Infant Sleep Patterns & Needs
For most babies, a sleep pattern settles into a routine at about 3 months of age. At this point, the majority of sleep is at night. Daytime sleeping becomes more predictable, with increasingly longer periods of wakefulness. Naps and eating begin following a schedule, too.
Longer periods of sleep at night gradually increase as the baby matures. At 3 months, most babies are capable of sleeping at least five to six hours straight. By 5 to 6 months, they should sleep about nine hours at night and are mature enough so that there is no nutritional need to feed them during that time.
Falling Asleep Independently
Developing a bedtime routine is the best way to help your baby learn to fall asleep independently at bedtime and during the night if he awakens.
It’s normal for children (and adults) to wake up briefly during the night for a few minutes. But they should be able to get back to sleep easily on their own – the bedtime routine should not require you to help the child fall asleep. If you hold your child until she falls asleep at bedtime, she will expect the same if she wakes in the middle of the night.
• Begin introducing a bedtime routine when your baby is 3 to 6 months old. It can be as simple as reading a story and singing a lullaby – something that communicates that the day is over and it’s time to sleep.
• At night, try not to let your baby fall asleep anywhere but in the crib. That way he’ll associate the crib with sleep and get used to falling asleep on his own.
• If your baby wakes during the night, keep everything quiet and soothing. If you haven’t left a night-light on, turn on a dim light. Don’t talk, just make soothing sounds so she knows that you’re not there to play. Make sure that everything you’ll need during the night is in one place so that you don’t have to carry her around while you search for a diaper or a wipe.
At 5 to 6 months, babies may take as many as three naps a day in addition to sleeping at night. At about 6 months, they may drop to two naps. By about 1 year of age, they need just a single nap. Nighttime sleep now increases to about 10 or more hours and napping decreases to about two to three hours.
Parents of young children are often undecided about whether or not they should wake a napping child. If napping regularly causes problems with night sleep, shorten or eliminate the nap. But if your baby is sleeping fine at night, let her nap.
• The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night, by Elizabeth Pantley, Contemporary Books, 2002. Presents a method of gradually steering your baby toward a full-night’s sleep.
• Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep, by Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., HarperCollins, 1997. Offers tips on how to teach your baby to fall asleep on his or her own.
• Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, by Richard Ferber, M.D., Simon & Schuster, 1986. The classic guide to common sleeping problems for infants to 6-year-olds.
• American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Lists pediatric sleep-disorder clinics around the country and has a Web site with links that provide information about sleep disorders, diagnosis and treatment.