Just like all areas of a child’s growth, sleep too has a progression in its development.
Feeding and sleeping
Newborns move through stages, eventually arriving at a sleep pattern like that of an adult. Initially babies alternate between sleep and wakefulness every 3 to 4 hours in response to hunger. Therefore, feeding and sleeping can’t be separated.
A hungry baby will be a wakeful baby, so making sure that feeds are efficient and sustaining is important to ensure baby is having a restful sleep.
Stopping the snack and snooze cycle
Newborns can get into a ‘snack and snooze’ cycle. They’re overtired, so can’t take a whole feed. They fall asleep part way through the feed, and then wake up after a short sleep. If they keep dropping off to sleep, parents can try stopping feeding, take them off the breast or bottle, and start again once they’re awake.
A playtime of about 20 minutes is probably enough for a newborn at the end of a feed. Watching for tired signs is important, but can be a bit tricky. Jerky movements, opening and closing fists, grizzling, yawning or straight out crying are all tell-tale tired signs in a young baby.
Types of tired crying
Once they’re in their bed, crying is a legitimate sign in its own right that the baby is tired, and not necessarily a signal for mum or dad to go back in and comfort them.
Often the baby will be asleep in 10 minutes. However, 10 minutes of ‘full on’ crying can be stressful for a young baby (let alone new parents), so listening to the type of cry baby is making before going in to comfort them might be helpful.
Often the cry becomes a grizzle, which will soon stop. However, if the cry is ‘winding up’, baby may need to be resettled. Wrapping them firmly can help to avoid them ‘startling’ and waking themselves up.
The importance of dreaming
Dreaming is crucial to a baby’s development. Babies have much more rapid eye movement (REM), or ‘dream’ sleep, than adults, and in-utero it’s the main sleep state for a baby. During REM sleep, the brain is active but the body is completely relaxed. In a newborn, 50% of sleep is REM sleep, while it’s only 20% of an adult’s sleep.
Learning to self-soothe
Young babies also wake more often, and until they learn to soothe themselves back to sleep, they might have trouble re-settling.
Sucking has a soothing effect for the very young, so having access to their fingers and hands or a pacifier (dummy) may be a starting place for them learning to self-soothe. Some sleep ‘problems’ can start with a baby never having learned to soothe themselves, only ever relying on parents to calm them.Safe sleep
The Ministry of Health works with district health boards and Well Child/Tamariki Ora providers to raise awareness of safe sleep practices, and New Zealand rates of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) continue to fall.
Figures released from the Health Quality and Safety Commission reported that 40 babies died from SUDI in 2014. On average, there were 47 deaths per year in the 5 years prior to 2014. The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee’s 10th data report indicated that almost half of SUDI deaths are due to accidental suffocation.
It’s important that every family is reached and provided with the information and support they need to keep their babies safe.
- Dr Nicole Letourneau: Moms and dads matter — Building babies’ brains through everyday interactions (video, 20 min 54 sec)
Part 5 of a series of 5 videos. A 21-minute presentation by Dr Letourneau on the keys to caregiving, highlighting the importance for parents to identify and understand their baby’s ‘states of awareness’.
- Ministry of Health website: Baby sleep and settling
- Plunket website: A variety of resources on sleep are listed
- The Sleep Help Institute - The Children's Sleep GuideOpens in new window
- National SUDI Prevention online training. This online training is easy to access and will help all whānau supporters to best support those with young babies. Preventing SUDI is important. Go to the site and register online to access and complete the course.