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Understanding Sleep Cycles and What Sleep Our Babies Need

We all need sleep, but the amount of sleep we need can vary dramatically from one person to another, even if we are the same age and carrying out similar activities during the day. This is true of babies, toddlers and children too.

Sleep is broken in to two types – REM sleep (active) and non-REM sleep (quiet). During REM sleep, our brains are quite active. We dream whilst are bodies are still and our breathing and heart rates fluctuate. During non-REM sleep, our muscles receive more blood, tissues grow and repair, energy is restored, and growth and development occur due the release of hormones. For the first six months of our lives sleep is split equally between these two states, but the time spent in REM sleep reduces to 30% by 6 months.

Sleep For 0-3 Months Olds

When our babies are new-born, they need 11-18 hours sleep a day. The variation in these figures is really important. Many parents can become distressed and obsessed if their babies sleep less than other babies they meet, or less than parenting manuals suggest they should. It is really important to remember that all babies are different and some need much less sleep than others. Try to focus on how your baby is when they’re awake, rather than the number of hours they sleep.

During these first few months, some babies will sleep for long periods while others will take numerous catnaps throughout the day. At this age, a sleep cycle is around 50 minutes, but a full sleep cycle isn’t needed every time a baby goes to sleep, sometimes just a few minutes will do. When they sleep, babies wriggle and twitch, wave their arms around and are noisy. They seem to be very restless – but this is normal too!!!

New-born babies’ sleeping quickly becomes affected by their environment, so an increase in noise, light and activity will help them to remain awake for longer periods during the day, and a peaceful dark environment will encourage them to sleep more at night.

Sleep for 3-12 Month Olds

As our babies grow, we need to let them learn to get themselves to sleep by putting them into their cots when they are awake and tired. If they spend time in their cots when they are awake and content, it will help them to become familiar with it as a happy place, and they are likely to be less cross with us when we put them into their cots when they are tired.

Most babies at this age are capable of sleeping 9-12 hours at night and take naps of 30 minutes to 2 hours 2-4 times a day. Again there is a huge range in these timings, but the reality is that not all babies will nap for long periods, however most will take longer naps when they have learnt to be calm in their cots and fall asleep on their own.

A secure attachment to their parents can help a baby to sleep well. This doesn’t mean that you need to wear your baby in a sling for months on end and co-sleep, as this may lead to difficulties with sleep. A strong natural bond with your baby will form through you attending to their needs, being relaxed and enjoying parenthood. High levels of anxiety in parents can affect a baby’s sleeping, as can depression and marital problems.

Remember – all babies have the ability to sleep well. They just need our help to guide them towards learning good sleeping habits!

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