Becoming a parent (first-timer or not) is exhausting. If this is your first child, you are blindsided by the dramatic shift to your new schedule. If this isn’t your first child, you may remember the unpredictability of a baby’s schedule but now you’re experiencing it while managing multiple schedules. You don’t have to go into newborn sleep blindly though! We at Rocky Mountain Sleeping Baby want to help empower you.
UNDERSTANDING NEWBORN SLEEP
First off, it’s important to understand what is happening with your newborn’s hormones. Our bodies produce cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is the hormone that keeps people awake and alert while melatonin is the hormone that makes them tired and ready to sleep. Newborns have these hormones but they take a little bit of time to settle into a predictable pattern. This pattern is also known as the Circadian Rhythm. This is why newborns can seem like they have their days and nights mixed up and they are constantly going in and out of sleep. Eventually, their Circadian Rhythm will begin to mimic their mother’s.
Newborn sleep cycles –
Baby sleep cycles are not the same as adult sleep cycles. While adults only spend 25% of their sleep time in REM, babies spend 50% of their sleep time in REM. This makes sense considering REM is when your brain is sorting through all the information it took in during that day. Your brain determines what to save in your long-term memory and what to discard. Babies are learning so rapidly and are constantly being exposed to new things. This is why they need the extra time to process it all.
The other part that makes up the sleep cycle is what is spent in deep sleep. Deep sleep looks different in adults and babies. When adults are in deep sleep, their muscles go into a state of paralysis. Newborns’ bodies have not developed the ability to do so while in deep sleep. If your baby seems to be a restless sleeper, making lots of small movements, it’s ok! They are getting quality sleep even if it might look otherwise. Deep sleep is when your baby’s body is hard at work developing muscles, and tissue and building up their immune system. Did you know that 75% of a baby’s growth hormones are released while in deep sleep? It’s all pretty amazing when you really think about it!
While adults are typically on a 90-minute cycle with a brief moment of waking up before falling right back asleep and starting over, babies’ do not have a predictable cycle.
Small stomachs play a part –
Another factor to consider in your newborn’s lack of a predictable sleep cycle is the fact that they have a very small stomach. Until newborns are about 4 months old (some even older), it can be expected that they will wake every 2 to 4 hours for feeding.
HELP THE UNPREDICTABLE BECOME MANAGEABLE
Wake Windows –
Try not to think of a sleep schedule at this point as a specific wake-up and put-down time. Focus more on wake windows which are the duration of time awake. Newborns should be awake for no more than 45 minutes to an hour at a time.
After an hour, a baby’s body will produce extra cortisol when they are overtired to give them a “second wind.” Make sure your little one is put down for a nap prior to this happening so that their body can get in the most natural and healthy rhythm. As newborns grow, their wake windows will shift to longer periods until they are 7 to 8 months old. You will want to work towards getting them on a clock schedule at that point.
Finding A Natural Bedtime –
Newborns typically have a later bedtime than expected. Ideally, your newborn is taking 5 to 6 naps a day, with a 45 to 60-minute wake window in between. This will most likely have your little one’s natural bedtime falling between the hours of 9 to 11 pm. It is completely normal for their bedtime to fall within an hour range from day to day. They should fall into more of a manageable cycle if you focus on the wake windows, allowing you to predict their longer stretch of nighttime sleep. This will help you manage your time.
USE NATURAL LIGHT TO HELP GUIDE YOUR SCHEDULE
After establishing your newborn’s natural bedtime, try to keep them in their crib or bassinet for 11 to 12 hours. During those hours, only take them out when it is time to feed them, do a diaper change if necessary and get them back to bed as quickly as possible. Blinds and curtains will help keep the room dark until your newborn has completed their 11 to 12 hours of nighttime sleep. At the 11 to 12-hour mark, open those blinds or curtains and let in natural light to help wake them up. Turning lights on will also help. Be sure to have plenty of exposure to natural light between naps as well. This will assist their bodies in distinguishing the difference between daytime and nighttime. It is important to help get them fully awake during the appropriate times.
At nap time it is ok to darken the room again. A dark room will help them nap for longer stretches but it is not necessary.
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS
Lastly, always remember that the newborn stage is just that, a stage. Right now, you are aiming for manageability over predictability. Predictability comes with time. You are not alone during this stage or the countless stages you will experience over the next few years. You can always reach out to us at Rocky Mountain Sleeping Baby and we will be more than happy to help guide you through the many different stages of sleep.
We are certified sleep consultants in Denver, CO, and Kansas City. Everything we do is virtual and help families all over the world!