Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Baby Behavior Basics Part 1 - Three Reasons Why Babies Don't Sleep Through the Night
One of the most challenging parts of being a new parent is dealing with lack of sleep. Most newborns wake up every 2 hours, around the clock, and many parents desperately wonder when their babies will finally sleep through the night. Tired parents are barraged with the latest gizmos and "systems" to get their babies to sleep longer. Unfortunately, young babies are not supposed to sleep through the night. Waking up at night doesn't make anyone happy, but thankfully, it isn't long before babies naturally sleep for longer stretches. You will get some restful nights, at least until your baby grows up and learns to drive...
No matter what you've heard, there is no one age when all babies will sleep through the night and babies can vary how many times they wake. There's no getting around it; young babies need to wake up at night for some very good reasons and their physiology ensures that's exactly what they do.
Reason 1. Young Babies Wake to Eat
Newborn tummies are very tiny. They can't take in very much at each feeding. No matter how they are being fed, by breast or bottle, babies' rapid growth requires that they are fed frequently. While there is a lot of variability in how much babies can drink at one time, all babies need to eat during the night for the first few weeks of life. As they get bigger, babies can drink more at one time and they don't have to wake as often to eat.
Reason 2. Young Babies Wake Because They Dream
Babies don't sleep like adults. When adults first fall asleep, they fall into a deeper sleep without dreaming, then dream for short periods of time (off and on) throughout the night. Babies fall asleep dreaming (in "rapid eye movement" or REM sleep) and move more slowly to "deeper" forms of sleep, without dreams. For infants, dreaming is vital for normal brain development. While infants dream, blood flows to their brains and neural connections are made. Because it is so important for their development, newborns may dream 30 minutes before they fall into deeper sleep. Premature infants dream even longer and more often than term infants.
Babies, like adults, are more likely to wake up when they are dreaming than if they are in deeper forms of sleep. So, if something happens while they are dreaming, like the phone rings or they are put down into a bassinet, babies are likely to wake. When babies are dreaming, their eyelids will flutter and their faces and bodies will twitch, so it is easy for parents to see when babies stop dreaming and enter deeper forms of sleep. By waiting to put newborns down until after signs of dreaming stop, parents can help their babies stay asleep. By the time babies are 3 or 4 months old, they fall asleep in deeper sleep just like their parents. Often, parents of 4-month-old babies will notice how much "better" their babies are sleeping. Many babies will sleep most of the night around 6 to 9 months of age.
Reason 3. Young Babies Wake to Stay Comfortable and Safe
Babies are born with brand new lungs, muscles, and brains. Sometimes, their little bodies need a little time to get into synch. If babies sleep too deeply, they may get too hot or too cold or they may not wake when they need move their muscles or to get a little more air. This does not mean that babies should wake up all the time. After the first 6 weeks (when almost anything goes), most babies will settle down and sleep 3- to 4-hour stretches. As they get older and their bodies mature, they will sleep even longer.
But..."I Need My Sleep"...
Now that I've given you so much bad news, what can I say to reassure my bleary-eyed readers? I can tell you that all the sleep deprivation is directly supporting the health and development of your wonderful new baby. I can also tell you, that this time passes and before you know it, your baby will be a child, a teen, and suddenly, an adult. You won't believe me, but you'll miss these early months (well, maybe not those first 6 weeks). Meanwhile, rest when you can, even sitting quietly can be helpful. Get as much help as you can with household chores and other responsibilities. Most people love to help new moms.
Just one more thing! Sometimes interrupted sleep can be so stressful that parents may find that they can't think clearly. When we are very tired, the normal checks and balances in our brains don't always work the way they should. If you ever find yourself feeling upset or angry with your baby for waking you up (again!), make sure you take the time to get yourself fully awake before you pick up your baby. Splash some water on your face, have a drink of water, and then care for your baby. When you're awake, you'll be much more likely to make good decisions. If you find that you are often angry or having trouble controlling your emotions, get some help. It is important for you and your baby that you get help. Talk to your doctor or a trusted friend or family member. There are many people who will understand your feelings; you are not alone.
Next time: Baby Behavior Basics Part 2: The Many Moods of Babies