New parenthood is filled with many joys, but also the occasional challenge. For many bleary-eyed moms and dads the number one issue topping the list of frustrations? Sleep. While it’s true that sleep can be elusive when you have a newborn, there are some things you can do right now to help your baby go to sleep and stay asleep. Let’s take a closer look at a few key principles all parents need to know about infant sleep.
How Infants Sleep
Did you know that infants fall asleep differently than adults do? According to Dr. Sears, while grownups directly enter deep sleep, infants first undergo periods of light sleep. They also have shorter sleep cycles once they do finally nod off.
A key part of helping your baby sleep better is understanding your infant’s sleep stages. If you’re transitioning your baby — either from your arms or from one location to another — wait until she has entered a deep sleep stage. Signs and symptoms that she’s entered this phase? Her breath slows down and becomes more regular, and muscles completely relax, meaning your baby’s hands will be unclenched and all twitches and startles will cease.
If you try to put your baby down sooner, she is likely to wake…and the cycle may start all over again.
Be Prepared for Night Waking
While many new parents want their babies to sleep through the night, night waking also has its benefits. In fact, night waking has proven survival benefits ensuring that your baby’s basic needs are met.
For example: while most babies sleep between 14 and 18 hours a day, they need to eat at least every four hours or so because their stomachs are so small. If their hunger didn’t wake them, it could compromise their survival. The same goes for everything from stuffy noses to body temperatures running too high or low.
Many sleep researchers also believe that your baby’s light sleep, night waking, and shorter sleep cycles help her brain develop more quickly and comprehensively. It can help to remind yourself that when your baby wakes at night, it’s due to biologically necessitated hard-wiring designed to ensure her ongoing wellbeing — both in infancy and into adulthood.
Tips and Tricks for Better Sleep
Just as you sleep better in certain temperatures, so does your baby. Infants sleep best in temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees, so use a thermostat to keep the temperature comfortable.
Light is also a useful way to regulate your baby’s internal clock. Use a dimmer in the evening to cue your baby that bedtime is approaching. Some parents find that blackout shades offer the perfect snooze-friendly environment.
Conversely, make sure your home is brightly lit during waking hours — even during naptime — and use natural sunlight to help wake your baby in the morning. An added benefit? This natural sunlight can also help you recharge if lack of sleep has you feeling low.
Lastly, while eye contact, singing, and talking have many benefits for your baby during playtime, these habits can actually interfere with your baby’s sleepiness at bedtime. Skip gazing into your baby’s eyes in order to help her nod off easier.
Ultimately, how your baby sleeps is as much a factor of her temperament as it is of your efforts to help her acclimate to your schedule. Heed the call to “sleep when she sleeps” to help survive these late-night feeds and early-morning wakeup calls. And don’t forget to take care of your own sleep needs: create your own bedtime ritual, continue your maternity workout routine (check out For Two Fitness for a cute, comfy selection of maternity activewear), and drink plenty of water in order to ensure that sweet dreams don’t just await your baby, but you as well.
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