Sleep challenges in the first year

day sleep challenges in the first year

At specific ages in the first few years of life, day sleep issues arise that are common among most babies. We look at the common problem for each age group and suggest solutions.

Day sleep challenges in the first year

At specific ages in the first few years of life, day sleep issues arise that are common among most babies. They are not related to illness, nutrition or habits but are simply reflecting a shift of sleep needs as your baby matures.

1 – 4 months – Can’t settle to sleep

Problem – For the first few weeks, your newborn seems to sleep for long stretches and getting her to sleep is not an issue. Then a few weeks down the line, every time you take your little one to sleep, she appears to fight sleep. Babies need to sleep regularly – more often than you would imagine. If you keep your little one awake for long stretches, she will start to fight sleep and become very difficult to settle to sleep.
Solution – Limit your baby’s ‘Awake time’ to the age appropriate time for her age:

  • 0-6 weeks – 45 minutes to an hour awake time
  • 6-17 weeks – One hour to 90 minutes awake time.

First three months – Cat napping

Problem – Your little one falls asleep with ease, in your arms or lying down. Yet you find that you put her down to sleep and she sleeps for 15 minutes before waking and crying. The reason little ones do this is that shortly after falling asleep, your baby experiences a hypnagogic startle. We commonly experience this as we fall into a deeper sleep and are not disturbed by it. Little ones are disturbed and woken by this startle as it triggers a full startle reflex what wakes them up.
Solution – your baby tightly or place your hand on her with deep pressure until this startle passes – usually 15 minutes into sleep.

3-6 months – Short day sleeps

Problem – After a period of a few months when your baby sleeps for long stretches in the day, the time will come when your baby seems to sleep much less – only 45 minutes at a stretch. During this period, your baby may appear to never stretch sleeps or link sleep cycles. The reason is that baby’s sleep cycles are 45 minutes long and as your baby comes into a light sleep state (45 minutes after falling asleep) she is waking.  This is normal and lasts until around 6 months of age, when you baby can start to link sleep cycles, preferably for the midday sleep.
Solution – Firstly, fear not – this will pass. But if you want to try encourage your little one to sleep for longer in the day, use a weighted sleepy sac or white noise to keep her in a slightly deeper state of sleep and thus more likely to link the sleep cycles.

Around 9 months – Fighting afternoon nap

Problem – After months of a great routine – a morning nap, a longer sleep and a short afternoon nap – you may find the afternoon nap becomes a challenge. Your little one may fight going to sleep, finally falling asleep too close to bedtime and then sleeping for too long so that bedtime is disrupted too. The reason for this shift is that your baby has reached a cusp age, where she still seems to need the sleep but it is starting to interfere with bedtime.
Solution – Start to alternate days – some days give her a catnap before 4pm, but be sure to wake her at 4pm so that she will still settle to sleep at bedtime. This catnap may be as short as 15 minutes and may be taken on the go – in a pram, sling or in the car.  On the other days, drop the sleep altogether and push through from the midday sleep to bedtime, bringing bedtime earlier to 6pm.

12 – 14 months – Can’t fit in two day sleeps

Problem – Another cusp age throws the spanner in the works at around a year. Your baby will have been having a morning and midday sleep and suddenly is fighting both. Once again this is due to a shift in the length of awake time your baby can cope with. As the awake times lengthen, your baby will not want to sleep as frequently and therefore you find yourself trying to fit two sleeps into the day which pushes bedtime out.
Solution – Its time to merge the day sleeps. Start by dropping the morning nap and giving a hearty snack or lunch at 10:30/11am. Then put your little one down to sleep between 11 and 11:30. She will fall asleep more easily and will probably sleep for at least 90 minutes. On those days she will be exhausted by 5pm, so after a quick supper, bring bedtime forward to 6pm.

By Meg Faure