A universal human need, sleep plays an integral role in the proper development of a young child’s brain. But the sleep patterns of a newborn can be erratic and difficult for parents to manage. Developing a consistent sleep routine that works for both the caregivers and the baby proves one of the biggest challenges parents face through the first year of their baby’s life.
Why Sleep Matters
According to experts, sleep deprived babies have a harder time learning and growing, and suffer from mood swings and fussiness.
- Learning: While a baby sleeps, the brain works to consolidate memories which solidify the learning process. As babies learn, their brains need to work through those experiences and create memories. Several studies have shown that babies with more efficient nighttime sleep (greater percentage of time spent asleep during the night) scored higher when tested on cognitive ability.
- Growing: Studies also indicate that babies who do not have sufficient sleep gain extra amounts of fat during their infancy, and end up having a higher risk of being overweight by age 3.
- Mood: Conventional wisdom indicates that a sleepy baby equals a fussy baby—parents know the repercussions so often associated with missed naps and a disrupted sleep routine. Science backs this reality. In a study of well-rested vs. fatigued infants who had missed their nap, the tired babies were more easily frustrated and more distressed by a brief separation from their mothers.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine released a report in June 2016 recommending the following minimum and maximum hours of sleep, which children should experience during a 24-hour period for their optimal health.
- Ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours
Right on Schedule
By establishing a sleep schedule, you can ensure your baby receives the rest he or she needs. There are many routines and habits that can help you create consistency around bedtime, but here are some do’s and don’ts to get you started:
- Do sit back, and observe. Once you’ve determined your baby is ready to implement a sleep routine, be sure to observe his or her sleep tendencies. First, determine your baby’s longest stretch of sleep and establish bedtime from there. If he or she typically completes a long stretch of sleep from 7 p.m. to midnight—aim to begin your bedtime routine at approximately 6:15 or 6:30. Then, examine your baby’s sleep associations. Does he or she like to be rocked to sleep? Does he or she fall asleep while nursing or drinking a bottle? There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these sleep practices, and Sears suggests integrating them into your sleep routine. Still, others recommend putting your baby to bed while drowsy, allowing baby to fall asleep without you. With either approach, you’ll need to understand how your baby likes to fall asleep so you can manage those sleep associations as your baby grows.
- Do turn off the electronics. In addition to these recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you should turn off all electronic screens a minimum of 30 minutes before bedtime. They also encourage parents to keep TV, computers and other screens out of children’s bedrooms. Specifically, for infants and young children, turning off screens will help children get adequate sleep each night.
- Do maintain consistency. Whatever sleep routine you establish, it will only work if it truly becomes just that—routine. While experts differ on some sleep discussions, most all agree that developing a process that works depends greatly on your ability to stick with it.
- Don’t start too early. For the first few months of life, babies require frequent feedings and have a limited ability to stay asleep for long stretches. This is perfectly normal and part of your baby’s development. For this reason, a sleep schedule may not work in baby’s younger than 4 to 6 months.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t overthink the process and don’t try to force something that causes more stress for you and your baby. If you can’t establish a strong routine right now, that’s perfectly okay—try again in a few weeks. All babies are different, and your infant’s sleep habits are more a reflection of your baby’s temperament rather than your parenting style.
One last tidbit. Full, happy tummies can help give your baby the rest he or she needs. Try Bambino’s Googly Carrots a wonderful first meal option! Packed with flavor, you can trust that all our baby food will provide your precious little one with the superior nutrition he or she deserves. Let the healthy eating begin!
Watch for Good Night, Mommy, Part II of our Sleep Blogs next month.