Babies and Sleep Patterns As They Age

Sleep – From Birth to Five Years Old

Is a consistent sleep routine really that important for babies? Think of it like this: nutrition is vital for the development of the baby’s body, while sleep is just as important for the development of their brain. A baby’s sleep schedule is necessary and very important because unlike us adults, infants can’t just go to sleep whenever they want. As your baby starts to establish and maintain a consistent and regular sleep schedule, they will have a much better shot at sleeping longer and have less awakenings. More sleep, and less waking up = better sleep for them which means…better sleep for everyone else too!

It’s no surprise that moms and dads around the world worry about the quality of their child’s sleep and what they can do about it. Are they getting too much sleep or too little? Are naps important and how many hours of naps are needed? Should I let them cry to sleep, or should I rush to them when they’re crying? One of my children sleeps better than my other one, yet I don’t do anything differently. Why is that?

Babies & Younger Children – Sleep Behavior

Countless parents are often confused and anxious regarding their baby’s sleep patterns. They have many concerns and questions that they don’t know the answers to. I’m here to address those. Many parents are often unclear or misinformed about this throughout their lives. Even if they ask questions and get help from their pediatrician, they still might be frustrated with the advice given to them. Some of the advice may not be suitable for all kids. What works for many may not work for your child. After all, every single child is unique. Some children may not have any issues with sleep, and some may have issues right from the start. Make sure you have specific questions for your pediatrician so that they can answer them to the best of their ability and give you the most accurate advice regarding your baby’s sleep patterns.

A common question is – How many hours a night should my baby sleep? There is no correct answer for every baby. There are too many factors that come into play to give a universal answer. In the first two years of your baby’s life, their genetics play a huge role in how they sleep. This could vary how long or short they take naps even. Maybe your son/daughter’s own unique temperament could be playing a role in their sleep behavior. External factors also play a huge part in sleep for them too. Things like how loud a room is, when you’re present with them (day or night), the light in their room, the temperature in the room, and many more factors could influence how well they sleep.

Syncing Up Your Child’s Sleep

Parents sometimes disrupt their child sleep without knowing. Sometimes, we’re so caught up in our own daily activities and routines that we are too busy to realize that our decisions and schedules might impact our child’s sleep.

Another common thing that we sometimes don’t realize is just how important  an adaptive lifestyle that keeps our children in sync with their own emerging internal system. Timing is actually very important. Because timing sleep is crucial, it’s necessary to learn why when your baby sleeps is actually more important than the length that they sleep. The quality of their sleep, which can make them even-tempered, restore awareness, refresh them, and so much more, affects how they develop. Everyone has their own unique individual biological clocks, and it’s your duty to figure out when your child’s own clock is. If you can find that out and encourage them to sleep in sync with their own unique clock, they will maximize on their own sleep and it’ll truly benefit them in the best way possible.

Pay close attention to them. Soon you’ll realize that the just like us, they have periods of time where they’re more tired during the day versus other times of the day. If your baby sleeps during when he/she is most tired, his quality of sleep will be better than if they sleep when they’re not as tired. The trick here is to find out when they are tired and put them to sleep around that time. You don’t want to put them to sleep past when they’re already tired and have shown it. Then at that point, they will be overtired and they will not fall sleep as easily.

As parents trying to do our best, it’s important to nurture/support your child’s want and need to sleep. When you do start to notice that they fall asleep during specific times of the day, make sure to encourage them to fall asleep during those times. That’s when they will benefit the most from it. Although, this definitely won’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to adopt an optimal sleep schedule and it certainly won’t happen overnight, or even in days or weeks. Their own biological circadian rhythm develops over time, and your goal should be to try to match those patterns with their internal sleep cycle as close as you possibly can. All you can really do is try to note when they truly are prepared for sleep. Because if you don’t do this, you might put them in their crib too early or too late and they might not fall sleep as easily or stay asleep. This also means that they won’t be as refreshed from that sleep and will be more irritable and so on.

