It can be exhausting becoming a new parent. Whether your baby starts to cry in the dead of night, first thing in the morning or anywhere in between, interrupted and fragmented sleep can cause an increase in stress, anxiety and even overall parental exhaustion.
According to a recent report by Healthline, each new parent loses 109 minutes of sleep every night for the first year after having a baby. Double that if you are two parents raising an infant.
And that is not including the fatigue caused by all the day-to-day tasks, including feeding, bathing, playing with, and trying to get baby to sleep! Sleep Junkie estimates that new parents spend a total of 5 hours and 25 minutes each day putting their babies to sleep! Even more concerning: they spend just 5% every day on self-care.
So what is a weary and depleted parent to do? Let’s dive into the world of baby sleep. We’ll also give you top tips to get baby to sleep through the night and some practical suggestions of self-care.
Why don’t babies sleep throughout the night?
Parents’ sleeplessness explains why there are so many Google searches for “Why don’t babies sleep throughout the night?” and “Why do babies wake up often at night?”
The short answer that most pediatricians will say is that babies don’t get a full night’s sleep because of a myriad of causes: hunger, a wet diaper, teething, being sick, or simply wanting comfort.
Dr. Maida Chain, pediatric pulmonologist, mother to three, and Director of Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center, points to other causes for babies waking up at night:
- Newborns have no sense of day or night; 24-hour timing systems are not established at birth
- Clear sleep patterns typically only develop at 6 months old once their brain waves have adapted
- Babies’ stages of sleep, otherwise known as REM and non-REM sleep: they fall in and out of these stages throughout the night. Babies tend to have much less REM sleep (deep sleep)
- Development milestones: Each of these milestones will incite a baby to wake up for a specific reason, such as the first time they roll over, their first cold, and when they start learning how to pull themselves up in the crib
Dr. Chain also demystifies the differences between “good” and “bad” sleepers. Sometimes, babies are simply genetically predisposed to sleeping more or less throughout the night. However, parental behavior can also lead to babies who are good sleepers—but with bad sleep habits. Parents need to ensure consistency in sleep routines from one night to the next.
Furthermore, newborns have the ability to form associations that keep them from going to sleep or staying asleep. A bottle of warm milk, nursing, rocking, cuddling, or even the infamous late-night neighborhood drives can all contribute to the development of a habit in an infant. It is advised that parents watch out for these behaviors and look for alternative coping mechanisms to help their baby fall asleep (read on!).
Baby sleep needs
Your baby’s sleep needs depend on their age. As a rule of thumb, newborns sleep a lot, but for short periods of time. When your baby starts to grow, the total amount of sleep diminishes as the duration of nighttime sleep increases.
Newborns sleep between 8 to 9 hours at night and another 8 during the daytime, albeit fragmented. Over time and as your baby evolves, the total hours of nighttime sleep will slightly increase, while the total hours of daytime sleep will diminish. You can view this baby sleep chart by Stanford Medicine for more information on your baby’s sleep.
One caveat to keep in mind: at around 6 months old and up to 18 months, babies who have been sleeping more regularly at night tend to start waking up again. Pediatricians often refer to this as a stage of “separation anxiety.” If your baby’s age hovers near 6 months old and you are experiencing the following, talk to your healthcare provider:
- Crying when you leave the room
- Refusing to go to sleep or calm down without a parent
- Clinging or uncontrollable wails if a parent doesn't hold them
As the old adage goes, this too shall pass. Sleep regression due to separation anxiety is a normal part of your baby’s emotional development. Check out these ideas to handle this phase without the added stress.
Tips to get baby to sleep throughout the night
Helping a baby sleep throughout the night is all about consistency, patience and creative thinking based on your baby’s personality. These are our top baby sleep training tips to help your bundle of joy become a good nighttime sleeper.
- Ensure that your baby is somewhat active during the day and gets some fresh air. While your baby needs to sleep a lot, that doesn’t mean they need to be hermits. Spending time outdoors supports your baby’s cognitive and motor
- Develop a calming bedtime routine and follow a schedule. Don’t overstimulate your infant in the evening. Bathing, cuddling and reading to your baby will help relax them. Make sure you adhere to a set endpoint to leave the nursery.
- Remain calm and soothing. Bedtime is not the time to start playing joyously with baby. Dim the lights, play soft music, and maintain gentle movements to signal to baby it is time to fall asleep.
- Give baby the time to settle down. It may take a few minutes for your baby to realize it is time to sleep. Don’t rush it. Each baby is different and one may need more or less time than the other to get into sleep mode.
- Slowly start to wean night feeding and teaching self-soothing techniques to your baby can help them fall and stay asleep.
- Invest in baby sleep must-haves to promote some Zzz’s. Sleep sacks for babies are renowned for dressing babies for sleep. You can learn more about using a sleep sacks here. Furthemore, while blankets and sheets are not recommended for babies until they are 18 months old, invest in bedding and nursery that keep babies comfortable and wick away moisture.
Baby sleep: It’s not just about baby not sleeping!
Don’t forget about YOU! Night waking can wreck havoc on a parents’ rest and health. The solution may not be to sleep more, as per a New York Times article on the subject.
Practice at least 10 minutes of self-care a day (more if you can!). Meditation, spending time in nature, scheduling time with family and friends, reading, taking a break from your devices/social media, and even saying to heck with Chore X, Y, Z for the day can be affordable and quick wins for some me time, despite being sleep-deprived.
Hang in the sleepless parents! The end is in sight!