Before diving into specific ages and sleep schedules (which this post does not explicitly cover), it is important to recognize that “normal” varies across cultures and individuals. The definition of a “good sleep” may also change over time and with normal developmental changes. There is much that we do not yet know about the functions of sleep, but it is thought to be a time to allow the mind and body to process and organize the activities of the waking hours as well as a way to promote readiness to incorporate new information after a period of much-needed rest. Generally speaking, “good sleep” is reflected in a child who looks well-rested and physically recharged, and who is able to attend to and learn from new stimuli.
How can parents distinguish between normal or expected “bumps in the road” when the child (and the family) is not getting enough rest, and actual sleep problems? Below we offer some basic information to guide you through what is generally considered normal sleep behavior during infancy. It is always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s sleeping patterns or if you believe there is something interfering with the quality of sleep your child is getting.
Children normally don’t sleep “well”…
During the times when the family doesn’t sleep well, it is even more important for parents to take good care of themselves. If parents have a partner, they can take turns to check on the baby when she wakes up at night. If the caregiver has a friend, relative, or neighbor who can watch the baby for an hour, then they might use that time to rest if possible. A plant-based diet can also provide an energy boost during those extenuating days, and do anything that’s restorative and helps them go through the day.
Additionally, during these normal phases of sleep deprivation parents can help children get more rest by:
If your child is still struggling with nighttime sleep and you have ruled out a developmental change or illness, and your family has not recently encountered a new stressor or transition, your family might consider the idea of “sleep training,” which can come in many different forms. Typically pediatricians and other developmental experts recommend waiting on sleep training until they believe the baby has achieved a healthy weight. This usually happens after 4-5 months of age, when the infant is also more capable of more predictable sleep patterns, but keep in mind that sleep training is a delicate decision for family members to discuss and agree upon before embarking on a specific method.