Infant sleep is a common issue for new parents. There is a large variation in what is normal and a lot of information and misinformation about it in the media.
In general, babies should sleep for about 12-16 hours per day in total. It can vary from eight hours to 18 hours! Babies also need to feed regularly, usually seven to eight times per day as they have a small stomach. As such, there is a lot of time spent on waking up, feeding, feeling tired, sleeping and then repeating. Also, only about half of babies or less would sleep for six hours at night consistently at age three months.
Daytime sleep is very important for babies. Keeping your baby awake during the day to help make them tired at night does not work.
What can you do to help your baby sleep? The key here is to learn the cues. This is much easier to say then to do.
Babies can be quiet and alert after a sleep. They are generally more attentive to their environment in this stage. They can also have a crying phase when overstimulation is a problem. Swaddling and holding can help.
Then there are the signs of sleep readiness which include sucking, eye rubbing, yawning, looking away and fussing. Babies need to learn how to fall asleep just as they need to learn in other areas of development.
Looking out for these signs early helps your baby settle easier. It can also help to have a bedtime routine and a relaxing environment. A warm bath, a fresh nappy, dim lights and soft music can all help.
In the first six months, holding your baby or “hands-on” settling can help. Please see the responsive settling videos below for more details. If your baby become unsettled, pick them up to help them settle and stay with them until they are asleep.
In the second six months, the “hands-on” settling helps your baby calm down and fall asleep.
Older children really need a regular bedtime routine and removing screen time becomes very important in the last hour or two before bed.
Babies are just as individual as children and adults. So, it is important not to try to use a “one size fits all” schedule for everyone. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Preterm babies require very frequent feeds and unwell babies may need shorter feeds more frequently.
Finally, babies can be very loud or very quiet during sleep. This depends on their sleep phase and if they have a blocked nose or are unwell. If you are worried about your baby’s sleep, please make sure you seek medical advice.
There is a lot of information about sleep in the media – what it should be and what to do about it. The best advice for new parents would be to use what works for you and your family to help your baby develop a healthy sleep pattern.
Responsive Settling Videos from the Ellen Barron Family Centre:
Newborn Sleep Routines (and link to the tired signs):
Normal Sleep and Getting Your Baby to Sleep:
The Normal Sleep Patterns and Variations:
Current research about sleep training: