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Your Baby's Sleep: Busting Myths & Helpful Tips

After years of working with new parents a primary request is always for evidence-based, reliable information about sleep. While this is a good goal, achieving it can be a challenge in the midst of information overload.

 This is true whether we want to know when to introduce solids and in what order, how to best support a child’s social-emotional development, or how and when to make sleep changes. 

 When looking for information about sleep there are many books that are opinion-based rather than evidence-based. This can be confusing and frustrating when you want to make an informed choice based on advice you can trust.

The traditional field of infant sleep research is limited. The research that exists is primarily focused on one area: behavioral changes. Newer sleep research looks at the emotional impact of sleep training, temperamental and other influences in sleep challenges and disorders, as well as linking sleep disorders in childhood to attention and learning challenges later on. This research debunks much of what experts have “known” about infant sleep.

As you gather evidenced-based information to make decisions about sleep for your family here is some useful sleep information to get you started:

Myth: A baby's sleep patterns are fully developed at birth.

Fact: Babies' sleep patterns are not fully developed at birth. In fact, one of the most common reasons babies aren't able to "sleep well" is that the part of the brain that organizes sleep is just beginning to form in the first three- to six-months. The development of circadian rhythms, the biological temporal rhythms that help our bodies "know" a 24-hour day, and the difference between day and night, begins to develop after birth. You baby develops a circadian rhythm based on cues in the environment like your support and care, exposure to sunlight and consistent routines. You can help your baby develop his or her circadian rhythm through consistent routines, exposure to natural light during the day and darkened rooms at night, even during feedings and diaper changes.

 Myth: There is only one method to teach a baby to sleep.

Fact: Research (and my five years of experience as a sleep coach) shows you can effectively use one of many different methods to help a baby or young child learn to sleep. It is the consistent implementation of the strategy that determines success. Whether or not a sleep method is successful is mainly dependent upon parent readiness, consistent implementation of a strategy to improve sleep, infant temperament and how your baby responds to a specific approach.

 Myth: All babies need the same amount of sleep.

Fact: Just like adults, babies vary in their need for sleep. Some guidelines you can use to check if your baby’s sleep falls within a typical range are:


16 – 20 hours per day

3 weeks

16 – 18 hours per day

6 weeks

15 – 16 hours per day

4 months 

9 – 12 hours, plus 2 naps (2-3 hours each)

 6 months

11 hours, plus 2 naps (1.5-2.5 hours each)

 9 month

 11-12 hours, plus 2 naps (1-2 hours each)

12 months

10-11 hours, plus 2 naps (1-2 hours each)

18 months

13 hours, plus 1-2 naps (1-2 hours each)

2 years

11-12 hours plus one nap (2 hours)

3 years

10-11 hours plus one nap (2 hours)

4-5 years

10-12 hours with no nap, or one nap (1-1.5 hours)

 6-7 years

9-11 hours with no nap

Tip: If your baby is getting enough sleep he or she will wake up sunny, cheerful and in a good mood. If your baby is not getting enough sleep he or she will wake up cranky, sullen or grouchy. Your baby’s mood upon waking is the best gauge of “enough sleep.”

 Myth: If my baby doesn’t sleep well by a certain age, he or she will never be a good sleeper

Fact: There is no “magic age” to become a great sleeper. Like other important life-long habits, like eating healthy foods, it is best to learn good sleep skills before kindergarten. Within those first five years the “right” time to help your child become a skillful sleeper is when you are ready.

My son woke every hour or two for sixteen months. When I finally figured out, and committed to, a strategy to help him learn to sleep he became an amazing sleeper in three nights. And he’s slept 11-12 hours a night ever since.

Babies have the basic developmental capacities to self-soothe as early as 3-5 months-old. It is up to you when you are ready to help your baby learn to use these capacities to fall asleep at bedtime and stay asleep for most or all of the night.

For more information about sleep join me for a free sleep class at The Birthing Tree March 2nd, 2-3pm

Please register with Tekla Johnson, LLC, LCSW (505) 920-7818  

You can also, sign up for a free monthly newsletter, read my blog about sleep topics like naps, bedtime, travel and more, or to schedule a free, initial conversation with me to talk about next steps to improve your family’s sleep.

Article by guest blogger Tekla Johnson 

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