Most babies wake up at the end of a sleep cycle if they are hungry, uncomfortable or if their breathing is obstructed. Research suggests waking up between sleep cycles to be a vital survival mechanism. If baby’s sleep state was so deep that she could not communicate her needs, then her wellbeing could be threatened. Therefore, parents should not feel pressured trying to get their newborn baby to sleep too long, too deeply, too soon. Between 3 and 6 months of age, a sleep pattern usually begins to emerge and baby may sleep for five hours or more.
For most parents, the two main problems are getting their baby to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Some babies fall asleep easily and stay asleep while others fall asleep easily, but wake up frequently. Some babies go to sleep with difficulty, but stay asleep, while others do not want to go to sleep or stay asleep. Babies that were good sleepers at six months of age may develop sleeping difficulties as they grow older and vice versa. There are all sorts of reasons why babies experience sleep difficulties, but knowing something about the different stages of sleep and what to do if your baby wakes up in the night can be helpful.
Babies experience five cycles of sleep, with each one lasting about one hour. They spend twice as much time in light and active sleep than deep sleep. During the first stage of light sleep, baby’s muscles relax and her eyelids flutter. She may twitch, grimace, suck intermittently and breathe irregularly. If baby is put in her cot at this stage, she may wake up. During deep sleep, baby’s limbs relax, her fists unfold and her breathing becomes shallow and regular. After deep sleep, babies enter the frenzied period of active sleep. During this stage, they grimace and fuss, the muscles tighten and jerk involuntarily, the eyes dart about in all directions and breathing and heart rate become irregular. However, the period between the end of active sleep and the next cycle of sleep is the most vulnerable one.
Most babies whimper and fuss when they wake up after a sleep cycle. However, if undisturbed, they may drift back to sleep again. If your baby should need feeding or a nappy change, keep this as low-key as possible and put her in her crib or cot as soon as her needs have been met. If your baby is not hungry or uncomfortable, do not pick her up, speak to her, make eye contact, put on music or lights or interact with her in any way or she will expect the same treatment every time that she wakes up. Simply place your hand on your baby to comfort her until she falls asleep again. After a few days, she will get used to the new routine and will settle back to sleep again on her own. If you reward your baby with too much attention, waking and play at odd hours may be prolonged into late childhood.
The one thing that the sleep experts all agree on is the need for a consistent, predicable, regular bedtime routine. It doesn’t matter what the routine consists of providing the same things happen every night. Your baby will soon learn to associate certain events and situations with bedtime, although it may take a week or two for her to develop new sleep habits. Once a routine has been established, stick with it consistently every night.
Here are a few tips that may help:
o Let your baby have a good kick around to tire herself out.
o Help your baby to relax in a warm bath-when she gets out, the surrounding cooler air will lower her temperature and help trigger the sleep mechanism.
o Massage your baby or read a bedtime story to help her to unwind and relax.
o Put your baby in special clothes that are only used at bedtime.
o Swaddle your baby in a cotton blanket or place her in a baby sleeping bag to remind her of the warmth and comfort of the womb.
o Use key words such a ‘Bed time’ or ‘Night-night’ so that your baby associates them with sleep.
o Put your baby down after winding and before she is fully asleep, otherwise she may be startled to find that your comforting arms are not there when she wakes up.
o Make sleeping in the crib or cot a regular habit.
o Make sure the room is dark and quiet. This helps to establish the difference between night and day.
Everyone has a period of sleep latency before going to sleep, so don’t expect your baby to fall asleep the moment that she is in her cot. Crying for no apparent reason before sleep is also normal for most babies. Sometimes, your baby just needs to unwind after a busy day and crying makes her sleepy.