10 things you should know about your baby’s sleeping habits
This post is written in collaboration with Sovende Børn.
Moonboon works closely with the NGO Sovende Børn and their team of specialists to provide updated, relevant advice and guidance on children's and babies' sleep. Read more about Sovende Børn at the bottom of the post.
When you're pregnant, everyone jokes that you'll never sleep again once your little one has arrived. For some it turns out to be close to the truth – at least it can feel that way sometimes.
Baby Hammocks, Baby Wraps, yoga balls, white noise, pink noise, blackout curtains and getting in over 10,000 daily steps – this is how everyday life can look with a new little bundle of joy in the house. All in an attempt to help them get a tiny bit of sleep.
However, there are a few simple things that you can do to help your little one sleep more and to help you gain a greater understanding of sleep.
Sleep counsellor Mia Bjørnfort from the Danish website Sovende Børn (Sleeping Children) gives her take on the 10 things all parents should know about their baby’s sleeping habits.
Table of Contents
- Your baby is programmed to seek out physical contact from you.
- Your baby already knows how to sleep and does not need to 'learn to sleep'
- Waking during the night is natural and serves a purpose
- Your baby needing a little help to fall asleep is completely normal
- It's normal for you to feel groggy
Your baby's development is not dependent on long stretches of sleep
- Daylight, fresh air, and activities in a fixed circadian rhythm help sleep - for the both of you
- Milk is an easy and natural shortcut to sleep
Sleep comes in many forms
- Your baby can tolerate new ideas and routines
1. Your baby is programmed to seek out physical contact from you.
Perhaps you find that your baby sleeps soundly in your arms and then opens their eyes the second you put them down – or very shortly after?
Your baby is naturally programmed to scream if it discovers that it is alone. Your baby does not know that it was born in the modern day, with all the gadgets and environment we’ve developed. It naturally behaves as if it was born in a world full of dangers. Your baby has a natural instinct that tells it to always be near an adult who can provide security, reassurance, and milk.
This is why a Baby Hammock, Cradle or a Baby Wrap works so well for many babies. The rocking movements mimic those from an adult and subconsciously communicates to the baby that it is safe.
There's nothing wrong with your baby if it doesn't want to lie down without anyone nearby – that’s completely normal.
This also applies to older children who show a need for physical reassurance while they are being cuddled or during the night.
2. Your baby already knows how to sleep and does not need to 'learn to sleep'
Your baby has spent a large part of its life in the womb, alternating between sleeping and being awake. This is without any help other than the sound of bowels, the blood in the veins, the heart beating, and the gentle rocking movements from the body's activities.
Your baby can already sleep. It has been able to do that for a long time. But in the baby’s new life outside the womb there are a multitude of other sounds and distractions. The feeling of the body is different and maybe the nappy itches. Your baby has to get used to sleeping outside the womb while dealing with a lot of sensory inputs that it has never experienced before.
It takes time. But the good thing is that deep, restful sleep comes completely by itself with loving and caring support from the parents. Because every time you rock, cuddle, hug or sing your baby to sleep, you show the baby what sleep outside the protected environment of the womb can look and feel like. You may help your child fall asleep thousands of times.
You may help your child fall asleep thousands of times until it is developmentally ready to fall asleep with less and less help. This is what forms the foundation for the child to be able to do it by themselves later on – even if it takes a few months, or even a few years.
3. Your baby waking during the night is natural and serves a purpose
It is natural for a baby to wake up several times during the night in the first year of life. Many babies continue to wake in the second year of life too. It’s something that is completely natural for the baby but can be very hard for the parents.
The purpose of waking is, again, to ensure that the parents do not move away from the baby. That the baby can get milk, contact, security, and safety throughout the night as needed. It stimulates healthy regulation of the child's entire physiology: heartrate, blood sugar, blood pressure, and breathing.
These things help the baby transition from the foetal state to life outside the womb. And later on, it also helps the child during the many developmental leaps.
This is one of the main reasons why it is recommended that the child sleeps in the same room as the parents for at least the first six months – and preferably for 12 months or longer. The sounds and breathing patterns of the parents help to regulate the child's sleep and to stimulate and regulate the small awakenings and the child's breathing patterns.
4. Your baby needing a little help to fall asleep is completely normal
The baby has been rocked constantly, been given natural muted sounds (such as white noise), and physical contact throughout its time in the womb – that's all the baby knows. It has never experienced hunger, cold, heat, loud noises, bright lights, or other sensory inputs that were not 100% adapted to the child's needs.
The child has already adapted to this routine of gentle rocking and peaceful sounds. Routines and habits regulate the nervous system of all people, regardless of whether they are an adult or a child. In most cases, an adult can rationalize that breaking the routine is harmless, or that the habit no longer serves a purpose. This is only because as an adult we have experienced these situations such as breaking routines, changes in habits and adapting to changed circumstances.
The baby doesn't have that life experience yet. Its brain connections are continuously being formed as the baby gains new experiences. It takes many, many repetitions to form these connections in the brain – and then many, many repetitions with good and loving support to ensure that these connections are firmly anchored in the brain.
