Are your children getting enough sleep?
Do you know how much they should be getting?
Are your expectations of how much they should be sleeping unrealistic?
Do you know when babies start sleeping 7-7 (broken by a couple of feeds)?
This blog has been inspired by numerous families who we have seen over the last year, who have been given false expectations by either friends, internet information or baby sleep guides. It’s not always easy to work out what is right for your child, but there is some biological information which should make it easier for you to understand the very basics about sleep.
Most importantly – babies under 4.5 months are not set up to sleep 7pm to 7am
Our need and ability to sleep is driven by our circadian rhythm, which is the natural bodyclock that is ticking within us. We can make some changes to it but it is driven from within so some aspects of our sleep are pretty fixed.
Some of these timings below may surprise you.
- Newborns’ sleep is erratic and they may sleep for 6-7 hours (broken by feeds) a night if you’re lucky. Not 7pm-7am.
- 8-12 week olds can do 8-9 hours on a good night (broken by feeds). Not 7pm-7am. At this age and younger, 10pm-6am is a better option than 7pm-4am.
- 4-5 month olds can do 9-10 hours broken by feeds, so 8 or 9pm to 6 or 7am usually works well.
- 6-9 month olds can do 11-12 hours broken by feeds. This is when you can start looking at that 7pm bedtime.
- 9 months onwards can do 11-12 without feeds. YES THEY CAN!!! But you may need to encourage them to do this.
- As they get older, children start to need less sleep again. So by 6 years they may need 11 hours and by 9 years they may only need 10 hours.
- And once they are teenagers it all goes a bit weird… Their circadian rhythm shifts so that their drive to sleep moves later, meaning that they don’t usually want or need to go to bed as early but they do want AND need to get up later. School hours are not ideal for the teenager.
It is important to understand when bedtime should be so that your little one allows you to have a good night sleep.
If you put your 12 week old down at 7pm, there is a good chance that by 4am they will have had enough sleep for the night and be ready to get up for an hour and a half or two hours. However, if you put them to bed when you go to bed, they’re more likely to sleep until 6 or 7 in the morning. Their body-clocks are set up like this for a reason: In the early months it is important for babies to be close to their mothers, so that you can bond with them, feed them regularly and protect them. Putting them upstairs on their own and checking on a monitor isn’t the right thing to do in the first few months. They are safer napping in a Moses basket by the dining table while you eat your dinner. Or cuddling with you while you watch tv. Or in a sling while you wash up. They will snooze on and off through the evening, if you’re lucky, or scream through it if they have a bit of colic.
Once they are 4 or 5 months old, they will naturally start to sleep for longer at night, and want to go to sleep earlier, and you can space out their feeds and put them in their cots a bit earlier. Once they are 5 or 6 months old, you can look at that 7pm bedtime and “get your evenings back”. But before that, remember that you’ve decided to have a baby, and your evenings are now for you as a family and these first four to six months will be gone before you know it. Your life has changed dramatically and one of those changes is what your evenings look like, so accept the change, rather than fighting it and you will enjoy your evenings a lot more.
We also see mums fighting to get their little ones to follow the 45 minute morning nap, 2 hour lunch time nap and 30 minute afternoon nap schedule set out in a few of the most popular sleep guides, but these timings don’t suit all babies. Sometimes it is better to let a baby find their own rhythm of how much sleep they want at different times of the day. It can be better to stick to some simple rules:
- If your baby wakes early (before 6am), give them a short power nap after a couple of hours instead of a massive first nap. The reason for this is that the long first nap will encourage early rising to continue as your baby will be taking the rest of their night sleep at their first nap. If you give them a 15 minute power nap to push them through to their normal nap time, this will discourage future early rising.
- Be sensible about how much sleep they have during the day. This varies from one child to the next but a general guide is:
0-6 weeks – 4-8 hours
6-12 weeks – 3-6 hours
3-6 months – 2-5 hours
6-12 months – 2-3 hours
1-2 years – 1.5-3 hours
2-3 years – 1-2 hours
- Wake them up from their final nap of the day so that they are awake for long enough to get tired before bed. This will be 2 hours when they are tiny and move up to 4 or 5 hours when they are 3.
But remember that all babies are different and sometimes you may need to tweak things to get them right for your baby.