Baby, please sleep!
A sleep expert advises on how to get peace at night.
(Getty Images)
What should be an awesome experience for a new parent is often negated by a lack of sleep.  During the early weeks of your baby’s life, sleep deprivation is normal. However, a long-term lack of sleep (25% to 40% of babies have trouble settling down to sleep — or getting back to sleep when they've wakened) is seriously debilitating.  

How much sleep babies need
Newborn babies require 15 to 16 hours of sleep per day.  Day naps of at least 1½ hours each are essential in order for them to reach their physical milestones.  A normal sleep cycle for a baby is:
•    A first, light, sleep cycle of 15 minutes.  
•    Thereafter, a deep sleep of 30 minutes.  
•    A second light sleep cycle of 15 minutes (It is at the start of this cycle (45 minutes) that babies often wake up and are unable to soothe themselves back to sleep).  
•    The second deep sleep cycle of 30 minutes commences.
It is vital that your baby has this second sleep cycle, as this is when a growth hormone is produced.  
Over stimulation of a baby can occur just by being kept awake for a few extra minutes ? directly impacting on sleep patterns and the ability to fall asleep easily. Baby will become fussy, miserable, may squirm or tense up his body. Left longer, his body will start producing adrenaline and he will decline into a state, called hyperalert, where he may cry inconsolably, arch his back, clench fists, stiffen his body and present with hyper-active behaviour. It is extremely difficult to calm and put him to sleep at this point.  

Whilst it is impossible to impose a sleep schedule on a newborn, at about 6 weeks, you can reinforce your child's biological rhythms by establishing a regular bedtime routine.

Between 3 and 6 months, most babies are ready for sleep training and are capable of sleeping “through” the night (generally meaning 5 or 6 hours).

The technique you use to teach healthy sleep habits will depend on what you feel comfortable with — and which sleep strategy you think your child will respond to.  Consistency is more important than method. Almost all techniques are effective if applied consistently.  

Things you can do to help your baby sleep well
•    Avoid “assisting” your baby to sleep eg rocking him or her. Instead form a regular bed routine eg feed, bathe and then read a story.  

•    Always put your baby down to sleep in his own bed.

•    Ensure that your baby is having enough sleep during the day. The number of naps is age appropriate but should be around 1½ hours each.

•    Provided your baby is healthy, don’t rush through every time you hear a noise. If you always appear, they will grow to expect you there every time they are awake. Allow a few minutes for the baby to settle himself.

•    By six months, provided they are receiving the correct nutritional requirements during the day, babies no longer require night time feeds.

•    Ensure that the room temperature is ideal for sleeping - between 18º and 20º Celsius and that your baby is not dressed too warmly or too lightly.

•    Keep bathing close to bedtime. The bath gets your baby nice and toasty and then the cool room causes his body temperature to drop, which brings on sleepiness.

Do you have sleepless nights? What do you think the answer is?

Read more about Sue Mitchell.

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