Nature has a sense of humor. It must, or how else would you explain the platypus? Or man-nipples? Or Miley Cyrus? When it comes to babies and sleep, it seems nature also decided to have a little fun at the expense of parents.
It’s almost as though God was bored one day and devised a sinister plan that went something like this: “Here’s an idea . . . let’s take new parents, who will already be exhausted and generally dazed. We’ll give them this incapable, demanding little thing that must be catered to 24/7. Then just for kicks, we’ll arrange it so that infants completely disregard the day/night cycle their mom and dad have grown accustomed to. Babies will wake up and scream at odd hours throughout the night, demanding to be fed and held right when parents are just starting to sink into a deep sleep. Newborns will be as mismatched to their parents as any contestant on a reality TV show. What fun!”
If you’re the poor sap this prank is being played on, however, it doesn’t seem so humorous. After a few days of sleeplessness when it looks as though you’ve aged 15 years and it hurts just to open your eye, this situation has pretty much lost all of it hilarious irony. Yet like many things in life, a little understanding will help. Knowing why you baby seems intent on driving you crazy can help you maintain your sanity during this period of adjustment.
Why sleep patterns are different for infants.
Why are babies so determined to disturb your nightly rest? There are a few good reasons. When human babies are born, they are still in an immature stage when compared with other mammals. The problem is our big brains. If our babies weren’t born at about 9 months, their large head holding their large brain wouldn’t fit through the birth canal. This also means that they are born while still underdeveloped. If human babies had a gestation period like that of other mammals, they would need to be in the womb close to two years. (Remember this the next time your up in the night caring for a fussy baby. At least you didn’t have to be pregnant for two years.) Because they are underdeveloped, newborns are still on in-utero sleep schedules, and require several months before their brain developmental level will catch up to the rest of the world.
Another primary reason for your infant’s deranged sleep cycle is their need to feed regularly. They may be small, but they are also developing by leaps and bounds — experiencing an explosive growth spurt unlike anything they’ll ever experience again. This nonstop conversion of nutrients into new muscle and tissue requires a constant intake of calories, which typically means a feeding at least every 4 hours. The math of this simply doesn’t jive with a parent’s desire for 8 hours of shut eye.
How to keep your sanity.
On the bright side of things, this craziness doesn’t last long. Most babies fall into a more consistent sleep schedule at around 3 or 4 months, and will be sleeping through the night within the year. There are also methods of sleep training your baby that will help them attain a more parent-friendly sleep pattern.
Untill then, try to keep your spirits up and roll with the punches, knowing that a little sleep deprivation is just the price parents must pay for having the audacity to procreate. Other parents have survived this phase, and you will too.