How do babies' sleep patterns change as they get older?
Those first few weeks can feel like a blur with most things operating on autopilot, while you learn to cope with broken sleep. Although it may be hard to adjust, remember that night times can be a special time to share quiet moments bonding with your baby, making them feel safe and secure. Babies don’t have to fit the clock. It may take some time to figure out your newborn’s sleeping patterns and once you get used to their sleeping patterns, things might shift again. Here’s a guide on when and how their patterns might change:
For the first few months, newborn babies tend to sleep more than they’re awake. Sleep is important for babies and young children because, it’s when the body does a lot of its building work. It contributes to healthy brain, emotional and behavioural development, as well as continued growth into childhood and beyond.
The amount of sleep for newborns varies but can be up to 18 hours. Their sleep will be broken up into shorter periods over the day and night, because of their need for frequent feeding. A newborn is likely to sleep more at night but it’s unusual for them to sleep right through the night.
Your baby will require fewer night-time feeds as they get older. Once they reach four months old, babies may start to sleep twice as long at night compared to the daytime.
At three to six months, babies may get about 3 to 4 hours of daytime sleep and 8 or more hours at night. Nap times start to get shorter and shorter as your baby gets older.
From six months old, your baby may no longer require nighttime feeds. Some babies get up to 12 hours of sleep a night.
Naps may continue with up to 2 to 3 hours of nap time during the day.
Methods to settle a restless baby before bed
Whilst parenting involves some trial and error, finding your own natural rhythm will help you to settle into what works best for you and your baby. Soon you’ll figure out what keeps you and your baby calm and happy.
Here are a few methods you can try:
- Routines can help - Try to establish a night-time routine when your baby is around three months old. Create a pre-bed ritual they will associate with going to bed at night like taking a bath, cuddling, dimming the lights, listening to soft music, and hearing a bedtime story or lullaby. This will create signals that they will associate with nighttime and sleep.
- Getting your baby to sleep without comforting – Although in the early weeks your baby might only fall asleep in your arms, once they’re alert more often you can start putting your baby to bed before they fall asleep or after a feed. This can help your baby learn to fall asleep on their own and in their own cot.
- Skin-to-skin contact is a great way to soothe your baby and help them feel calm or settled before bed. Skin-to-skin contact may also help with bonding between your baby and you, or your partner. Try to avoid laying down on a chair or sofa whilst holding your baby in case you fall asleep unintentionally, as this can be unsafe. Rather lie down on your own bed, or carry the baby.
- Check that your baby is not too hot – If your baby is sweating or feels hot to the touch, take off some of the bedding. It’s easier to adjust your baby’s sleep temperature by adding or taking away thin layers of bedding or clothing. An ideal room temperature for your baby to sleep comfortably, is between 16 to 20°C.
- Reduce stimulation at night - too much stimulation before bed can make it harder for your baby to fall asleep. We're not just referring to too much exciting playtime but also stimulation from lights, noise, including your voices, changing nappies unnecessarily or waiting too long after feeding to put your baby in bed.
Understanding why your baby isn't sleeping well
Your baby’s sleep patterns are bound to change, even from one night to another and from one stage to the next. Some babies may start sleeping through the night for 8 hours or more, at around 6 months of age, whereas other babies may wake up during the night or sleep less than 8 hours, even after the age of 12 months. If your baby is struggling to sleep well at night, here are a few possible reasons to consider:
- Babies may wake up from being too hot or too cold which can disrupt their sleeping. If you think your baby is waking up too many times in a single night, consider whether the room temperature is suitable or check the layers of clothing or bedding on your baby.
- If your baby is between 6 and 12 months, teething may disrupt your baby’s sleep. Signs of teething can include chewing on their fingers, toys or a blanket. You can soothe a teething baby by giving them a teething ring to chew on. Teething pain can also be relieved with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Nurofen for Children which contains ibuprofen, may help alleviate their teething pain and is suitable for babies from three months old or over 5 kg.
- Hunger may wake your baby. This happens more often the younger your baby is but as they grow older, they will wake fewer times during the night to feed.
- Nighttime disturbances such as feeds may keep a baby awake. If your baby wakes to feed in the night, keep your voice low and the lights dimmed. Avoid stimulating them with play before bed and during nighttime feeds. You may choose to keep your baby in a cot in your bedroom at night for feeding, because this is less of a disturbance to you and your baby.
Healthy sleep patterns are more likely to develop over time, with the help of good sleep hygiene. That means having a regular routine, a calm and quiet place for sleep and minimal stimulation before and during sleep time. If your baby is having problems sleeping or you need more advice, you can speak to your health visitor. If your baby’s sleeping patterns don’t improve over time, speak to your doctor, so they can look for any underlying problems. You may find it helpful to keep a diary of your baby’s sleep patterns to discuss with your doctor.
All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters for further information or medical advice, please speak to your GP or a Pharmacist