- Elizabeth Green
General Sleep Guidelines For Infants
(scroll down for links to sleep-related resources.)
There are basically two types of sleep: REM and Non-REM. REM is considered active sleep and non-REM is quiet sleep.
The sleep cycle for most babies is around 60 minutes with half in active sleep and half in quiet sleep. Adults' sleep cycles are around 90 minutes with more time in non-REM sleep.
The circadian rhythm is developed through being exposed to light and dark and takes about 4 months to mature. Melatonin is one of the hormones that helps regulate sleep, and cortisol is one of the hormones that contributes to being awake.
Before making major changes to your baby’s sleep, make sure they are healthy.
If your baby is sick, or going through a developmental shift, or you are traveling, sleep is often disrupted.
Newborn babies are hard wired for frequent feedings and need to wake often when they are very young so they can grow. They need lots of support to help regulate all their body systems. Look at frequent waking as your baby’s way of signaling they need help and support. This is important and necessary!
Sleeping close in the first 3 months gives you a chance to help your baby get used to all the sensations that come with breathing, sleeping and eating. You get to learn about your baby and you can help more quickly when your baby is upset.
There is a sleep “adjustment” around 4 months, 9 months, 18 months, and 2 years. During these times babies are often more restless.
Keep your baby warm with layers, but don’t use a hat or blankets while they sleep at night.
Keep the temp in the room where your baby sleeps between 68-70 degrees F.
Swaddle so hips can move.Stop swaddling before your baby rolls. Encourage rolling after 3 months.
Keep your sleep routine calm and low key. If you are feeling anxious about putting your baby to bed then your baby is more likely to have a hard time settling.
Spend time outside each day, especially in the afternoon. Keep lights low in the evening and at night to help your baby settle into a good day/night cycle. Limit your baby’s exposure to screens, especially in the evening.
Use massage and touch to help your baby feel calm and connected to you.
Communicate with your baby about what’s happening so he/she feels a part of the process. Talk to your baby and then listen to their response. The clearer you are about what you are doing and what is coming next the clearer it is for your baby, even if they are too young to understand what your words mean.
Really listen to crying. Hear the message underneath the upset and reflect back what you hear. Accept that there will be crying.
As soon as you and your baby are ready, stop “putting” your baby to sleep and let them find their own way to settle. It may look like a lot of moving and fussing, making sounds and such. Offer support if your baby becomes overwhelmed with the process.
Finding ways to get rest throughout the day and night is really important since babies need frequent support and contact with you. Interrupted sleep is part of early parenting. How can you ride through this time without losing yourself?
Work as a team with your partner, if possible. Come up with a “game plan” for how you are going to help each other get as much sleep as you can while you meet your baby’s needs. Work through your differences in the light of day and not in the middle of the night.
Learning about sleep is an ongoing process. Sleep is not static. Babies grow at a tremendous rate and what works at one stage won’t necessarily work at another.
Patterns can form into habits. Keep in mind that whatever you are doing to get your baby to sleep may become what your baby expects every time. Know the difference between a positive habit for everyone and one that only works for your baby.
There will be many times when you have to put your own needs aside. Just remember to add yourself back into the equation before you are too wiped out. It is okay to ask for support! Parenting is hard work and is best done when we are not chronically depleted. Letting others help is not a sign of weakness.
Find ways to recharge yourself that don’t include too much caffeine or sugar.
Try not to compare your baby’s sleep to other baby’s sleep. It is not helpful. Take advice and filter it through what you know about your baby and your family. Trust your instincts.
Sleep aids, including pacifiers, swaddles, and swings have their place, but pay attention to how much you are using them and know when to let them go. Remember that sleep positioners are not recommended, and babies should not be put in a bouncer, or swing, or rocker for sleep.
Know what safe sleep is. Be careful of falling asleep on sofas and chairs when you are very sleep deprived. Know what safe baby wearing looks like.
Infant Sleep Resources:
Here is a list of articles that I have found helpful regarding infant sleep.
Safe Infant Sleep Guidelines from the AAP