Sleep periods develop as the brain matures. This means that there are times during the day and night when your baby’s brain will become drowsy and less alert. Think of time windows during which your baby will become drowsy. These time windows when the sleep process begins to overcome your baby are the best times when your baby should be soothed to sleep. The reason for this is because it is easier to fall asleep at these times and the restorative power of sleep is greatest when your baby sleeps at the time when his brain is in a drowsy state. Your baby is able to sleep at other times, but the restorative power of sleep is much less. It is more difficult for your baby to fall asleep or stay asleep when the brain is not in a drowsy state. Unfortunately, your baby’s brain may not be drowsy when you want your baby to sleep. You cannot control the times when your baby will become drowsy anymore than you can control when he will become thirsty. As your baby’s brain matures, these biologically determined periods of drowsiness will become more predictable and longer. Surprisingly, the periods of day sleep and night sleep do not develop at the same time. The night sleep periods develop first, so you will notice the longer sleeping periods at night before you will notice longer naps.
Night Sleep: have you noticed that there are periods of fussiness, crying, or agitated wakefulness in the evening hours during the second month of life? This fussy period usually peaks at about 6 weeks of age or 6 weeks after the due date for a baby born early. Your baby begins to make social smiles at about this time and afterwards the fussiness begins to decrease. The onset of social smiles followed by a decrease in fussiness reflects maturational changes within the baby’s brain. The brain becomes more able to inhibit the stimulating effects of external systems; you notice that your baby is more able to console himself, which permits your baby to fuss less and to calm down, especially at night. As a result of these biological changes, at 6 weeks of age, or about 6 weeks after your expected date of delivery, your baby’s brain has developed night sleep organization. This means that the longest sleep period occurs at night. This longest sleep period is only 4, 5, or 6 hours long, but it regularly occurs at night. You cannot control the exact time at night when this long sleep will occur. Night sleep usually develops without problems at 6 weeks of age because: 1) We have darkness as a time cue; 2) We slow down our own activities and become quieter; 3) We behave as if we expect our baby to sleep. These 3 factors may be absent during the day.
Day Sleep: Between 12 and 16 weeks of age, day sleep organization will develop as the brain matures. The reason that daytime sleeping, or naps sometime become a problem is that there may be too much stimulation (light, noise, or motion) and too many errands or activities which interfere with good quality daytime sleep. This was not a problem when your baby was younger because then your baby was less social and less interested in outside stimulation.
Sleeping during the day will improve night sleeping. Your baby does not “fall” asleep immediately as a light switch is turned off. Rather, time is required for the sleep process to surface. During the day and in the evening, the better rested your baby is when the biological sleep process is beginning to appear, the easier it is for her to fall asleep and stay asleep. The reason it is easier for your baby to fall asleep before she becomes overtired is that when your baby becomes overtired from nap deprivation, she becomes fatigued, and her body produces stimulating hormones to fight the fatigue. This chemical stimulation interferes with night sleep and subsequent naps. So remember, sleep begets sleep and more pointedly, good naps improve the quality of night sleep. The opposite is also true: Nap Deprivation Causes Night Waking.
HELPING YOUR BABY NAP
There are 3 factors to help your baby sleep during the day
- TIMING. Keep the intervals of wakefulness short. Look at your clock when your baby wakes up. After about 1 hour, begin a soothing process before your baby appears grumpy, crabby or drowsy. Usually the total period of wakefulness plus soothing should be less than 2 hours. Please avoid the mistake of always keeping your baby awake for about 2 hours before trying to soothe your baby to sleep. Most parents do not appreciate how little wakefulness young babies can comfortably tolerate. Some babies go to sleep after being awake for only one hour. Perfect timing produces no crying. Think of surfboarding: You want to catch the wave of drowsiness as it is rising to enable your baby to have a long and smooth ride to deep slumber, but if your timing is off and the wave crashes into an overtired state, then the ride is bumpy and brief. If you have accidentally allowed your child to become overtired, there may be some crying which you may ignore for 5-20 minutes. Crying to sleep here occurs as the consequence of being overtired.
- MOTIONLESS SLEEP. Use a crib, bed, or a stationary stroller, swing, or cradle. Vibrations during sleep, such as a car ride, force the brain to a lighter sleep state and reduce the restorative power of sleep. You may wish to use a moving swing for a few minutes as part of the soothing process.
- CONSISTENCY IN SOOTHING STYLE. Parents often assume that there is a right or wrong way to soothe a baby to sleep. This is not the case. Falling asleep is simply a habit that your child will learn best if you are consistent. Please understand that some parents and professions use judgmental terms to claim that their way is the right way, but for every positive term, there is an opposing negative term. Being consistent is more important than being judgmental.
Method A. After soothing your baby for several minutes, you always put your baby down to sleep, whether she is or is not yet asleep. The soothing period is a wind-down transition from light to dark, active to quiet, alert to drowsy. Soothing may include breast or bottle-feeding.