How do you know when they are getting enough sleep? The better question is how do you know the sleep that they are getting is quality sleep and not fragmented or effective? One way to try to find out is to observe them near the end of the day. Are they sweet, friendly, cooperative, quiet, and in good spirits? Or are they whiny, wired up, irritable, and don’t want to sleep? They might be cranky because they are sleep deprived/not getting the proper sleep that they need. If this happens consistently, then some alterations in their sleep schedule might be exactly what you both need to help get them to sleep.

How To Establish A Sleep Schedule + Dealing With Excessive Crying

Some babies cry almost every night after being placed in a crib for sleep while others may almost never cry. You might’ve even experienced this with your own children at one point. For countless parents such as yourselves, it can truly drive you mad when your child continuously cries in their crib for minutes, upon hours of time. As they keep crying and crying and pleading for you to tend to them, you feel horrible because you try to help them but don’t understand what they truly need. Maybe sometimes you experience frustration or anger at their seemingly amazing willingness/inability to work with you and wind down and get some sleep. Something as miniscule as just minutes of crying can make it seem like endless amounts of distress for you.

You might be wondering why they are crying. Maybe it’s because they are letting off some steam, distress, loneliness, or maybe they just feel like crying. Many parents’ first reaction is to rush to their crib because they can’t handle hearing their child crying.

Some of the most commonly asked questions for pediatricians are – should I let them cry themselves to sleep, or should I be picking them up and comforting them? You might have other questions such as how much sleep should they be getting. These answers vary widely based on your child’s age. Here are some baby sleeping patterns by age below. Remember that each child is different no matter what the standard might be.

First Few Weeks

At this point, your baby will be asleep for most of the time. When you do put them down to sleep or even when they wake up, if you can, try to avoid making them cry. What you can do instead is respond to them and try to soothe them as best to your abilities. This includes singing, talking, playing soothing music, making sure the lighting is comfortable, and even rocking him or her to sleep gently. If you have to, pick them up but put them down 5 to 10 minutes after. By minimizing their discomfort, you will maximize their sleep time as well as the quality of the sleep.

What exactly is an infant ready for sleep though? In general, a good rule of thumb is after they’ve been awake for one to two hours. Remember that infants in the first few weeks need a LOT of sleep. Sometimes they might even need to sleep before an hour passes. Sometimes they might stay awake for more than two hours too. Regardless, if they need to go to sleep and they don’t, they will show that they are irritable and overtired by letting you know with the wonderful tunes of crying. This is where you need to start soothing them to sleep. After they’ve been awake for an hour or more, they might need to be soothed to sleep again. A great trick is to put them down in their crib while they’re tired but still awake. This approach works for so many different things and is a general good rule of thumb to follow. Remember to not wait too long, or else they’ll become crabby and might even have more difficulty falling asleep than before.

> 6 Weeks Old

At this point, your baby’s sleep-wake cycle will start to become more routine/consistent. They should start to sleep longer at night and may begin showing signs of drowsiness and even crying earlier. Here’s an example: maybe in the past they were ready to sleep at around 9 to 11 PM. Now they might be ready to sleep at around 6 to 8 PM at this point.

Like I said many times before, every baby is different so try to note when your baby is sleeping earlier. These numbers aren’t set in stone and more of a general time frame. To adjust to this earlier bedtime, start to put them to sleep earlier, and maybe try to spend some one-on-one time soothing them if you need to. At this point, all you can do is let them fall asleep on their own and keep a close eye out to determine if their sleep will be a 30 minute nap or possibly a four hour K.O. nap.

