Understanding baby's sleep rhythms

Learn how to your newborn's sleep cycles

Understanding the sleep rhythms of your baby

Given that we spend a third of our lives in slumber, it's surprising that very few of us understand the biological processes that dictate a baby’s waking and non-waking hours. Diana Julian, certified child sleep consultant and founder of Big Sky Lullaby, shares her insights on how to understand sleep rhythms in children:

“As a child sleep consultant, I am constantly explaining why there are ideal nap times for babies as well as an ideal bedtime. These times are considered ideal because they coincide with the child's internal clock. When a child is put down for a nap, in order to produce quality sleep, the nap needs to occur at a time when the child is very drowsy and at the utmost readiness for sleep. Getting this right means the rest they will get during this nap to be restorative,” says Julian.

READ MORE: Sleep wars: To co-sleep or not to co-sleep

Understanding a child’s need for restorative sleep helps us as parents to make sure we are putting them down for a nap at the right crest of their biological sleep wave. The author and pediatrician Marc Weissbluth uses a surfing analogy to explain how to catch the best nap time for your little one:

“The magic moment is a slight quieting, a lull in being busy, a slight staring off, and a hint of calmness. If you catch this wave of tiredness and put the child to sleep then, there will be no crying. I like the analogy of surfing, because timing is so important there, too; you have to catch the wave after it rises enough to be recognized but before it crashes.”

Although we are all born with an innate biological clock, newborns take some time to establish their circadian rhythm. This is the reason for unorganized sleep under four months of age.

But as the baby grows — and with the help of the parents — it starts to build more of a regular sleep/wake pattern and over time they start learning to sleep in sync with their internal rhythms. However, you must bear in mind that this internal timing system is genetically predisposed, allowing for individual variation and ensuring that no two children have exactly the same sleep patterns.