuss the ways to help a baby sleep better and to solve difficulties that may arise. All these issues are covered for babies from birth to 12 months.
So, let’s get started.
A newborn baby does not know what day and night are, how to sleep and what to do while sleeping. His mom and dad will teach him all this. Maybe your baby sleeps at nighttime and daytime well, waking up just to eat mother’s milk. And you put him, while he is rubbing his eyes, into his crib, and he falls asleep is five minutes by himself. Well, it is just a science fiction and this happens very rarely.
The fact is that the sleep rhythms of and adult and a baby are significantly different. The duration of adult’s shallow sleep is 20%, of a newborn it is 80%, and of a 6 month old baby it is about 50%. The rest is the shallow sleep that is easily interrupted by any sudden sound or by baby’s inner restlessness (colic, thirst, fear). These are completely normal and reasonable physiological characteristics of this age: during the shallow sleep the brain is actively developing, information obtained during his waking time is being processed and analyzed; the body is storing energy and strength for the next day. Frequent waking is a simple and natural way to survive in the new environment, the very nature has taken care of that. Because the baby can quickly inform you that it is inconvenient for him to lie (he cannot roll over on his own yet), that he wants to eat or drink, he has a wet diaper, or he has colic.
Does a baby sleep well? Only attentive parents can answer this question. If a baby develops well, wakes up happy, smiles and is cheerful while being awake, everything interests him, his weight gain is enough, and has a normal appetite, then he sleeps enough. And it is OK if your baby’s sleep differs from the norm. After all, he has his own personal norm, your baby is individual with his individual needs. Because children, just like adults, are divided into “night owls” and “morning larks” and have different temperaments.
Average duration of baby sleep
Day / Night / Overall for the day
At 1 month: 6-7 hours / 8.5-10 hours / 18-20 hours.
At 3 months: 5-6 hours / 10-11 / 17-18 hours.
The following signs will help you to determine your baby’s desire to rest
– Yawn is the clearest and unambiguous signal. The oxygen supply is increased to the lungs to provide the body with energy.
– Baby rubs his eyes, they got red and there is lack of moisture in them. There is lack of moisture in eyes during prolonged wakefulness, and rubbing will encourage tear glands to produce liquid.
– Sluggish movements, fatigue, whimper. Baby opens his mouth and looks for his mother’s breast to suck and sleep.
Your baby wants to sleep, but it turns out to be not that simple. What can interfere? The reasons can be divided into internal and external.
• Tummy disorders: colic, flatulence, bacteria overgrowth. This is the most common cause of baby’s restless sleep in the first three months of life.
• Otitis – it is a purulent inflammation in the ear. Bacteria from the nose and throat can easily penetrate into the Eustachian tube and the semicircular canals, which are yet too short and wide. Otitis causes severe pain, especially in a supine position.
• Spitting up – it is involuntary expulsion of food from the stomach into the esophagus. A baby suffers from heartburn and stomach pain, it is uncomfortable for him to be in a supine position.
• Itching – diathesis, dry skin, discomfort from teething.
• Diseases associated with the baby’s nervous system disorders: hypertonicity, excitability, increased intracranial pressure, mental disorders.
• Restless situation in the family, frequent quarrels and negative emotions of the mother will greatly influence the emotional state of her baby.
• Reaction to the change of weather, particularly pronounced in boys. When atmospheric pressure increases, the babies sleep better and longer, but when it goes down, they sleep more restlessly.
• Reaction to changing phases of the moon. Hyperexcitability is observed in babies before and directly during a full moon but they are calmer during a descending moon.
• Uncomfortable conditions in a room: cold crib, dry air, it is hot or cold, unfamiliar sounds and smells, uncomfortable crib. Loud background noise can interfere with falling asleep (e.g. a neighbor’s drill), or excessive silence, on the contrary, when every rustle is heard too clearly and makes a baby to listen for.
• Violation of the bedtime ritual.
How to help your baby sleep a quiet and healthy sleep?
It is necessary to remove the cause of anxiety and create the most comfortable environment. Be sure to consult with a neurologist, and it is desirable to hear the opinion of several doctors. As a rule, each of them has his own well-established approach to patients. One will necessarily prescribe medications, even if the problems are minor; the other one will say that everything will be OK in the length of time and you don’t need to do anything, just be patient; and the third one will advise massage, gymnastics and swimming, and will consider it as the only correct treatment. Therefore, if you are worried about your baby’s sleep, then there is a strong reason for it. It would be better to see the situation from different angles and to hear several treatment options in order to make the right decision about your little one.