The next time you rock your baby to sleep, you can think that you are building vital connections in their brain. Eventually, these new connections will help your baby fall asleep without your help.
5. It's normal for you to feel groggy
Your sleep cycle as an adult is about 90 to 120 minutes at a time. Your baby’s, on the other hand, is only about 45 minutes. This may be why you’re feeling a bit groggy or dizzy from being woken up again and again. You’ll probably be just as tired whether you have this information or not, but it can be nice to understand what’s happening as it can be easier to deal with.
Being woken up again and again interrupts the body's normal sleep cycle. This means that your body does not 'finish' sleeping.
The body will continuously try to adapt your sleep so that you get more deep sleep and less light sleep. It will prioritize which sleep is most important at any given time. Being awakened from a deep sleep is precisely why you are so groggy and disoriented. It's like having to surface from the deepest ocean, whereas waking from a light sleep feels as if you were lying and resting on the water's edge.
If you can, try to get two or three hours of uninterrupted sleep whenever possible. Even if it's only once a week, it can still make a huge difference to how you feel. The longer your sleep is interrupted, the more you will find that your cognitive abilities are affected. It can be simple things like memory, forming logical sentences, or making decisions based on a range of information. Some parents are very affected by the interruptions, while others seem to adapt more easily.
One is not better than the other, it's just different reactions from different people with different circumstances. You haven't got pregnancy brain or ‘mumnesia’ from being at home on maternity leave, your brain is just having a hard time right adjusting to lack of sleep.
6. Your baby's development is not dependent on long stretches of sleep
YYour baby does not need two, three, or more hours of continuous sleep to develop normally. Your baby's physiology is made for intermittent waking – even if the waking has been going on for two, three, or even four years.
Parents can often be concerned about whether their baby is getting enough sleep or the right amount of deep sleep. For example, many feel worried if the baby wakes up every hour or two at night or takes small power naps throughout the day.
The question that arises for some parents is: "Does my child get enough deep sleep, and does it affect my child's development?" – the answer is that deep sleep is certainly important, and those worries are completely natural. Fortunately, the worries are usually unfounded, as in the vast majority of cases the child gets the exact amount of sleep they need.
A baby's sleep cycle is suited to the child's current needs and stage of development. Because waking in need of help is biologically normal, the child's sleep cycle contains both deep and light sleep, with each of the child's sleep phases having their own function. If your baby has been woken by a sudden sound or another disturbance, the baby's body will regulate the next round of sleep itself.
This way, the baby always gets the right sleep it needs, gently helped along the way by your sleep aid, whether it’s a Baby Hammock, a Cradle, a strong flow of milk, your lullaby, or white noise.
7. Daylight, fresh air and activities in a regular circadian rhythm help sleep - for both of you
Sleep is regulated by two sleep factors. One is known as the balance of sleep and wakefulness, often also called sleep pressure or simply fatigue. The other is the daily cycle known as the circadian rhythm.
Sleep pressure and homeostatic sleep drive are the terms for the signal substance adenosine, which is secreted in the body during our waking hours. At a point, the pressure to sleep becomes so high that we simply have to sleep. You could say that the balance between being awake and sleeping tips. When we sleep, the balance tips back to wakefulness again. This applies to all ages, but the younger a baby, the faster the balance tips between wakefulness and sleep. The baby gets tired very quickly but also recovers quickly.
The second sleep regulator is the circadian rhythm. This is primarily controlled by light and darkness, as well as supported by social activities, such as eating or being active during daytime hours.
The circadian rhythm is reset every day when the first light hits the retina. A shift of only one or two hours can cause a disturbance in the body that will feel like jet lag. When your baby is born, it doesn't know the difference between night and day – the main factor of circadian rhythm. At this stage in baby’s life, the sleep cycle is solely controlled by sleep pressure.
At this stage in baby’s life, the sleep cycle is solely controlled by sleep pressure. It’s only when your baby is around three to four months old that the chemical melatonin, which signals 'night', starts to be produced in large enough quantities for it to have a noticeable effect on the child.
Studies show that children who are exposed to daylight and daytime activity from birth develop this chemical earlier than children who are not exposed to the same amount of daylight and activity. If you want to help your baby to be able to discern the difference between night and day and support this biological process, then get moving! Get out into the light, fresh air and enjoy life in daylight with your baby.
The added bonus of this is that it helps your body regulate itself. And if you breastfeed, it helps your breasts to secrete 'activity' and 'sleep’ hormones in the milk at the right times of the day. This also helps the baby establish a circadian rhythm.
8. Milk is an easy and natural shortcut to sleep
As previously mentioned, breast milk contains hormones. The purpose of these hormones is to help the child establish and regulate their circadian rhythm for the sake of both the parent and the baby.
Mother's milk is made to soothe, comfort, and quench both thirst and hunger. It also helps to signal when it is night and day. When the baby feeds on milk during the day, it calms the baby and helps them to fall asleep. Regardless of whether it is breast milk or formula.
