Newborns : Sleep
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Newborn sleep cycles are far shorter than adults and babies spend far longer in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – which is necessary for their brain development. REM sleep is lighter than non-REM sleep, therefore your newborn will be more easily disrupted until they develop a more regular deeper sleep pattern. Some babies can be naturally heavy sleepers so you may need to wake your baby for some feeds, but this is quite uncommon (and quite lucky!).
This all means that while newborn gets a lot of sleep, you may not, and their schedule can be irregular and tiring. Your role is to respond to your newborn’s needs and so you will find you’re up several times during the night as their sleep is disrupted by hunger, dirty nappies or the need for comfort. It’s a good idea to rest when your newborn is resting, and to remember there will come a time again when you’ll both sleep through the night.
Settling Your Newborn to Sleep
How your newborn settles down to sleep, their nap time and nighttime rituals depends on what works best for you and your newborn. Some newborns will be easy settlers and heavy sleepers, while others may resist nap and sleep time or may be light sleepers who are easily disrupted. All babies will settle differently depending on their temperament, health and environment, but there are a few things you can try so that both you and your baby are getting as much rest as possible.
For Newborn to 3 month olds you may find ‘hands on settling’ of ‘comfort settling’ works for settling your baby down to sleep. This means you provide soothing comfort in the form of cuddling, rocking, stroking or patting before your newborn falls asleep, and while your newborn already is in bed. This method will help your newborn learn how to self-settle and this can only happen when your newborn is still awake when put into bed. Its important to note this method is not similar to ‘self settling’ or ‘controlled crying’, where you avoid tending to your babies cries initially for periods of time in the hope they settle themselves back down. If your newborn cries and needs help to settle, try patting or shushing and comforting your baby while they are still in bed, sometimes all they need is your calming presence to calm them down and help them sleep. Of course if your newborn wont stop crying pick her up for a few minutes to console here. Once he/she has settled, try again with the hands-on techniques.
The best way to lead into attempting these techniques, is to create a sleep routine which your newborn will grow accustomed to. One method is to feed your baby about an hour or so before bedtime, so your newborn doesn’t associate sleep with bed. This is to avoid your newborn making a habit of waking and expecting a feed each time in order to fall asleep again. Changing their nappy, a bath, and dressing your newborn in comfortable clothing, followed by a little quiet time together is a good way to wind down and get ready for sleep. Look out for signs of tiredness – yawning, rubbing their eyes, jerking arms or legs, or a worried expression can all mean your newborn is sleepy. Once your newborn is ready for bed, swaddle your baby (if applicable) and place him/her in bed, tucked in firmly, and is she is relaxed and calm you may be able to leave and allow him/her to fall asleep. If your newborn is upset or needs help settling, attempting the hands-on soothing while newborn is still laying down. You can gently stroke her forehead, rock her cot, gently pat her stomach etc. As your newborn relaxes, you can gradually reduce the comforting and once your baby is settled yet still awake, you can try and leave her to fall sleep on her own.
Some newborns find quiet background noise relaxing, others with be more easily disturbed, so just adapt your sleep routine accordingly, by playing quiet background music, or by ensuring their space is quiet and peaceful. Whatever method you choose when settling your newborn, be patient and give it time to work. Newborns rely on routine and stability, so when trying a new method try and avoid changing your strategies too soon because this may be unsettling for your newborn. If your newborn does not respond well to self-soothing initially, try and set yourself a goal, say for 30 minutes, you try to get your baby to self-soothe and if they are still upset, take a break from it and start again later, or the next night.
When your newborn is around 3 months old it is still not recommended to leave your newborn crying for more than approximately 3 minutes. The self-soothing techniques at this stage are very similar to those for Newborns, however you may at this stage be able to listen to his/her cries and decide you can delay returning to settle him/her, usually from between 1 and 3 minutes. This is referred to as ‘self-soothing’ but it is recommended only to do this if you think your newborn is ready. Your newborn may really ramp up their crying during this stage, as they may sound outraged that you have left them to cry in their cot, albeit for 1 minute. But the important thing to remember is that you are able to calmly and consistently reassure your baby each time that you are there as you offer comfort while he/she remains in her cot, and the new routine will begin to reassure her.
Where will your Newborn Sleep?
Where you put your baby down to sleep depends entirely on where you decide is best for your whole family. Some newborns and babies need more closeness while sleeping, others may need it later on as they deal with normal sleep issues such as nighttime separation anxiety. Aside from getting a good nights sleep – which is vital for you too – implementing good sleeping patterns early on in a child’s life can help develop positive sleep attitude for their lives ahead.
It is widely recognised that sharing a sleep environment with your newborn, when done safely, can be a healthy experience for both baby and parents alike. Co-sleeping is defined as sharing a sleeping environment with your newborn so that the parent or carer is within close range and can comfort or feed their baby more conveniently. There is also evidence that co-sleeping may reduce problems your baby may be having with sleep as you are quickly and easily able to respond and settle them. It is important to note that co-sleeping is not the same as ‘co-bedding’ or ‘sleep-sharing’, meaning the newborn is within a crib, cot or bassinet in your bedroom, but not in the same bed. Many studies express concern for the safety of a newborn which sleeps in the same bed as his or her parents/carers – due to the risk of suffocation.
You may find if your newborns needs are met faster by having them close-by at night time, they may fuss or cry less often since your response time is naturally faster. It may also help you learn their cues better.
Wherever you decide to have your newborn sleep, ultimately it comes down to whats right for you and your baby. Whether your newborn shares your room before moving into their own Nursery, or has their own bedroom straight away, you will decide whats best for you. Remember as with all aspects of parenting – the rules can always change and your situations must always feel right and be unique to you and your newborn.
Sleep Patterns - What to Expect
Newborns sleep – a lot. Generally a newborn (0-3 Months) will sleep up to 17 hours a day, but they won’t sleep for longer that two to four hours at a time, day or night, during their first few weeks. By around 8 weeks of age your baby may begin to sleep for longer periods during the night and shorter periods during the day. Newborns at this age will still generally wake or need to be woken for feeds during the night. Their REM sleep cycles may become shorter, with longer periods of deeper non-REM sleep.
Over the next few months your newborns sleep cycles will continue to develop and you may notice a routine or your newborn may have highly irregular sleep patterns.
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, October, 22). Newborn sleep: routines and responsiveness. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/sleep/settling-routines/newborn-sleep-routines
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, June 1). Co-sleeping with you baby. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/sleep/where-your-baby-sleeps/co-sleeping