Once you start to get a hang of when they normally fall asleep, you should start to soothe them less and less. If you’ve been doing everything correctly, your baby should start soothe themselves to sleep when you put them down. When that hopefully does happen, there should be little to no crying involved. By about three months old, most babies will sleep 6 to 8 hours through the night with little to no disruption. If your baby gets up too early, it’s worth trying to get them back to sleep via soothing them, ensuring that their environment is comfortable. (such as proper lighting, no loud sounds, etc)

4 – 12 Months Old

With a four-month-old child, continue trying to understand your baby’s own circadian rhythms and make a note of when they are crying so that you can adjust to them. As long as you’re attentive and aware of when they require sleep, you can continue to minimize crying. Most infants from four months to a year old need at least two naps. Some might need three. Typically, these naps will occur sometime during the morning, and sometime during the afternoon or evening. Remember to try to get these naps to be consistent. The tricky part is that the times that they’ll be tired will change throughout their lives. Try to get them on a consistent schedule, I cannot stress this enough. Maybe a nap around 9 AM, then another at 1 PM, then if needed, a nap late afternoon or early evening. Let them nap for as long as they want unless they have a hard time falling asleep at night. In that event, talk to your pediatrician about possibly waking your child up earlier from their afternoon nap. This might be all you need to adjust for them to wake up on their own. At about nine months old, try to slowly phase out those late afternoon nap so that they’ll be ready for bed at an earlier time vs if you keep letting them take afternoon naps.

It’s important to note that there will be times where you might need to let them cry themselves to sleep. It won’t be the end of the world for them and you don’t have to worry about the reasons why they’re crying. You can’t stop them from crying every single time, all the time. Remember that you’ve got the entire day to show them how much you care about them and love them. By doing so, at night, your baby will start to understand that night time = sleep, and when you do let them cry, it’s because you’re helping them learn how to soothe themselves. They won’t think that you’re abandoning them or neglecting them during the night, because your baby knows that during the day, you show your love for them all the time. So, don’t worry about that regard.

10 To 12 Months Old

At this time, the child’s morning nap start to diminish in some children. At around 12 months old, some babies might eliminate their morning nap entirely. As that does happen, you can begin adjusting their bed time to an earlier time. This might be roughly 20 to 30 minutes earlier. The afternoon nap can also be started slightly sooner as well. The time when you actually put them down for bed might very for quite a while, depending on several aspects such as how sleepy they are, and their quality of naps during the day.

13 To 36 Months Old

At this time frame, the duration that they nap will change too. At around 15 months old, roughly half of most children will swap to just 1 single nap a day, which will likely be midday. Their morning nap might slowly fade away by itself, though there might be several periods of time where they still nap in the morning while they transition to a single nap. Regardless, for most children, the morning nap will slowly start to diminish. When that happens, by putting your child to bed earlier, they should wake up more rested and have less of a chance to miss the morning nap.

2 Years Old

Almost all children at this point have switched to one afternoon nap. Remember though, this nap is still very significant to them and helps them function throughout the day.

2 To 3 Years Old

Many children still need a daytime nap at this point. This nap helps them make it through the day and act less irritable through the day. At around three years old, most children sleep around two hours during the day. However, some might sleep more than others, while others might sleep less. The amount of time might very as well. If you can capitalize on the timing of the naps, as well as the night time sleep, it will make a huge difference. Although, you can’t be consistent 100% of the time so don’t worry about being flexible sometimes. Sometimes, some children will fight and be resistant to napping, even when they might appear tired. In cases such as this, try varying your bedtime at night. Try adjusting timings for both a earlier or later bedtime and see which one works best.

The main goal is that your child’s nap should be long enough so that it is restorative to them. Some evidence suggests that longer naps tend to improve a child’s attention span and their ability to learn. Naps should exceed a certain amount of time. Naps that are only a few minutes long won’t provide restorative sleep. Adults don’t need naps that are two hours, and there is even evidence to suggest that napping too long could be detrimental for adults too. You should aim for 1 to 2 hours for a nap at this age. Research suggests that roughly 90% of three-year-olds still nap.

3 To 5 Years Old

Most children around this age are ready for bed time between 7 and 9 PM. This could even be earlier if naps are short or nonexistent. If this is the case, then they’ll probably sleep with little to no interruptions until around 6 to 8 AM. Naps become less and less common around the age of 3 to 4 years old.

During this time, be attentive to your child’s need for sleep, and make sure that they have a regular and consistent bedtime. Some children actually require more sleep depending on how active they are during the day and how much they nap. Depending on this, you might want to extend their sleep time by ensuring that they go to bed at an earlier time.

