Sleep Issues Sleep Issues

Babies don't start to develop a diurnal cycle until about a month of age. By four months, most babies will be able to sleep for stretches of 5-7 hours. After their long stretch, they'll wake to feed, and then continue waking up about every 2 hours until morning.

One month old babies usually sleep about 16 hours a day. By one year, most children are sleeping about 13 hours with two naps consolidating into one. Some babies seem to want to start their 'big sleep' around 7-8 pm, while others aren't ready for the long stretch sleep cycle till later. A common signal that a baby is ready for bed is unprovoked crying/whinniness. Some babies will even droop their head or rub their eyes.

Some babies are champion sleepers, and start consolidating their sleep cycles at about 2 months of age. Breastfed "good" sleepers might go 8-9 hours straight, while a bottle fed baby might go as long as 12 hours without crying. On the other end of the spectrum are the extremely light sleepers. There are babies who wake every 2-3 hours throughout the night for months, and toddlers who still don't stay asleep through the night.

It is thought that the long-distance sleepers rise in and out of sleep cycles through the night, but are able to return back into a deep sleep without waking up their parents. The light sleepers, can't soothe themselves, and cry out when they come out of a sleep cycle.

It is recommended that parents start encouraging "self soothing" techniques between the ages of 2 and 4 months. When the baby is fed, dry and content, start the routine. Dim a few lights in the living room, and start a lullaby. As the baby is watching you, smile and close your eyes. The baby might mimic you and close his/her eyes briefly. Then put the baby on your shoulder, leaning on a burp pad, and hum to the baby as you walk him/her to the crib/bassinet. Place the burp pad in the crib and gently place the baby on top of it, on his/her back, briefly stroke his/her forehead and say "good night......." Then walk away. As the baby starts fussing, wait a few moments, and go back in and do an abbreviated version of the lullaby, stroke or pat him/her. If the baby is hysterical, you can lift him/her and repeat the lullaby - then the lying in the crib scenario. You are trying to teach the baby that whenever he/she hears this lullaby, being placed into the crib will soon follow. The base of this technique is that if a baby self-soothes him/herself to sleep, he/she will be able to get back to sleep when they naturally wake up in between sleep cycles as the night goes on.

Despite this technique, many babies are still insomniacs. It is thought they are the 'super light sleepers'. In these situations, one of the parents can lie sideways on a mat on the floor with the baby being held in the fetal position facing away. The baby will feel your heart beat and breathing. Pretend you are snoring. Hopefully the baby will be lulled into a sense of being in the womb and will fall back asleep. Try not to automatically nurse or feed the baby, unless five or six hours have elapsed, or if this is the second 'wake up' that night.

There are lots of factors in what is a good bedtime for a baby. 7pm might be too early for some families if the mother works outside the home,or it might be pefect if the older kids need help with homework. There are also lots of cultural differences with infant sleep. Many mothers will have the baby on a schedule with regular naps in their crib. Twins are often put on a regular schedule, while babies with older siblings often sleep "on the go" strolling back and forth to school. In many cultures, babies snooze in a sling, basket or papoose, and don't have a crib, let alone their own room.

Infant insomnia might not be a problem for some parents, but for many it can cause a wide array of sleep deprivation problems. Here are some excellent comprehensive books and web resources for sleep help:

  • Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer - by Harvey Karp 2003
  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One to Four-Year-Old - by Harvey Karp, Paula Spencer 2005