The science of newborn sleepBabies sleep in utero, but they’re not born with sleep association or any concept of day and night. They only start to produce the sleep hormone melatonin around 12 weeks of age, which explains why they wake up frequently for feeds before then. The circadian rhythm (the body’s natural internal sleep regulation) also takes a while to develop but once it does, infants sleep longer at night, meaning you can squeeze in a few more precious hours of rest.
Sleep disruptionVarious stages in a baby’s development impact their sleep performance, so it’s important to remain flexible with a newly established routine. Common ages where we see sleep regression are 4 months and 8/9 months, when separation anxiety kicks in. Teething can also disrupt sleep because of the discomfort and distress it causes, making your little one more restless than normal. Toddlers, meanwhile, are learning lots of new things, which is exciting as well as overwhelming, so they may start to devise strategies to keep you in the room longer for comfort before they nod off.
Creating healthy sleep habitsRegardless of age, one of the most useful things we can do with a small child is to build healthy sleep patterns. There are many different approaches that depend on the baby, and your family’s circumstances. Some general recommendations include:
- Be consistent – set a regular bedtime and wind-down routine, which is the same every night
- Exposing your child to natural sunlight early in the day will help to set he circadian rhythm and regulate sleep patterns
- Keep the bedroom dark and quiet at night with no blue light
- Before settling them, check that baby isn’t too hot or too cold by feeling the nape of their neck or chest (rather than forehead)
- Establish if they are thirsty, frightened, in pain, or if the nappy is wet
- In the early days, many babies like the security of being swaddled but only use a light covering to avoid overheating
- If possible, practice placing the baby in the cot drowsy but not fully asleep on occasion, so they can learn to settle themselves
- Try soothing them by staying close and saying the same words, like a little mantra, on a nightly basis, lulling them into relaxed mode
- Baby massage techniques are a great tool to learn and use at home before bedtime
- If baby nods off in response to the breast or bottle, encouraging them to do it independently can be tricky. Ultimately, it is achievable if you use consistent methods that trigger the right brain chemistry and set their internal clock