When babies are born they have no sense of night and day. They learn this from the behaviour of human beings around them. The tradition in some continental countries is that people go to sleep much later in the evening and have a siesta in the afternoon. Babies brought up in that sort of environment will learn that kind of sleep pattern. It is therefore quite normal at the beginning of life to have a chaotic sleep pattern.
Babies seem to feed and sleep on a continuous basis throughout about 24 hours, although within a matter of a week or two some of that sleep will clump together, although not always at night-time!
Sleep is simply something which happens to them and over which they have very little control. The ability to fall asleep at will develops gradually over the first few weeks of life. This is a process and takes time.
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What happens during sleep? Why do we wake up more easily at some times than others? During sleep there are different phases. There is an initial phase of deep sleep followed by a phase of light sleep. This light sleep may be accompanied by waking which is usually momentary and is often preceded and followed by episodes of dreaming.
This pattern of light sleep followed by the sleep followed by light sleep again continues in adults and animals and young children throughout the night. Each of the sleep cycles takes approximately an hour and a half.
This is one of the reasons why babies most commonly sleep and wake after about and an hour and a half or, they may possibly go through the first light phase and end up sleeping for about 3 hours, or two sleep cycles. When most adults wake at night they commonly turn over or may open their eyes momentarily and then go straight back sleep again.
This process is facilitated by the fact that they usually fall asleep in the same situation in which they are likely to wake during the course of the night. Also most animals have an inbuilt sense of time and seemed to know approximately how long they may have been asleep and approximately what time it is.
It is not easy to wake animals when they are in the phase of deep sleep but it is much easier to wake them in one of the light phases. Premature babies seem to have much more dream sleep than babies born at term and the amount of dream sleep declines in all babies over the first year of life. During phases of dream sleep, the eyelids flicker backwards and forwards continuously while the rest of the body hardly moves.
This dreaming phase occurs during light sleep and if you are planning to tactically wake your baby, you would do better to wait until you see their eyelids flickering in the way described. Does it matter where a baby sleeps? For the first six months of life, babies will fall asleep pretty much anywhere, any time.
However by about six months of age they gradually begin to become more aware of their surroundings and begin to develop some sort of settling routine. By settling routine this might mean anything from eating, having a bath and possibly a bottle and then falling asleep.
This settling routine has an important function in that it is part of a process of beginning to quiet down in preparation for a long phase of sleep.
This involves a separation from the mother and father and from the world itself. By this stage the baby can voluntarily fall asleep alone and the circumstances in which it does so become much more critical. This means that if a child is still sleeping in with you, you need to think about where your child is going to sleep in the long-term.
If you plan to move your baby out of your room and into a room of their own, you would do best do this before six months of age. If your baby has been sleeping in a Moses basket or cot beside your bed, it would be best to move this into the new room ready for their sleep during the day.
If your child is in a Moses basket you could try putting a Moses basket inside a new cot in a new room to begin with so that you are minimising the difference in their surroundings. Once they become used to the new surroundings, the Moses basket can be removed. If they are in a cot, you could put them in the cot to play during the day while you sit with them, so that they get used to being in the cot in a different room.
Adults make a lot of noise at night-time, which can be quite disturbing to babies. How do I settle my baby to sleep? This is because children need to learn ultimately to fall asleep in the dark and on their own. These are the conditions that they will be in when they wake throughout the night and it is much more likely that they will be able to fall asleep again, if these are the circumstances that they associate with going to sleep in the first place.
Not all babies do and my advice here is guided by the number of parents I see in my clinic who have told me this. But you never know what kind of child you are going to have and it is slightly better to err on the side of caution. A word about bottles: You should not try deliberately at this point to withdraw the bottle from your child. What you could possibly do is try and give the bottle a little time before bedtime so that there is a slight gap between bedtime and the end of the bottle.
Or you could wake them momentarily as you put them down into the cot — not enough to get them agitated and screaming but — enough to have them associate the idea of being in the cot and falling asleep from being awake rather than falling asleep somewhere else.
I see many parents whose children fall asleep in front of the television in the evening when the adults are around and the light is on full blast with lots of noise and everything else going on. They then transfer their children to their cot when they themselves go to bed. You should then tell them that it is time to sleep now in a calm and soothing voice and then leave the room. You will commonly notice that they will cry but this is normally just a fussing kind of cry and not real distress.
