Today, Carole Arsenault of Newborn Nurses offers basic lessons on infant sleep:
"'Lack of sleep' is a phrase that most new parents are all too familiar with. The first few weeks at home with a new baby can be exhausting and overwhelming. Despite the happiness and joy a new baby brings, parents often find themselves eagerly anticipating the time when their newborn will sleep through the night.
There are many books and DVDs that offer strategies and techniques designed to help babies sleep better. Plus, parents are often given lots of advice (some good, some bad) by well meaning friends and family members. The combination of sleep deprivation + information overload can, at times, be exhausting and misguiding. Here are some basic facts to help you understand infant sleep.
Baby’s internal clock. In order to help your baby sleep through the night, it’s important to understand the workings of baby’s internal clock. Newborns sleep an average of 16-18 hours per day - they really do sleep most of the time, although it probably doesn’t feel that way. Despite all these hours that baby sleeps, parents feel sleep deprived because of baby’s frequent waking pattern: they wake every 30 - 120 minutes for feedings around the clock.
When do the feedings stretch out? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for the first three weeks of your baby’s life it is important that they eat frequently (every 1- 3 hours for proper growth and development). At three weeks of age (or when weight gain is established), some babies are able to stretch their feeding out to every three hours or so. Once feedings can be stretched out a bit, the baby will eat more at each feeding, which will help extend sleep periods.
Night time sleep patterns Elizabeth Pantley (author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution) sums this up well: ‘A typical baby’s night time sleep cycle (5-8 hours) looks something like this: drowsy, light sleep, deep sleep for about an hour, brief awakening, deep sleep for about one to two hours, light sleep for about 15-30 minutes, brief awakening, rapid eye movement (dream sleep) 30 minutes, brief awakening, light sleep 15-30 minutes, brief awakening, REM sleep 30 minutes, brief awakening, another period of deep sleep (1-2 hours), REM sleep, light sleep, awake for the day.’
Brief awakenings (night waking) actually are a normal part of human sleep regardless of age. We all experience night waking on a regular basis, but it isn’t a problem because we know how to get ourselves back to sleep. But infants and toddlers need to be given the chance to learn and figure out how to get back to sleep on their own. It’s very common for loving parents to rush to pick up the infant and try to feed him/her, assuming the waking is due to hunger. It is important to recognize that babies aren't always awake when they sound like they are; they can cry and make all sorts of other noises during light sleep cycle.
When can baby learn to fall asleep on her own? The cycle of night waking will continue until the parent learns that they must let their babies try to fall asleep on their own. The best time to do this is between 3-8 weeks of age. By three weeks of age, weight gain is usually established and the infant might be able to sleep for one 4-5 hour stretch. Most infants fall into a pattern where they will have one long sleep stretch every 24 hours. Keeping the baby’s daytime naps to a maximum of 3 hours will help establish a longer stretch of sleep at night.
Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that it is important to remember that healthy infants under 6 weeks of age generally need at least one feeding between midnight and 6am. If your baby is very restless and unable to get himself back to sleep within 15 minutes, or if she/he is crying then she/he may need to feed.
The importance of routines. Establishing a routine to help baby learn to distinguish day and night will also help. The Mayo Clinic Sleep Center offers a number of routine-based ideas that may help your baby to sleep better at night, such as keeping baby active during the day, keeping track of baby’s naps, establishing a bedtime routine, encouraging wind down time, and keeping night time care calm. Click here for further information.”