Newborns (between 0 and 3 months) have a tendency to sleep for long hours, usually 16-17 hours a day. However, this is not a continuous sleep. Generally, babies sleep only for 3-4 hours at a stretch. They wake up after every 2-4 hours for feeding. This is the normal routine of any healthy newborn baby. With passage of time and growing age, the sleep durations will get lesser with every passing month.
A report from the National Sleep Foundation, based in the U.S., says the average hours of sleep required by different age groups, starting from newborn to 65 years and above. As per this report, the average number of hours of sleep for babies in the age group of 0-3 months ranges between 14 and 17 hours. However, some of them might sleep only for 11 hours, while others for 19 long hours.
As per the facts revealed by this report, during the initial months of life, sleep releases growth hormones. These growth hormones are essential for healthy physical development. Surprisingly, babies are learning constantly while asleep. In a report published by Florida University, “How infants absorb what’s going around them”, written by Dana Byrd, it was revealed that newborn babies are better learners than what we think them to be. It was proved that they are better ‘data sponges’ than what was known.
Tips to put your newborn to sleep
As your baby grows and reaches the age of 2-3 months, you can notice a change in his or her sleeping patterns. This is the time when you can lay the foundation of good sleep habits in your baby. At this stage, the babies are capable of sleeping for about 8-10 hours at a stretch during the night. The basic notion revolves around reading the signs and indications by the baby.
Read the following guidelines to start the development of good sleep habits in your baby.
- Learn the sign language of your baby
At the very initial stages of life, that is for the initial 6-8 weeks, babies find it difficult to stay awake for long hours. They cannot stay up for more than 2 hours. If you keep your child awake for longer hours, he might get overtired. This would further make it difficult for him to fall asleep. For this reason, try to learn your baby’s sign language. Some common signs that your child may show include ear pulling, rubbing the eyes, being cranky or irritated behavior. On noticing any of these signs, try to put him to sleep. With time and practice, you will learn the daily rhythms and patterns of your baby and develop instincts to know when he is ready for a nap.
Some common signs that your baby is ready for bed include:
- Thumb sucking
- Caressing his/her favorite blanket
- Turning the face around to avoid interaction
- Slow down from active play to quiet play
- Frequent frowning
- Eyes glassed over and loss of focus, as if staring at nothing
In addition to these symptoms of sleepiness, newborn babies generally feel sleepy half an hour after the feed. If your child shows the aforementioned signs and is still kept awake, you might have to work harder to put him to sleep. An overly exhausted or over-tired baby would show signs like:
- Hard rubbing of eyes
- Crying loudly
- Extremely fussy
- Extremely cranky, so much that you cannot please him in any way
- The baby would not enter his crib to sleep if he is over tired or over exhausted
- Try to keep the nights calm
When your baby wakes up during the night, try to avoid playing with him. Also, make sure you don’t turn on the lights. Keep the noise levels low. While your baby is awake at night, don’t talk or play with him. This would only make nights exciting for him. Make your baby learn that nothing exciting happens at night and that night time is sleep time.
- Play with your baby during the day
Instead of playing at night, try to make daytime playtime. Play with him during the day when he is awake and alert. Interact as much as possible. Another important tip is to keep your baby’s room bright with lights. Also, avoid minimizing normal household sounds during the day. For this, don’t put your phone on silent mode; and don’t turn off dishwasher or washing machine just to avoid noise. If your baby sleeps through feeds, wake him up.
- Develop a bedtime routine
Setting a bedtime routine is never too early. The process doesn’t imply putting your baby to bed and being rigid with his sleeping schedule. Start with simple things like changing for bedtime, singing a lullaby or giving him a goodnight kiss. These actions over a period of time would make the baby understand it’s time to sleep.
- Help your baby learn to sleep on his own
The best way to teach your baby to sleep on his own is to put him down when he’s still awake but sleepy. Avoid nursing or rocking your baby to make him sleep. However, if your baby falls asleep during his last feed, try to jiggle him gently to wake him up before putting him to bed.
There are many mothers who don’t agree with this strategy. They tend to pat, nurse or rock the baby as a normal habit while putting him to sleep. Mothers enjoy this as the baby thrives and sleeps well.
Common Sleep Training Mistakes and how to avoid them
Many times, new mothers tend to make certain mistakes. These wrong actions or mistakes make it difficult to develop good sleeping habits in babies. These mistakes are a result of unrealistic expectations of parents. Some common ones are as listed below:
- Most of the parents tend to mistake sleep training with continuous crying for hours. Well, your baby would cry for a few minutes. But, if your baby is crying for no reason, you can always reduce the cry time with practice.
- Another mistake resulting from unrealistic expectation is to expect the baby to learn sleeping skills at a same age like the first child. Well, dear parents, every child is different with unique sleeping patterns and habits.
- Some parents think that their job is done once they have made the baby learn to sleep on his own. This is not true. You still have work to do, as your baby continues growing and developing.
- Very often, parents find baby scheduling to be a rigid form of parenting. You can always make it flexible by having certain sleeping rules like nap 1.5 to 2 hours after meal.
Besides these sleep training mistakes arising out of unrealistic expectations, there are also some other sleep training disasters made by parents for reasons like inappropriate routine. Many parents do not follow good bedtime routine. This makes it difficult for babies to learn to sleep. The normal actions of bedtime followed by many parents include:
- Blow frequently on the tummy while dressing the baby for bed.
- Play with the baby for 30 minutes before sleep.
- Give a goodnight kiss and then lay him down on his crib.
- Turn the lights off.
- Screaming at the baby for not sleeping even after an hour of getting into the bed.
However, this type of a routine may work for pets, but not for babies. The perfect or appropriate actions for sleep training include making preparations to alter the brain waves. For this, you can try any of the following techniques:
- A warm bath
- A light massage in dim lighting
- Play soft music
- Sing a lullaby
Besides these actions, you can also follow one that you find helpful in training your baby to sleep in the night. There are numerous issues and factors that can make sleep training difficult for parents. Some of them include:
- A premature baby would find it difficult to adjust to sleep habits due to growth catch-ups during the first year. Their time for newborn sleep would be extended.
- Acid reflux can make the baby irritated and fussy. Try to understand the signs to determine acid reflux and give the appropriate remedy for the problem.
Most importantly, avoid starting with a sleep training program when you are expecting guests, vacation is about to begin or you are resuming work. Sleep training requires patience, time and attention. Check your calendar and figure out when you are at home at night for a week or more at a stretch. This would make sleep training an easier process for the baby and you.
Another bad timing to begin with sleep training program is at the hospital. Don’t be impatient. Try to learn the sleep patterns of your baby. Try to learn the timings, sleeping habits and likes and dislikes of your baby before you begin with a comprehensive sleep training program. Every child has a unique personality. This would call for a unique sleep training program that depends on his choice and sleep patterns.