Are you accidentally interrupting your baby’s sleep pattern?

Posted in Sleeping.

When mum of a seven-month-old, Fiona called in to speak to mothercraft nurse and Feed Play Love Helpline expert Chris Minogue, her baby’s sleep cycles were top of mind.

Patchy day sleeps

Fiona’s little boy sleeps really well at night – from 6.30pm to 5.30am – but he consistently wakes up very early – and during the day he’s quite wakeful and only has three short naps. 

Fiona isn’t quite sure whether she should attempt to transition her bub from three day sleeps to two. She also wonders if hoping for a slightly later morning wake-up time is too much to ask.

Chris says that Fiona’s little boy is doing brilliantly, but is often in danger of being awake during the day for longer than he is asleep at night.

baby sleeping

She also notes that at this age, it’s optimal for babies to get around 3 hours sleep across their day naps, whether that’s over two or three sleeps.

“His day is 13 hours long and his night is 11 hours long,” she notes. “So if he’s spaced two hours [sleep] over 13 hours, you could end up with a tired little bunny at the end of the day.”

Are you interrupting your baby’s sleep cycle?

Chris flagged interrupting a baby’s natural sleep cycle as one potential reason for the patchy day sleeps and an early bedtime. She recommends leaving babies in their cot for just a little longer than many parents might tend to, because this is how they can learn to put themselves back to sleep.

In Fiona’s case, Chris says shifting her approach might help transform two of her baby’s short day naps into one longer nap.

“I would suggest, if he’s quite happy in there, give him a little bit longer [before you go in to him]. He might be just wearing himself out over about 20 minutes. Then when he has a little cry, go in and give him a pat.” 

Chris says this kind of gentle comforting can help baby drift back into sleepy land.

“And then he joins the other half an hour to the first sleep and then eventually combines the two sleeps. Maybe [parents are] just going in a little bit too early and interrupting.”

Turn your baby monitor off?

It’s not just eager mums and dads who might be butting in on the nap process before the time is right. Chris explains that baby monitors are also contributing to interrupted sleep patterns in babies. She says monitors alert parents to the fact that their child is awake earlier than ever, and may prompt them to head into the nursery when they’re potentially not yet needed.

Chris suggests turning the monitor off if you’re struggling with your baby’s day sleeps.

“Turn it off,” Chris urges. “You might be interrupting the process because lots of babies wake up in their sleep, they play for a short period and they even grumble for a little while … and then they put themselves back to sleep. So you might be just interrupting that.

“If he’s just in the bedroom down the hallway you will be able to hear him if he cries. But you might be watching him. He looks like he’s having a good time in there. You’ve convinced yourself he won’t go back to sleep, so inadvertently that’s what’s happens.” 

Child in cot crying

“I know it’s very tempting to look, but maybe if you just turn it off and distract yourself – cook, clean, whatever you’d like to do – he might just be able to link those two sleep cycles together.”

Brilliant – and quite surprising – advice which is definitely worth a try if you’re struggling with patchy day naps like Fiona. 

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