Sleep when you can
Sleeping well is important for the infant’s development and your ability to care for it. You get less sleep with a baby in the house. Rest when it’s asleep, and ensure you get a respite when it’s needed.
Create a division between day and night – that can contribute to good sleep quality. Activity and natural light during the day will improve the quality of your sleep at night. By all means use the “comfort stair” and the film on Comforting which you can find in the app.
Sleep is essential if we’re to function well. When we sleep badly, we become more short-tempered and our ability to get things done weakens. It’ll also affect our memory. We’re better able to tackle emotional challenges if we have slept well. Little or disturbed sleep can make you more irritable and less available emotionally. Sleeping well will strengthen your ability to provide care. Having an infant at home can often reduce your sleep and undermine its quality. So it’s important to make provision for getting the best sleep you can. Sleeping as well as possible is also important for infants. Good sleep in their early years often leads to sleeping well in later life. That makes this important for the child’s development. And parent-child interaction is strengthened if both get enough sleep.
The youngest infants often sleep 13-17 hours per day. A three-month-old baby sleeps continuously for about 3.5 hours, which has generally extended to roughly six hours when they reach six months. An infant normally sleeps two-three times at six months, and twice a day between nine and 12 months. See a complete overview here (in Norwegian only).
The youngest often sleep for 60 minutes at a time – often fairly lightly to begin with, then a little more deeply, and finally lighter again. Parents may often think the baby has woken up at this stage, but it will usually fall back into sleep again if left undisturbed. So you should give your child a chance to enter the next sleep cycle. Light sleep dominates during the first months of a baby’s life. That means its body can be active even though it’s sleeping well. It can sometimes make odd grimaces or small sounds, suddenly throw out its arms or make eye movements you can see even though their eyes are closed. This is a little strange, of course, and it can sometimes be hard to know whether the child is sleeping or not. It’s easy to imagine that grimaces and other movements are a sign of hunger, pain, anxiety or quite simply a need for comfort and closeness. Some parents therefore start talking to, touching or picking up the baby, so that it wakes up. When infants are sleeping deeply, their bodies show little activity and they make few grimaces. Some parents can become a little anxious because you can hardly see or hear the baby’s breathing when it’s sleeping deeply. So it could make sense to get to know the various sleep phases in order to avoid disturbing the baby when it’s sleeping – lightly or deeply.
If you have any questions about your child’s sleeping patterns, raise them with your doctor, midwife or health visitor, or talk with someone else at the health clinic.
Sleeplessness is normal in infants, and we estimate that around 25 per cent of them have chronic difficulties with falling or staying asleep. To prevent this at an early stage, it’s important to establish routines which prevent a baby developing sleep problems. If you encourage your child to be active during the day, they’ll sleep more and better at night. Infants under the age of three will also normally need to sleep during the day. Here are some tips on good sleep routines for the very youngest children:
- During the day, the baby can sleep in its pram outside or in a room with the curtains open. That will help it to learn the difference between night and day.
- At night, the bedroom should be dark, quiet and well aired. Use a small nightlight if the child finds that reassuring.
- Establish fixed bedtime routines. These could include bathing, reading and other calming activities. Avoid letting the child get very worked up in the one-two hours before it is due to go to sleep.
- A newborn baby does not distinguish day and night, and babies younger than four months old need feeding every two-four hours around the clock. All infants have periods of the day when they feed more frequently. This is perfectly normal and so it should be. When a baby is about three-six months old, it should learn to go to sleep for itself. Put it to bed when it’s sleepy but still awake and leave the room before it falls asleep. Try to be calm and reassuring when putting the child to bed. We influence each other, so a calm and safe laying, positively affects sleep.
- From the age of about six months, don’t feed the infant when it wakes in the night unless it has a physiological need for this. A baby should not be fed in order to get it to fall asleep. Instead, feed it some time before its normal bedtime. In this way, one can avoid the child wanting food to find sleep again. It okay that the child sometimes gets food right before going to sleep is of course okay, and it must of course get food if hungry, it is a practice of feeding the baby FOR it to sleep, many professionals think is unfortunate - because this weakens the child's ability to fall asleep without such stimulus.
