Sleep


Did you know?

  • Sleeping through the night means 5 hours
  • Most babies don't sleep through the night until at least 8-9 months
  • Babies have very short sleep cycle.
  • Babies who are picked up consistently when they cry in the first six months cry less in the second six months of life than babies who are not picked up consistently when they cry

One of the most difficult things about being a parent is the sleep deprivation.

A little about baby's sleep:

  • Babies have very short sleep cycles.
  • Spend very little time in deep sleep.
  • They need to feed more frequently, therefore they wake more often.
  • As they grow, their sleep cycles get longer.

The most important thing to remember is to respond to your baby, especially when they are crying. This lets your baby know you are there for them when they need you so they build trust in you as their parent.

All babies are different and some babies need more help getting to sleep and staying asleep than others. Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure to help your baby sleep all night long.

  • Your baby’s temperament plays a big part in how they sleep.
  • Many babies are not able to fall asleep without help from their parents.
  • If your baby is unable to fall asleep on their own, this does not mean there is something wrong with them or that you’re doing something wrong.
  • Sleep strategies that work for your family or friends’ babies may not work for yours.
  • Try to remember that the baby stage will not last forever and enjoy it while it lasts (despite it’s difficulties!)
  • Eventually your child will learn to fall asleep on their own and will sleep all night.

Baby sleep patterns

  • Newborn babies have very short sleep cycles – so they wake up and need to feed frequently (newborn babies need to breastfeed at least 8 times over a 24 hour period)
  • Babies sleep patterns will vary as they grow.
  • Newborns typically have one long sleep period, which may occur during the day.
  • Newborns may have their days and nights mixed up, which means they may sleep longer during the day and feed more at night.

You can help set your baby’s sleep cycle by keeping their environment bright and noisy during the day and keeping it quiet and dark at night. Taking your baby out in the fresh air during the day can help set their sleep cycle – and yours too!

Babies will sleep less as they develop:
(remembering every baby’s sleep needs and sleeping patterns are different)

  • One-month-olds will be alert for one to three hour stretches, sleeping an average of 15 or more hours in a 24-hour day.
  • Six-month-olds sleep about 12 to 14 hours in a 24-hour day, this includes daytime napping.
  • By one year, most children will sleep a total of 14 hours a day, including daytime napping.
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How many times have you been asked “is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” A frustrating question if your baby isn't... Believe it or not, “sleeping through the night”, according to the “sleep experts” is 5 hours! That may not be sleeping through the night in your books… but perhaps your baby IS actually sleeping through the night by this definition. Most babies don’t sleep through the night until at least 8-9 months, so if your baby still wakes frequently, you are not alone.

Newborns need to wake many times during the night because they have small tummies which cannot hold large amounts of milk. Breast milk is digested quickly so most young babies will need to breastfeed at least 8 times in 24 hours.

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It’s completely normal for babies to wake up at night. Some reasons for waking include:

  • Hunger
  • Teething
  • Being hot or cold
  • Growth spurts (developmental stage)
  • Illness
  • Loneliness (needing a cuddle)

It's really important to pick up your baby when he/she is crying.

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Growth spurts often happen around:

  • 3 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 3 months
  • 6 months

But they can happen anytime.

About growth spurts:

  • Your baby is growing.
  • Your baby will need to breastfeed more often.
  • They may last anywhere from a day to a week.
  • Your baby may be fussier.
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Helping baby stay asleep

Help your baby feel comfortable in their bed and sleep longer by:

  • Creating white noise (white noise machine, radio on static between stations, white noise CD, white noise toy)
  • Playing relaxing music
  • Pre-warming baby’s bed (make sure to remove what you’re using to warm the bed before putting baby in)
  • Having your familiar scent in their bed (a t-shirt that you’ve worn flattened underneath baby, a receiving blanket that you’ve worn tucked up in your shirt so it smells like you)
  • Keeping their sleeping environment dark (at night)

Bedtime routines

Having a bedtime routine can help improve your baby’s sleep patterns. You can start an evening routine to give a clear signal to your baby that sleep time is coming. Try to start your routine at the same time every night and follow the steps in the same order each night so following your routine becomes a cue for your baby to get ready for sleep.

You can try the following activities to help your child prepare for sleep

  • Bathing
  • Massage
  • Rocking
  • Cuddling
  • Reading (ideally choose a specific number of books)
  • Singing
  • Dimming lights
  • Music/ white noise
  • Special cuddle toy/blanket

A consistent, predictable daily routine helps children develop regular sleep habits, making them feel settled.

Daytime naps

Some babies have trouble taking daytime naps. Lack of daytime sleep can affect babies nighttime sleep so it can help their overall sleeping patterns to get into a good nap routine.

Naptime routines can also help your baby by giving them cues that it’s time to take their naps during the day. Their naptime routine should be much shorter than their bedtime routine and should also have fewer steps.

Something that can help your baby take regular daytime naps is to give them naps at consistent times each day.

