Self-regulated sleep and unsettled babies

Babies' sleeping patterns.

Having a baby who sleeps well at night is a goal for many parents. However variation in babies’ sleep patterns and confusion about what is normal behaviour can lead to unrealistic expectations.

Babies younger than about 12 weeks cannot regulate their sleep/wake cycle; they may sleep no longer at night than during the day and need frequent feeds to satisfy demands for growth and brain development.

New research

Some new research has explored babies’ sleep behaviour and what is meant by the commonly used phrase ‘sleeping through the night’.

This study is the first to investigate babies’ patterns of sleep at night over time, measured against: (1) sleeping for at least five hours including the period from midnight to 5am, (2) sleeping for eight hours, with time unspecified, and (3) sleeping for eight hours during the period 10pm – 6am.8

‘Leaving babies to cry without responding to their distress may have longer-term negative effects on the development of their personality and ability to form close social bonds.’

Other Studies

Four studies suggest that overall, parental behaviour was more predictive of babies’ ability to sleep well at night than the baby’s behaviour itself. Babies reported in one study to be ‘difficult’ due to crying, fussing or temperament were found to be developmentally normal.

About 60% of those babies whose parents felt they had excessive crying or ’colic’ at five-to-six weeks were sleeping more than five hours in one stretch six or seven nights per week by 12 weeks.