Why don’t babies sleep at night? You asked Google- here’s the answer | Paul Kelley

Every day millions of internet users ask Google lifes most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

Looking down into the pushchair I ensure a young newborn drifting off to sleep, and then flick his eyes open. At one point one eye was open and another was shut.

What a lovely baby, I said. How old is he? Your first?

Yes. Four weeks. But he hasnt sleep through the night once since he was born. I dont know what to do do you?

This mothers sleeplessness explains why Google is so often asked: Why dont newborns sleep at night? To find out the answer you need to go back to the beginning.

If youre a mother, when you conceived your newborn, they brought a number of changes into your life and theirs. For you there was a new lifestyle( healthy food, physical changes , no drinking) and a huge responsibility. For your newborn, it was the beginning of a life where their only guidebook for nine months would be their genes and the environment in your womb.

Your baby will have rapidly developed a sense of period from the rhythms in the womb, including your heart beat. They will also have had two situateds of timing genes. The first define ensures they sleep, just like other animals. This very large set of genes is very robust indeed: every newborn sleeps, and no disease or experience will change that. The second define of genes creates their 24 -hour sense of period throughout the day, including waking and sleeping.

Genes are, of course, a bit of a lottery. Although you may have a very distinct sense of sleep and the timing that suits your day( and night ), your babys genes are a mixture of yours and your partners. Baby are different and have differing sleep patterns, so the opportunity that their sleep patterns will match yours is very small.

During pregnancy, your baby experienced the rhythm of night and day, sleep and wake, only through you. These messages are confused in pregnancy because your sleep patterns change for many different reasons( physical changes, baby movements, needing to urinate more at night, tiredness and not getting enough sleep yourself ). Your newborn may have been soothed by the experience of you moving around during the day, and most active at night when you rarely moved. Throughout pregnancy, your good sleep will have helped your newborn. We know that around the 32 nd week of pregnancy, your baby sleeps too.

Thats one of the reasons why sleep needs to be a high priority for every pregnant girl; another is that sleep is vital for giving birth. Although being fatigued during pregnancy is normal, women who sleep less than six hours a night, on average, have longer labors and are 4.5 times more likely to have a caesarean delivery.

At birth the need to feed dominates a babys world and that of its parents. Feeding is hard work for a baby, and induces them tired so they sleep, remainder and regain. Then the need to feed comes again, often in a pattern of every four hours or so. Newborns have no established sense of night or day, and they tend to have cycles that are far shorter than 24 hours long. This is because their period systems for the 24 -hour day are not yet fully formed at birth, and they wont function consistently until a newborn is about two to six months old.

So the short answer to the question is this: newborns dont sleep through the night because they cant.

At between two and six months, a newborn period systems should develop so that their sleep has clear patterns. A very recent scientific discovery has shown that although a babys sleep, like an adults, is divided into a time of dreams( REM rapid eye movement sleep ), and quiet deep sleep( non-REM ), a newborn has far more REM sleep than an adult. It appears this is necessary to consolidate a baby rapid learning about the world, including their understanding of night and day. And for a newborn, sleep is vital for brain development in other ways too.

Thats all very well I hear mothers( and partners) say, but what can we do to stimulate our baby sleep at night? Were desperate. Do we let them cry or not? Does breastfeeding help? How can we make sure they are safe?

Most sleep advice for newborns applies to the whole family. The difference is that newborn have to learn the timing of day and night merely from signals in the environment.

Sunlight is the strongest environmental signal of all. Going outside is vital for your newborn( and you) in defining your internal clocks to the same hour. So the darker the bedroom, the very best it is a matter of sleep. In contrast, the light-emitting screens of televisions, telephones or computer devices utilized before sleep, or night suns during sleep, are not a good idea.

Night is signalled by a fall in temperature, so cooler bedrooms are better. It is important to establish a regular pattern of waking and going to sleep, so the routine becomes familiar and pleasant.

Breast milk contains the hormone melatonin, which signals your sleep time to your newborn, just as it did during pregnancy, if you decide to breastfeed. In the early weeks a newborn is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed. Carry on feeding until you think they have finished or are fully asleep.

Guidelines are available for maintaining babies safe while theyre asleep: Helping Your Baby to Sleep( NHS) and Keeping Your Baby Safe( NIH)offer good advice.

Also, trust yourself: if you cant bear your baby distress when they still wake up exclaiming at 14 months, go to them.

And try not to worry. In the end, all of us will sleep.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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