Try not to go back for 10 minutes and give them a chance to fall asleep. My child always seems to wake for bottles in the night? The only thing that gets my child back to sleep at night is a breastfeed or a bottle. If your child waits repeatedly throughout the night for a bottle, this is extremely common in young babies and it is not something you should worry about.
By about 10 months of age babies do not normally need to be fed during the night, although there will be some breast-fed babies who will still feed at this time and it is more difficult to get babies off the breast at this point than it is to get them off the bottle.
However that is not a reason to switch over to bottle feeding at this stage necessarily. If they are still waking and appearing to indicate that they need to feed and you are bottle feeding it is slightly easier to manage this. You can reduce the amount of milk being given at this time or alternatively you can try gradually watering it down over the course of a few weeks, an ounce at a time.
You can be confident that if your baby is at least 10 months of age, unless they are ill, or the weather is particularly hot, they do not need a drink or food during the night. If you give lots of milk at night you may find the baby eats less during the day and this will affect weaning.
The other thing is that there begins to be a crossover and instead of the milk being something comforting that sustains them throughout the night, it becomes something uncomfortable for them, rather in the way that eating a large heavy meal just before bedtime is for adults. If you are breastfeeding, you could try removing your nipple just as they appear to be falling asleep, rather than waiting until they are, and thereafter, you could try removing it just a little earlier still.
It is worth allowing a few days at each stage of this change to allow them time to get used to it and waiting until they settle easily before you move onto the next stage. In behavioural terms it is known as extinction and it works very rapidly.
By very rapidly I mean that it will work within two to three days. However it involves an awful lot of distress and screaming while children are learning that you will not respond as it is night-time now and time for them to go to sleep. The vast majority of parents that I see in the sleep clinic do not use this method because they find it too traumatic.
However is not easy method to use and I would not suggest that anyone uses it with a child under 14 months of age because I think that they are simply too young to cope with it. Normally parents recognise this. Go back and check method but there are various names for it. This is exactly as it sounds. The idea is that you leave your baby after you have put them down settle to sleep and if they cry, you wait five minutes before you go back to them. Then you leave the room when they are settled again.
If they start to cry again there are two variations on the theme this point: The first of these variations adds the 5 minutes on the next night. It seems to me that just as your baby gets used to doing without you and begins to settle, back you come again.
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However, there are many who swear by this method. The last method is that you remain in the room with your child and you stay with them until they fall asleep. This method is often very useful for parents where there have been concerns about separation or loss.
When I take a history of the pregnancy and birth and experiences before pregnancy from parents, I find a striking number of parents who have had losses, or threats of loss, either just before the pregnancy, sometime during the pregnancy or around the time of birth.
These experiences often sensitise parents to loss and make them far more anxious and unable to be calm around the separation time with their child. Sleep is of course a separation and this may be the first time that you see this sort of underlying feeling becoming more evident.
This will reinforce the idea that daytime is for playing and doing things and having conversations and night-time is a rather boring, uninteresting time when people lie still and do very little and have their eyes closed. Try not to end up lying down with your child to get them to go to sleep but if you have somehow got into that situation, as many parents do, you have to gradually extricate yourself from this. These are also stages that you can go through to teach a small child gradually to learn to fall asleep without you.
Commonly when parents come to see me, they have reached the point of lying down on a bed with their child and often falling asleep because they are exhausted! This means that the first stage needs to be sitting up beside your child and as long as you are calm, the message to your child is that you feel they are perfectly safe if you sit there beside them. You will be a reassuring but rather boring presence.
Again, when your child can fall asleep within five minutes, allow three or four more days for that to consolidate and then move your chair slightly away from the bed.
In an ideal world you should have the lights down low and be reading a book or a newspaper or being very very uninteresting at this point. The last step is that you leave the chair in the room and you get up periodically and you wander off bustling about in the corridor outside, putting things away for example, eg. By this stage your child should be sleeping slightly better. Children are extremely sensitive to the feelings of their parents, especially before they are verbal.
If you have doubts about this I would urge you to try and think about walking into a room where there is a funny atmosphere. How do you know? What are you going on? I would suggest that you and they are tuning into something that involves a mixture of non? Children are much better at this than adults and if you are in the slightest bit anxious when you put them down to sleep your baby will scream or cry for reassurance.
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