How to help newborns get in sync with the natural, 24-hour day
- Make your baby a part of your daily routine.
When parents incorporate the infant into their daily activities, the infant can adapt to the 24-hour day more quickly. One study performed continuous measurements of maternal and infant activity patterns four months after birth. Infants who were active at the same time of day with their mothers developed faster mature circadian rhythms
- Reduce stimulation at night.
When your baby wakes up from night feeding, keep the activity as low as possible. Make as little noise as possible and avoid moving your baby. Ideally, you should avoid waking up "completely". However, if this is not possible, at least try to minimize clutter and bustle. You want the child to learn that the night is here for sleep and peace of mind.
- Expose your newborn to natural lighting patterns.
The light tips may not immediately synchronize the infant's sleep patterns, but they help.
For example, in one study, infants sleep longer at night if their parents followed the normal waking principle until 9:00 pm.
In another study, children tended to sleep longer at night when exposed to a lot of evening light.
And time spent outdoors can make a big difference. Children who go out have much higher daylight levels than those who stay indoors all day and, as a result, can develop stronger circadian rhythms
- Try infant massage.
A recent experiment found that mothers in charge of massaging their babies at bedtime had better sleep outcomes for newborns than mothers who massaged without lotion and mothers in the control group who did not massage at all.
After a month, infants who had the lotion fell asleep faster, slept longer, and woke less often at night. In fact, mothers who used massaged lotions made their babies more frequent, which may explain the findings. A previous study found that infant massage helped infants develop more mature patterns of melatonin secretion.
Bring it? More research is needed on this topic, but in the meantime it seems worth a try.
- Do you pump and store breast milk? Consider keeping a record of what time of day you express.
Breast milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to make melatonin. Tryptophan levels rise and fall according to the mother's circadian rhythms, and when children eat tryptophan at bedtime, they fall asleep more quickly.
It is possible, therefore, that breastfeeding helps infants sleep concurrently with a 24-hour day. This hypothesis was tested by formula feeding infants enriched with different concentrations of tryptophan. When infants were given low levels of tryptophan during the day and high concentrations at night (fluctuating natural fluctuations in breast milk), infants fell asleep more quickly at night and slept more generally.
Newborn sleep cycles: Why newborns are light sleepers
When adults fall asleep for the first time, we go through several stages of light sleep and then immerse ourselves in deep sleep.
Next, we move into REM sleep or "rapid eye movement", a sleep phase known for its association with dreaming and loss of muscle tone. We do little movement during REM.
When REM sleep ends, we wake up or return to light sleep and start the cycle again. The average adult spends about 90-100 minutes in one sleep cycle. We can wake up partly at night. However, we are more likely to wake up "fully" during phase transitions, during light sleep, and during REM sleep.
Newborn sleep is also characterized by sleep stages and cycles, but there are crucial differences.
First, babies typically begin their sleep bouts in the newborn equivalent of REM (sometimes called “active sleep”). First, babies usually begin a period of sleep in the neonatal equivalent of REM (sometimes called "active sleep").
Second, REM children generally do not lose muscle mass.
Unlike us, they can move, stretch, move and even vote. The results may lead parents to think that their children are waking up when they actually have normal REM sleep.
Second, REM infants usually do not experience muscle wasting.
Unlike us, they can clap, stretch, shake and even express. The findings may lead parents to think their children are waking up with normal REM sleep. Third, the infant's sleep cycle is shorter - about 50-55 minutes for the normal baby - and REM sleep causes more sleep.
It is not uncommon for newborns to spend more than half of their total sleep time in REM. Indeed, several studies suggest that some infants may spend up to 75% of their sleep time in active sleep within 24 hours per day.
Fourth, as infants experience something like deep sleep, this step, known as "peaceful sleep," can be dangerous. Characterized by slower and more rhythmic breathing, peaceful sleep appears to be calmer. However, it is more difficult for babies to wake up from a peaceful sleep, which can create problems if the baby is not getting enough oxygen.
This may explain why depressed newborns do not force exhausted parents to sleep long. It's too risky. Instead, a normal 50-55 minute sleep cycle for newborns involves only about 20 minutes of restful sleep. For the rest of the time, children are in REM or "transient sleep," a relatively relaxed state that appears to be a combination of restful active sleep that scientists do not yet understand.