Confused About Baby Sleep Patterns? Here Is What You Need to Know
How does your baby sleep? Do they sleep through the night? How easy is it to have a baby that sleeps well?
Sleep is a topic that bonds all parents. It's the one topic that we all have an opinion on and we like to find out about how other people’s babies sleep, too.
In some ways, it seems that the question of 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 worried 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 annoyed if our baby wants to sleep when we have other plans. That’s why this feature looks at baby sleep patterns; we’ve collated all 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 your baby’s age. A baby’s sleep 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 and newborn babies can spend up to eight hours a day in this condition. This is the part of sleep where dreams occur.
Non-REM is a state of sleep that has four 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, from where they then enter REM sleep. If you watch your baby as they fall asleep, you may even see this happening. This is a normal baby sleep pattern but be warned that the length of time your baby spends in each stage is entirely up to them. Other factors may affect their sleep patterns such as hunger, loud noises and 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.
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 the best advice is to go with the flow at this stage. As long as your baby is getting around 16 hours of sleep a day, all is fine. If your baby has been sleeping 'well' but develops a more disturbed pattern, there could be many causes. Illness, teething, reaching developmental milestones and changes in routine can all affect sleeping patterns. Speak to your health visitor if you're concerned and read up on baby sleep regressions – see the link below.
Why doesn't my baby 'sleep through'?
Newborn babies are certainly not designed to sleep through the night, or for stretches longer than around four hours at a time. Their stomachs are tiny – around the size of their fist - and need filling regularly.
Babies start to sleep for longer stretches at around twelve weeks. This is usually the point where they are able to hold more milk in their tummies and so can go for longer between feeds. However, sleeping through the night is still not as common as some parents might have you think!
The National Sleep Foundation says:
"By six months of age, night-time feeds are usually not necessary and many infants sleep through the night; 70-80 per cent 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 baby bedtime routine.
- keeping noises and other disturbances to a minimum at night time, to help babies distinguish between day and night.
- keeping lights dim during sleep time.
- using black out blinds, or a SnoozeShade (naturally!) for daytime 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!
A month-by-month guide to sleep regression
Three baby sleep problems and how to fix them
What should my baby wear in bed? Tips from our sleep experts