How can mother help?
– Pay more attention to the baby and respond to all his needs, be careful with the changes in the baby’s environment, carry your baby in a sling, talk and communicate with him a lot.
– Improve the condition of sleep: ventilate the room before going to bed or leave the window open, moisten the air in the room; make the crib more comfortable: put a pillow roll under the baby’s back, warm the crib (babies often wake up when they are put from mother’s warm hands into the cold crib), you can put the baby on a warm blanket covered with a flannel nappy.
– Turn on the pleasant night light in the room, turn on a silent slow music like soothing sound of the wind, the rain, the sounds of a forest.
– Use aromatic oils, pay close attention to the baby’s reaction: oils can cause allergy. In combination with other measures taken they will have the desired effect. To soothe a baby chamomile or lavender oil is used, neroli oil is used no earlier than two months old. Aroma lamp can be used in a room for 10-15 minutes before bedtime; otherwise you can apply two drops on a handkerchief and put it at the head of the crib. 1-2 drops can be added to massage oil (30 ml).
– A nursing mother should review her diet: it is necessary to exclude all products that increase flatulence (beans, cabbage, carbonated drinks, grapes), to give up drinking soft drinks, coffee and chocolate, not to eat a semi-manufactured food, and not to use seasonings that contain large amount of food additives.
– Use proven home remedies – herbs. Add them when your baby is taking a bath, and make tea with them. Drink them 1/3 cup 2-3 times a day 30 minutes before meals. Your baby should drink such tea no more than one teaspoon of the same frequency.
– Establish a clear ritual of falling asleep and always try to follow it, do not violate it. Babies willingly get used to the same type of actions – thus they know what to expect. The ritual is individual, but there are common elements in it. Generally it is the evening bath. Warm water relaxes the baby’s body and reduces stress accumulated during the day. Especially water slightly hotter than usual is better for this purpose. Although it should be said that taking a bath excites some babies, in this case it is better to take a bath in the afternoon or in the morning. After bathing perform relaxing massage with your warm hands and with light stroking and rubbing. Warm pajamas or swaddling in a soft nappy (it is very convenient to use knitted nappies – the baby will be relatively free to move, and he will have a still required stiffness and comfort, that reminds him about his mother’s belly, where he has spent nine months; baby will not wake himself with his hands).
In a very early age babies love to fall asleep listening to the lullabies. By the way, do not deprive your baby’s father of this pleasure. It is very helpful for a baby to hear a man’s voice, he has lower and calmer tone. You can easily tell the baby a story or a fairy-tale. He will not understand the words yet, but your quiet voice will help him fall asleep. And, of course, breast milk or bottle with some baby formula. Most babies fall asleep while being rocked and while sucking, since the rhythms of these actions are similar to the rhythm of sleep and the brain cells easier pass from wakefulness to sleep stage. Fit ball can be of great use in this case. Take the baby in your arms, sit down on the ball, start breastfeeding and sing lullabies while rocking. It will free you from walking around the room holding the baby and relieve pressure off the lower back. Some babies fall asleep only while being rocked evenly.
– Try to put your baby to sleep always at the same time. Numerous studies have shown that the best time for putting a baby to sleep is between 19.00-21.30 PM. If you miss this time, it will be difficult to cope with the active and tired baby.
– And will it, perhaps, be worth taking the baby to bed with parents? This point is still causing debate among parents, pediatricians and psychologists. There are lots of arguments for and against, and there is still no clear opinion. We will not think too much about this question, each family will solve it individually. It is just necessary to identify priorities. What is more important: a good night’s sleep of the whole family, comfortable feeding on demand, normal sex of the parents? Sometimes there is just no other solution than to take the baby into the bed. Some babies will sleep alone by no means, and a mother will eventually give up. Other babies need a more intimate contact at night only during difficult times – when teething, or when a baby is sick. Others sleep better in their crib, but require night feedings more than 2 times. Well, mother will have to get up to feed and then to rock the baby again. A crib with the removed front panel and moved up close to the parent’s bed could be a compromise. In any case your family will take the right decision on this issue.
