Trying to understand babies' sleep can sometimes feel like figuring out a math equation. From sleep schedules and awake windows to determining when to drop a nap, your baby’s sleep is more of a complex issue than you might have anticipated as a parent. And when taking to the internet, you will likely find a plethora of recommendations and advice regarding baby sleep, making things feel even more confusing.
While all babies are different and hold a unique set of characteristics and individual challenges with sleep, there are a few important facts about getting your baby to sleep at night and for naps, that apply to most babies and will ultimately lead to better sleep for all of you.
1) Babies always sleep better in the dark with white noise.
This is how we were designed from the womb! When your baby was snuggled up in the womb it was loud and dark, so going from that to a loud stimulating environment is not going to help them get their most restful sleep. This is why we want our children (newborns and kids, no matter their age!) to sleep in a dark environment with white noise to help block out distractions and promote restful sleep. So while you may have received the cutest baby night light at your baby shower, baby night lights and musical toys during sleep are a hard “no” in our book.
2) Even if your baby fights naps or night sleep or both, it doesn’t mean they don’t need it.
Is your baby fighting sleep? I will often hear parents tell me that their baby “just doesn’t need sleep”. But this is simply not the case. All children need adequate sleep for proper development, mood regulation, and a whole host of other reasons. There are just many things that can prevent your baby from being able to fall and stay asleep.
3) Children thrive on routine.
From a young age (as early as 3 days old), developing a routine with your baby is important in establishing healthy sleep habits. And as your child gets older that routine becomes more and more important. Not only does routine serve as a transition time from an awake period to a restful period, it also helps your child feel safe and secure before sleep.
4) Most regressions are actually progressions.
You’ve likely heard of (and maybe are dreading) the 4-month sleep regression. But with most of the stages that are coined a “regression”, your baby is actually experiencing a developmental leap which can affect their sleep. And while it might seem like your previous good sleeper is suddenly taking short naps and waking up at night, there is no need to panic. Most of the time progressions last a matter of weeks and consistency during them is so important.
5) Following awake windows is KEY to promoting healthy sleep.
In the first year of life especially, making sure to put your baby down within the recommended awake windows will help ensure they aren’t getting stuck in an overtired cycle. As a general rule, the first awake window of the day is the shortest and it gradually lengthens throughout the day, with the final awake window before bed being the longest. Awake windows are very age specific and again, lengthen as babies grow older.
6) In the first year of life, the safest place for your baby to sleep is on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet.
Safe sleep for babies means that nothing else should be in their sleep space except for a pacifier and a swaddle or sleep sack. Not only is this the safest for your baby, it is also where they will get their most restful sleep!
7) Baby’s sleep cycles range from 35-50 minutes.
During a sleep cycle your baby will go in and out of stages of sleep from REM to non-REM. And when babies have trouble connecting their sleep cycles is when they will wake up every 35-45 minutes, so it is important to teach them how to do this on their own once they are old enough. Babies sleep cycles differ from our own and it is helpful to understand the differences in order to create the proper response to early wakings.
8) If your newborn won’t sleep, remember that babies don’t have the capability to self soothe in the newborn stage.
Babies are not developmentally ready to learn self-soothing skills until they exit the newborn stage, and even then they need to be taught this skill (and there are many ways to do this). Do NOT worry that you are creating bad habits in the newborn stage because it is still very much an adjustment period for all of you!
9) Nutrition and sleep go hand in hand!
If your baby isn’t getting adequate nutrition throughout the day, you can expect them to wake up throughout the night. Ensuring your baby gets full feeds every 3 hours throughout the day will help set them up for longer naps and stretches of night sleep. In addition, both adequate nutrition and adequate daily sleep totals are vital for child and early brain development.
10) Sleep training does not equal cry-it-out.
The process of sleep training simply means teaching your baby independent sleep skills and there are many ways/methods of doing this. The approach at My Sweet Sleeper is to select a method based on your child’s unique sleep profile to ensure that you are meeting your baby where they are. Regardless, sleep teaching is synonymous with “practice, practice, practice!”
When it comes to baby sleep there are many things that will vary: whether or not they use a pacifier, what time they wake up for the day, whether your baby is sleeping on their side or your baby is sleeping on stomach, or how they eventually learn to self-soothe. But by understanding these important facts and implementing them with your baby, you will help set your baby up for sleep success and hopefully be on your way to better and sweeter sleep! For more information and helpful tips on baby sleep, you can visit My Sweet Sleeper.
Author: Rachel Mitchell@mysweetsleep