Sleep Patterns: what you need to know
Sleep. It's the one topic that bonds all parents, no matter how they are raising their child and what their political preferences are. It's the one topic that we all have an opinion on, and that we like to find out about others too. How much do you get? Do you get it all in one go? How easy is it to get it? Do you miss it? And so it goes on. In some ways, it seems that the quest for sleep is a never ending cycle of anxiety, guilt and frustration. We feel anxious if our baby won't sleep, or if our baby sleeps too much. We feel anxious if our baby isn't sleeping through the night yet and we feel guilty if our baby is sleeping 'too much'. We feel frustrated when our baby won't settle and we feel frustrated if our baby wants to sleep when we have other plans. This week, on our quest to discover more about getting more sleep, we're looking at sleep patterns. This is what you need to know.
What are sleep patterns?
Simply put, sleep patterns are the patterns of activity that take place in the brain during sleep. They differ from person to person and for babies they differ depending on age. These patterns begin to form during the last months of pregnancy and, like adults, babies have different stages and depths of sleep:
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is a light sleep, where newborn babies can spend up to eight hours a day. This is where dreams occur.
- Non REM is a state of sleep that has 4 stages: drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep and very deep sleep.
When a baby sleeps, they tend to pass through all four stages of NON REM sleep, and then go back to deep sleep and then light sleep, where they then enter REM sleep. Phew. So that is a normal baby sleep pattern but be warned that the length of time your baby spends at each stage is entirely up to them, give or take a few external factors such as hunger, loud noises/ disturbances and whether or not a nappy needs changing. On average, babies sleep for:
- newborn: 16-18 hours a day; 8-9 of which are at night, with 3-5 naps in total.
- 2-4 months: 14-16 hours a day; 9-10 of which are at night, with 3 naps in total
- 4-16 months: 14-15 hours a day; 10 of which are at night, with 2-3 naps in total
- 6-9 months: 14 hours a day; 10-11 of which are at night, with 2 naps in total
- 9-12 months: 14 hours a day; 10-12 of which are at night, with 2 naps in total.
Of course, this varies from baby to baby but it's a fairly good guide to work with. Each
and every time your baby goes to sleep, they will progress through all four stages of NON REM sleep and back up again to light sleep before entering REM sleep. If you watch your baby as they fall asleep, you will see this happening.
So what happens when sleep patterns are erratic?
Newborn babies do not know the difference between night and day. They do not know that you are supposed to sleep at night and nap during the day; this is something that they need to learn. The early days of a baby's life is spent either feeding or sleeping anyway, so chances are the best advice you can have is to go with the flow here. As long as your baby is getting around 16 hours of sleep a day, then all is fine. If your baby has been sleeping 'well' but develops a more disturbed pattern, there could be many reasons why. Illness, teething, reaching developmental milestones and changes in routine can all affect sleeping patterns. Speak to your health visitor if you're concerned.
Why doesn't my baby 'sleep through'?
Newborn babies certainly are not designed to sleep through the night, or for stretches longer than around four hours. Their stomachs are too tiny and need filling a lot more regularly. Twelve weeks is usually the point where babies start to sleep for longer stretches as they are able to hold more milk in their tummies and can go longer between feeds. However, sleeping through the night is still not as common as some parents might have you think! From the National Sleep Foundation:
"By six months of age, nighttime feedings are usually not necessary and many infants sleep through the night; 70-80 percent will do so by nine months of age. Infants typically sleep 9-12 hours during the night and take 30 minute to two-hour naps, one to four times a day – fewer as they reach age one.
How can I help my baby to sleep?
There are lots of ways you can encourage good sleep patterns and help your baby to sleep. As ever, we don't champion one method over another; only you know your baby and the best ways to approach parenting. Things that you can do to help your baby to sleep include:
- sticking to a routine at bedtime
- keeping noises and other disturbances to a minimum at night time, to help baby distinguish between nap time and bed time
- keeping lights dim during sleep time
- using black out blinds, or a SnoozeShade (naturally!) for day time sleeps
- baby massage to help soothe and relax
So, confess. How does your baby sleep? Have their sleeping patterns changed drastically lately? Does this concern you, or do you prefer to go with the flow? Do leave a comment and let us know!