If nothing helps, try not to panic and stay calm. Very often a newborn really tests the strength of his mother’s nerves in the evenings. Crying can last an hour or two, in spite of all measures. Here even the most patient and calm mother will not stand it, she is also tired, and she does not rest normally at night. If you feel irritated, immediately give the baby to the father or grandmother and go to rest at least a little.
With the help of this crying baby relieves the stress accumulated during the day, just like a schoolboy tells excitedly in the evening about what has happened to him at school. This is an effective way for a baby to calm himself, the crying is curative for him. Having cried out, he easily falls asleep. It will stop soon, you just need to wait a bit.
It is also worth talking about the opposite problem, which is less common – it is the increase of the total sleep time, hypersomnia. Baby sleeps for 6-8 hours at a time, he is not active, is poorly interested in a game, sleepy, poorly gains weight. This is usually caused by fatigue or depression of the central nervous system, and is a result of prenatal hypoxia. This is the only case when the schedule will have to be formed artificially. Wake the baby in the morning at the same time, play active games, wake for feedings.
Typical sleep at this age
By now you stopped getting up every night every two or three hours (we hope). By 3 or 4 months old, most babies sleep 15 hours a day, 10 of them are at night, and rest of the time is divided between the three daytime sleep hours (the hours will be reduced to two, when your child is 6 months old). At the beginning of this period you can still get up once or twice a night for feedings, but by the age of 6 months, your baby will be able to sleep through the whole night. This will depend on whether you teach your baby healthy sleep habits.
How to teach a baby healthy sleep habits?
Here’s what you can do at this age to be sure that your baby has acquired the right sleeping skills.
Develop a clear daytime and nighttime sleep routine and follow it. While your baby was a newborn, you could decide when to put him to sleep at night by watching for the signs of sleepiness (rubs his eyes, pulls his ear, and so on). Now when he got a little older, you should establish a certain time for daytime and nighttime sleep. As we’ve already mentioned, the time between 19:00 and 20:30 PM is a good time for a baby to go to sleep. Later, he will more likely be too tired and he will have difficulty falling asleep. Your baby may NOT look tired late at night, he can seem very energetic, on the contrary. But believe us, it is a sure sign that the baby must go to sleep.
You can set the time for sleep during the day time the same way – schedule the same time for daytime sleep every day, or try every option to put your baby to sleep, when you see that he got tired and needs to rest. Either approach is acceptable if the baby sleeps enough time.
Begin to establish a ritual of going to sleep. If you have not done that before, then the age of 3-6 months is also suitable to set such a ritual. It can include the following actions: make a bath for your baby, play quiet games with him, prepare for bed, read one or two bedtime stories, sing a lullaby. Kiss him and wish “Good night”. No matter what actions your family’s ritual involves, you have to perform it in the same manner, at the same time every night. Babies need consistency, and sleep is no an exception.
Wake your baby in the morning. If your baby often sleeps more than 10 hours at night, it is advisable to wake him up in the morning. Thus you will help him renew the schedule. It will seem to you easy to follow the night sleep schedule, but remember that your baby needs to sleep on schedule in the daytime as well. Wakening up at the same time every morning will help this.
What difficulties may arise?
Two problems can appear: nighttime waking and development of negative associations with sleep (as when your baby gets used to depend on rocking or feeding, as a prerequisite to sleeping) – this is usual as for newborns so for older children. But by about 3 – 6 months of age another problem may appear – difficulty falling asleep. If your baby has trouble falling asleep at night, first make sure that he goes to sleep not too late (as we have mentioned, overtired babies have difficulties falling sleep.) If this is not the case, then he may have one or more associations developed with sleep. The baby must learn to fall asleep on his own, and not with the help of your arms, breast, or a pacifier.
If he does not have such a habit, and it is hard for your baby to fall sleep, you can try to use an approach to let him cry out. Of course, it depends on your personal belief and philosophy of sleep which approach will work best.
Typical sleep at this age
Babies at this age need about 14 hours of sleep during a day, and they can sleep for about 7 hours long. If your baby sleeps longer than 7 hours, he probably wakes up briefly but can fall asleep by himself – it’s a good sign, it means that you have a great growing sleepyhead. He probably is sleeping for an hour and a half or two hours two times a day – one time in the morning and second time in the afternoon. Remember: a stable schedule of daytime and nighttime sleep helps regulate sleep skills.
How to teach a baby healthy sleep habits?
Here’s what you can do at this age to make sure that your baby has acquired the right sleeping skills.
