Infant’s Sleep Patterns

Lack of sleep can be a major source of frustration for both children and their parents. Sleep disturbance is one of the biggest changes for new parents and it can be difficult to adapt to a new routine, which doesn’t feature regular stretches of undisturbed sleep.

The following calendar will outline the changing sleep patterns as children grow up and offer information and advice about getting into a good routine and encouraging positive sleeping habits.

Age 0-3 months

Newborn babies sleep for the majority of the day; at first, they will sleep for around eighteen hours each day and by the age of 3 months they will be sleeping around 15 hours a day. Most newborn babies only sleep for a maximum of three or four hours at a time so you will find that you get disturbed a few times during the night when you first bring your baby home. Babies only sleep for a short time when they are very young because their sleep cycles are shorter and they tend to sleep in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, rather than non-REM sleep; REM sleep is lighter and consequently can be disrupted more easily.

Once your baby reaches the age of around 6 weeks, you may find that they start to sleep less during the day; this usually means that they will sleep for longer periods during the night, meaning you can get a bit more sleep. They will start to sleep for longer between feeds but most will wake in the night; some babies sleep through the night from eight weeks old but this is rare and most will not settle into this routine until they’re about 5 months old.

If you are worried about your baby’s safety while they are sleeping, talk to your health visitor; cot death is rare but it is a possibility and there are steps you can take to try and reduce the risk of cot death, including putting your baby down on their back, making sure they are not too hot, removing any cushions or pillows from their Moses basket or cot and avoiding falling asleep with your baby while you are on the sofa.

You can start to encourage positive sleeping habits from this early age; when you spot the signs that your baby is tired, for example, if they get heavy eyes, they pull at their ear or they rub their eyes, lie them down in their cot and leave them there for a few minutes to see if they fall asleep’it may be beneficial to play some soothing music or put a mobile on their ceiling.

Try to teach your baby the difference between night and day when they are still young; during the day, encourage them to play, talk to them, sing songs and go out for short trips; when it starts to get late, bath your baby, dim the lights in the room, feed and get your baby ready for bed and then cuddle them, before lying them down in their Moses basket or cot.

Age 3-6 months

At this stage, your baby will probably be sleeping for long periods during the night but you may still be getting woken up once or twice for a feed. You will also notice that your baby is sleeping less during the day; they may just have a couple of short naps, rather than a long sleep during the day.

By six months, your baby will probably be sleeping through the night and will be able to go for many hours between feeds. You can start to give them solid foods at this age and this will help them to stay full for longer.

At this age you should be able to stick to a bedtime routine; try to relax and calm your baby as it starts to get later by dimming the lights, having a bath and snuggling in bed; you can also read your baby a story and play them relaxing music.

If your baby sleeps for longer than ten hours a night, you may need to wake them up in the morning; they may be a little unsettled at first but they will soon adapt to the daytime routine.

Age 6-9 months

At this age, your baby will sleep for around fourteen hours a day; they may nap for short periods of time during the day and most will sleep for around ten hours each night. Some children don’t need as much sleep as others and they may start to nap less during the day.

Most babies nap at the same time each day but distractions or changes in the daily routine may change their sleep patterns; for example, if you go out for the day, they may sleep at different times.

At this stage, you should continue with their daytime and bedtime routine and you will probably be finding that you are getting used to the routine and feeling a lot more refreshed than you were a few months ago!

Age 9-12 months

Your baby will probably be sleeping for ten hours each night by this point and you may find they start to sleep for shorter periods during the day; most babies of this age nap for around an hour in the morning and afternoon but every baby is different and some will sleep for longer than others.

At this stage, you may have gone back to work and your baby’s daily routine may have changed; try to keep disruptions to a minimum by talking to your baby’s childminder or nursery about their routine and encouraging them to stick to the routine as much as possible. The changes in the routine may affect your baby’s sleep patterns; they may be missing you during the day and this may affect their behaviour and you may find they become more affectionate and clingy at night.

Toddler years

During the toddler years, you may find that you encounter problems; disrupted sleep patterns and changes of behaviour are very common at this age.

You may find that your toddler starts to wake during the night after months of sleeping through the night, you may find that your child has nightmares or becomes scared before bedtime or they may start to wake up very early or not fall asleep until very late.

If you encounter problems with your toddler’s sleep patterns, try to address the source of the problem; if your child is waking up too early try to encourage them to sleep for longer by putting dark blinds in their room to block out light or give them toys and books to play with in the morning when they wake up. If your child is scared to go to sleep (this can be common once children start nursery or school or if they have older siblings as they hear tales of monsters and unpleasant creatures, for example), reassure them by playing soothing music, telling them you will come and check on them in five minutes time, tell them a nice, happy story, give your child their favourite cuddly toy and ensure they can hear you in another room.

Generally, once your child has a sleep routine, they should sleep well most nights; unexpected events or changes to their daily routine can affect their sleeping patterns but they should have a suitable routine by this age. To help them settle in the evenings, encourage them to wind down by having a bath, listening to music, reading a story and cuddling up. It can also help to ensure your child is active during the day, as this will make them tired at night.

Guide to Sleeping for Mother and Baby:

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