Ok, lemme tell ya right away…I don’t know it all. In fact, as I write, we’re on a family trip and staying in a hotel. And Micah got up a lot last night. Every. Two. Hours. Oi. He hasn’t done that since he was five weeks old! For real! I’m tired today! And nothing but pacing the hotel room floor for well over an hour (maybe two…I was delirious) with him in the Ergo last night put him to sleep. It was rough. But he’s so stinkin’ cute that I totally forgave him this morning.
No matter the ups and downs (like last night for me and baby Micah) of baby sleep, we all know that a well rested baby is a very happy baby. Much happier than his baby buddies who aren’t getting enough sleep, for sure. That’s why I have always used info from Marc Weissbluth’s, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. So, what you’ll read here is based on what I’ve learned from the book coupled with my own experiences of getting my three kiddos to sleep wonderfully well. This post is all about figuring out if your little one is getting all the sleep they need.
So, how can you know if your baby is getting enough sleep? According the main resource I know and love (that I mentioned above), you can assess your baby’s sleep in these five areas to determine if their sleep habits are healthy.
- Sleep duration during day and night
- Sleep consolidation
- Sleep schedule and the timing of sleep
- Sleep regularity
Let’s look at the main points of each category so you can assess your own little bundle. This information will also include information pertaining to toddlers and preschoolers. Also, this info is based on what is typical for the average child. You will have to make adjustments as needed which suit your child and your family lifestyle.
**I am only explaining the main points of what I find most helpful and important from the Weissbluth’s book. For much more detail in each of these categories and much more sleep related info, you may want to read the whole 503 page book. It’s worth it and I re-read it with each kiddo I have. But, if the book is a bit long for you or you just need the nitty gritty real quick before your sanity is totally gone, keep up with my Helping Baby Sleep Series! Ok, on to the good stuff!
Sleep Duration During Day and Night
For the most part, this one is pretty simple. You can add up the hours your child is sleeping and see if they are getting an adequate amount of rest.
- Newborns sleep. All the time. Isn’t this a wonderful!? You can tote them around, keep them in a cradle (or my personal fav and a life saver, the Rock ‘N Play!) in the living room, tuck them into their crib in their room, and basically they sleep anywhere and, what seems to be, all the time! This is because newborns need about 16-17 hours of sleep! And this is the time when nothing you do seems to positively or negatively effect their sleep. This is because the sleep they need is simply the sleep they get. It is not until between six to twelve weeks that we actually have an influence on baby’s sleep patterns. So, for all practical purposes and in my opinion, starting to follow a schedule as early as six weeks (because there is such a large window mentioned above) is a great idea to ensure you are having a positive effect on your baby’s sleep patterns rather than trying to solve the problem of poor sleep later. I will tell you that I even started with my youngest baby at four weeks and it worked amazingly. He got all the sleep he needed and I believe starting early helped us get through a time of colic much better than we would have if we had a very tired baby on top of a baby in pain.
- By age one, babies need 14.5-15.5 hours of total sleep. But, by age two, about 14 hours should be sufficient and will remain the case until they turn four.
- Preschool age children (four to five years old) do best with 12.5-13.5 hours of sleep as their day time naps shorten or disappear altogether.
Have you ever been hanging out with a friend and all the sudden she exclaims that she has to go, it’s almost nap time! And did you think she was being dramatic and a bit over the top? Or, had you already figured out that a baby who naps well during the day, is a baby who sleeps well at night? And that makes for a happy mama.
- Newborns are sleeping throughout the day, as mentioned above. Their nighttime sleep will take around 12 of the 16-17 hours mentioned. That leaves four to five hours of nap time sleep a day, which will likely be broken into three different naps.
- Infants (4-11 months old) will be taking two to three naps a day. Before or around six months, the third late afternoon/early evening nap may disappear. Even though each baby is a bit different, these patterns are very similar for them all. My first daughter kept her third nap a little longer than the other two, but all of them had dropped the third nap around six months.
- Toddlers will be taking two naps, though the morning nap will probably disappear shortly before or around the second birthday. I know it seems challenging to stay home for the first morning nap all the time, but do it! That nap can actually happen quickly after they get up in the morning and can be considered almost an extension of night time sleep. It’s super important!
- Preschool age children will still be taking an afternoon nap that will probably disappear between four and five years old. My four and a half year old still loves her nap! On days she doesn’t feel like sleeping, she stays in bed with a book and a few toys to just spend some quiet time. Six out of the seven days of the week, she sleeps.
Sleep consolidation simply means sleep that is not interrupted. Continuously interrupted sleep is equal to losing sleep because fragmented sleep does not provide the same restfulness that consolidated sleep does.
