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Can You Sleep Train a Newborn? Understanding Early Sleep Training

Are you wondering if it’s possible to sleep train your newborn? It’s a question many new parents ask. At Batelle, we understand the delicate nature of newborn sleep and the eagerness of parents to establish good sleep habits early on. This article explores what sleep training really means for your littlest ones and how you can gently guide their sleep habits as they grow.

The Basics of Newborn Sleep

Newborns typically sleep 16-18 hours in each 24-hour day. They need substantial amounts of sleep (and frequent feeding) to fuel the rapid brain development they’re undergoing. However, newborns are not just min-adults. The way they sleep is distinct from the way adults sleep in several ways.

Newborns have a sleep cycle divided into two categories: REM (active sleep) and NREM (quiet sleep), with more time spent in REM sleep, which is important for brain development and memory formation. Newborns also have shorter sleep cycles than adults. Their sleep cycles are 50-60 minutes, leading to more frequent awakenings, while adults have sleep cycles of about 90 minutes, resulting in less frequent awakenings.

Additionally, because a newborn’s circadian rhythm is still maturing, they don’t have established sleep-wake rhythms and may not differentiate between day and night. This means newborns sleep in short bursts throughout the day and night rather than in consolidated cycles during the night.

As babies grow, their sleep patterns change, and they begin to approximate a more “adult” sleep schedule starting around 3-4 months of age.

Can You Sleep Train a Newborn?

With all this nighttime waking, understandably, sleep—and ways to improve it—are at the forefront of every tired new parent’s mind. While there are ways to help newborns establish good sleep habits from the start,  it’s not possible to sleep train a newborn.

Gentle Sleep Strategies for Newborns

So, how can you help your newborn develop good sleep habits? While it isn’t possible to set a strict sleep schedule for a newborn, you can create flexible routines to help them distinguish between day and night. Create a safe sleep environment, recognize sleep cues, and establish a rhythm that syncs with your baby’s natural sleep patterns. These strategies all help build a foundation for good sleep habits as your little one grows, which can help minimize the need for more structured sleep training in the future. 

So, When Can I Sleep Train?

When it comes to structured sleep training, timing is key. Developmental readiness plays a big part in this as your little one needs to acquire the skills necessary for self-soothing before they can be expected to use them. This means things like the ability to move into comfortable sleeping positions, and to intentionally suck their thumb or fingers for comfort. Additionally, it makes sense to wait for their circadian rhythm to  mature so that you start from a solid baseline understanding of your little one’s sleep patterns. These things don’t typically happen until around 6 months of age. Until then, it’s about laying the groundwork with gentleness and care.

Will I Ever Sleep Again?

Newborns bring inevitable wake-ups, and while you won’t be sleeping like you did pre-baby for a while, there are some strategies you can use to make the most of the sleep you are getting now:

  • Avoid overthinking sleep:  Trying too hard to sleep often leads to anxiety. Remember, resting quietly can be rejuvenating, even if you’re not sleeping.
  • Sleep When You Can: The advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” might not always be practical. Look for opportunities to rest throughout the day, even if they’re brief.
  • Set Realistic Expectations:  Early parenthood is a time of adjustment. While consistent, uninterrupted sleep may be rare, small changes in your environment and routine can improve rest quality for everyone.
  • Seek Support When Needed:  If sleep deprivation becomes overwhelming, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Asking for support from family, friends, or professionals is a sign of strength.

The early months with a newborn are as challenging as they are rewarding. While the days might seem long, the weeks will fly by. Embrace each moment and remember that countless parents have walked this path before you, finding joy and growth amidst the sleepless nights.

Looking for more than just sleep tips?

If you’re looking for more in-depth guidance and support, explore Batelle Beginnings. Our program is specifically designed to assist parents in navigating their newborn’s sleep journey, offering expert advice and practical strategies tailored to your baby’s needs.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.

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