- If the baby fails to settle as soon as you put it to bed, wait a bit before responding so that it gets a chance to fall asleep on its own.
- When your baby wakes up at night, try to make your response as brief as possible. Be calm and quiet at night. To help and support the baby in finding calm or sleep himself, you can vary the comfort you gives, and see if the child calms down in a milder form of comfort than being lifted up. If the child cries when sleeping, it may be easier for the child to fall asleep again if it can be comforted while lying in bed. Use the steps in the comfort stairs to provide comfort as needed. A small child should not lie alone in bed crying, but it can sometimes make sense to see it a little, maybe the child will find peace even after a while and sleep by himself. Give comfort as needed, eventually finding out what works best for you. Ask for advice and guidance at the health station if little sleep is a feature of everyday life.
An infant is entirely dependent on adults for protection. The caregiver role becomes even more demanding if you’re not properly rested. The more rested you are, the greater your chance of tackling the demands you face with a little baby at home.
Not getting enough sleep isn’t good for you. One result could be that you find it more difficult to control your own feelings. Your concentration declines when you’re tired and worn down. Failing to sleep when you can may have serious consequence – when you’ve got yourself a little baby.
If you’ve had too little sleep, then catch up when you can – including during the day (preferably as early as possible). Organise things so that you can sleep when the baby’s asleep, for example. Then you’ll be more rested when the baby’s awake and needs you. If you’re a couple, it’s a good idea to alternate nights awake so that both of you get the chance to sleep well in between.
Many adults also have problems sleeping, and we estimate that about 15 per cent of them suffer from chronic insomnia.Here are some advice on what you should do as an adult to get good and sufficient sleep:
- If you’re having trouble sleeping in the evening, it could make sense to avoid caffeine after lunch. Coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and energy drinks all contain it. Nicotine can also make you active and prevent you sleeping. Although many people find that alcohol can help them to fall asleep, this is weakened in the second half of the night – so that the alcohol will give poorer sleep quality overall.
- Napping during the day can weaken your sleep at night. A brief 10-15 minute catnap won’t usually disrupt night-time sleep, but you should take it as early in the evening as possible. The first few months with a newborn baby at home is a “state of emergency”, where it’s important to sleep when you can.
- Physical activity in the afternoon is optimal for strengthening sleep. In the final few hours before going to bed, you should avoid strenuous exercise or demanding intellectual activity and guard against strong emotions such as quarrels or unpleasantness.
- Avoid strong outdoor light (with the help of sunglasses, for example) in the final hours before going to bed.
- Spending 30 minutes in a hot bath up to two hours before going to bed can increase your chances of sleeping. It could also make sense to eat a small meal one-two hours before bedtime, since hunger can disrupt your sleep.
- Put on as few lights as possible if you have to get up during the night, and don’t look at the clock either.
- Keep it dark and quiet in the bedroom. The temperature should be around 15-20°C.
- Get up at the same time every day, all through the week, regardless of how much you’ve slept (a maximum of one-two hours later at weekends and on holiday).
If you’re going to share a bed with an infant, it’s important that:
- those who share bed with the infant don’t smoke or take snuff, and that the mother hasn’t smoked during pregnancy
- those who share bed with the infant aren’t under the influence of alcohol, other intoxicants or medications which cause drowsiness
- the infant is always placed on his/her back to sleep – it should not sleep on its stomach on the chest of the adult
- the bed’s mattress is firm and wide enough to give the infant enough room, the infant must be prevented from falling out or slipping into a gap
- the infant has its own small and light duvet
- parents and infant are all healthy
- the infant is not born prematurely
- it’s airy and suitably warm (approximately 18°) where the baby is sleeping
- the baby is always placed on its back to sleep
- It is not safe to sleep with the child on a couch or armchair
See also the brochure Secure sleeping environment for the infant (in Norwegian only), published by the Norwegian SIDS and Stillbirth Society in cooperation with the National Centre for Expertise in Breastfeeding and the Norwegian Directorate of Health.
A newborn baby needs to sleep an average of 13-17 hours per day. They can get tired after being awake one-two hours. If it’s awake too long, the child can get overtired and overstimulated.
The content on this page is developed in cooperation with professor Ståle Pallesen.