Sleep is especially important for your baby’s cognitive and neurological development. After birth, a baby’s brain is about 25% the size of that of an adult. In the first two years alone, its size triples and then grows to about 75% of that of an adult. The first years of life are therefore of utmost importance for your baby’s physical and mental development.
Your baby's brain also continues to develop while your baby sleeps; at night, babies process, classify and store that day’s new events and happenings. A baby's sleep is characterised by a frequent change between the calm and active sleep phases.
These sleep phases usually last only for a few minutes, meaning babies generally wake up more often between the individual sleep phases. Poor sleep can not only affect your child’s development, but lack of sleep can also weaken their immune system and make them more susceptible to disease. So how can you get your baby to sleep through the night? And can a baby learn to sleep through the night?
When should a baby start sleeping through the night?
Babies have a completely different sleep rhythm than adults, especially in the months following their birth. Newborns need sixteen to eighteen hours of sleep per day, but usually do not sleep more than five hours at a time. Their sleep cycles are shorter and it takes several months before they develop a regular day-night rhythm.
Babies are more often easily awakened by basic concerns such as hunger, the desire for affection or the need for entertainment. They can even be awakened by developmental spurts at night. It is only from the fourth to sixth week that their sleep rhythm gradually becomes more regular and they wake up at similar times in the morning and evening. By about the sixth month, babies develop a longer sleep phase of up to six hours. According to the Federal Centre for Health Education, almost 80% of babies can sleep for six to eight hours at a stretch by the end of the first year of life.
In the first months of life, babies have an excessively light sleep, also called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, in which they often wake up. This is not only completely normal for newborns, but also important for their development. If there is a need for food, or if they feel uncomfortable because they’re cold or their nappies are full, they wake up and express their dissatisfaction to their parents by crying.
Up until the sixth month, babies wake up at least once a night because they need one or more meals. After the sixth month, most babies manage without breastfeeding at night. A baby can sleep through up to eight hours if it does not need to be breastfed at night.
It should be noted that every baby is different. Each baby has different needs and sometimes it can take longer for babies to learn to sleep through the night. This is a question of your child’s neurological development is not something we can completely influence. However, there certainly are a few tricks that can help get your baby to sleep through the night.
Tricks to get your baby to sleep through the night
Can a baby learn to sleep through the night? As already mentioned, it is rather difficult for babies to find a regular sleep rhythm before the age of six months and every baby has individual needs that have to be taken into account. However, there are a few tricks that can help your baby sleep through the night and get used to the day-night rhythm more quickly.
Set a daily routine for your baby
From the fifth month onwards, babies can recognise certain patterns in their daily routine and start to adjust to them. The baby learns to associate certain actions with an event and thus develops an attitude of expectation. If the daily times for playing, eating and sleeping are set and fixed, it can help the baby to adjust more quickly to the day-night rhythm. Certain routines help the baby to distinguish between day and night and can also be helpful in falling asleep more quickly.
Some babies quickly find their own rhythm and become tired or hungry at similar times. You should therefore pay attention to the different signals your baby gives you. Others wake up at varying times of the day and night and need a little more support. A daily routine that is as fixed and structured as possible can help your baby to find his or her way and give him or her a feeling of security.
Sleep rituals can help your baby sleep through the night
With a fixed sleep ritual, you can teach your baby the time at which the active part of the day comes to an end and when it is time to sleep. With a sleep ritual, the baby can learn to associate a certain activity with bedtime and find a rhythm faster. The sleep ritual can consist of limiting the amount of the light your baby is exposed to starting at a certain time, perhaps singing a lullaby and saying good night. For some babies, a relaxing bath can also help.
Sleep rituals give the child peace and security. That said, it is important that a parent be present until the baby falls asleep, so that the baby does not feel alone and start crying.
Creating a pleasant sleep environment
This is one of the easiest and best tricks you can use to help your baby sleep through the night. A pleasant indoor climate and a safe environment are essential for your baby's good sleep quality.
In your baby’s first year, it is especially important that he or she sleeps on his or her back. The risk of breathing problems is much lower on the back than in the prone or side position. During the day, you should turn your baby on his or her stomach from time to time to strengthen the neck - but always under supervision.
During the first twelve months, pillows should not be used in the baby bed, as they can be a source of danger. If you want to put a pillow in the cradle later, you should use a pillow that is as flat as possible.
Instead of a blanket, a sleeping bag is recommended for babies. This minimizes the risk of the baby pulling the blanket over his or her head or of kicking it off at night. If a baby kicks the blanket off, he or she can get too cold and there is a risk of falling ill. However, a sleeping bag keeps your child optimally warm in any position. Since babies move a lot at night and can sweat a lot, a cotton sleeping bag is recommended. Cotton is breathable and can absorb moisture very well.
The room temperature in your baby’s room should be around 16 to 18 degrees; nor should your child be too warmly dressed. Usually, a nappy, underwear and pyjamas are sufficient. You can check whether your child is too warm by feeling the area between his or her shoulders. If it feels damp and warm, the baby is probably too tightly wrapped and too warm. The humidity should be between 30 and 50%. If the air is too moist, this can lead to the accumulation of dust mites and mould. It is best to air the room out several times a day when your baby is in another room.
You can also use various sleep aids, such as night lamps or cuddle cloths or snuggle toys. Snuggle toys can give your child a feeling of security and thus promote the quality of sleep. By grasping and groping the cuddle cloths, your baby's fine motor skills can also be developed.
At first, put your child’s bed or cradle in your bedroom
In your baby’s first year, it is easier to put your baby’s bed or cradle in your bedroom. For nursing mothers, it is particularly practical if the cot is within easy reach during the night. It has also been shown that the breathing sounds of the parents help the baby to sleep through the night.
The cot should be placed as far away as possible from sockets or power cables and should not be near a radiator. Also try to avoid direct sun and draughts.