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By Sleep Specialist, Andrea Grace

How much sleep does a baby need?

All babies are different of course and they tend to need more sleep the younger they are. Here are some guidelines:

0-6 Weeks

Babies of this age tend to sleep for 15 -18 hours in a 24-hour period. This sleep is closely associated with feeding, and your baby will spend these early weeks in a milky dozy state.

6 weeks – 3 or 4 months

By this stage many babies are beginning to sleep for longer periods and to feed less often. It is usual for a baby of about 8 weeks old to sleep for 6 hours at night without waking for a feed, although many babies have managed to do this earlier and some will be a little later.
Her total sleep requirement may have dropped slightly, to between 14 and 16 hours per day but sleep will be becoming deeper and lasting for longer periods.

4-6 Months

By now it is likely that she will be sleeping for between 6- 10 hours at night, with 2-3 daytime naps. This should total about 14 -15 hours.

6-12 Months

Your baby requires 13- 14 hours sleep in a 24 period. This is usually made up of a night-time sleep of 10-12 hours plus a morning and afternoon nap. No longer needs a night feed.

Why is it so important for my baby to sleep?

During sleep, babies are able to grow, both mentally and physically. Their energy levels are restored and, as with adults, they are more likely to be cheerful and reasonable during the day as a result.

There are no clinical trials done on babies to assess the effects of sleep deprivation, because of obvious ethical reasons. It makes sense, however to assume that babies are likely to suffer the effects of sleep deprivation to some extent at least in the same way that adults do. These effects include irritability and susceptibility to infection.

Does a baby’s temperature change during sleep?

When your baby is very small, she is unable to maintain her body temperature by shivering or sweating. It is very important that you maintain a safe body temperature for her. Her bedroom should be kept at 18 degrees C [63 degrees F] Bedding should be light and cotton and her head should not be covered.

When do babies start to dream?

Believe it or not, studies have shown that babies brains show activity in the dream region even whilst they are in the womb!

How does a baby learn the difference between day & night?

Babies learn the difference between night and day at around 2-3 months old. Newborn babies do not automatically recognise bedtime. Their sleeping time is divided more or less equally between night and day. As your baby matures however, she will begin to take the majority of sleep during the night and nap for shorter periods during the day. This process is usually achieved by the third month, if not before.

There are a number of factors which influence your baby’s biological clock. She has her own internal circadian clock, which is situated in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. This helps her to distinguish between night and day. The circadian clock does not work alone however; it needs external clues such as light and darkness, noise levels and mealtimes. It also responds to conditions within your baby’s own body, such as temperature, hunger and certain hormone levels.

I want to cut down on night feeds. Is it true that offering water instead of milk discourages babies from waking?

Not really, no. You need to be sure that the babtyis ready to drop night feeds first of all. If she weighs around 14lb or more and/or is 6 months old, the chances are that she is ready to go through the night without a feed. The best way to encourage this is by making sure that after the age of 3 months, she does not fall asleep over her bed time or night time milk feeds. This way, she will not develop a dependence on feeding to sleep.

From around 4–6 months, when the sleep cycles are established, it is perfectly normal for your baby to wake in the night several times. Many babies of this age still take night feeds – not for nutritional need but as a means of settling back off to sleep!

A little water can be given to encourage re settling, but only in a baby who is ready to go without a night feed and only if you discourage her from falling asleep over the water.

My newborn won't sleep for more than two hours at a time. I'm absolutely exhausted. Is there any advice to help me get through the day?

In these precious but exhausting early weeks, sleep is very closely involved with feeding. For many new born babies, feeds can be as often as every two hours. Try keeping a simple diary, so that you get a clear picture of her sleep habits and are able to spot any emerging patterns. Babies of this age also need to be held and cuddled a lot. It can feel really overwhelming at first, but this intense care does not last for long. Most babies begin to sleep for longer night time periods at around 6 weeks old, so in the meantime you should go easy on the housework, recognize that what you are doing is a great investment in terms of your child’s emotional and physical health, and as far as you possibly can, try to rest whenever your baby is sleeping.