So, the question to ask yourself here is if your child is getting consolidated, rather than fragmented or interrupted, sleep during the sleep times listed above. If you are in the car for nap time, that nap would most likely (like 99.99% of the time) be fragmented. This is because the sleep a child gets in the car simply cannot compare to the sleep they would get in their own bed (both in quality and quantity). Staying late at a friend’s house and letting your child fall asleep there, then moving them to the car and finally to their bed, would also count as fragmented sleep.
Basically, this is where you ask yourself if you are allowing interruptions in your child’s sleep. If the answer is yes, you must get on a new track of protecting your child’s sleep during the hours they need it. This is vital and really only something you can control.
Sleep Schedule and Timing Of Sleep
I think this subtopic of sleep might be the toughest. For that reason, I mention the main points here which will help you determine if your child has a healthy sleep schedule, but I’ll go into much more detail in another post about the sleep schedule I have used successfully for all three of my kiddos.
First, have you ever experienced jet lag? Whoah, right? It’s a crazy time when you feel like going to bed at 3pm and waking up at 1am, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to start your day! Or, perhaps you find yourself staying up till the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping all day. Of course, to get over jet lag, you force your body back onto the correct schedule so you don’t have to experience it longer than a few days or weeks. However, can you imagine not being able to get back on schedule…ever?! Can you imagine what it would feel like to constantly be out of whack when it comes to your biological sleep schedule? I think we can all agree that we’d probably eventually feel physically sick, mentally exhausted and lacking the ability to concentrate, as well as emotionally crazy! In reality, this is what we force on our children when we don’t let them sleep during the times that their bodies and minds need to sleep. How sad is that?!
With that in mind, we absolutely have to understand a child’s need for a sleep schedule and how to time it out for them. First, nighttime sleep organisation is quite random in a newborn. You may only get a few hours of consolidated sleep at a time. However, after the six week mark, you will start to see a longer (3-5 hours) of consolidated sleep happening in the evening. Those five hours will start to stretch into seven, then ten, and finally into an amazing twelve or more hours! I promise! My first daughter slept fourteen hours every night! My other two have slept twelve to thirteens hours a night more regularly, but that is obviously still great!
Next, daytime sleep must be organised, not random and on the whim of a parent, after your baby is only a few months old. Dr. Weissbluth suggests this take place around three to four months but I have always started earlier. I started organising my children’s sleep at eight weeks with my first, twelve weeks (due to colic) with my second, and four weeks (even though he dealt with colic too) with my third. You can see, I’ve tried it all. And it worked every time. So, why not start at four weeks?! I will mentioned that if you start earlier than eight weeks, don’t allow your baby to cry for extended periods of time. Babies cannot self sooth before eight weeks. So, just do your best to organise their daytime sleep, but do not ‘train’ them by leaving them to cry at such a young age.
As you consider daytime sleep organisation, realise that daytime sleep is actually focused on bed time as the end result. Babies can be put to bed as early as 6pm and toddlers and preschoolers somewhere between 6-7:30pm depending on their age and need. The bedtime does not need to be at exactly the same time every night, but very close and very much based on how the day has gone. The end goal is to get your kids to bed at the right time and get them their needed sleep during the day. So, when a child gets up in the morning, you can make a plan of how and when they will get their needed sleep in during the day AND get to bed on time in the evening. This is something you have to plan because it will not just happen otherwise. Also, you must make the decision not to keep your children up later so you can play with them after work, so your spouse can spend extra time with them after work, or so you can run errands or be social. Think of it this way; you would not withhold food from your overly hungry child until your spouse got home, right? (And I don’t mean just asking them to wait for dinner until mom or dad gets home, but withholding food from a child for an extended period of time.) No, we would not do that as parents. Neither is it good to withhold sleep from your child when they desperately need it so that mom or dad (or someone visiting) can see them. Instead, mom or dad can walk in the door and immediately be part of the bedtime routine. This can be just as special and meaningful a time as playing. And, it will keep your child happy and healthy.
I will keep this section short and simple. Kids need to have a regular sleep schedule with naps and bedtime occurring at roughly the same time each day. The time you end up putting your kids down for a nap or bedtime may vary by 30-60 minutes, but as long as you keep things regular and based on when you see your child is drowsy (not sleepy though, as they s
hould already be in bed when they are sleepy! Catch that drowsy state and head to bed!), you will have great success!
Phew…that’s it! That was a long one! I considered breaking this up into smaller pieces or including less info, but I think it’s all important and good to look at it as a whole rather than broken down. So, I hope it is helpful to you and gives you an idea of the state of your child’s sleep health. If you want more info about why sleep is so important, check out this post for even more great info on sleep!
Please let me know if you have any questions that I can answer and I will be happy to do so! Happy sleeping!