Result: Your baby learns how to soothe herself to sleep without being held. This allows your baby to fall asleep by herself in a crib.
If you approve of this method, you may use positive judgmental terms such as independence, learning self soothing skills or acquiring the capacity to be alone.
If you disapprove of this method, you may use negative judgmental terms such as unnatural, insecurity, abandonment, neglect, or good controlling.
Method B. You always hold your baby until he is in a deep sleep. You may then lie down with your baby, hold your baby during his nap, or put him down only after he is in a deep sleep.
Result: Your baby learns to associate the process of falling asleep with your breast as a pillow, your body rhythm, and your body odor. Your baby may have difficulty falling asleep by himself in his crib.
If you approve of this method, you may use positive judgmental terms such as natural, security, 24-hour parenting.
If you disapprove of this method, you may use negative judgmental terms such as dependence, spoiling.
One method is not better than another; therefore, there is no reason to use these judgmental terms.
Be decisive; choose a method of soothing style and be consistent. There is no right or wrong method, but consistency helps your baby sleep well because the process of falling asleep is learned behavior. Switching between Method A and Method B confuses your baby and interferes with your baby learning how to nap. Parents and baby sitters should do what is comfortable for them, but they should handle the baby in the same way.
Advice: If you have more than one child, it is very difficult to consistently use Method B. Therefore, please consider employing Method A. An exception might be if you have full-time help.
Advice : Most first-time parents initially find Method B more comfortable, but they do not anticipate that later, when the baby is bigger or when they want to do other things during naps, their baby will have to learn Method A. Switching from Method B to Method A may be stressful for you and your baby and involve some crying, or your baby might make the change without any difficulty at all.
Advice : Parents of colicky babies initially find Method B to be easier because colicky babies are more wakeful and more irregular than other babies. This means that it is harder for these babies to settle down to sleep unassisted and it is harder for their parents to predict those times when they need to sleep. This usually results in prolonged soothing efforts and if parents try to switch methods later, it is often very stressful to the entire family. You may try Method A throughout the day, but you may abandon your efforts during a well defined wakeful or fussy period in the evening until the baby is 3-4 months of age. During a fussy period, do whatever works best to soothe your baby. If your baby is very fussy or wakeful, read Your Fussy Baby: How To Soothe Your Newborn.
Switching from Method B to Method A may be associated with crying, but this crying does not cause any physical or emotional harm to your baby. Consider the analogy of sleeping your baby to feeding your baby. You do not feed on the run; you do try to find a quiet, relaxed place to feed your baby. You try to anticipate when your baby will become hungry. You try to not let your baby become over hungry. You do not deprive your baby of a feeding simply because it is inconvenient. The same is true of naps.
Do not become a slave to your baby’s nap pattern; instead, respect his need to have good quality naps, try to distinguish between routine days and exceptional days. On routine days, somewhat organize activities around his naps. On exceptional days, naps may be lost because of special events. If you suffer the inconvenience of hanging around your house on routine days when you think your baby will need to nap, over the next few weeks, you will notice fewer and longer naps, longer intervals of wakefulness during the day, no evening or late afternoon fussiness, and longer periods of night sleep.
- Keeping the intervals of wakefulness too long.
- Using swings during sleeping.
- Being inconsistent in methods used to soothe your baby to sleep. When parents make these mistakes or there are exceptional days, your baby becomes overtired.
When your baby is overtired, your baby needs to sleep. Although your baby needs to sleep, because he is overtired, he is also hyper-stimulated from his body’s response to the fatigue and he has difficulty falling asleep. Your soothing efforts now might be more stimulating than calming. To correct the problem, which resulted from real life conflicts between your baby’s biological needs and your family’s social activities, you may have to make sure that there is no stimulation when you put your baby down. This includes social stimulation. Non stimulation allows the sleep process to surface without being interfered with by your talking, rocking, or hugging. Your fatigued baby may now cry because being severely fatigued is painfully uncomfortable. For TREATMENT : “Let your baby cry it out” is sometimes needed to correct problems caused by the parents. Parents should not feel bad when this occasionally occurs. Returning to the analogy of sleeping and feeding: the over-hungry baby twists, burns and needs time to settle down to suck well and you cannot make the baby settle faster. The over-tired baby also needs time to settle down. Read Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child for more detailed information regarding prevention and treatment of sleep disturbances.
FOR PREVENTION: “LET YOUR BABY CRY IT OUT” IS NOT THE WAY YOUR BABY WILL LEARN TO SLEEP.
Children learn to sleep when parents focus on Timing, Motionless Sleep and Consistency In Soothing Style.
Looking Ahead: 3-4 months Watch for the development of an earlier bedtime signaled by drowsy signs: around 6 pm. After soothing, try to put your baby down at night drowsy but awake. Consider moving the baby out of your bedroom for night sleep. Try to have fathers involved in soothing to sleep at bedtime and in the middle of the night.