It is completely natural for a baby to have variable sleep patterns in the few first months of life. This can include many sleeps of 2-3 hours and occasional longer ones. Often no real pattern is seen until about 4-5 months – and when you finally see a predictable pattern, it can change! While it can be worrying for parents, it is important to remember that this is all perfectly normal and Safe Sleep Space is here to help and support you!
Catnapping – is the term referred to when babies sleep for one sleep cycle; often 20-40 minutes in duration. Quite simply you can bake a cake without putting the oven timer on; your baby is the timer!
Most catnapping in the early months is biological. Small babies need to wake so they can feed often because their tummy capacity is so small. The majority of babies wake, feed and return to sleep at least 2 to 4 times overnight.
Circadian rhythm in a baby is a good thing…newborns need to wake both day and night for feeds. By definition circadian rhythm of babies is the “clock” that responds to the light/dark cycle which is located in our brains. It uses hormones, specifically melatonin to regulate being awake or sleeping over a 24 hour period. This pattern of wakefulness or sleeping is what we call our circadian rhythm.
Have you heard other parents say “my baby’s night and day is mixed up?”
It’s true….a young baby's sleep patterns do not follow day and night pattern like adults.
Baby sleep patterns don’t start to follow this day/night or light/dark cycles until approximately 8 weeks of age (60 days) and their circadian rhythm is not fully developed until around 5-6 months or more.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN A BABY CAN SLEEP THROUGH AT 5-6 months….it just means that you may start to see a clearer pattern of sleep with wakefulness during the day and often a longer STRETCH of sleep at night.
It important to respond to the baby’s nutritional needs by feeding them overnight for as long as they need to.
Older babies that catnap – main culprit, sleep associations!
Older babies (usually from around 7 months and older) that catnap might do so due to sleep associations.
If a baby is put to sleep via bouncing, rocking, feeding or driven around in the car then when they come up into their lighter sleep or REM phase then not surprisingly they look for and need this ‘way’ of going back to sleep.
Take home messages
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Sadly, each year, SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents claim the lives of many infants as a result of unsafe sleeping environments.
It is essential that parents ensure their young infants and toddlers sleep safely at all times and that the research-based guidelines are followed. Download our safe sleeping recommendations.