The entire interaction between the nursing mother and the child is designed to tip the balance between wakefulness and sleep. The baby's pacifier, the adult's loving arms, the soothing hormones of the mother's milk that fill the baby's stomach, and the secretion of the CCK hormone in the baby's stomach make the baby tired and drowsy.
At night, as an added bonus, breast milk contains melatonin and other sleep-inducing hormones. The baby needs the milk regardless, so say thank you to the warm milk and say sleep well to your baby.
9. Sleep comes in many forms
There is no right or wrong sleep. There can be sleep that does not work, but that is something else entirely. Sleep is sleep, regardless of whether your baby sleeps 30 minutes in a Baby Wrap followed by a one-hour nap in bed, or whether you start with 45 minutes of full milk in the Baby Hammock or Cradle followed by a bottle of milk on the sofa. All sleep is good sleep, as long as it works for you.
Some babies love the pram the second they lie in it and are happy to spend three or four hours in a row laying in there. Other babies scream at the sight of it but will lie happily in the Baby Hammock or the Cradle until you wonder why it’s so quiet.
Some babies need a little snack from the breast or bottle every hour, while other babies can't finish their meals fast enough and then go to sleep for several hours.
Some do gymnastics in their sleep and can benefit from a tightly tucked blanket to help them stay in bed. Others can't bear so much as a stitch of the duvet without getting really hot and upset.
Some babies sleep 15 hours a day by the time they are nine months old, while others sleep nine hours a day. Some sleep three or four power naps or take one long and two short naps when they are 9 months old. Others take a single nap and then they are done for the day. Some go to bed when it's 7pm, others watch movies with mom and dad until the wee hours.
Every scenario above is normal – it's about finding out what exactly your child and you are comfortable with. And then figuring it out again and again as it changes every week or month as they develop.
As long as your baby is growing as it should, fills its nappies, is mostly happy, wants to play, and seeks contact with you, then your baby is obviously getting enough sleep.
So, it’s worth repeating that there is no right or wrong sleep. Find the solutions and aids that work for you and close your eyes and ears to everything else.
10. Your baby can tolerate new ideas and routines
Your baby is not made of porcelain. Regardless of whether it is your first or sixth child, your baby is made to tolerate you trying new things. To tolerate the fact that you may actually not really know what you're doing. Both you and your baby are mammals – born to figure it out together as you try your hand at it.
There’s a myriad of books, blogs, professionals, and articles online – just like the one you are reading now – that can be quite useful as a guide, but you can also come across things that are not exactly helpful. Things that might trigger more worrying thoughts.
Your baby only knows you and it orients itself towards you when it is trying to find out what is going on in the world around it. It can tell you what it needs and reads whether you have understood it – or if the type of crying and the volume need to be adjusted a bit so you it can better get its point across. And that’s what you must remember.
You two are the ones who have to find your way together. Sometimes you find something that works right away. Other times you find out that it wasn't exactly the way you were supposed to go.
You can keep information from articles like this in mind as something to lean on so you're not starting from scratch. Most of them will probably fit your baby reasonably well, because fortunately they are also similar in many respects.
But there will also likely be something that does not suit your baby at all. If you put your baby in the cot and it howls or screams in response, but the baby babbles happily in the Baby Hammock or Cradle, then you have found your solution. And it doesn't matter what professionals, books, or online articles say.
Try your hand at cuddling routines, different aids such as Baby Wraps, blankets, white noise, different paces on the cradle motor, small or large baby wipes, etc. Use what works as long as it works - and when it doesn't work anymore, try something else. The best way forward is to try as many things as possible - because there is no such thing as right or wrong sleep.
- Your baby is programmed to seek physical contact with you.
- Your baby can already sleep and does not need to 'learn to sleep'.
- Nighttime waking is natural and serves a purpose.
- Needing help to sleep is completely normal.
- It is normal to feel completely groggy after being woken up.
- Your baby's development is not dependent on long stretches of sleep.
- Daylight, fresh air, and activities in a fixed circadian rhythm help sleep - for the both of you.
- Milk is an easy and natural shortcut to sleep.
- Sleep can take many forms.
- Your baby can tolerate you trying something different.
About Sovende Børn
Sovende Børn is an online universe for parents and professionals seeking guidance and information about babies and children's sleep and sleep issues.
The purpose is to give parents and professionals the right tools to make informed choices that suit the individual child's sleep situation.
On the website and social media outlets, you will find updated and reliable information about available research, as well as webinars, workshops, courses, etc.
Thank you for being among our readers.
I’m Marie, mom to a little boy. And I’m the woman behind the Moonboon company making organic and sustainable baby accessories that respect people and the environment.
Have a look at our baby accessories here.
I want for my son to sleep in optimal conditions, and I want the same for your baby. That’s why I’m especially proud of our GOTS certified hammock and the specially designed motor that has helped me and many other parents sleep better at night.
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