Newborn Sleep Basics: How Does a Baby Sleep?
Whoever coined the term "sleep like a baby" didn't seem to know much about them because newborns are notoriously restless sleepers who are hungry every few hours and rarely, if ever, make it through the night without waking up.
If you're a new parent, you might find yourself wondering or even worrying about your baby's sleep habits. Rest assured, it's completely normal for newborns to have unpredictable sleep patterns. In this article, we'll cover the fundamentals of newborn sleep, including the amount of sleep babies typically require, and provide tips on how to improve your newborn's sleep. So, take a deep breath, cherish those precious moments with your little one, and let's explore the world of newborn sleep together.
Newborn Sleep Overview
Before we delve into the details, let's cover a few essential tenets of newborn baby sleep. Understanding these facts will help you navigate those sleepless nights with a little more ease:
Newborns sleep for most of the day: A newborn baby will sleep anywhere from 14 to 17 hours out of every 24 hours, give or take. However, there isn't much of a pattern to their sleep schedule. Your little one will likely only be awake for 30 minutes to an hour at a time, and they'll nap anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours in one go.
Newborns need to eat around the clock: Newborns have tiny tummies, so loading them up with breast milk or formula at bedtime and expecting them to sleep through the night isn't realistic (at least not yet). Newborn babies need to eat at least every two to four hours, including overnight.
But how do you know when your baby's cries are a call for food? Learning to differentiate between their hunger cues and other cries is key. This way, you can respond promptly when they're truly hungry, hoping that a little nourishment will send them back to dreamland quickly.
Safe Sleep Tips
Before we proceed, let's take a moment to discuss safe sleep practices for newborns. Ensuring a safe sleep environment is crucial for your baby's well-being. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Always place your newborn flat on their back in their cot or bassinet.
- Avoid loose bedding, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or cot bumpers.
- It's recommended to room-share with your baby until they're at least six months old. This practice helps prevent overheating, suffocation, and reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Newborns: Restless and Noisy Sleepers
While older children and adults can snooze peacefully for hours, young babies are prone to squirming around and frequently waking up. This is because around half of their sleep time is spent in REM (rapid eye movement) mode, a light, active sleep phase during which babies move, dream, and may wake up with a whimper.
Don't worry! As your baby matures, their sleeping patterns will also evolve. They will have fewer REM cycles and more periods of deeper, quieter sleep.
Newborns can be quite noisy sleepers as well. Irregular breathing, including short pauses and strange noises, is usually not a cause for concern. It's important to understand that a newborn's respiratory system is still developing. Their normal breathing rate is about 40 to 60 breaths per minute while awake, which may slow to 30 to 40 breaths per minute during sleep. They might also take shallow, rapid breaths for 15 to 20 seconds, followed by a temporary pause when they stop breathing entirely for a few seconds. These occurrences are attributed to their immature breathing-control centre in the brain.
Confusion Between Day and Night
Newborns are not born with a set sleep-wake cycle, which means they don't distinguish between day and night. This can lead to sleep disruptions for parents, especially during the first few weeks. However, you can help your baby develop a better understanding of day and night by implementing a few strategies:
Encourage exposure to natural light: During the day, open curtains or blinds to let natural light into the room where your baby spends most of their time. Natural light helps regulate their internal clock and promotes wakefulness.
Establish a bedtime routine: Develop a consistent bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This can include activities like a warm bath, gentle massage, reading a book, or singing a lullaby. Keep the routine calm and soothing to help your baby relax.
Differentiate day and night sleep environments: Create a distinction between daytime naps and nighttime sleep. During the day, keep the environment bright and active with noise and activity. At night, create a dim and quiet atmosphere to promote sleep.
Gradually, with time and consistency, your baby will start to adjust to a more regular sleep-wake cycle.
Tips for Helping Your Newborn Sleep Better
While newborns have their own sleep patterns and needs, there are some strategies you can try to help your baby sleep better:
Follow a consistent routine: Establishing a predictable daily routine can help your baby develop a sense of security and familiarity. Consistency with feeding, nap times, and bedtime can signal to your baby when it's time to sleep.
Create a calm sleep environment: Make sure your baby's sleep space is comfortable, safe, and conducive to sleep. Use a firm mattress, keep the room at a moderate temperature, and minimize noise and light disturbances.
Respond to your baby's cues: Learn to differentiate between your baby's different cries and cues. Respond promptly when they're hungry or need comfort, but also give them the opportunity to self-soothe and fall back to sleep if they're not genuinely in need of immediate attention.
Try gentle soothing techniques: Experiment with gentle techniques to help soothe your baby to sleep. These can include swaddling, rocking, gentle motion (such as using a baby swing or taking a car ride), white noise, or using a pacifier if your baby finds it soothing.
Remember that every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It may take time to find the strategies that best suit your baby's needs and preferences.
In summary, newborns have erratic sleep patterns and require frequent feeding and attention. By following safe sleep practices, understanding their sleep habits, and implementing strategies to establish a sleep routine, you can help your baby sleep better over time. Remember to be patient and flexible as you navigate your baby's sleep journey.