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Sleep, Baby, Sleep…

Yearning for those peaceful nights when you could sleep through without any interruptions?

Ask any new parent what they miss most about their pre-baby days and they’ll probably say “sleep”. Gone are the days when a night of sweet, delicious shut-eye seems possible.

When preparing for the arrival of a baby, we often miss out on learning more about baby’s sleep. More often than not, we thought “babies sleep all the time!” or “we’ll see to it when it happens”. Understanding baby’s sleep, having a realistic expectation and gradually introducing a routine helps in promoting a healthy sleeping habit in your baby.

How your newborn sleeps

Just like adults, your baby experiences sleep-wake cycles that take her from light sleep to dream sleep to deep sleep and back again. But while most grown-ups take up to two hours to complete each cycle, newborns go through this in 50 to 60 minutes, and could be awakened at the end of each one. A baby’s biological clock begins synchronising with ours – mostly awake during the day and mostly asleep at night – at about six to nine weeks of age, and does not work smoothly until about four to five months. It’s normal for most new parents to experience sleep disruption for the first nine weeks of their baby’s life, sometimes even longer. Fret not as babies can usually manage longer period of deep sleep after that.

How much sleep does your baby need?

All babies are different and may need longer or shorter sleep hours. Some sleep better at night with longer naps in the daytime while for some, it may not be the case. Be led by your baby’s needs and observe his cues for sleep.

7 Facts You Should Know About Infant Sleep

1) Babies are not born to fall asleep on their own, let alone sleep through the night. They need to be parented to sleep, not just put to sleep. Some babies can be put down while drowsy yet still awake while others need parental help by being rocked or nursed to sleep. Rushing your baby to bed while she is still in the initial light sleep period will usually awaken her and require a repeat of effort.

2) With a shorter sleep cycle, babies usually start stirring an hour after they go to sleep. Some of them need help getting back to sleep while the rest may self-soothe and ease themselves back into a deep sleep. You can help your baby through this vulnerable period without complete waking by laying a hand on your baby’s back, patting him lightly or singing a lullaby.

3) Babies don’t sleep as deeply as grown-ups do. Not only do babies take longer to go to sleep and have more frequent vulnerable periods for nightwaking; they have twice as much active, or lighter, sleep as adults.

4) Nightwaking has survival benefits. In the first few months, babies’ needs are the highest, but their communication skills are the lowest. Suppose a baby sleeps deeply most of the night where some of her basic needs are unfulfilled. With a tiny tummy and a less efficient stimulus for hunger, this would not be good for baby’s survival. The same applies if baby’s nose is stuffed and she can’t breathe, or is cold and needs warmth. Encouraging a baby to sleep too deeply, too soon, may not be in the best survival or developmental interest of the baby.

5) Nightwaking has developmental benefits. Sleep researchers believe that babies sleep “smarter” than adults do. They theorize that light sleep helps the brain develop because the brain doesn’t rest during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In fact, blood flow to the brain nearly doubles during REM sleep.

6) Your baby’s sleep habits are more a reflection of your baby’s temperament rather than your style of nighttime parenting. It’s not your fault baby wakes up.

7) Babies still wake up, even after they mature into adult-like sleep patterns. The reasons? Painful stimuli such as colds and teething pain can keep them awake. Growth spurt and major developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, and walking drive babies to “practise” their new developmental skills in their sleep. Between one and two years of age, other causes of nightwaking include separation anxiety and nightmares.

Understanding your baby’s sleep cues

An overtired and overstimulated baby takes longer to settle and stay asleep. Pay some attention and observe the sleepy signals when baby is tired and needs a rest:

  • Calming down
  • Losing interest in people and toys
  • A slow-down in activity
  • Makes involuntary movements such as flailing arms and legs
  • Looking bored and “stoned”
  • Fussing and whining
  • Rubbing eyes, pulling ears or scratching face
  • Burying face into your chest
  • Yawning

Sleeping safely

  • It is recommended that healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep, not on their stomachs. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) incidences are said to have decreased by more than 50% since this recommendation was first made in 1992.
  • Do not place anything in the crib that may restrict your baby’s breathing such as plush toys, pillows and blankets.
  • Keep your baby warm but don’t overheat her. An ideal room temperature is between 18˚C to 22˚C.
  • Your baby should sleep on a firm and flat mattress with a smooth bedsheet that remains securely in place around the mattress.
  • Place your baby in the ‘feet to foot’ position in the cot.
  • Do not put a baby to sleep near a window, window blinds, cords or curtains.
  • Never tie a pacifier to your baby with a string as it can become entangle around your baby’s finger, hand or neck.
  • Do not use a blanket over a baby. They can pose a suffocation hazard. Instead, dress your baby in warmer clothings.
  • Breastfeed your baby whenever possible. Breastmilk decreases the risk of certain illnesses and infections, which, in turn, can decrease the risk of SIDS and other health problems.

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