Newborn Fighting Sleep: It Does Get Better. Really.

Not long ago, I stopped by a friend’s house to visit with her and her newborn. Her son was sound asleep, and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him with my friend. “He’s such a great sleeper,” she told me. She continued, “He even sleeps halfway through the night.” I admit to being just a touch jealous. Seriously, with her first baby, my friend had it made. I remember late nights with my daughter, waking every two hours for a feeding. Or worse, my newborn fighting sleep in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

If your little one is anything like mine, don’t worry. Further, take heed that babies who wake often or seem to be fighting sleep may be developing healthier sleep habits. Your baby is doing what comes naturally. Granted, sleep deprivation is no fun. But learning to work with your baby’s sleep rhythms could be the best option overall.

Infant Sleep Patterns

Let’s face it, expecting our baby to follow our sleep patterns is just fantasy. My friend was lucky, that’s all. Naturally, we’re tired as adults by the end of the day. We have set routines to relax us. Once our head hits the pillow, it’s dream time. For a typical adult, a sleep cycle lasts anywhere from ninety minutes to two hours. During that time we’ll cycle between deep and light sleep.

Contrast that pattern with your baby. She is most likely experiencing sleep cycles that average less than an hour. In that short time-span she is going from deep to light sleep more regularly. Therefore, she’s more prone to waking. Remember, babies don’t sleep as deeply as we do. The adage, “sleeping like a baby,” is more myth than reality. As parents, we’ve become programmed to believe that babies should sleep long and soundly.

Oddly, such sleep behaviors are opposite to nature’s programming. Waking is a call of the wild, a way for your baby to become aroused when a threat is felt. Although we may see those threats as minimal, they are critical to infants. Forget the saber-toothed tiger circling the camp. At one time that was an issue. But what if your baby is hungry? Vomits? Or can’t catch her breath? Frequent nighttime waking is critical for making baby stir. Simple negative stimuli such as hunger or a wet diaper are biological instincts in action. It’s the call of the wild nature imprinted in our DNA for survival.

Babies Need a Sleep Routine

You’re tired at the end of the day. After all, parenting is a full-time job. Add on professional and personal commitments and it’s quite easy to see why falling to sleep is less of a chore for parents. But for baby, she doesn’t have those worries. She needs your guidance to fall asleep. Yes, it’s all on you.

At this age, your baby will still need to be nursed or rocked to sleep. It’s perfectly natural right now to do this. Moreover, it’s beneficial to you and your baby. It’s a time to bond, and your baby needs that nurturing stimuli to relax and settle in to sleep.

By now, you know what it takes to get your baby to fall asleep. But if you’re having a hard time getting her to stay asleep, don’t worry. Chances are that she is having no problems falling asleep. Instead, it’s more likely that she is being placed in her crib too soon. Look at her. What’s not to love? Smiling in her sleep, her little fingers squeezing yours and then relaxing. She looks so beautiful! She’s sleeping like a baby.

And that is exactly the point! She may look calm and cute asleep in your arms, but she is in the stage of light sleep. Place her in the crib and … she wakes up. Enjoy the cooing and smiling while she’s in that first stage of light sleep. After about twenty minutes, she should be in a deeper state of sleep. You’ll recognize it when her breathing becomes settled and her movements slow. Now, place her in the crib. Chances are, she’ll sleep close to sixty minutes.

Soothing the Light Sleeper

Like adults, some babies are naturally better sleepers than others. If your baby wakes often from a light sleep, all is not lost. For me, it was as simple as placing my hand on her or stroking her hair. A soft lullaby could do the trick for your baby. Sometimes it’s just these simple, nurturing acts that will get her to resettle into her sleep. I know that the constant waking and stirring is not good for our own sanity, but like anything else, this too soon shall pass.

Always keep in mind that your baby is naturally not going to sleep as deeply as you. I knew that our daughter would be going to daycare. Immediately, I conditioned her to sleep amongst the background noise of everyday life. Because in daycare, there would always be some background chatter. Don’t tiptoe around the house. Instead, let your baby become acquainted with sleeping through the noise. Now, our daughter is much older and still sleeps with a sound machine in her room. It has been one of the best pieces of baby gear we invested in.

Notwithstanding all these points, sometimes your baby will just not find that sweet spot. Don’t rush it. Sleep maturity comes with time. Additionally, your baby’s sleep will also be affected by other milestones, like teething, for example. Has your little one started to crawl or sit-up? Well, your baby may do this in her sleep. Just like us, they’ll move around in the deep sleep stage. Sometimes, it’s just a little too unsettling. But it’s nothing that a soothing touch or sweet voice can’t fix.

Go Gentle Into The Night

I left my friend’s house that evening missing the nights I spent rocking my daughter to sleep. Sadly, those times don’t last long enough. Look down at your baby, smiling away in her light slumber. You made this moment. Not just her, but her smile, too.

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