New parents struggling for babies to sleep through the night may not be doing anything wrong, according to new research that suggests that many apparent sleep problems are really part of the normal development of the baby.
For example, the study found that 6-month-old babies still take 20 minutes, on average, to fall asleep. And at the age of 2, young children still wake up an average of once each night.
The study also found that many variations are normal, said lead author Dr. Juulia Paavonen of the Helsinki University Hospital in Finland.
“We now know that the individual differences are very large and that the patterns related to falling asleep, waking up, staying awake at night and sleeping rhythms often develop at different rates,” Paavonen said by email.
Parents often worry about how well babies sleep because constant nighttime awakenings can disturb everyone in the home and feed concerns that babies are not developing normally. In particular, for first-time parents, irregular sleep may seem a sure sign that babies are sick, injured or hungry.
For the study, the researchers surveyed the parents of almost 5,700 children about how well babies slept during their first two years of life to get an idea of what types of sleep problems the parents worried about, and what could be a reason for Concern instead of just an exhausting part of normalcy. child development
Overall, about 40% of parents were worried about babies’ sleep when children were 8 months old, the study found.
Children’s sleep gradually became more stable and consistent over time, researchers report in Sleep Medicine. Babies and young children generally slept between nine and 10 hours at night, but the amount of daytime sleep decreased from approximately five hours in total for babies to approximately two hours for young children.
As daytime naps decreased from two to one, on average, and children slept less hours in total during the day, they also reduced their total sleep time to approximately 12 hours by the time they completed their second birthday.
However, it is not so common for babies to take more than 40 minutes to fall asleep or have night wakings of an hour or more at 8 months of age, the study found.
It is also unusual for babies to be awake for more than 45 minutes at a time at night at 12 months, or for more than half an hour at 18 months.
These could be circumstances in which it makes sense for parents to consult with a pediatrician to see if there is anything unusual that makes it difficult for babies to sleep, the study team concludes.
“It is important to follow the growth of a baby to know if it is healthy,” said Dr. Joanna MacLean, a sleep specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, who was not involved in the study.
“Since a baby’s job is to eat, sleep and grow, growth is a useful indicator of health problems,” MacLean said by email. If growth is normal, patterns that look like sleep problems for parents may also be normal, MacLean said.
Parents should also avoid waking a sleeping baby, because it is when a lot of brain development occurs, said Gina Poe, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.
“There is an important work in progress in the sleeping brain,” Poe said by email.
Establishing consistent sleep routines can help babies rest and develop the time they need, said Valerie Crabtree of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
This works best when parents start in early childhood, said Crabtree, who was not involved in the study, by email.
“Even for newborns, parents can begin to have dim lighting and less interaction at night and brighter, even natural daylight with more activity and interaction,” Crabtree advised.
Putting newborns in pajamas at bedtime also helps.
“As soon as possible, try placing the baby in the crib sleepy but not completely asleep,” Crabtree added. “This helps babies learn to fall asleep and helps them get back to sleep after normal awakenings.”