Sleepless nights and dark circles under the eyes become a part of a new parent’s life. There are many reasons why your baby stays awake at night. Read on to find out.
By Shashwathi Bhanukumar
Have you woken up in the dead of night to see that your newborn is wide awake and bright as a button? Do you feel helpless when all your efforts to soothe your baby are in vain, when he wakes up bawling in the night? Sleepless nights and tiresome mornings are a reality for first-time parents.
But, most babies do not stay awake in the night and cry or keep getting up every few hours, without reason. Moreover, there is no one specific reason why your baby may be awake all night.
Here are some prominent causes why this happens:
0 to 1.5 months: Usually, newborns have a 20-hour sleep pattern. Their sleep cycle would also depend on what pattern they followed inside would have had in the mother’s womb. Though it is not scientifically proven, they believe that if the mother is able to say whether the baby was more active in the night, these babies would be the ones who would sleep lighter in the night. Initially, in the first month, it would be sleeping and feeding. So, they would be getting up quite a few times and be fussy.
By the time a baby is two months old, she develops a pattern. She may be awake during the day and sleep better at night. If for some reason, the parents or the family has developed a regime where the baby sleeps through the day, then she may not sleep in the night. Extended hours of sleep during the day, with the curtains closed and the lights switched off, makes the baby sleepy in the day and stay awake in the night.
Babies move from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to other stages of non-REM sleep. When any kind of transition happens in their sleep pattern, they instantly wake up. While adults can go back to sleep, babies will not be able to do so and will require help from parents. This may happen until the baby is about six months old.
Both bread-fed and formula-fed babies could develop colic. However, studies state that formula-fed babies are more prone to colic than breastfed babies. Colic could keep babies awake as they are uncomfortable too. There is no way to identify that per se. You need to visit a paediatrician and looking at various factors, they will be able to tell you, whether your baby is colic or is it awake in the night for some other reason, and if they are colic, what can be done. Usually, they would grow out of it by the time they are six months of age.
Many times, first-time parents, allow the baby to play for hours together hoping it will tire the baby out. Parents engage them in activities hoping it will make them sleepy. However, it does not work always. On top of that, this makes it difficult to set a sleep routine. Ideally, it should not be an extended more than an hour. If the baby wants to go to sleep even for half an hour, that should be allowed or else it would interfere with their natural process of going to sleep. Also, extended hours of play may make the baby overtired and due to that, it might stay awake in the night.
When parents rock the baby or soothe the baby to put them to sleep, babies tend to associate those activities to their sleep and it expects you to repeat that activity every time it wants to go back to sleep. Because the parents tend to indulge, the babies get dependent on such rituals and have difficulty going back to sleep without the ritual. This habit is fine until the baby is six to seven months. Generally, by the time they are around eight months, the babies should be able to go back to sleep by themselves. Most of the time the mother is sleeping with the baby, so the moment the baby wakes up, the mother either feeds the baby or rocks the baby. This makes the baby connects going back to sleep with one of these things.
Also, some parents let the baby go to sleep completely, then put them in the cradle or the crib. That should be discouraged. Let the baby get sleepy, and then, you put the baby down, and that last five-ten minutes that the baby goes off to sleep, should be happening naturally.
This is a common phenomenon. But, for babies, it is highly uncomfortable. This makes them cranky and they may cry because they are not able to fall asleep in the night, because of the discomfort.
This is not a major reason, but sometimes, this might act as a deterrent to your baby’s natural sleep process. If it is too hot or too cold, it takes time for the baby to get used to the changing temperatures and it might have difficulty going to sleep.
Many babies are conditioned to sleep while sucking on something. This starts just after birth when they fall asleep breastfeeding or with a bottle in their mouth. Many infants, who use a pacifier will wake up often between 6–12 months of age when the pacifier falls out.
There are some things which are in your control and as parents, you can take some measures to ensure better sleep. But there are times when you will not know why your baby is awake at night. Be patient with her, as she too is adjusting to a new 'world'. With time, the little one will eventually start sleeping through the night and you may miss those ‘sleepless’ nights!
With inputs from Dr Kavita Gohil, paediatrician at Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Mumbai
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