  • Keep a journal of the times they get sleepy and want to take a nap for a few days so you know what times they need to nap at.
  • Decide on a nap schedule (the number of naps they need depends on the age of your baby).
  • For 1-2 weeks get your baby to sleep at those consistent times. You may need to try different ideas to help get your baby to sleep at those consistent times.
  • Once your baby is on a regular schedule of napping at those times, you can try easier methods of getting your baby to sleep.
  • If they are used to sleeping at those specific times, it should be easier to get them to sleep for their nap.

Short naps?

If your baby is taking short naps, here is a trick you can try.

  • Go to your baby shortly before the time they usually wake up.
  • As soon as your baby shows signs of waking, help them get back to sleep by patting or rubbing them, humming, shushing, singing or whatever else works to soothe your baby back to sleep.
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It is very important to respond to your baby when they are crying. Responding to your baby tells them you are there for them when they need you so they learn to trust you.

Interestingly, research has shown that babies who are picked up consistently when they cry in the first six months actually cry less in the second six months of life than those babies who are not picked up consistently when they cry.

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The most important way to reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is to put them their back to sleep on a firm, flat surface. The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a crib, cradle or bassinet that meets Health Canada Safety Standards (external link).

Infants with specific medical conditions may need alternate sleep positions as advised by a healthcare provider

Preventing SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

SIDS (also known as crib death) refers to the sudden and unexpected death of a healthy baby less than one year of age.

There are 5 steps you can take to reduce the risk of SIDS:

  1. Provide a smoke-free environment, before and after your baby is born.
  2. Breastfeed.
  3. Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, at naptime and night time.
  4. Provide your baby with a safe sleep environment that has a firm surface and no pillows, comforters, quilts or bumper pads.
  5. Place your baby to sleep in a crib, cradle or bassinet next to your bed.

For more information about safe sleep for your baby check out the Public Health Agency of Canada's Safe Sleep for Your Baby brochure (external link).

Crib safety

Health Canada has extensive information about crib safety (external link) and tips for purchasing a crib for your infant.
It is important remembers these tips:

  • Look for a label so you know when the crib was made
  • Cribs made before 1986 are not safe
  • If you can’t find a label, do not use the crib

Safety considerations

  • Do not modify your baby’s crib in any way and check it regularly to make sure no parts or screws are loose.
  • The crib mattress should fit tightly to the edges of the crib with no gaps
  • Use a fitted crib mattress and if necessary, thin blankets tucked under baby’s arms and tucked into the sides of the mattress
  • Ensure your baby doesn’t overheat. If they are sweating, they are too warm. Check the back of baby’s neck.
  • The ideal temperature of baby’s room is about 18°C
  • Do not harness or tie your baby in their bed
  • Make sure nothing is within baby’s grabbing reach like blind cords, lamps, shelves, curtains etc.
  • Bumper pads, stuffed toys, comforters and sleep positioners are not recommended
  • If you use a mobile or toy bar, remove it when your baby can push up on their hands and knees
  • Move crib mattress to lowest level when baby can sit up

Room-sharing

Sharing a room with your baby or “room-sharing (external link)” refers to placing your baby on a separate sleep surface (in a crib or cradle) to sleep in the same room as where you’re sleeping. Ideally, your baby should be within arm’s reach of where you’re sleeping. Health Canada recommends room-sharing with your baby until at least 6 months of age.

Benefits of room-sharing:

  • The risk of SIDS is reduced for babies under 6 months.
  • Helps establish and maintain breastmilk supply
  • Helps make night-time breastfeeding easier
  • Makes it easier to respond to your baby and promotes attachment
  • Can help you get more sleep
  • Provides reassurance that your baby is safe

Bed-sharing

The safest place for your baby to sleep is on their back, in a crib that meets Health Canada’s Crib and Cradle Safety Guidelines (external link), within arms reach of the parents’ bed.

Bed-sharing is when your baby sleeps on the same sleep surface (in the same bed) as you.

You should not share a bed with your baby if you or another person in the bed:

  • is a smoker
  • smoked while you were pregnant
  • has been drinking alcohol
  • has taken any drugs (legal or illegal)
  • is very tired
  • is sick or has a condition which affects the person’s awareness of your baby (any condition that won’t allow you to move or be aware of your baby) e.g., decreased mobility, sensation or spatial awareness such as multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea, paralysis
  • is obese

If you choose to bed-share here is some important safety information to think about:

DO: DON'T:
Make sure your baby doesn’t get too warm Never overdress your baby.
Your baby shouldn’t be hot to the touch or sweating, and doesn’t need more layers of clothing than you.
Cover the mattress with a fitted sheet Do not use duvets, quilts or comforters.
Do not put covers over your baby’s head.
Sleep with your baby on a firm, flat surface Do not put your baby to sleep on or next to a pillow.
Do not put your baby to sleep on sofas, chairs, waterbeds, air mattresses and soft or sagging mattresses.
Make sure your baby sleeps on their back Never leave your baby alone on an adult bed.
Make sure there are no spaces between the mattress and headboard, walls and other
surfaces, so your baby cannot get stuck
Do not allow brothers, sisters or other kids to share a bed with your baby.
Make sure your baby cannot fall out of the bed Do not allow pets to sleep with you.
Make sure your partner knows when your baby
is in bed with you
Do not share a bed with your baby if your baby has a history of illness since birth, premature, or born very small.
Make sure to tie long hair back at bed time Do not let anyone other than baby’s parents/ usual caregivers sleep with your baby.
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Babies who always sleep with their head to the same side can develop flat spots (flat head). A simple way to prevent your baby from getting a flat head is to change the position of the baby’s head each day. Because babies like to have something interesting to look at, they tend to turn their head to look out into their room rather than toward the wall. This way they can see you as you come and go.

