Everyone probably asks how your baby sleeps and you may feel permanently knackered and desperate for some more sleep. Parents in the western world are part of a culture where it is considered the norm to think that a baby’s sleep pattern needs a solution, that’s why there are shelves full of books offering routines, strategies and a quick fix for tired mums and dads.
Sleep deprivation can be one of the hardest things to cope with when we have our babies – we live in a fog, feeling permanently knackered and we are more than a tad grumpy!
So what is normal? And, by wanting our young babies to sleep through the night, are we expecting far too much from them and from ourselves?
- Babies have small stomachs and they need to feed often, which is why they need to wake and feed at least every 2-3 hours. As babies grow they can go longer between feeds – breast milk is quickly and easily digested so babies need to feed regularly throughout the day and night. Babies who are formula fed may go slightly longer between feeds as it takes longer for the milk to be digested.
- Studies have found that the majority of babies do not sleep all night, every night until they are at least a year old. One study investigating infant sleep found that 27% of babies had not regularly slept from 10pm to 6am by the age of 1 year. 13% of babies had not regularly slept through for 5 hours or more by the age of 1 year. (from www.isisonline.org.uk)
Basic sleep facts…
How we sleep
- Adult sleep cycles are 90 minutes long
- The sleep cycle means we pass through different phases of sleep – from quiet sleep to deep sleep and then back to quiet sleep again. If we wake at the end of our cycle, we quickly settle again and our sleep doesn’t feel disturbed
- Altogether about ¾ of our sleep is quiet sleep, when our brain rest and recharges, and ¼ is deep/REM Sleep, when we dream and our brain processes information.
How babies sleep
- Babies sleep differently to an adult because they fall into REM sleep first – when they can be woken up easily – before moving into Quiet Sleep – when they can be moved quiet easily.
- A baby’s sleep cycle is 60 minutes long, which is why some babies seem to wake quite frequently because they wake and may need comfort and security, as well as food, to settle again.
- Young babies experience more REM sleep time because their brain is still developing.
- As a baby gets older and develops, they will experience more Quiet Sleep than REM sleep, which means they will be able to sleep for longer periods.
Your baby is totally dependent on you. You provide him with warmth and protection, frequent access to food and you help his body and his brain develop – when babies are born their ability to control their body temperature, breathing and heart rate is underdeveloped and their brain connections are still being formed. Your baby needs to be close to you for all of these things to happen.
So, how can we cope with sleep deprivation in those early months?
- Keep life simple – do the basics and leave everything else or delegate! As long as your family has some clean clothes, some food to eat and somewhere to sleep, what else needs doing?
- Eat as well as you can to give your body all the nutrients it needs to give you energy. And that doesn’t mean cooking big meals – plenty of fruit and simple meals like jacket potatoes or something on toast are quick, easy and nutritious.
- Try to get out and about a bit – a drop-in, a baby group or just for a walk. You don’t have to plan something for every day but 2-3 times a week may help feel energized and it’s great to talk to other mums too because, chances are, they are just as knackered as you!
- Snuggle up and sleep during the day – ignore what needs doing, you need to rest!
- Ask for help – whether it is from your partner, family or a paid for service, there is no shame in needing some extra support! In other cultures, other people within the community help to look after the whole family, the mother isn’t expected to do it all on her own…
- Keep your baby close at night, she might settle better and, if you are breastfeeding, you can respond to her without properly having to wake up. This can mean having the Moses basket right next to the bed, co-sleeping in your bed or using a three-sided cot if you don’t feel comfortable about co-sleeping.
- Accept that this is how it is for a while, it is normal and it is what your baby needs to grow and develop.
For more information about baby sleep: go to www.isisonline.org.uk
Articles to come:
Baby bedtime routines and how to help your baby to sleep
Safe cot sleeping