I honestly do not know why we always tell moms: “Sleep when your baby sleeps”. I remember when my son was little; when he eventually fell asleep, that gave me enough time to race to the toilet, and hurriedly gulp down a cup of tea! I would mission off to my bedroom to “sleep because my baby is sleeping”, but it would take me ages to fall asleep, and then, when I finally managed to drift into a sweet slumber… he would wake up. All of this turmoil in only 45 minutes, only to start the cycle again!?!?!
Why is the 45 minute cycle the hallmark of a newborn’s sleep?
45 minutes is the sleep cycle for a newborn. Adults typically have a longer sleep cycle, stretching for approximately 90 minutes. At the end of each sleep cycle, a baby is in a very light sleep state and may even momentarily wake up before entering into a new cycle. This light sleep is where most of the problems arise.
Interestingly enough, babies spend more time in REM sleep than adults – read more about it here. But what can we do to help our children sleep for longer?
In order to encourage a longer nap you need to first ask yourself a very important question:
Did my baby fall asleep in the same place she ended up?
Most of the time the answer to this question is “no”. She fell asleep in my arms, and then I moved her to the crib. The tricky thing about this is that people don’t usually like to wake up somewhere different from the place they fell asleep. On some level our bodies know or sense the difference, therefore we wake up with a start, and this is often why babies cry!
Here are a few tips for helping your child sleep longer:
1. Make sure your baby is in the same place when she falls asleep as she is when she wakes up. This will help prevent her startle reflex, and ease the transition from one sleep cycle to the next.
2. Let your baby is do most of the work of getting to sleep in the first place on her own. If you always feed her to sleep, then again, you can see why she may not like it when she gets to the end of the sleep cycle and there is no bottle or breast nearby. This will also cause a baby to wake up startled and then start crying.
3. Play around with your baby’s awake time. Every baby has a window of opportunity for successful sleep. This means it’s a time when your child is already tired enough to be put down, but not overtired. Don’t forget that it is possible to put a baby down too early, which will mean that they won’t take a proper nap.
If you have taken steps to encourage your baby to sleep soothe, and she is falling asleep in her crib, then congratulations because most of the battle has already been won. The good news is that with time and practice, he will have a much easier time getting from one sleep cycle to the next, and should start to sleep longer and longer for each nap over the course of two to three weeks.