Keeping track of newborn sleep patterns is one way to find out for sure whether a baby is getting the amount of sleep he needs. That is to say, keeping track of the child’s slumber, i.e. for how long and often he wakes up, the frequency and length of his naps during the night, and when he falls asleep. This helps parents understand their child’s unique sleep schedule and helps in correcting patterns such as inconsistent bedtimes or night waking, before they turn into bad habits.
What Are Newborn Sleep Patterns?
An average newborn sleeps the major part of the day and night, waking only every few hours to feed. It is very hard for new parents to know how often and for how long their newborn should sleep. Unfortunately, there are no precise schedules for newborns, as they have their days and nights confused.
Newborns generally sleep about eight to nine hours of the daytime and around eight hours at night. Until about three months of age, babies begin to sleep through the night for around six to eight hours at a stretch, or until they weigh up to 12 or 13 pounds. Newborns have a small stomach, which makes it necessary for them to wake up every few hours to feed. In most cases, a baby awakens and is ready to feed every three to four hours. It is not usually advisable to wake a baby from his slumber for feeding, unless otherwise advised by the baby’s physician. However, some premature babies need to feed frequently and must be awakened to feed. An important thing to note though is that, a newborn must not be left to sleep longer than five hours in the beginning five to six weeks.
Like adults, babies have various depths and stages of sleep. Depending on the sleep stage, a baby may actively keep moving or lie very still while asleep. Newborn sleep patterns begin to form during the last few months of pregnancy, i.e.; active sleeping at first and quiet sleeping around the eight month. There are two types of sleep states:
- Red Eye Movement sleep (REM) – this is a state of light sleep, when dreams occur and the eyes rapidly keep moving back and forth. Even though babies sleep around 16 hours of everyday, about half of it is REM sleep.
- Non-REM sleep – this has 4 stages in it:
1. Drowsiness – this is like dozing. The eyes droop and may keep opening and closing on intervals
2. Light sleep – the baby keeps moving and may get startled or jump on loud sounds
3. Deep sleep – the baby does not move and sleeps quietly without any sound
4. Very deep sleep – the baby does not move and is very quiet.
Babies enter stage 1 at the beginning once they fall asleep and then move into stage 2,3 and 4, and then back to stage 3, then 2 and last REM. These cycles usually occur several times during Newborn sleep patterns. Newborns may keep awakening as they pass from the deep sleep stage to light sleep and may have difficulties during the first few months in going back to sleep.
Newborn sleep patterns can simply be tracked by filling a chart everyday, which can help parents or caretakers feel more in control of their routines. This is something particularly important because parents tend to feel overwhelmed by their baby’s nighttime demands.
Charts for Tracking Newborn Sleep Patterns
There are various sleep pattern charts available for parents, which can be printed and used by parents to solve and track sleep problems their newborns may be facing. The charts have boxes which can be shaded to indicate when the child is asleep. The timing of when the baby gets up can be marked, as well as naps. For example, by marking the times the baby wakes up in the morning and from naps with a letter “U”, and the letter “D” to show when the baby is put down at bedtime or a nap. A pattern usually emerges after several days of filling in the chart. This information can help parents decide whether they need to make some adjustments to their baby’s sleep routines.
Sleep Readiness Signs
There are certain signs that parents can watch out for, that show when the baby is ready for sleep, such as:
- Rubbing eyes
- Looking away quite much
If a baby is a consistent sleeper but suddenly keeps awakening from his sleep, there maybe a problem that is probably making the child uncomfortable, such as an ear infection. However, some sleep disturbances may simply be due to changes in development or as a result of overstimulation. Parents should watch for changes in their newborn sleep patterns, to better understand and regularize their baby’s sleep routines.