Sleep Becomes Sleep
It’s a commonly held belief that the less a baby sleeps, the more he eventually sleeps. So, it’s not uncommon to hear people talk of keeping their little ones up later, despite the obvious signs of fatigue, to ensure they’ll sleep longer and deeper when they do eventually put them down at night.
For adults it’s a winning recipe. If you’re not feeling tired, then there’s no need to make yourself go to bed, otherwise you risk falling foul to a busy mind, where the thoughts and stresses of the day, week, month or year can keep you from drifting off! Adults who struggle to fall asleep easily at night are often advised to both avoid napping and going to bed early, often believing they’re catching up their ‘missing’ sleep. And it works! All you have to do is ask new parents: often there’s no time to nap at the same time as baby (and let’s face it, they sometimes only sleep for 30 minutes at a time which is hardly time to find a comfortable pillow position…) Likewise in the evening, there’s so many little tasks to complete once baby is in bed that people make it through to later in the evening then literally fall into bed for their sleep.
So why does baby not sleep, even though they show all the classic signs? It’s very simple: it’s so much better to be awake and experiencing life than to be asleep. It’s your classic case of FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out! (Rest assured, they don’t have the cognitive development necessary to dwell on the worries of everyday life!) A newborn isn’t as aware of its environment and instead has very simple needs, but often you’ll notice they fight against sleep by wriggling, chatting or crying… all flailing arms and wriggly hot body! Over time baby will become more and more aware of those around them, especially smell, visual cues, familiar sounds and reassuring touches. And of each of these they’ll want to drink in whilst awake rather than miss by being asleep!
The difficult trap for parents to fall into will be making their child more and more agitated or awake. After all, parents are equally as keen to enjoy their new baby, especially if they show no signs of dozing off. Signs of continual agitation represent the most important sign of tiredness and help parents establish if baby is ready for their rest. The obvious outward signs include rubbing their eyes, nose or ears, lots of yawning, the need to be held close and rub their face in your neck, wriggly arms and legs and, in some, their eyebrows blush!
When most of these signs of tiredness are present, the sleep train passes. This is because an internal mechanism in the brain demands the host to let itself go. When this happens, the parent should make every effort to enable baby to settle: all forms of stimulus should be cut to a minimum and baby should be put into a state of comfort that allows them to willingly submit to sleep. Once a sleep routine is encouraged, it becomes second nature.
It’s important to remember that in babies and toddlers, sleep becomes sleep, which means that the more baby sleeps during the day, the better they will sleep at night and vice versa. As a benchmark, sleep segments in infants under 6 months of age are very short i.e. 30 to 60 minutes. The maximum of 2 hours awake time between naps can only be achieved if baby sleeps at least 2-3 hours in a row. If not, their physical expenditure is greater than the rest they have stored. At this point the imbalance can upset baby’s quality of sleep and also their ability to settle into sleep and truly indulge in it.
To reduce this imbalance, it’s recommended to increase the number of naps during the day, especially if they are only for short duration. This, in turn, helps to redress things at night time and a better nocturnal sleep routine is created. If baby wakes in a good mood with no signs of tiredness within minutes of waking, it’s because you’re on the right track!
The longer baby sleeps, the happier they will be on awakening and during those waking periods, the better they will enjoy the next nap period, especially if it coincides with the signals of tiredness!
Brigitte Langevin, author and speaker
Expert in sleep education
Good sleep habits can be learned!