Infant Sleep: Improving Infant Sleep Schedule

Infant Sleep
Infant sleep can be a challenging experience, especially for first-time parents. Numerous materials on parenthood and infancy prepare these new parents for certain expectations towards infant sleep which is regularly not as easy as expected. Despite maintaining healthy sleep hygiene by developing strict sleep schedules and following bedtime routines daily, newborns can easily change their sleep patterns, thus leaving their parents exhausted and sleep-deprived.

Experiencing sleep disruption in infants, teenagers and older children is common, and luckily, there are viable fixes that can help you deal with it. It's therefore helpful to understand the likely reasons for your baby not sleeping, sleeping longer, or drastically changing their sleep pattern.

Here's everything you need to know about baby sleep pattern disruption and how you can handle them.

1. Growth Spurts

Unlike how adult sleep works, infant sleep generally involves changes in sleep patterns depending on the stage of growth. It's important to understand your baby's sleep needs at each stage to anticipate these changes and know how you can handle their bedtime routine.

Newborns

At the early stages of life, 0- 3-month-old newborns spend more hours sleeping than they do while awake. Here, baby sleep hours could fall between 8 to 17 hours within 24 hours. Breastfed babies who are between 2 and 3 months old infants require feeding once or twice during nighttime and thus may wake up periodically every two hours in the middle of the night to be fed.

Newborns may also wake up from their sleep when too hot or cold. Infants aged 1 and 2 months tend to sleep for a total of 14 - 17 hours, broken into 8 to 9 hours at night and 7-9 for the day. Within 24 hours, a 3-month-old infant will have a total of 14 to 16 hours of sleep time.

It's normal for babies at this stage not to follow a strict sleep schedule as they're still adjusting their patterns in between diaper changes, feeding, playtime, and family time. You can also feed your baby prior to bedtime to promote extended newborns sleep durations.

3 to 6-month-olds

At this growth stage, your baby's sleep routine involves around 12 hours of sleep time. The young infants are also likely to have longer active hours as they may no longer require frequent feeding. At this stage, they also tend to sleep through the night comfortably. However, they're some infants that may have different sleeping habits.

6 to 12-month-olds

For 6 months to 2-year-old breastfed infants, following a sleep schedule becomes easy. They incline towards sleeping for up to 12 hours nightly and have shorter day naps.

Most six months old and older children can fall asleep independently. If not, sleep training can quickly be introduced to facilitate this. Sleep training may be uncomfortable since it requires letting your child soothe themselves to sleep. The child may cry when left alone however you must resist the urge to comfort them. Within four nights, the child should no longer require parental comfort and you can eventually put your baby to sleep on his own.

1 to 2 years old

At this stage of growth, children have a total of around 11 to 12 hours of sleep time. They may have one or two naps during the day. Sleep training at this level is easily applicable, and the children tend to follow a sleep schedule introduced to them.

3 to 4 years old

Children aged 3 and 4 tend to have 12 hours of sleep time a day, but it can also range between 8 to 14 hours. Some may still require one nap during the daytime.

As observed, at each different growth stage, babies will require different sleep hours, and hence as a parent, you'll require frequent adjustments to your baby’s sleep routines as needed.

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2. Teething

Teething is the most common reason for disrupted sleep patterns in infant's sleep cycles. Teething starts in babies aged 4 to 7 months old, though it may begin later for other infants. It's not a cause for concern if your baby’s teeth come sooner or later as each baby’s development and infant sleep problems are not the same.

The most common symptoms of teething in many babies consist of swollen tender gums, drooling, pulling or rubbing ears, frequent biting, a slight rise in temperature, coughing, rubbing their cheeks,face rashes, diarrhea, crying, changes in eating habits, and bringing their hand into their mouth.

Teething pain causes disrupted sleep and may even worsen during bedtime. In the case that this occurs, it's vital to try avoiding holding the infant during rest. Instead, you can use different methods to aid your child in adjusting to the experience.

Experts suggest applying pressure on your baby's gums with your finger once you thoroughly wash your hands. Letting your infant chew on cold, wet cloths can also numb the infant's gums and provide relief from the pain prior to bedtime.

If the baby seems to be in a lot of pain, ask your pediatrician to provide the child with acetaminophen or baby ibuprofen prior to bedtime for infants aged six months or older babies.

Teething pain can last 1 to 2 days, but it's important to ensure that the pain and disrupted sleep patterns are caused by teething. In some situations, teething symptoms may be associated with illness, utterly unrelated to teething, and may need to be addressed by a doctor. It's also important to consult your pediatrician on the best options for soothing the infant as some methods, such as giving your child cold items, might be harmful to your baby's health.