Establish a clear daytime and nighttime sleep routine and follow it. Though you have probably already established a certain ritual of going to sleep, your baby will really participate in it just right now. Your ritual can involve taking a bath, playing a quiet game, reading one or two stories, singing a lullaby. Remember that you have to perform all the steps in the same manner and at the same time every night. Your baby will appreciate your consistency. Young children love the constant schedule they can rely upon. Your ritual of going to sleep will indicate that it’s time to gradually calm down and prepare for sleep.
Follow the constant routine of daytime and nighttime sleep. Both you and your baby will benefit from having a permanent schedule, which includes daytime and nighttime sleep. This means that you should try to follow the pre-planned schedule. When your baby sleeps during a day, eats, plays, goes to bed every day at the same time, it will be much easier for him to fall asleep.
Make sure that you give your baby an opportunity to fall asleep by himself. Your baby must learn to fall asleep on his own. Put him into the crib before he falls asleep, and try not to accustom him to external factors (rocking or feeding) as a prerequisite to sleep. If the baby is crying, the subsequent behavior depends on you. Most experts advise to wait at least a few minutes to see whether the baby is really upset.
What difficulties may arise?
Young children who have never had problems with sleep, at this age can suddenly start waking up at night or have difficulty falling asleep. Why? Sleep disorders often appear at one time with separation from the mother and with achievement of major milestones in cognitive and motor development. Now your baby learns to sit, to roll over, to crawl, and maybe even to stand up on his own – and this is a list of real achievements! No wonder that he will try out his new skills during sleep as well. Baby can get so excited that he wakes up at night to try to sit down one more time.
But if the baby is too tired, or worse, if he sits down or stands up and then cannot get down and lie, he will not be able to continue sleeping. If this happens, he will cry and call you soon. You have to explain how to lie down to him if he is in a vertical position. You are free to choose the way of helping him to fall asleep. Remember, this is a leap in development but not the same as a leap in growth, so breast-feeding during the night will not help him sleep better. In fact, it can only make the problem worse and prolong it.
Also try Jodi Mindell’s advice, a sleep expert from BabyCenter: If your baby goes to bed after 20:30, and suddenly he starts waking up during the night, you will discover to your surprise that he is much more likely to sleep for the whole night, if you put him to sleep for just half an hour earlier. This really works. Try it!
Typical sleep at this age
By now your baby is likely to sleep at night for about 10-12 hours long and twice a day for half an hour. Make sure that your baby sleeps enough – sleep duration is crucial for his development. It is also important to follow a constant schedule of daytime sleep. If this schedule is flexible, your baby would be more likely to have sleeping troubles and would often wake up during the night.
How to teach a baby healthy sleep habits?
It’s time for you and your baby to keep on working on the methods you have learned in the period from six to nine months of age.
Follow the constant daytime and nighttime sleep routine. Repetition of this ritual will never be too frequent. Both you and your baby will benefit from the evening ritual of going to sleep. You can take the scenario proven over the years as a basis – taking a bath, bedtime story, going to crib. You can also add playing a quiet game. But make sure that you perform the same actions every night. Children prefer the consistency and feel secure when they know what to expect.
Make sure that your baby has a constant schedule of daytime and nighttime sleep. Baby’s sleep becomes more regular, if you try to follow the schedule another day as well. If he sleeps during the daytime, eats, plays, goes into his crib every day at the same time, he is more likely to fall asleep easier in the evening. Give your baby an opportunity to fall asleep by himself. The most important thing is that your baby has an opportunity to train this important skill. If his sleep depends on feeding, rocking, or a lullaby, it will be difficult for him to fall asleep again when he wakes up during the night, and maybe he will even cry. You are free to choose soothing actions if it happens.
What difficulties may arise?
Starting from five-six months of age, your baby started achieving the major developmental milestones – he learned to sit, roll over, crawl, stand up, and finally, to make a few steps. At the age of 9-12 months old, he masters and trains these skills, and it means that he can get too excited and have difficulty falling asleep or may wake up at night to exercise. If he cannot calm down and fall asleep, he would cry and call you. Remember, this is a leap in development but not the same as a leap in growth, so breast-feeding during the night will not help him sleep better. In fact, it can only make the problem worse and prolong it.
Your baby may also wake up at night because of separation anxiety – he misses you when you are not with him, and worried that you will not come. He is more likely to calm down as soon as you enter his room and talk to him a little.