Newborn Sleep (or lack of)



Newborns sleep a lot... just not always when you want them to. An average newborn baby will sleep around 16 hours a day. That leaves just 8 hours of waking time each day and it often seems like those awake hours happen at night... when you want to be sleeping. And even with 16 hours of sleep throughout the day newborns often only sleep for an average of 3 hours at a time. Some sleep in even smaller blocks of just 1 to 2 hours and a lucky few may make it for a full 4. Yes, the first weeks of life are tough and involve sleepless nights and exhausted days.


I always found it both ironic and extremely frustrating when I was told to "sleep when the baby sleeps". Easy for you to say... you are probably sleeping! And the baby sleeps mostly during the day which is when I have to get things done. Sleep when the baby sleeps? It's a great idea in theory and if you can do it great (and I'm jealous) but if you can't your best bet is to focus on helping your baby sleep and understanding how sleep in newborns works (usually since all babies are different).


Don't think that any of this means you will suddenly stop being exhausted or won't have to get up several times during the night to feed, change or just hold and comfort your new baby. But it may make it slightly easier. And through it all just remember that the newborn phase is short. It may not seem like it at the time, sleepless nights feel like they go on forever and turn into days of haze and fatigue but when you look back the newborn days will be gone so fast and you will wish to have those days (and sleepless nights) back.


Realize... Newborns are unpredictable little things. These tiny humans have no clue what's going on and can't control much of anything except you. Their sleep is usually inconsistent and their sleep cycles are short. They also spend a lot of time in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. You will see their sweet eyes flutter under their lids. You will see random and sporadic smiles and even watch as they flail feeling as though they are falling. I suggest swaddling for this. It helps them feel supported and embraced (much as they did when in utero). The first month and a half is truly the hardest when it comes to sleep for most parents. It's a period of adjustment for everyone.


Around 6 weeks your baby will most likely start to sleep less during the day and more at night. Their naps may become shorter, they may stay up longer. Their REM cycles are shorter and they will go into longer deeper sleep. But don't think you are out of the woods yet... they will still need you to wake up to tend to their needs at night.


It won't be until around 4 months if not closer to 6 months that your baby will actually be able to sleep for 8 or more hours at night. Some may be able to reach this milestone earlier but most don't reach it until later. And some never really make it to the long stretches and wake up at night clear into the toddler years and in some really unfortunate cases beyond.


Everyone who has had a child will have some input to offer on helping your child sleep. You will hear everything from trying to sleep train from their first night home to letting them cry it out and everything in between. All kids are different and are as vast and varied as the opinions on helping your baby sleep. SO what I am giving you is my opinion, tips and suggestions. I'm no expert but I've had 4 kids and I have survived (if sometime only barely).


Let the baby sleep and try to let them sleep on their own. Nothing is more difficult in the first few weeks than trying to control a newborns sleep. If you can do it, power to you but sometimes it's better to just let them sleep. After all... they literally just entered the world. If your baby can't stay awake longer than 2 hours at a time that is normal. During the 2 hours feed them, comfort them, play with them. Let them hear you and make lots of eye contact. When they do get drowsy let them sleep. If they get over tired they will get fussy and you will have to work harder to comfort and get them to sleep. This actually teaches bad habits such as only wanting to go to sleep when they are being actively attended. This doesn't mean you can't rock your baby to sleep! But giving them the ability to fall asleep on their own is one of the most valuable tools you have in working towards sleeping through the night.

Separate Day Sleep and Night Sleep. You've probably heard about babies getting their days and nights mixed up. It happens. They don't think day is night but their schedule is so far off that most of their sleeping is done during the day and most of their up time is when you want to be asleep. Realize you can't really help this until they are a couple weeks old but once they are you can help them realize the difference between day and night. Wake them up at the same time each morning (yes, even if they only just went to sleep). Play with them in well lit rooms. Offer a bottle every couple hours so they learn to eat on a schedule. When you put them down for a daytime nap keep them in a light room (light not bright). When it's time for bed have a routine and stick to it. Bath, bottle, dim room, and put them to sleep at the same time each day. When he does wake at night do not play or turn on lights. Keep noise to a minimum and this includes your talking and singing. This is hard! Your instinct is to talk and comfort but you can comfort without stimulating. After a few weeks they will get it. Night is for sleep and rest. Yes, weeks. This is not a quick fix sort of thing. Sorry.

Teach them to put themselves to sleep. Around 6-8 weeks your baby may be able to begin to self sooth. Babies generally can't do this prior to this age which is why I truly don't recommend the cry it out method, especially for babies under 2 months. After following the same bedtime routine you have already established, lay them down when they are sleepy but still awake so they can go to sleep on their own. NOW... the last part is hard. I know this first hand. Some babies can't and won't go to sleep on their own. That is a whole other issue and if that is the case use a rocking chair or other method that you reserve JUST FOR BEDTIMES. But remember that your baby is learning habits and this really could be creating one. If you are ok with that great but if you can avoid it you may make your nights much easier without rocking or other means.

Learn your babies cues. Does he rub his eyes when tired or stretch? Make a certain cry when he's sleepy? A whimper when he's hungry? Learning your babies signals are a life saver. I'll be honest... my youngest I could discern her cries as if they were as clear as words... but my oldest was a total mystery but I knew if she balled her fists and raised them to her ears she was tired. All babies have clues... it's just a matter of figuring them out.

Other things to consider which all become personal preferences and you will need to decide on is nursing or feeding to get them to sleep. Putting them in bed with you to sleep or feed. These are things that may make your life easier short term but could be very counterproductive long term. Be sure to look into co-sleeping safety if that is what you choose.


And last but not least... do what you have to do. Motherhood is often just about survival. Sometimes you have to break every rule and just do whatever needs done to make it to the next day. I've been there myself. And overall if you are doing what you feel is in the best interest of your baby (and you) then you are doing the right thing.

Good luck and hopefully... Good Nights.

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