Infant sleep patterns can be frustrating for parents to deal with. Most would say, “There is no pattern!” Any experienced parent will tell you, “Things will get better.”
Scientific research supports what experienced parents have to say. While there may seem to be no routine to the newborn’s schedule for sleeping, the one month old sleeps more at night than the two day old. By the age of one, most babies are sleeping through the night on a regular basis.
There may be occasional nighttime awakenings for years to come, but many babies give up the 4 am feeding by the time they are 6 months old. He or she might be famished at 5 or 6 am, but at least mom and dad get a little extra sleep.
During any 24-hour period, infants may spend as much as 19 hours sleeping. The majority of their awake-time is spent eating.
By 6 months of age, they are awake for about 10 hours per day. They spend more time exploring their world and learning about their bodies. Eating is still a priority, but they are starting to develop other interests.
The infant sleep schedule revolves around feeding. The amount of time that she sleeps is about the amount of time it takes for her last feeding to work through her digestive system.
Because of that, experienced parents sometimes tell new parents to feed more at the midnight feeding. The hope (and belief) is that the extra food allows the baby to sleep longer without becoming hungry. That’s probably not what’s going on.
Babies will wake up when they are hungry or have a dirty diaper, but there are bio-chemicals that influence hunger, sleep and digestive function (bowel movements). The bio-chemicals in infant sleep patterns and other bodily functions are the same as those that regulate adult body functions. They include hormones, nutrients and probably other compounds that have yet to be fully examined.
Although we know a lot, there are still many things we do not know about how the human body functions. We are still learning about the roles played by nutrients and hormones, some of which are over-lapping.
An example of a regulatory hormone is melatonin. It is sometimes referred to as the “sleep-hormone”, but it is involved in many other bodily functions and also has potent antioxidant activity. Increased production of melatonin will cause decreased digestive function; the reason that most people do not have bowel movements at night.
DHA is a nutrient involved in sleep-wake cycles. It is necessary for the baby’s brain and eye development.
Both melatonin and DHA may be involved in the infant sleep schedule (or the lack of one). Babies can get some melatonin from breast milk. It is also produced within their tiny bodies.
DHA must be present in what they eat, whether it is breast milk or infant formula. It cannot be produced de novo; from nothing.
Melatonin would not be present in infant formulas. It is only found in mother’s milk because of her own needs for the hormone.
The baby’s own production of melatonin becomes rhythmic between 2 and 3 months of age, according to scientists. The infant sleep schedule may become more like his or her parents’ around that age as a result.
The schedule may start to resemble the mother’s sooner, because of her own rhythmic melatonin production if she breast feeds. Of course, the things she eats and drinks can have an impact. Everything ends up in her breast milk. Things like caffeine could make it more difficult for baby to fall asleep.
A study in Zurich followed babies from birth to 18 years of age. By the age of one, they were sleeping an average of 11 hours per night. So, infant sleep patterns do change. It has been proven scientifically.