Helping Your Son/Daughter Get the Most Effective and Efficient Sleep

How exactly do you prepare your child for sleep? One way can be soothing them to sleep. Soothing techniques might vary based on the age of your son/daughter. Gentle pats of the back are almost universal for just about any age. Pats, kisses on the forehead, or even giving them a pacifier could all be beneficial for young infants. White noise is also great with newborns. This can be any type of noise ranging from air blowing, a white noise device, white noise MP3s from a speaker, or just any constant noise that you think could help you fall sleep – yet not be annoying or too noticeable.

Bedtime routine can start fairly early at around 4 to 6 months old. These routines will help your child get ready for sleep, and your child will start to associate them with sleeping. Try reading a story. Maybe give them a warm bath or light massage, gently sing to them, or play some light and calming music in the background. Make sure you decrease your play time with them before bed, ensure that the lighting is appropriate, and make sure no external sounds can disturb them during the night.

One of the most important parts of this is to try to find your child’s own unique circadian clock. This is different for every child. The specific activity that you do isn’t as important as finding out the time that they begin to feel sleepy naturally.

With this in mind, many parents jump through hoops and alter their own activities and behaviors in an effort to help their children obtain better quality sleep. I know that so many of us are busy with our day to day lives, but sometimes, it makes it easy to forget to make sure that our children get to sleep at the same time each day. Whenever you can, try to spend as much time with them as possible. Try to make sure that they nap in their own crib. If you don’t have the option of being at home for a period of time such as a vacation or holiday, try to minimize their disruption that could possibly cause them to stay awake past their standard bedtime. Try not to let the environment overstimulate them if you can. Once you get into a good rhythm of having a consistent sleep schedule, your child will indirectly thank you for it by letting both you and them get as much sleep as needed.

If your baby is in daycare for the beginning year of their life, try to ask the daycare to keep them on a steady napping routine/schedule to the best of their abilities. It should mimic the sleep schedule that you typically use at home. This will minimalize disruptions. How willing these caregivers are to adapt to what you prefer should be a deciding factor when you’re choosing a daycare to begin with.

Even if you have an amazing childcare group, there is no guarantee that when they come home to on the weekends that they’ll behave perfectly and nothing will go wrong. Since you missed out on so much time during the week, you’ll probably want to spend as much one-on-one time with them on the weekend. You might even give in to them crying or their demands because you are guilty about not spending as much time with them during the week. By doing this, you might even lose some great quality naps and night time sleep along the way. If this does happen, this will also affect their weekday sleep routines. That’s why it’s so important to be consistent throughout the entire week.

But let’s be honest here: there is no way you can possibly avoid every type of disruption. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stay consistent all of time. It simply isn’t possible. Between family gatherings, vacations, holidays, and other factors that are external and you can’t control, there are so many things that can disrupt you and your child. Some children adapt to these changes better than others while some have a difficult time doing so.

Try to respect your child’s behavior and routine as much as you can. Disruptions are inevitable and no matter how hard you try, there is no way you can be perfect and consistent every single day. Don’t beat yourself up for it and most importantly, don’t feel angry if your child doesn’t want to cooperate during this time. If you do happen to know when you have a family gathering or something similar, do your best to ensure your child is well rested preceding that, so that the effect on their sleep schedule won’t be too detrimental. The better rested they are, the better they’re temperament is, and this will play into how much they can adapt to their environment at hand. That’s just the tip of the iceberg on understanding how important that sleep is for your child. Sleep is one of the most important things that we humans take for granted, so do everything you possibly can to ensure that they get the best sleep. In the long run, they’ll thank you for it by being cooperative, loving, and making your life so much better!

About the Author Elizabeth

Hi everyone, I'm Elizabeth. My beautiful daughter Alice keeps me awake occasionally...but when I'm busy and can't sleep, I post parenting tips and different ways you can get your baby to sleep soundly through the night, and even naps!