We all know that sleep is vital for our physical and emotional well-being. This is especially true for babies and young children, so it is a good idea to teach your baby healthy sleep habits from birth. This way he will learn the ability to self-soothe, to fall asleep without your presence, and to be able to put himself back to sleep when he wakes in the night.
Awake time influences sleep time
It is actually the time that your baby is awake that influences how much he sleeps. Knowing how long your child should stay awake before the next sleep is due will help prevent the ‘overtired’ scenario. If he is overtired, he will struggle to fall asleep unaided, and may even battle to stay asleep for any significant length of time.
Understand your baby’s sleep cycles
A sleep cycle is the process of moving from a drowsy state to light sleep, to deep sleep, and then back into light sleep. An adult’s sleep cycle is 90 minutes but it takes a while for a baby to develop such long sleep cycles. Babies’ sleep cycles vary depending on their age. The younger the baby, the shorter the sleep cycle. Most babies’ sleep cycles are no longer than an hour and may be as short as 30 minutes.
A short day sleep may be only one sleep cycle long. At other times in the day (and hopefully at night) the baby ‘links’ sleep cycles to have long stretches of uninterrupted sleep. It is important to help our babies to link sleep cycles.
If your baby is a cat-napper during the day, he will not be fully rested after his sleep and will have difficulty sustaining the normal period of awake time after that sleep and therefore need to sleep sooner. For example, if a baby of 6 months old has slept for only 20 minutes, then he will be tired sooner and need to be put down before his allocated 2-hour awake time expires – i.e. he should have another nap in about 1 – 1½ hours’ time.
This is quite a novel approach to sleep, and takes some getting used to. However, once you apply the principles of watching the awake time, you will have unlocked the secret to good sleep habits.
Plan your life around awake/asleep times
Organize your schedule around the times when your baby is awake – and asleep. Unfortunately this is a fact of motherhood. You have to plan your life around your baby’s needs. Problems with routines and bad habits tend to creep in when you try to plan your baby’s routine around yours.
By Sr Ann Richardson