How much sleep do babies need?
Newborn babies sleep a lot, and that’s an understatement! What’s more, they need as much as 18 hours of sleep a day for the first few weeks. You can expect them to be awake every 1-3 hours for a feed but much of the early days is about getting enough sleep. There’s also such a thing as too much sleep – if a newborn is still asleep 6 hours after a feed, it is a cause for concern. If the baby sleeps for less than 1 hour after a feed, it could either mean that they haven’t fed enough or maybe something else is troubling the baby.
Sleep and baby’s development
Between 0-6 weeks, a baby’s sleep cycles are short, far shorter than yours. They will spend more time in REM sleep, which is a light and easily disturbed state. You’ll recognize it by the cute twitching, the smile, and the eye fluttering. REM sleep is necessary for the changes taking place in the baby’s brain. Marcos Frank, Professor of Medical Sciences at Washington State University found that REM sleep helps growing brains adjust the strength or number of their neuronal connections to match the input they receive from their environment. He further said that young brains, including those of human children, go through critical periods of plasticity – or remodeling – when vision, speech, language, motor skills, social skills, and other higher cognitive functions are developed. What this means is that REM sleep is when the baby’s development takes place.
During sleep, somatotrophin, a growth hormone is dispersed through the pituitary gland. Although this hormone is released throughout the day, nearly 80% of it is released during the non-REM stage of sleep. So if a child does not reach the optimum levels of both REM and non-REM sleep requirements at night, their physical development is inhibited. Of all the factors that affect baby development, sleep is probably on top of the list.
When do babies sleep through the night?
There’s no magical number to this – some babies may start to sleep for longer stretches (6-8 hours) as early as eight weeks while others may take as much as a year to get here. The majority fall somewhere between these extremes – at around six months. Between six and eight weeks, a baby will probably sleep for shorter spells during the day, and longer stretches at night. However, they’ll still wake up to feed– that means more deep (non-REM) sleep, and less light (REM) sleep.
If your aim is to get junior to sleep through the night, encouraging clear habits from the start will help!
What is sleep training?
Sleep deprivation is hard on new parents and resuming a routine that allows everyone sufficient sleep soon becomes a goal. Although babies may continue to wake up during the night for a feed, sleep training is towards making babies have a consistent routine. As parents, do make a note of these:
These are essential for babies. During the first year, the frequency may reduce to two or three daytime naps. It’s important to get baby to nap before they are over tired. Recognizing signs of tiredness and putting them down for a nap when they are sleepy – not asleep – is recommended practice.
More play during day
For babies to learn the difference between night and day, parents and caregivers can engage with them more during the day. Allow for ambient noise and as much natural light as possible. At night, don’t engage even if your baby is wide awake and fighting sleep – that can happen! Avoid eye contact and maintain a dimly lit, quiet environment that will lull them back to sleep. Babies at two weeks can begin to make the distinction between night and day.
Babies need consistent routines and especially so with bedtime. Having a routine will help your baby unwind and ready to sleep. A bedtime routine can include a light massage, a bath, a story or a lullaby, changing them, and a feed.