Understanding Infant Sleep - 6 weeks to 4 months

In our previous sleep article, we discussed normal sleep patterns and realistic sleep expectations for infants up to 6 weeks.  By the time we hit 6 weeks, our children have gone through so many developmental changes, including what shapes their sleep patterns.  What do these patterns look like now and when will you start to actually get some sleep?  

What does research tell us about sleep patterns for 6 week - 4 month old infants?

  • Babies this age still receive about a ⅓ of their food during the middle of the night.
  • Between 6 weeks and 4 months, babies begin ‘sleep consolidation’, which means that they start to combine 2 or more sleep cycles together without waking in between.  
  • Babies at the age tend to falls asleep more easily after eating in the middle of the night, which is a welcomed trend after the first 6 weeks of your child wanting to party after each meal in the middle of the night.

Take home message:  Your baby is still going to wake up in the middle of the night to feed, but he/she should be able to fall back asleep much more quickly after eating.  This means less walking around the house, singing lullabyes at 3am.  Whoo hoo!

 

What does science tell us about how babies sleep at this age?

  • 6-12 week old babies still fall asleep in active sleep, i.e. dreaming, hence the eye movements, silly smiles, and sporadic arm movements.  However, active sleep time becomes shorter and shorter at the beginning of the sleep cycle, which means you may only have to wait a few minutes before you can put your baby down without waking him/her.
  • A baby’s circadian rhythm is settling in now, which means deeper sleep at night, with less jarring movements, allowing baby to stay asleep much more easily.
  • 12-16 week old babies now fall asleep in quiet sleep, similar to adults.  This means that your baby doesn’t fall asleep dreaming (REM), but rather begins to drift to sleep and stay asleep.
  • Patterns vary from baby to baby, therefore it is not a lack of parenting skills if your baby is still waking every 2-3 hours in the middle of the night.  It is important to remember that every baby is different and has different needs.

Take home message:  Your baby is going to start to fall asleep and stay asleep more easily.  His/her days and nights will no longer be mixed up and he/she will start to fall into a deeper sleep in the middle of the night.

 

What are common sleep patterns for a 6 week to 4 month old baby?

  • Daytime naps are still sporadic and frequent.  Some babies fall asleep right after eating, while others are awake after eating and then fall asleep after some alert time.
  • Daytime naps can range from 20 minutes to several hours, while some of the longest naps can take place while you are out and about.  
  • Babies love to nap while being worn or out on a walk.  The fresh air seems to lull them to sleep.
  • Evening sleep will be all over the place, especially during the ‘witching hour.’ What this will most likely look like is eat, sleep for 20 minutes, eat, sleep for 20 minutes, and repeat for a few hours.  Here are some great ways to survive the witching hour!
  • Nighttime sleep is starting to get better.  Your baby might have one longer chunk of sleep for the first half of the night (for example, like a 4-5 hour stretch between 8pm and 1am).  Then your baby might continue to wake every 2-4 hours after that.  Remember, your baby’s stomach is still really small and this frequent waking in the middle of the night is protective against SIDS.

Take home message: Babies at this age still have fairly unpredictable sleep patterns. Since your baby may start to sleep longer in the beginning of the night, you might consider going to bed earlier than usual, to take advantage of this long stretch of sleep.

 

What are some tips for parents to get more sleep?

  • Mastering the sidelying position can be a game changer.  Your baby is much sturdier than he/she used to be, therefore sidelying can be much easier and comfortable now, for both of you.

 

  • Look into safe co-sleeping guidelines, as research has shown that families who safely co-sleep or bedshare get more sleep than those whose babies sleep in a different room.

  • If you are uncomfortable with bedsharing for the whole night, consider setting your alarm for 20 minutes, while nursing in the sidelying position in bed.  Then, if you end up falling asleep, your quiet alarm will wake you and then you can place your baby in his/her own bed, bassinet, or sidecar.
  • Try what the authors of Sweet Sleep call ‘Front Loading:’ do more work early in the day and start to unwind earlier in the evening.  If you can unwind earlier, that means you can fall asleep earlier and easier, as well.  Check out this Huffington Post article about 15 Science-Backed Ways to Falls Asleep Faster

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