Understanding Your Baby's Sleep Patterns: Insights from BASIS

Mar 22, 2024
baby sleeping


Raising a newborn comes with its own set of wonders and challenges, with one of the most common puzzles being the baby's sleep pattern. Thanks to the Baby Sleep Information Source (BASIS) at Durham University, we have valuable insights into what can be considered normal sleep development for babies. This knowledge not only aids in setting realistic expectations but also emphasizes the importance of supporting natural sleep rhythms over forcing habits potentially detrimental to your child's health and development.

The Evolution of Sleep in Infancy

Newborn Phase: It's no surprise that newborns have small stomachs, necessitating frequent feeds every 2-3 hours, including during the night. This frequent waking is a natural process, considering human milk is easily digestible and demands regular feeding.

Growth and Development: As babies grow, they start spacing out feedings a bit more. By 3 months, some babies may begin to sleep for up to 5 hours at a stretch during the night, bypassing one nighttime feed. By 5 months, about half might achieve an eight-hour sleep stretch on some nights. However, it's important to note that consistently sleeping through the night, typically defined as from 10 pm to 6 am, might not be achieved until they are closer to one year old.

Debunking Sleep Myths

A significant portion of our beliefs regarding infant sleep is rooted in outdated research from the 1950s and 60s, focusing on formula-fed babies. In contrast, it's perfectly normal for breastfed infants to wake and feed throughout the night during their first year. Pushing for babies to 'sleep through' prematurely can hinder breastfeeding success and disrupt the natural development of sleep and other circadian rhythms.

Why Babies Wake at Night: Developmental Insights

Active Sleep: Babies spend much of their sleep in an active or lighter phase compared to adults. This isn't merely a quirk of infancy but a critical aspect of their development. Light sleep allows babies to wake easily, which is crucial for their immediate needs, like feeding.

Brain Development: Night waking and light sleep may actually be smarter, developmentally speaking. REM sleep, which occupies a large chunk of a baby's sleep, is a period of intense brain activity. During this phase, blood flow to the brain increases, especially to areas controlling automatic functions like breathing. This stage is also key for the synthesis of nerve proteins and possibly for learning and brain development, suggesting that REM sleep may play a role in organizing and storing new information.

Premature Babies and REM Sleep: Interestingly, premature babies spend up to 90% of their sleep time in REM, suggesting a nature's mechanism to accelerate brain development.


Embracing Baby's Sleep Patterns

Understanding that your baby's sleep patterns are a natural part of their development can make nighttime parenting more manageable. Instead of striving for quick fixes to make babies sleep deeper or through the night, embracing their natural rhythms can support their health and development more effectively. Some sleep trainers offer gadgets and techniques to alter sleep patterns, but these may come at a cost or risk, diverging from the developmental norm.

In recognizing the importance of these developmental stages, parents can adopt a nighttime parenting style that aligns with their baby's natural needs, facilitating a healthier and possibly more harmonious sleep cycle for the whole family.

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Understanding Your Baby's Sleep Patterns: Insights from BASIS

Mar 22, 2024