Parenting Series 5
The Lullaby 1——Developing Regular Sleep Patterns

There are things that you can do to make it easier for your baby to develop good sleep habits and learn to sleep independently. To be able to do that, you will need to understand your baby's sleep.

Baby Sleep Patterns

The duration and characteristics of a baby's sleep vary according to his age. The table below shows the general patterns:

Sleep\Age

0-3 months

3-6 months

6 months +

Total hours

15 or more

14 - 15

13 - 14

Daytime naps

3 - 4 times

2 - 3 times

2 times

Characteristics of sleep

  • Irregular sleep pattern, as still adapting to life outside mother's womb
  • Can't tell day from night
  • Shorter sleep period, each around 2-3 hours
  • More regular sleep patterns
  • 2/3 sleep occurs at night
  • Longer sleep duration and daytime wakefulness
  • About 50% of babies can sleep for 6 hours straight at night time
  • Stay awake for 3-4 hours in between naps
  • From 9 months old, have more control over when to sleep
  • After 2 years old most only need one nap

There is individual difference in the amount of sleep babies need, and variations from the patterns shown above are to be expected. You do not need to be worried about your baby's sleep as long as he is healthy.

Baby's Sleep States

  • Like adults, babies go through sleep cycles during sleep.
  • In babies, each cycle lasts for about 40-45 minutes. Thus, there is more than one cycle to each period of sleep.
  • There are different sleep states in a cycle——deep sleep, light sleep, dreaming and being awake.
  • During light sleep, babies are easily woken up by sounds from the surroundings. She may move or stretch before falling back to sleep or becoming fully awake.
  • Brief waking may occur in between cycles. That means babies will wake up during the night. What you should do is to just let her take time to fall asleep again.

How to Help Your Baby Sleep Well?

Providing a Comfortable Environment

  • Comfortable room temperature
  • Good ventilation
  • Right amount of clothing blanket
  • You may check whether he is too warm or too cold by feeling the nape of his neck. Warm without sweating will be just right.
  • Use cotton blankets to avoid allergy
  • Comfortable swaddling
    Your baby will feel more secure if you swaddle him in a soft blanket. Avoid wrapping him up too tightly as this will make him too hot. Make sure his head and face are exposed to ensure that his airway is not obstructed.**

**Research studies have shown that sleeping on the back is the safest and recommended sleep position for babies. Please refer to the leaflet Protect A Baby from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by Department of Health, HKSAR and Department of Paediatrics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Emphasizing the Difference Between Day and Night

  • Difference in the room light
    • The room should be well-lit in the daytime. Dim the light before sleep to tell the baby that it is bedtime.
    • Some babies may wake up during the night crying because the room is too dark. A night-light can reassure her that she is in familiar surroundings.
  • Difference in activities
    • When your baby is awake in the daytime, actively play and talk with her. When you are spending quality time together, you are giving her adequate attention as well as keeping her alert and interested. This will prevent her from sleeping too much during the day.
    • When she gets tired as shown by her having drooping eyelids, rubbing her face against you or yawning, let her have a rest.
    • Avoid taking a nap for more than 4 hours.
    • At night, engage in quiet activities to prevent her from getting too excited before bedtime.

Establishing Bedtime Routine

  • Begin to help your baby establish a good bedtime routine when she is around 2 to 3 months old. Help her learn to associate particular activities with going to sleep and let her fall asleep on her own.
  1. bathe her
  2. change nappy
  3. feed her
  4. burp her
  5. dim the light
  • You may have to try out what works best as a bedtime routine, taking into consideration your baby's temperament and the usual activities. The essence is that your baby should be fed, have her diaper changed and relaxed enough to be in a bedtime mood before you put her in bed.

Helping Your Baby Fall Asleep On Her Own

  • Help your baby learn to fall asleep on her own as early as possible.
  • Try to put her in the cot when she is awake or when she begins to doze. Leave her in the cot after saying goodnight and let her fall asleep in her own time.

One of the commonest bedtime problems is poor sleep habit. For instance, babies need to suck, be nursed, rocked, stroked or carried while you walk before they can fall asleep. Once these patterns have become established routines, your baby will totally depend on your attention and company to fall asleep. This sleep habit will take up, quite unnecessarily, much of your time and energy.

What about if my baby falls asleep while feeding? You may stop feeding and put him to bed without waking him. You can feed him a little earlier next time so as to minimize the chance of him falling asleep during feeding.

Apart from starting early, your determination and consistency will help your baby develop a good bedtime routine. Understanding, support and cooperation from everyone in the family will help you achieve the goal. If your baby has problems falling asleep, please refer to the leaflet Lullaby II-My Baby Won't Sleep in this series.

We have a series of "Happy Parenting!" workshops and leaflets for expectant parents, parents of infants and preschool children. Please contact our healthcare personnel for information.

(Content revised 12/2010)