Helping Infants Establish Good Sleeping Patterns

By Charles Murray

Parents of newborns can spend many worried nights wondering about how much sleep their baby needs, and looking for ways to help their baby sleep through the night. Each baby has individual needs and sleeping patterns, but parents can follow guidelines for healthy sleep amounts and use various methods for encouraging their baby to sleep at night.

Just because newborns' bodies require a lot of sleep does not mean that they will sleep for long stretches of time at once, or that their sleeping patterns will be predictable. Newborns will need to sleep an average of 15-18 hours per one 24 hour day. Sometimes at this age the longest stretch of solid sleep is only 3-4 hours, hopefully at night, but not all of the sleep will be true deep sleep. Once a baby is about 3 months old, sleep needs will typically adjust to be about 15 hours of sleep in one 24 hour day, but this number can fluctuate with each individual baby. Night time sleep on an average moves to be about 4-6 hours per stretch, and is typically followed by several naps throughout the day and evening.

Parents should not be so much concerned whether their baby is sleeping for only 13 hours at age 3 months, not sleeping for more than 3 hour blocks at night, or sleeping for a solid 8 hours. Instead, some more important factors include the overall health of the baby, the temperament of the baby, and any signals the baby might be giving. Some of these might be rubbing of the eyes and ears, more fussing than usual, or difficulty calming for bedtime.

Establishing healthy sleep habits should include trying to set a positive sleep schedule. Babies require day time, and sometimes evening naps, and pairing those with a solid bed time routine will go a long way to helping that infant get the proper rest. Parents should work to provide a regular bed time, and routinely put the baby in the crib or cradle when the baby is still drowsy, but not yet in a deep sleep. Doing so will help the baby learn to sleep independently, and be able to self-sooth when he or she awakes in the middle of the night. Having a darker, quieter environment in which to sleep at night will signal to the baby that this is the time for calm, deep sleep.

If parents are worried that their baby is getting too much sleep, they should speak with their pediatrician. Typically babies will sleep longer during periods of growth and change, as their bodies need more rest. However, if a parent feels that his or her baby is too sleepy, it is always good to have that checked by a doctor to make sure it is not a sign of illness. Newborns should be awake enough every few hours to either nurse well or drink an adequate amount of formula. Burping the baby after each feeding will also help to make for a more peaceful rest.

Parents should remember that even the simple things like car rides, company visits, weather changes, or stuffy noses can all influence the sleep habits of their infants. Healthy sleep routines can include adjusting nap schedules, establishing night time habits, and looking to the cues given by their infants will help parents and babies sleep better at night.

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