Understanding Babies Sleep

Phases of sleep

Like adults, babies go through different phases of sleep during the night. Many people are unaware of the phases of sleep and presume that they have slept heavily all night. During the night, people fall in and out of REM and non-REM sleep; REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is lighter and easier to disrupt; during this phase of sleep the mind is still active and this is when dreams and nightmares take place. Like adults, babies fall into periods of lighter, REM sleep around five times each night; it is estimated that we slip into REM sleep every hour and a half.

You will be able to notice the difference in your baby when they are in deep sleep and REM sleep; you may be able to see their eyes moving under their eye lids, they may move about, make noises and stir. When they are in a phase of deep sleep, their breathing will be heavier and more regular and they will stay largely still. It is also very common for babies to move very suddenly and wake with a start (this is known as a hypnagogic startle); as they grow up, these will become much less regular.

How much will my baby sleep?

All babies are different and some may sleep more than others; however, as a general guide, newborns babies will usually sleep for around 16-19 hours per day, which will be made up of short naps during the day and night (most newborn babies never sleep for more than four or five hours at a time as they need to feed little and often). As they grow up, babies begin to sleep for longer periods of time and they will start to sleep less during the day.

At 3 months, babies usually sleep for around 13-15 hours per day; they will start to sleep for longer periods of time during the night and they will usually only wake once or twice during the night.

At 6 months, babies usually sleep for around 12-14 hours per day; they may only be waking once during the night, or if you’re really lucky, they may start to sleep through the night.

From the age of 12 months, children will start to sleep less during the day and will usually sleep for around 10 hours at night without waking up.

The importance of dreams

Sleep is very important for newborn babies because they are growing and developing all the time; however, sleep is also important because it allows them to process the day’s events during their dreams. Dreams are a way for us all to remember that has happened to use during the day, but they are particularly important for newborn babies because they have so much new information to process each day. Babies have a lot more dream (REM) sleep during the night then adults; it is estimated that premature babies spend up to 80 percent of their sleep time in REM sleep.

Dreaming helps to hone memory skills and make babies aware of their surroundings.

Napping during the day

As your baby gets older, you may start to notice that they nap less during the day and sleep for longer during the night; however, you may also notice that they start to stay awake for longer in the day and then fall asleep late in the afternoon and early in the evening and this can cause problems at bedtime. Babies who have a nap late in the day are less likely to feel tired when it comes to bedtime and you may struggle to get them to sleep. If you are experiencing these problems, you may find it useful to try and encourage your child to have a short nap earlier in the afternoon. As your child gets older, you will find that they can last the whole afternoon without a nap and they will usually be ready for bed by the time it gets to bed time.

Establishing an evening feeding routine

Newborn babies need to feed often because their stomachs are still very small; however, by the time they reach three months of age, you will notice that they start to feed less during the night and sleep for longer periods between feeds. To encourage your baby to get used to an evening routine, feed them slightly earlier in the evening and then get them ready for bed; their digestive system will start to shut down as it gets later in the day, like adults and they will be able to sleep for longer periods of time between feeds. You can start to get your baby used to an evening routine from the age of about 6-8 weeks; encouraging them to relax and wind down in the evenings will help them to get used to the difference between day and night and this will help them to associate evenings with going to sleep.

Should I stay with my baby until they fall asleep?

Although it may seem like the nicest thing to do, you could be making a rod for your own back if you decide to sit with your baby until they fall asleep every night. Babies like to feel your presence but they can become reliant on you being there and this can be problematic if they want you every time they wake up during the night (newborns wake up around five times during the night and you may not feel up to attending to them each time; you also need to think about getting them used to when you’re not there and they are staying with a relative or friend, for example). To avoid these problems but ensure your child knows they are safe and loved, spend time with them during the evening, bath them, read stories to them and give them snuggles before bed; try to put them down when they start to show signs of tiredness (including rubbing their eyes and touching their ear). Give your baby a cuddle and a kiss goodnight and then leave the room; you can pop in and out to check they are ok and reassure them if they are still awake. It is a good idea to get them used to going to sleep on their own from an early age.

Guide to Sleeping for Mother and Baby:

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