A baby sleeping peacefully is a sight that can make your heart swell with adoration. For some parents, the image is one that conjures a great sense of longing as they struggle with their babies' sleep problems. Parents who have restless infants can find solace that they are not alone as they explore common sleep problems in babies. In addition, they can find guidance to help them overcome the nighttime challenges they face.
Common Baby Sleep Problems
Any sleep deprived parent can attest that lack of rest is a glaring problem that can interfere with daily life. Infants go through many changes as they develop, and some of the changes directly relate to how much, or how little, they sleep. The circadian rhythm that normally regulates sleep cycles is being established in the first six months of life.
Is Depression Playing a Role?
Sleep problems related to depression in adults are quite common, and depression can play a role in an infant's ability to sleep through the night. Sleep experts from the University of Michigan have found that women who suffered from depression prior to and/or during pregnancy were more likely to have babies that have poor sleep patterns. The Science Daily article, "Mom's Mood and Baby's Sleep: What's the Connection" warns that infants that have poor circadian rhythms have an increased risk of developing depression later in life. With so much at stake in a baby's development, the drive to find solutions to sleep problems in infants has surged.
Understanding Infant Sleep Patterns
Dealing with baby sleep problems doesn't have to be exhausting. It's a process that begins with understanding circadian rhythms in infants, as well as the stages of sleep. The article, Circadian Rhythms in Infants from the journal, Sleep Review, gives insight into the baby sleep patterns. According to the article, the phrase "sleeping through the night" refers to the baby sleeping five consecutive hours. This is something to keep in mind while developing realistic expectations.
Dealing with Sleep Problems in Babies
Helping a baby sleep through the night takes some effort. Establishing a consistent routine, or sleep hygiene, offers helpful cues that the infant will follow. It's important to reinforce that sleep occurs when it's dark and waking when it's light outside. Some things parents can do to create an environment that is conducive to sleep are:
- Turn down the lights
- Shut off the television
- Create a bedtime routine (bath, book, bed)
- Put the baby in his crib when he is awake but drowsy
- Give the baby a chance to calm herself if she wakes at night
- Try a soothing sleep sound machine to drown out disruptive noises
To Cry or Not to Cry
Different parenting styles yield to different approaches in developing consistent bedtime routines. Some parents are not comfortable allowing their babies to cry themselves to sleep, while others feel that this approach teaches babies how to soothe themselves. It's important to establish which strategy is personally more comfortable before adopting a program.
- Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D. encourages parents to allow their babies to develop the skills necessary to calm themselves and drift off to sleep independently.
- The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley encourages parents to uncover problems that lead to sleeplessness and to develop a plan to improve sleep patterns that considers the infant's sleep cycles.
Parents who like a behavioral approach may prefer the clean stimulus-response method that doesn't reward the baby's crying. Parents who like an analytical approach may prefer to work with the baby's natural rhythms to develop a plan of action that caters to the child.
Consult a Pediatrician
While developing healthy sleep schedule can help improve sleep in infants, it is imperative to discuss any concerns about poor sleep patterns with the baby's physician. Some factors that can trigger sleep problems are:
- Ear infections
- Stomach aches
- Teeth pain
- Sleep apnea
Healthy Sleep for the Whole Family
Getting a good night's sleep is important for both babies and their parents. Establishing healthy routines with a doctor's guidance can improve rest for everyone in the household. When parents adopt a strategy that coincides with their parenting style, they may enjoy the rest they desire.
Learn more about promoting better sleep for babies in an exclusive interview with The Sleep Lady®, Kim West.