Here’s how you can change the position of your baby’s head while still giving her the same ‘view’.

  • One day, place your baby with her head at the head of the crib.
  • The next day, place your baby with her head at the foot of the crib.
  • Each day, alternate your baby’s orientation in the crib.
  • Check to make sure that your baby is always looking out into the room.

Give your baby supervised “tummy time” when they are awake, several times a day. Not only will time on the tummy help prevent a flat spot on the head, but it’s important for your baby’s development.

If your baby still develops flat spots, talk to your health care provider.

Ways to prevent flat head

Remember to change the position of your baby's head when you put them down on their back to sleep. The idea is to give your baby a different view of the room and encourage your baby, while sleeping on their back, to turn their head to look at different things when they wake up.

Here are some other things you can try:

  • Move mobiles and crib toys to different sides of the crib
  • Change your baby's head position from side, to back, to side especially if they prefer a particular side
  • Limit the amount of time that your baby spends in car seats, infant seats, swings and strollers
  • Change positions when feeding, carrying, holding and playing with your baby
  • Once the baby has good head control, increase your baby's time in an upright position

For more information see Caring for Kids flat head prevention (external link).

Adapted with permission from The Region of Peel (external link)

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Myth: Sleeping through the night means sleeping all night long.
Reality: According to “sleep experts”, sleeping through the night is a 5 hour stretch.

Myth: Babies should sleep all night long.
Reality: Babies have very different sleeping patterns than adults. Their sleep cycle is much shorter and they spend a lot less time in deep sleep. Babies have small stomachs and need to eat frequently – this is important for their growth and brain development. When your baby is ready to sleep all night long, they will. For some babies, this may take a long time.

Myth: Responding to your baby when they cry / holding your baby is spoiling them.
Reality: Being a responsive parent teaches your child to trust you. Babies aren’t capable of manipulation – you can’t spoil your baby with love. Babies need to be held, they have a strong desire to be close to their parents. Holding your baby is good for their brain development and builds a strong relationship between you and your baby.

Myth: Letting your baby cry themselves to sleep helps them sleep better.
Reality: Crying is your baby’s way of communicating with you. Responding to your baby builds their trust in you and develops a healthy relationship. It is important for your baby’s brain development and your relationship that you respond to your baby’s cues, including crying.

Myth: Your baby should be sleeping through the night by …… age / my baby will NEVER sleep through the night.
Reality: Children have different personalities and temperaments, just as adults do. Some will learn to sleep longer earlier than others. The good news is…. eventually your child WILL sleep all night… your patience in the meantime is all that is required!

Myth: Your baby will sleep better in another room.
Reality: Babies usually sleep better when they are in the same room as their parents. Close proximity to their parents helps babies feel comfortable. Read more about safe sleep.

Myth: Shhh, be quiet, the baby is sleeping!
Reality: When you are pregnant, your baby hears constant background noise from your body which is actually quite loud! Babies often sleep better with “white noise” on in the background because this is what they’re used to.

Myth: Never wake a sleeping baby.
Reality: Newborns will often need to be woken up for feedings as they won’t wake themselves frequently enough. As your baby gets older, they will wake reliably for feedings. If your baby sleeps for long periods during the daytime, they may wake up more frequently at night to feed. If you notice this, try to feed your baby more frequently in the daytime so they will sleep for longer stretches at night.

Myth: Don’t let your baby fall asleep in your arms/ don’t rock your baby to sleep.
Reality: Babies have different temperaments and different needs. This is the only way some babies will fall asleep. If this is the only way your baby will fall asleep then you are not alone!

Myth: Don’t let your baby fall asleep at the breast.
Reality: Some babies need to nurse/ suck to fall asleep. You will not harm your baby by letting them fall asleep at the breast.

Myth: Feeding baby cereal or starting solids will help my baby sleep better.
Reality: More often, the opposite is actually true. When you introduce new foods to your baby’s diet, their stomach needs to learn how to digest it. This may mean your baby wakes up more frequently or is more unsettled when sleeping.

Myth: Babies over ….. age don’t need to feed during the night.
Reality: All babies have different growth and development patterns. Some babies need to eat during the night until they are quite old. Your baby is the expert on how much and how often they eat.

Myth: Keep your baby up longer if you want them to sleep longer.
Reality: Often this is counter-intuitive. If your baby becomes over tired, they may wake more frequently. Often when babies go to bed late at night, they will wake up early in the morning. Putting your baby to bed earlier may actually help them wake up later in the morning. Learning to read your baby’s sleep cues can help you to put them to bed at the right time for them!

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