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It is important to know how much sleep babies need in order to assess the severity of a baby's sleeping problems. Babies who become sleep-deprived are often irritable, listless, uncooperative and unmotivated to learn. According to Dr. Chris Steele at TheFamilyGP.com, "babies from birth to 1 year need on average 12 to 18 hours sleep a day." The sleep patterns of newborns are spaced evenly throughout the day and night because they need frequent feeds. However, as babies grow and develop, they should learn to sleep more at night and less during the day, needing only a short daytime nap by the time they are a 1-year-old. Babies with sleeping difficulties fail to achieve these regular, acceptable sleep patterns.
Sleep Routines and Habits
Sometimes parents inadvertently cause sleeping difficulties by introducing poor sleep routines and habits for their newborns. For example, giving babies lots of attention at night means they are less likely to return to sleep quickly after feeding. Night feeds for newborns should take place quietly and calmly, in a dimly lit room, so that babies begin to differentiate night and day. Avoid changing diapers at night unless babies are wet or soiled and uncomfortable. During the day, smile, chat and sing to babies frequently throughout your activities. It is important to distinguish the sounds of babies' "tired" cries from the sounds they make when hungry or uncomfortable. When your baby shows signs of tiredness, (for example, eye rubbing or yawning), put her down in her crib to sleep, to help her learn to settle herself independently. Sleeping problems sometimes develop as a result of dependency upon habits introduced by parents, such as always rocking the baby to sleep.
One of the most likely reasons for baby sleeping difficulties is that the baby feels discomfort (other than hunger) that prevents her from sleeping. Sleeping problems occur if babies feel too hot or too cold, or if they are unwell or in pain. A less obvious reason for a baby to experience problems with sleep is that she has become overtired. In his book, "Silent Nights: Overcoming Sleep Problems in Babies and Children," Brian Symon explains that overtired babies often show the following symptoms: irritability, difficulty falling asleep and oversensitivity to noise that leads to frequent awakenings.