Infant Sleep Patterns are Different
One of the great challenges of early parenthood is waking up during the night to attend to baby. Many new parents feel exasperated (and exhausted) at the fact that baby will not sleep more than an hour or so without waking up. You should not to try to change baby’s sleep habits to match your own. Try to better understand infant sleep patterns so you can see how put her to bed so she can sleep sounder.
It is important to remember that no one sleeps through the night. Adults and babies progress through many stages and cycles of sleep. Adults can go directly from a state of wakefulness into a state of sleep. Infant sleep patterns begin with a period of light sleep before entering deep sleep and will go between these stages throughout the night.
Know When Baby is Fully Asleep
When baby first falls asleep you will notice her eyelids flutter, breathing becomes irregular, hands and limbs are flexed, and she may startle, twitch, and show fleeting smiles. This happens because baby is not fully asleep in the first place. Parents often make the mistake of putting baby to sleep at this point and discover that she wakes up as soon as they leave the room. Once these physical movements stop and breathing becomes regular baby is then ready to be put down to sleep. The initial period of light sleep lasts around 20 minutes depending on how restless your little one is. Infant sleep patterns vary from baby to baby but most follow a similar schedule. It is important to remember babies need to be parented to sleep, not put to sleep. Reading a story, singing a lullaby, or gentle stroking on their back help baby get to a much more restful state of sleep.
Babies Have a Good Reason for Being Easy to Wake
Babies wake often because their sleep cycles are shorter than adults. After about an hour of deep sleep baby will reenter the light sleep stage. During this period any kind of stimulus can awaken baby. Baby will enter this period of sleep every hour or so throughout the night. Most restless nights will occur because baby has trouble getting back to the stage of deep sleep, not because they can’t stay asleep.
There are very practical purposes for infant sleep patterns being so different from adults. The vulnerability during light sleep is because baby cannot care for herself. Baby does not know how to pull another blanket over herself when she is cold or grab a bottle of milk when hungry so crying is the only way she can communicate a need to her parents. Sleep researchers believe the light stage of sleep also provides mental exercise while baby dreams.
They Will Begin to Sleep Longer
Remember that as baby gets older she will sleep longer. Some babies take longer to grow out of infant sleep patterns than others. Parents can be frustrated when their toddlers wake up crying in the night after it seems like they had started to sleep close to a full night. This is caused by new stimuli such as colds and teething that would wake an adult just as easily as a toddler. Older babies and toddlers will also wake up to practice new and exciting skills like crawling and walking.
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.