If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
Attached to the rim of a Ferris wheel are passenger cars but attached to the Sleep Wheel are the six different parts of your child’s twenty-four-hour sleep/wake cycle. Let’s follow the Sleep Wheel through one complete revolution, beginning with the evening bedtime.
1. At 6 weeks of age (all ages are counted from the due date), an early bedtime develops. The failure to establish an early bedtime will result in a second wind that causes bedtime battles, difficulty in falling asleep, and difficulty staying asleep, or waking up too early in the morning. If day sleep is deficient, a second wind will develop in the late afternoon or evening and make it difficult to easily fall asleep unattended (drowsy but awake) or stay asleep (consolidated sleep). You then might see bedtime battles and fragmented sleep (signaling).
2. Consolidated night sleep develops before or between 6 and 9 months of age, when babies no longer need to be fed at night. Feed your baby at night when hungry but do not respond to every sound. Responding to your baby at night for soothing when he is not hungry will create a night crying habit around or after 4–6 months of age.
3. Wake-up time is not too early. If you go to your baby too early to start the day, he will not be able to nap well later because he starts the day too tired. Many young babies start the day between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m.
4. The midmorning nap is regular but initially brief and develops around 3–4 months of age. This nap should start around 9:00 a.m. If it starts much earlier than that because your child woke up tired (whether because the bedtime was too late, there was fragmented night sleep, or the morning wake-up time was too early), then the rest of the day’s sleep will be thrown off schedule. On the other hand, if the nap starts too late, a second wind will make self-soothing for the midmorning nap difficult or impossible, or it may cause the nap to be way too brief. This nap may naturally become longer until 6 months of age, after which it will become shorter.
5. The midday nap is regular but initially brief and develops shortly after the midmorning nap. This nap starts around 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. If it starts too early because your child wakes up too tired from his midmorning nap (whether because the bedtime was too late, there was fragmented night sleep, wake-up time in the morning was too early, or a midmorning nap took place too early or too late), then the rest of the day’s sleep will be thrown off schedule. On the other hand, if the nap starts too late, a second wind will make self-soothing difficult or impossible for the midday nap, or the midday nap might be too brief. This nap may naturally become longer until 6 months of age, after which it will become shorter.
6. Late-afternoon nap(s) tend(s) to be irregular and brief. They usually disappear by 9 months of age.
Whether you have a newborn or an older child of any age, your first task as a parent is to build the spokes of the Sleep Wheel (Blog Post 152). Then you start to assemble the six different parts of your child’s twenty-four-hour sleep/wake cycle based on his age.
There are two common pitfalls: a parent is focused on one or more of the six parts but has not yet constructed the spokes, and/or a parent is focused on only one (or two or three) of the six parts and ignores the others.
Each of the six parts affects the other five. If one is not developed at the appropriate age, the entire Sleep Wheel becomes unbalanced.