Sleep. It’s essential for development, especially in young minds, and impacts everything from alertness and attention to learning and memory - but it can also feel far from reach in those early weeks, months and even years. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that sleep problems affect anywhere between 25-50% of children.
It’s clear we need sleep.
It’s clear that we’re struggling to get it.
It’s clear we need to implement healthy sleep habits for our infants.
But how much do we really know about infant sleep habits?
Starting at the beginning and according to the NHS, the amount of sleep a newborn needs can vary from a total of 8 hours to 18 hours in a 24-hour period. Since newborns have not yet established a circadian rhythm in the first three months of age, sleep is distributed over the 24-hour day, with repeated shifts between states of wakefulness and sleep. This is called fragmentation and can naturally cause disruptions to your own sleep as a parent - but trust us when we say that, after a few months, these periods consolidate and become less frequent, allowing for longer periods of wakefulness and sleep. Over time, as your child develops, sleep will become more nocturnal.
Figure 1: Chart from McGill University depicting typical wake windows throughout development.
In the first year of life, sleep patterns develop rapidly; circadian rhythm develops at 10-12 weeks of life and sleep becomes more nocturnal. As your baby gets older, the total hours of sleep needed decreases. A meta-analysis shows that as children continue to grow, the hours of sleep decreases. This study assessed 69,542 participants over 18 different countries to control for cross-cultural factors.
Figure 2: Chart from Chaput et al., 2018 depicting average duration of sleep (in hours) for each age group.
It’s important to note that sleep patterns are affected by genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, and that every infant is unique. However, there is research being done on the environmental components which may affect sleep-wake cycle consolidation.
For example, one recent study found that infants who received prebiotics had faster sleep-wake cycle consolidation. Another study found that light environments resulted in shorter sleep durations overnight. This is believed to be because circadian rhythms are still developing and light interferes in this process, causing more sleep fragmentation. Parental response to nighttime waking has also been found to affect sleep-wake consolidation. When infants wake, comforting them outside of their beds (such as taking them out to hold and rock, or bringing them to your bed) has been associated with lower sleep duration, whilst comforting infants in their beds may promote better sleep-wake consolidation.*
It’s important to note that if your little one is waking frequently, there is nothing to worry about and this is very normal, and even good (if you’re looking for a silver lining…) as waking frequently is likely an evolutionary form of protection.
Another way to support your infant’s sleep is through the implementation of a bedtime routine. This can be quite simple – such as a bath and a gentle massage, which studies suggest can impact your baby’s core body temperature and cortisol levels, encouraging sleep. Sleep tracking can help provide greater insight into your baby’s unique sleep patterns and what routines work best.
Onoco’s sleep tracking tools are designed with this in mind, and aim specifically to help you gain a better understanding of your little one’s routines and behaviors. Not only will this allow you to ensure they’re getting their optimal sleep in 24-hour periods and see how this is impacting other measurements such as growth and feeding patterns, but also notice when routines start to form or even when professional help might need to be sought.
If you do decide to work with a sleep consultant you can easily access your child’s pattern analysis via Onoco (and CSV data via Onoco Premium) to share for easier consultation and evaluation.
Infants in deep sleep can be at a greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). According to James McKenna, the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, it is best not to push your baby into longer, deeper sleep, and instead to follow their cues. While SIDS can be scary, it is rare. Some ways to help prevent SIDS include always placing your baby on their back to sleep (as babies sleeping on their stomach are up to 13 times more likely to die from SIDS), and ensuring your baby’s head remains uncovered.