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  • Writer's pictureSara Davis

Blog Series: How Sleep Develops Through the Ages (Newborn)

Have you ever wondered what to expect with your baby's sleep? Or been confused when they had been sleeping like champs but then their sleep fell apart? This blog series will look at the stages of sleep development by age and the changes we see in babies sleep as they grow.

The First 3 Weeks

Babies seem to be very sleepy during their first few weeks in the real world. This partly due to the maternal melatonin that remains in their bodies from their time in the womb. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for sleep; it rises and falls throughout the day and night according to our circadian rhythm (a.k.a. our internal body clock). Newborns may sleep for 16 hours out of the daily 24 and may only stay awake for 40-60 minutes at a time before needing to sleep again. In these early weeks babies haven't yet developed their internal body clocks which means they don't distinguish between day and night. You may find they disperse their awake and asleep time equally throughout the 24 hours of the day, some even having more of their awake time during the night.

Weeks 4-6

The maternal melatonin that was present for the first three weeks of a newborn's life has worn off and babies are becoming more alert. It is common for crying to peak at 6 weeks. Babes are able to now stay awake for 60-90 minutes at a time and are starting to distinguish between day and night as their internal body clocks develop.

As newborns start to sleep more at night and less during the day we can expect a total daytime sleep of 4-5 hours and total night time sleep of 11-12 hours (with feedings of course). We also begin to see the baby sleep cycle emerge...

Has it ever seemed like you just get your baby off to sleep and in a matter of minutes they are awake again? Or they wake after sleeping for only 45 minutes? Read on...

Babies are in a light sleep state for the first half of their sleep cycle (approximately the first 20 minutes) making it very easy for them to awaken due to their own movements or happenings in their environment. The second half of their sleep cycle they are in a deep or quiet sleep; their faces look restful and their limbs are floppy.

Babies sleep cycles are only 45-50 minutes long (compared to an adult sleep cycle which is 90-100 minutes). At the end of a sleep cycle we see another common time for babes to awaken. Both babies and adults wake partially after every sleep cycle. As adults we are so efficient at putting ourselves back to sleep that we rarely even remember waking. Babies, on the other hand, often wake completely and often need the help of their caregiver to fall back to sleep.

White noise is a great tool I recommend for newborn sleep because it replicates the "whooshing" sound newborns heard constantly in the womb which is soothing for them. It also works to block out environmental sounds which may awaken the babe when they are in a lighter stage of sleep.

Weeks 7-12

Babes are able to stay awake for 90 minutes at a time now with a daytime sleep need of 4 hours and a night time sleep need of 11-12 hours (with feedings). At this age a baby's body is producing it's own melatonin (the sleep hormone) and light/dark environment begin to play a key part in sleep...

Melatonin is produced in response to a dark environment and its production is blocked by light. Therefore a dark environment for naps and bedtime is a Sleep Essential to help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep.

6-7 weeks of age is a great time to introduce a gentle routine. This just means consistent times for naps and feeds, an early bedtime (6-7pm) and a bedtime routine. You can also practice putting your baby down awake/drowsy to sleep to encourage sleep independence. How? It's easiest to try this at bedtime because babes are more primed for sleep here. When you notice your baby is becoming drowsy or it is close to their bedtime put them down to sleep from an awake or drowsy state and allow them to fall asleep on their own with you by their side. If your newborn is colicky they may still require your help to fall asleep until their colic subsides; this is normal.

If you have had a colicky newborn, colic should begin to subside by 12 weeks. This is a good time to gradually decrease the amount of assistance you give your baby to fall asleep so they can begin to learn how to fall asleep independently and you can start getting some much needed sleep. Let's imagine a scale of 0-10 with 0 being awake and 10 being completely asleep. If you have relied on rocking or bouncing to soothe your colicky babe to sleep try to rock/bounce them until they are a 9 on the drowsy scale (nearly asleep) before you put them down to sleep. Over a period of days or weeks (as your baby tolerates) put them down to sleep when they are at an 8, 7, 6 etc on the drowsy scale using bouncing/rocking for smaller time increments as time goes on. Eventually your baby will learn they can fall asleep on their own without relying on bouncing/rocking!

Watch for next week's blog post on infant sleep at 3-4 months!


Sara Davis, BscN, Cert. Infant & Child Sleep Consultant

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