3. Illness

Infants are prone to developing congestion, sore throat, or fever in the first stages of life. These can easily disrupt your child’s sleep. During recovery, the child might require a lot of supervision to make sure that their fever drops and they're comforted. It's common to make frequent checkups on your baby while on medication to check whether they are improving.

As a result, your baby might get attached to these night checkups, cuddles, or feeding. In this situation, the child’s sleep pattern may end up disrupted even if they feel better. If this occurs, you must begin reinforcing the sleep schedule once again. It may take some time to familiarize the infant with the regular sleep pattern, but you shouldn't give up. Consistency is key.

Sleep apnea can also affect infants and largely disrupt sleep. This condition is frightening as it causes the child to often stop breathing for 10 -second periods during sleep. Signs of sleep apnea consist of snoring, sleeping with the mouth open, or excessive sleeping during the daytime.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition, and should you observe these symptoms, consult the pediatrician for immediate attention.

4. Sleep Regression

Sleep regression starts at around 4 -12-month-olds; however, it may present itself in younger infants. This happens as the infants begin to interact with the world around them. At this stage, the infant is fascinated by everything around and tends to enjoy lots of playtime. The infant begins to have infrequent naps, waking up at night, and refusing to sleep or even longer rest periods.

Sleep regression can result in the baby being irritable and overtired. Despite exhaustion and moodiness, the infant may still refuse to fall asleep. Younger infants may refuse to sleep despite being fed or soothed. Older babies who usually sleep independently may struggle to do so or wake up repeatedly without falling back to sleep.

Sleep regression can be corrected by reinforcing the child's routine. Despite the changes in the sleep pattern, the infant will gradually readjust to the normal routine. Sleep regression is temporary and will eventually stop as the infants assimilate to their new abilities.

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5. Routine Disruptions

Small deviations to the infant’s routine may heavily impact the sleep pattern and how much sleep your kid gets. For instance, going back to work for parents or even a different babysitter may cause emotional distress for the child, which may disrupt the sleep pattern. Traveling can also be another factor that can result in sleep schedule disruption. Learning to crawl or walk can also lead to temporary sleep routine disruption.

During these situations, infants tend to spend the majority of the day sleeping and end up staying awake during nighttime. Luckily, there are things you can do to assist the baby in understanding the difference between day and night. You can schedule 3-hour naps during the day so that they can spend the majority of their daytime awake, and you can also introduce the baby to the outdoors as natural light can help them differentiate the day from night. Plus, you can keep their room dark at night, shut the door, keep the room quiet, and even play some soft music.

When such situations occur, you must modify the child’s sleep schedule to accommodate these changes. However, try to follow the routine, which includes feeding, bathing, and a lullaby, and storytime. Ensure that the infants log in all their sleep hours, they wake up earlier, and ensure that you adjust to bedtime accordingly to make up for hours spent awake.

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6. Resisting Back-sleeping

Infants struggle resisting back sleeping as they feel safer sleeping on their stomachs. The sleep position is not recommended as it has been associated with the prevalence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Therefore to avoid the risk of SIDS, infants are placed on their back while sleeping, which may cause some infants to refuse to sleep. Some may also try to sleep on their stomachs while unsupervised.

To fix this, it’s important to encourage back sleeping by giving the child a pacifier during bedtime or swaddling. You can help them relax by gently patting them or through encouraging words, but avoid picking them up unless necessary. You can also put your baby on their back while they're sleepy to allow for an easier deep sleep transition.  Eventually, your babies will sleep on their backs comfortably. If the problem doesn't stop, consult your physician, who could check for other possible explanations.

Sleeping on the stomach is mostly not recommended for infants below one-year-old. Children older than one year old can safely adjust their sleep position and not necessarily need to be monitored. Supervised tummy time can also be gradually introduced to children with the approval of a pediatrician.

Closing Thoughts

Dealing with sleep pattern disruption is an unavoidable parenting experience. You must understand that changes in growth will result in changes in sleep patterns. With proper management, your child will eventually adjust to his sleep schedule. These sleep changes are momentary and will ultimately stop.

Don't be worried if your child has a different sleep pattern than the usual, as each infant is different. It's also imperative that you sleep when your baby does to get that much-needed rest. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to friends and family if you can for assistance in taking care of the baby.

Nevertheless, if the problem persists, consult your sleep medicine specialist to get personalized advice for your baby as it may be an indication of another issue. Regardless, be patient with your child and the sleep schedule changes.

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