Why is it that our relationship with sleep matures into a deep, committed love as we get older– But when we’re born, it seems we’re sworn enemies?
It is a point made incredibly clear and enunciated in its finest irony when we as sleep-loving adults, bring home a newborn.
Something that comes so naturally to us now, completely eludes this tiny being who really is just trying to make sense of this strange new world of voices and faces and things. The last thing it wants or knows how to do, is sleep alone, isolated from the sound of a heartbeat.
Those first few days, weeks, months and years are spent rejecting, then reluctantly accepting and eventually later in life, fully surrendering to sleep. (To the point of feeling abandoned and rejected, when it seems out of grasp.)
So why is sleep so difficult for infants? Most of us don’t understand how babies sleep which adds to the frustration for both parent and child.
Firstly, babies don’t sleep deeply. Going into a deeper sleep within minutes after your head hits the pillow is actually something that you mature into, so when you thought your infant had drifted completely into dreamland, after rocking and walking circles with her for a few minutes, she may only be in the initial phase of sleep and can be easily roused awake.
“Babies need to be parented to sleep, not just put to sleep. …The reason is that while adults can usually go directly into the state of deep sleep, infants in the early months enter sleep through an initial period of light sleep. If you try to rush your baby to bed while she is still in the initial light sleep period, she will usually waken.” – Ask Dr. Sears.com
What doctors and researchers have learned is that sleep is a “powering down” process that is learned and developed over time. Extending the nightly ritual with your infant by about 20 minutes will allow your baby to complete the light phase of sleep and continue into a deeper phase.
Even then, they may not sleep as long.
Knowing that your baby may stir even slightly about 60 minutes after she falls asleep can help you regulate your schedule (Quiet on the set!) to ensure she doesn’t fully waken.
“Infant sleep cycles are shorter lasting 50-60 minutes, so they experience a vulnerable period of nightwaking around every hour or even less. As your baby enters this light sleep, if you lay a comforting hand on your baby’s back, sing a soothing lullaby, or just be there next to baby if he is in your bed; you can help him get through this light sleep period without waking.”
Rest assured (pun intended), your baby will eventually learn to get through the light phase to deeper sleep from around 3-6 months old. While those nights may seem long, the time spent as an infant is short. Set the nighttime routine that works for your baby and your expectations and keep the faith!
Not getting the rest you need while your infant learns the sleep tools of the trade? Here are a few tips that could help lessen your sleep debt.
*Set aside social graces: put the phone down and away– and don’t commit to following up with friends/family during the time your baby sleeps.
*Really try and sleep when your baby sleeps: Split up household duties and alternate nightwatch/daywatch.
*Have your own nighttime routine: Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol late in the day or at night. Avoid stimulating light (from your device, for example) and noise around bedtime. – New Parents: Getting the sleep you need – Mayo Clinic
Establishing a routine for you and your baby can assist with the night waking process can also help you get to sleep.
Also, tools like White noise sound machines have been extremely helpful for some parents with infants and young children because they mask disruptive noise that could fully waken babies during the light phase of sleep. Using for example, the ‘LectroFan sound machine with 10 white noise and 10 fan sound options can instantly soothe your baby back to sleep, helping you both get the rest you need.
Understanding that your baby is just getting used to this “sleep” concept could help ease your frustration and feeling of helplessness and help you find the right solution.
8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know: www.askdrsears.com
New Parents: Getting The Sleep You Need: www.mayoclinic.org
How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need: www.sleepfoundation.org