The Science of Sleep
Your baby’s sleep patterns change often in the first 12 months and it can be frustrating. Here sleep expert Emma Purdue gives some pre-emptive insights
5 min read
Between 4-12 months your baby will go through multiple changes to their sleep patterns. They should have consolidated their sleep into a nice 3-naps-a-day pattern by 4 months. If not, this is a good time to work on naps, and a nice consistent routine.
Most babies need 3 naps a day until 6-8 months, and are happier with 3 naps until closer to 8 months than 6. Dropping this late afternoon nap too early usually results in an over-tired baby at bedtime, which in turn causes crying and unsettledness overnight.
Night sleep consolidates
Between 8-12 months your babies naps will stay in a 2-naps-a-day pattern, and if they are not yet sleeping through the night, you should see night sleep start to consolidate at 8 months if not before.
The time your baby can stay awake between naps gradually increases from 1-1 1⁄2 hours as a new-born, to 2 1⁄2 -3 hour’s by 8 months. A good rule of thumb is if your baby wakes up crying from a nap after 45 minutes, they are probably a tad over- tired so try 15 minutes less awake time tomorrow. If they wake up after 45 minutes and are hard to get back to sleep, they might be a little under-tired, so try 15 minutes more awake time tomorrow.
When your baby is on a 3-naps-a-day schedule (3-8 months old), their last nap only needs to be a quick power nap to get them through their evening routine, Twenty to 40 minutes is fine at this time of day and trying to push your baby to sleep for any longer is probably futile anyway (babies really fight sleep from 3-6pm). However due to this short nap they can’t tolerate quite as much awake time be- fore bed as they can during the day, so limit their awake time to 11⁄2 -2 hour’s at the most.
Once your baby drops to 2 sleeps, the maximum time they should be awake from the end of their nap 2 is 4 hours. This might mean your baby is not going to bed at 7pm, but more like 6.30pm. But don’t despair, this doesn’t mean they will rise earlier than a child who goes to bed at 7pm over-tired.
Is your baby overtired?
If your baby wakes 45 minutes into their night sleep, or regularly between 9-10pm they are probably over-tired. Have a look at your naps, is your baby getting 2.5-3 hours’ sleep a day at a minimum? Are they having the right amount of naps, or is your bedtime too late? Any of these tweaks to your daytime structure will help your night sleep consolidate with no sleep training needed.
Night sleep is usually the fastest of all sleep to consolidate (thank goodness!). You can expect the first part of the night sleep between 7pm and 11pm to be a solid chunk by 4 months, lots of babies even quickly sleep 7pm-1/2am with no feed by this age.
What about dream feeds and night feeds?
If you have decided to do a dream feed at 10pm, check if it is actually working before you continue on with it. If your baby takes the dream feed and then wakes for another feed before 3-4am, then you might actually be disturbing their night sleep, and without the feed you are offering them at 10pm they will probably sleep until closer to 1-2am before waking.
If you are still feeding twice a night after 6 months, check if these times are exactly 4 hours apart, or if your baby is doing a big stretch first or second (6 hours) and then a smaller stretch. If they aren’t doing one big stretch, they might just be feeding at the end of a sleep cycle to get back to sleep.
While there is nothing wrong with this, if you are looking for more night sleep try to re-settle them for a few minutes when they first wake, they might actually go back to sleep without a feed.
Mum, ask for help!
Changes in your baby’s sleep patterns in the first 12 months are frequent and can be frustrating. But having some forward knowledge on what to expect and when can make all the difference. Sleep is an important biological need for your baby and yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help from Plunket, your family doctor or local sleep consultant.