Sleep is a huge topic when it comes to parenting and most parents experience challenges with their
little one’s sleep at some point.
Newborn sleep is a challenge of its own. It’s inevitable that when we have a newborn baby we experience unorganised sleep patterns, sleep disruption, regular night feeds and lots of support for baby to sleep. This is normal and part of the newborn process and what is often referred to as the “4th trimester”.
As babies get older, between 3-6 months of age, their sleep patterns begin to become more organised.
Night time sleep is the first to organise, this is due to melatonin production beginning at around 3 months of age and a baby’s natural circadian rhythm beginning to take control.
Following the organisation of night sleep comes nap organisation. The morning nap organises first, followed by the afternoon naps.
Sleep organisation is part of your baby’s development, however, remember that all babies are unique and some consolidate their sleep sooner than others. Some babies also continue to take short naps and wake regularly in the night after the point of when they “should” have consolidated their sleep.
It is not uncommon for parents with a baby 6 months or older to continue to experience challenges with sleep i.e. poor napping, waking all hours of the night, early rising and so on. If you have a baby that isn’t sleeping well, what do you do and where do you start?
When I work with families I begin by evaluating the sleep foundations.
- The first question to ask. How old is your baby? What are your expectations for their sleep? Are your expectations realistic?
- How much sleep on average should your baby be having? Compare this to how much sleep
your baby is actually having in a 24-hour period. Is there a vast difference?
- Consider your baby’s behaviours. Is your baby showing signs that they are tired through their behaviours, mood or irritability?
- Review your baby’s foundations to sleep. Does your baby have all of the foundations to sleep in place to be able to sleep adequately? There are many elements that affect sleep. In order to resolve your sleep challenges you must consider whether or not you have the strongest forces in place that affect sleep. If you have the strongest forces in place then you can rule them out as a cause of your little one’s sleep issues.
- Often there is more than one factor affecting a baby’s sleep, use a checklist-style approach in ruling out the causes of your baby’s sleep problems.
When I talk about the foundations to sleep I am referring to many elements. The below list is an example of some of the foundations you should review to determine whether or not they are in place for your baby.
13 foundations of sleep
Does your baby have an age appropriate sleep schedule? Are their awake lengths appropriate? Are they being put down to sleep at the right times?
Bedtime ritual and routine
Do you have one in place? Is it calming? Is it at a reasonable time
Does your baby have a sleep association? What is it?
Age-specific sleep requirements
What are they vs. how much sleep your baby is getting?
Baby and mother’s diet, is it pro sleep?
Is your baby having adequate amounts of activity?
Is your baby exposed to healthy amounts of sunlight?
Family dynamics and support
Is there support to Mum / caregiver?
How is the emotional wellbeing of baby and family?
Age and stage of development
Is your baby going through any milestones, mental development, phases?
Were there any complications? Was it traumatic?
Are there any past or current medical issues that need to be considered?
Is it conducive to sleep? Review lightness/darkness, noise disturbances, temperature, SIDS safe.
Consideration of the sleep foundations is so important in looking at the full picture of your little one’s sleep habits.
All babies are different and their sleep issues appear for a variety of reasons. I believe it is not possible to address sleep challenges with a one-size-fits-all approach. By holistically addressing your baby’s sleep and taking into consideration the foundations to sleep, you can identify the root causes of their sleep issues.
It is important to resolve the root causes as opposed to focusing on the behaviour alone. Identifying and resolving the root causes of your baby’s sleep issues will provide your family long-lasting results and will have you and your little one sleeping well.
Remember, having a child doesn’t mean you have to continue to be sleep deprived. Babies are capable of sleeping well. Babies are programmed to sleep and they will sleep if given the tools and support that they need for sleep (the foundations).